Philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it,” said Karl Marx back in 1945 implying that ideas and ideologies have a little to do with practical politics. Philosophy has to do more with truth and knowledge. Ideologies are basically a set of ideas to guide action in politics. Philosophy may not have to do anything with politics but ideology is the basic foundation of politics.
Politics existed in society long before political philosophies and ideologies were born. Ideologies are the latest construct which grew in the womb of politics. Philosophies and ideologies had greater impact on politics in the past. But modern politics is motivated more by immediate gains rather than ideas and ideals, which is well illustrated by Deng Xiaoping’s saying - “it does not matter if a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice”.
Right from the birth of human civilization, those who stood by the truth and ideals often suffered. Opportunists prospered in the name of pragmatism. Chinese philosopher Confucius lived an impoverished life and suffered persecution for championing righteousness. Greek Philosopher Socrates was condemned to death for telling the truth. Mahatma Gandhi was jailed for championing self-rule. Even Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Rousseau were exiled for talking their mind without fear. Karl Marx, too, spent his whole life in abject poverty and had to be in exile. Even Galileo and Copernicus faced trial for their scientific discoveries and telling scientific truth. But they are eventually revered as great scholars and philosophers in the world only after their death.
Politics is a cruel vocation and ideologies further harden politics. In politics, sycophancy is preferred more than the truth and virtue. History is witness to the fact that philosophers and ideologues who advocate truth, justice and virtue often suffered whereas sycophants prospered in the present Machiavellian politics.
In the life of nations, great scholars and statesmen are rarely born. But hardly are they admired and revered during their life time. Opportunists grab the benefits, as they claim to be the genuine followers of certain ideology, whereas critics are isolated out of the mainstream of power. Nikita Khrushchev was Joseph Stalin’s blue-eyed boy in the former Soviet Union. Khrushchev was Stalin’s staunch loyalist and follower only to grab leadership. Once seizing power, he immediately condemned Stalin. This is general phenomenon in politics.
Several public personalities emerged in the political stage in different phase of Nepal’s history. The understanding of historical personalities is not uniform in Nepal. We have many historical personalities about which we have diverse opinion. Even in understanding Prithvi Narayan Shah, there is not a uniform view. Prithvi Narayan Shah is the founder of modern Nepal, who can be compared with no other personality in Nepal. The task of country’s unification was arduous and this job deserves utmost commendation. However, there is a small section of people who criticise Prithvi Narayan Shah. But his role and unification task was of historic necessity and he is the greatest historic figure of Nepal.
Bhimsen Thapa was an enigmatic personality but he has earned more admiration than he really deserved. During his time, British colonial power had been flexing its muscle in the entire South Asia. Nepal’s confrontation with the British was inevitable. But critics are of the view that Bhimsen Thapa, who had no experience of fighting any war, chose to confront with the British without proper preparations and consultations with his own military strategists. His decision to go to war was guided more by the intention of sidelining his opponents and consolidating his hold on power. As a result, Nepal lost a large portion of territory. Janga Bahadur Rana was a feudal tyrant but his role in taking back some territories lost during the war was positive. However, this has not been duly recognised.
King Tribhuvan is said to have played a leading role in overthrowing the Rana oligarchy and establishing democratic regime in 1951. Nepali Congress was the principal political force to spearhead the 1951 movement and its leaders were BP and Matrika Prasad Koirala. Tribhuvan played no role in the movement, instead, sought asylum in India and joined in the carefully orchestrated power transfer design of New Delhi even ignoring the Nepali Congress.
King Mahendra was a politically dictator but his role in the developmental and foreign policy front is positive. But some people view him as a pure villain and some eulogize as a super hero. Both the perceptions are devoid of objective analysis. His role must be judged critically hailing him for his nation-building vision and criticizing for his coup against democracy. Pushpa Lal Shrestha, founder of Nepal Communist Party, is the one who was condemned by communist comrades when he was alive, though they later realized his mistakes and restored Pushpalal.
BP Koirala is another towering personality in Nepal’s democratic history. BP is not only the founder of the Nepali Congress but also a democratic ideologue. BP fought throughout his life democracy, except for a brief period when he was in the government. After King Mahendra staged a coup in 1960, BP carried on with peaceful struggle for democracy but he could not see democratic restoration until he was alive. But BP’s ideas continued to inspire all for democratic movement. The democratic socialism BP advocated has continued to guide all Nepali parties.
The political doctrines Nepali political parties have adopted, in essence, revolve around BP’s democratic socialism. Madan Bhandari’s People’s Multiparty Democracy too, in a way, appears to have been influenced by BP’s democratic socialism. The present constitution (Article 4) visualizes Nepal as, among others, a democratic and socialism-oriented state — something BP visualized in his proposition of democratic socialism. On the foreign policy front as well, BP set the tone for non-aligned policy which Nepal continues even today. BP was a true patriot which was clearly demonstrated in his dialogues and dealings with our neighbors and others.
Nepali parties do not follow the ideals and principles of their founders and ideologues. CPN-UML is not what Madan Bhandari visualized and Nepali Congress, too, is not on BP’s path. CPN-MC long ago gave up its ideals for which it launched decade-long armed insurgency. Nepal’s political history is marked with distortion and ideological deviation, which is the principal cause of opportunistic politics.
(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. firstname.lastname@example.org)