Prof. Bhupa P. Dhamala
After five years of eligibility for the elected local governments, we are soon participating in the local elections again. We wish the upcoming polls would be held peacefully and certainly for a genuine cause. The people living in a village or even in town have not as much to do with party principles and practices as they have something to do with peace and development. After all, they want to improve their quality of life.
At election times, different parties issue different election manifestoes. British Referendum Party election pamphlet (1997), for example, stated the slogan “Put country before the party this election” to persuade the people to vote for a cause in the election.
Despite being two decades old, this slogan still holds in many parts of the world. The patriotic sentiment is essential if the country is to exist as an independent nation, if the strife between the parties is to become less intense, and if the conflict between various groups is to reduce to the minimum.
Nepal has also held many elections since when democracy was introduced. It has been engaged in elections for Constituent Assembly two times. Those elections resembled referendums because they were essentially done for the national cause.
The subsequent general elections for the parliament also focused on the policies and principles of the party, in addition to the general elections for instituting the federal government. Unfortunately, however, those elections put the party before the country. Those elections also focused on the party rather than the country or their hometown, which desperately needed development.
Hometown, as we generally understand, is the town where we live. This is a mistaken notion in our context. In addition to its general sense, a hometown is also a place of one’s permanent residence, be it town or village. For Kathmanduites, Kathamndu is hometown despite being too large; for Ilameli people, Ilam is hometown though it is a small town, and for Khumbule people, Khumbu is hometown although it is only a village. In this sense, a hometown can be large or small, one’s birthplace or new residence.
If the hometown is our birthplace, we probably love it more than the place we choose to live in later life. The early days we spent in our birthplace still reverberate in our minds – the house itself, land, trees around, foot trails to walk on, schools, playground, classmates, and the loving people in the neighborhood. No other place than one’s birthplace can give as much joy as can be found in such a hometown.
Unfortunately, however, these hometowns nowadays are depleting for one or another reason. There is in fact an exodus of rural people to the big cities in search of opportunities and comfort. The people from Kathmandu or Pokhara metropolis are leaving them to go abroad, whereas the people from small towns or villages migrate to the metropolises. We cannot attribute this to the loss of patriotic sentiment in people.
We often hear people say they love their hometown more than the place where they stay for higher studies or jobs. We also hear them say they are staying there only for the time being and would eventually return to their hometowns. However, they do not return to their hometown.
Leaving hometowns for better opportunities than developing their own places has been a vast problem. Ironically enough, we are seeking a playful solution by simply planning smart towns in different remote places of the country. Much more unpractically, we also want to indoctrinate them with the ideology of patriotism which many people today think is a stale phrase that needs meaning change in the context. Simply talking about patriotism without trying to attract the people with opportunities and facilities in their hometowns is simply hollow rhetoric full of sounds and shouts signifying nothing.
At one time, patriotic sentiment also worked well. In the American independence movement (1776) or the Indian movement for independence (1947), patriotic sentiment could organize many people to drive the colonizers away from their land. Nevertheless, ours is not a colonial time, so we do not need to fight against the foreigners who once exploited us.
This is a time when a large mass of youths is flying abroad either for study or for jobs wanting to never return to their hometown. So, it might be a fantasy to think about returning to one’s hometown at this juncture. It can be even more eccentric to return to one’s village house, which looks weird because of unwanted weeds filled in the front yard. Trying to reverse the trend of migration or simply stop it is a futile attempt or, to put it in extreme terms, it is a stupid practice.
Like before, the local elections will be held soon to elect the local governments in Nepal. But this time also, political parties seem to be engaged in widening the party differences. One important thing they still seem to overlook is that the local leadership should be selected based on whether the elected leaders can develop their village or town and how patriotic they are.
Yet we can encourage the people to stay in their hometown, making it worth living. If people stay in their place, they develop it by making the schools better, opening good hospitals, building concrete roads for locomotion, doing modern farming, opening new industries, and creating employment opportunities.
These things can be done by creating a conducive environment in the native hometowns. In this sense, the local election this time should focus on the agendas of developing their hometowns by themselves and for themselves.
It is thus essential that the political parties develop their election manifestoes focusing on the development of their hometown, forgetting the party differences and seeking cooperation from all groups of people – political parties, ethnicities, linguistic communities, and religious sects. Their motto should be “Let us make our hometown worth living ourselves.”
(The author is the chairman of Molung Foundation. firstname.lastname@example.org)