Over the past seven decades, three waves of anti-system mobilisation have notably transformed Nepali political parties, if not their political culture. The first wave occurred in 1950 when Nepali Congress (NC) and Praja Parishad waged militant political struggle to fight the Rana oligarchy. They established democracy in the country with a Rana prime minister as its head. In the second wave of 1990, NC and United Left Front launched a struggle to restore multi-party democracy with constitutional monarchy at its head.
The third wave occurred in 2005 when fusion of an alliance of seven political parties dedicated to parliamentary democracy and the then CPN-Maoist waged a semi-militant battle for absolute democracy under the leadership of NC President GP Koirala who assumed all legislative, executive and judicial power to restore an order based on inclusive, secular, federal, democratic republic.
In the fast two waves, political parties did not end themselves in the dissolution of their ideologies. The occasion of party transformation was visible in the third wave when there was fission and fusion of old and new parties irrespective of different ideologies and instincts of leadership, power-sharing with all political forces and politics of active negation of traditional power structure. Yet the effects of the third wave spurred the demand for a shift from elderly generation of leadership to a new one. In Nepal, none of the parties seems well institutionalised and internally friction-free to get a picture of whose side they are on and whose interests they want to serve.
People wonder what democracy is all about in modern times—leadership circulation in power for serving the public interest or just their career enhancement against their promise. The power-sharing style has trivialised the ideology of each political party and energised the birth of bio-politics of identities institutionalised by the constitution. The caucus politics across the party lines, social inclusion and creation of national commissions have turned old politics feverish.
Each political party has displayed its talent in the art and science of turning into a pragmatic, leader-oriented and personalised system thus revealing the old political culture of bureaucratic hierarchy and feudalism, not upholding values, good character and honesty to its party’s promises. What is bred in the instinct of old politics is animated now.
The new politics of youth advocated no, not again the same political class suggesting them to get out of their political vocation. The decline of ideological zeal and the rise of many parties beyond the competition of the power bloc of NC and CPN-UML in the recent elections have exposed them to a bumpy road. Each power bloc scored less strength than required to form the government of its own without the aid of outside forces. It indicates the evolution of an unstable equilibrium and leaves chances to use scores of old political tools--bargaining, horse-trading, breaking parties and forging any kind of coalition rule. Leaders’ more interest in power-sharing than addressing the needs for party reforms, generational justice and a political culture of accountability can hardly create a stable political order and protect people from the effects of dysfunctional governance.
First, democracy in Nepal shows signs of fragility. Top leaders have failed to dethrone their traditional habits of mind and command and control style of governing political parties and public institutions other than gaining electoral legitimacy. In a new time, parties cannot institutionalise their roles if they often bend, break, twist and trample the rules and norms governing them and reshape bonds with other political parties without ample participatory and deliberative practice with junior leaders.
The top fractious leaders tightly control parties who lack systemic national compass to respond to changes and formulate appropriate policies. Their interest to clip late-comer loyalists of other parties than those who had sacrificed their valuable time for long in party building has subverted the role of ethics, norms and discipline of party politics. It is they who helped to de-ideologise parties, enfeebled the virtues of solidarity and bred sharp contradictions, thus flagging the key functions of democratic parties. The result is a distorted balance in party politics. It has hobbled its ability to become a precious engine of social and political integration.
Second, weakening of the state to act impersonally and confiscation of its legitimate monopoly on power to implement law, make public policies and enable the self-determination of people bear decaying effects on democracy. As a result, the execution of the constitution, constittutionalise the behaviour of all leaders and people and creation of reasonable political stability hit a snag. Freedom of Nepalis rests on each of them supporting the state to gain economic, political and cognitive independence and keep political order robust without weakening the ability of state to act autonomously against the dominant classes and special interest groups and put a tab on the various forces raising conflicting demands beyond the institutional capacity of state to fulfil them. Many Nepali leaders trained by their teachers are devoid of moral and spiritual robes now and, therefore, fear only geopolitical force, not the flashes of reason or revelation.
Third, promotion of mediocrities, cronies, corrupt and human rights abusers in public institutions has consumed the vitality of representative institutions, flagged the glamour of democracy for the majority of poor and provoked the emotional intelligence of the educated thus corroding the writ of democracy. The outcome is: ordinary Nepalis continuously experience the boom of many interconnected predicaments-- poverty, misery, alienation and political neglect and often search for options outside the party frame.
Satisfaction of their essential needs and rights is essential to forestall the birth of populism, radicalism and fundamentalism. The stable political order can be achieved in the nation if each individual or group engaged in the political process finds appropriate space, the recognition of its importance and a firm belief that it is reasonably right. The deterioration of democratic behaviour is attributed to a monopolistic thinking and conduct of leaders and their exercise of politics of negation, denial and deprivation of space thus forcing each to free-ride in other’s space. The culture of impunity is mainly attributed to this trend.
Fourth, frequent use of the doctrine of necessity and use of ordinances have corroded power balance in the polity, enfeebled the parliament and watchdog agencies of various types including the autonomy Supreme Court. The growing partisanisation of constitutional bodies and public institutions and dismantling of their national integrity system have systematically broken the polity. It is depriving the people of impartial access to security, justice and public goods, the very aim of democracy.
Unless Nepali leaders think about the culture of democracy in the inner life of political parties, their connection with grassroots people and their ability to hold the bond that keep their loyalty to partisan affection, they will continuously reel under political diversion, not destination, and open the scope for voters to switch sides to the more promising ones. The stable balance in party politics of Nepal requires consistency and coherence of programs, smooth succession of leadership, committed cadres and strategies to meet their promises. In this context, leadership responsibilities lie in shifting from problems-raising tactic to problem-solving one.
Fifth, the economy of the nation rooted in the prejudice of finance has caused the decline of productivity, rise of inflation, unemployment and poverty, debt, dependence and inequality and migration of a critical mass of youths to the international labour market to meet their survival needs. Their retention is essential to dynamise society, economy and political system and stifles the attrition of the economic base of democracy.
The compulsive migration of poor while brain drain of the educated by choice have left both disenfranchised from inclusive and participatory revolution. Its social costs for the family members and economic and political costs for the nation are huge.
Nepali leaders’ adoption of class-blind economic policies hit agriculture by slashing state subsidies and privatising many import-substituting industries and firing off of workers from their jobs. These are disproportionately hurting the poor. Now, the heartbeat of Nepali economy—remittance, aid, loan dependence, excessive imports, land tax and sale of natural resources—cannot make its democracy stable if the nation does not enter into production revolution beyond market monopoly of middlemen and political monopoly of syndicate devoid of any semblance of opposition to control it. Of course, capital can fulfill creative functions if it is invested in the productive sector—agriculture, industry, infrastructure, education, health and public utilities to ease the flow of goods and services and keep demand and supply in balance.
The right use of its hydro potential can offset the growing trade deficits and meet the energy needs of people and the industries. The public policy is, however, stifled by the interest of comprador classes thus flagging Nepalis’ right to progress and self-determination. The genuine private sector stung by bureaucracy and political classes find hard time to compete with comprador classes who have entered the parliament to discredit the constitutional goal of socialist-oriented economy and thinned the regulatory power of Nepali state.
The light of the present human condition of Nepal reveals the guidance, direction and course of leadership of the instant past and unfulfilled duties of citizens. The demos dictated by their conscience feel the infection of moral degeneration and cultural decay of the nation and expect change in the quality and direction of politics. True progress in Nepal begins with progress in the institutions of enlightenment and democratic habits and characters of leaders and people.
Both help each Nepali to grow and animate their potential through a new politics of choice harnessed by skill, specialisation, division of labour, opportunity, employment and social mobility and improve both survival and competitive advantage. Public intellectuals, as conscious representatives of the poor, must warily intervene in policy making so that the emotional voltage of the oppressed does not go out of control. The political perfection of leaders now preoccupies average Nepalis because they believe that their abstract rights can be translated into action only by them, not by businessmen or bureaucrats. Their honesty is, therefore, a vital life-force whose wisdom and responsibility can show the ways to the demands of modern times for social, economic and political emancipation.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)