Here goes an African story: Once an aging king asked his son — the crown prince, to go to the jungle and listen the rhythm of forest. Next day, when the crown prince returned, the king asked what he heard in the forest. The Prince said he heard roar of lions and howling of jackals. The king asked him to listen more. Son again goes and carefully listens the hissing and rustle of snake, buzzing insects, singing birds and the beat of butter-fly wings, which he reports to the father king. Still unsatisfied, the king asked the son to listen until he can sense the danger of silence and stillness. To be fit to rule, one must hear that which does not make sound.
Like the African story, a ruler must sense and understand the message and meaning of silence and stillness in the society. If rulers, politicians and political parties fail to feel the pulse and mood of the people, they are doomed to suffer. In the society, a large majority of the people generally do not react when they react that becomes fatal for the rulers. If people’s silence is taken for granted, it turns out to be counterproductive. Political scene in Nepal seems to be a little offbeat. The danger of silence and under current disgruntlement can erupt anytime like a volcano. The by-election results in three constituencies should be taken as a silent and peaceful reaction of the people towards the established parties.
People always seek change. Change is the law of nature. Human civilisation has arrived in the present state through constant change and evolution. However, our political parties appear hesitant to adapt to changes. But change should not be only for the sake of change. The change should be progressive that make positive impact on the life of the people and the life of the country. However, that is missing in our politics. The inherent nature of politics is to grab power. The political power is acquired to use for bettering the life of the people and the country.
However, politics in Nepal seems to be guided more by the motive of misusing power for personal and partisan gains. That is the reason why politics becomes a dirty game of thugs and scoundrels and politicians command least respect of the people. Political parties are losing public trust all worldwide. Nepal, too, is not an exception. However, political parties are the key actors in a democracy. Despite declining public trust, the number of political parties is rising globally. In Nepal, a total of 119 political parties are registered in the Election Commission for the purpose of contesting the election. There are several other unregistered parties.
Despite drawbacks, there can be no alternative to political parties in democracy. Seeking alternative to political parties is an authoritarian and anti-democratic tendency. Democracy has become a political lingua franca globally. There can be no alternative to democracy. The alternative to democracy is more vibrant and more efficient democracy. There has been deficiency in democratic functioning of political parties. The functions and behaviour of political parties and politicians determine the fate of democracy. In order to make democracy more efficient and functioning and win public trust, political parties must change their behaviour and working style.
Political parties should be more democratic and democratic exercise must be upheld within parties. Internal democracy within parties is a must for democratic sustenance. Our political parties seem to be federation of different interest groups and power blocs. Blocs and groups exist in a democratic party. In a sense, it is good for promoting internal democracy as such groups in parties instigate debate and discussion on vital issues. But it is not the case in practice. Factions are guided more by the motive of bargaining position and power than promoting intra-party democracy.
Citizens are increasingly frustrated with the behaviour and conduct of the political parties. In democracy, when a particular political party ceases to represent popular views, people peacefully revolt through ballot papers. When hopes are dashed each and every time, they turn cynical. The present situation is thus the expression of frustration and cynicism that has brewed in the mind of voters.
When rulers failed to act in tune with the expectation of the people and keep promises given to the people, Nepali people have often sought alternatives. Nepal’s political situation has been in perpetual transition. In the modern history, Nepal saw four systemic changes— in 1951, 1961, 1990, 2006. In 1951, the century old family oligarchy of Rana rule was overthrown and multi-party liberal democracy was ushered in. Under Rana rule, people had been denied not only of their basic democratic rights but also with services like access to education, health care and other basic facilities. Thus a systemic change was brought in.
After this change, people had hoped that the new democratic dispensation would not only guarantee their freedom and rights but also raise their living conditions. But the country saw a heightened political instability in the post-1951 decade as parties got mired in ugly political bickering. Even a democratically elected government fell victim to royal conspiracy and coup within a year and half giving rise to king’s absolute regime under the façade of Panchayat. This was the second systemic change. The Panchayat was overthrown in 1990 heralding a multi-party democratic era, which was the third systemic change in Nepal’s politics.
Sink or swim
The fourth systemic change took place in 2005 that transformed the country from a monarchical system to republican democracy. This happened as people got frustrated with the functioning and delivery of the two key parties of the time namely the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML. The Maoists emerged overwhelmingly in the national political scene of the country. However, the Maoists, too, could not maintain their position and have continued to slide down in strength. Now the Rastriya Swatanra Party has stolen the political show within a few months of its existence but its fate hinges on how it moves ahead.
Political parties are under crucial test in the eyes of people. People have demonstrated their ire to the established parties in the by-elections. Political parties need to take it as a clear message and accordingly change their working style to win the trust of the people. This is the time to sink or swim for the parties.
(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. email@example.com)