Cultic Culture Crushes Democratic Hope


The canon of cultic figures denotes its fondness to a particular group loyal to it, not the general people hoping for the dawn of civic culture and a vision of finer lives. Democratic awareness of ordinary Nepalis is rising in the inverse proportion of cultic figures about the personalisation of power undermining the party statutes, constitution and rules governing public institutions. These rules are central to protect the weak against the strong. But the logic of bargaining power of the strong yields uneven outcomes of democracy for the unlucky poor. The cultic figures are personality-based marked by weak boundaries between private and public, sneering disbelief of them outside their shadows and authority attrition. 

The cultic figures in politics thrive in a nation where the rule of law is very feeble and powerful determines the course of political and development processes. In Nepal, its growth has given rise to an unbridled material passion at the costs of equality and solidarity required for nation building. When the incumbent leadership doles out scarce resources, it definitely takes care of its loyalists and political constituency, not where they are needed the most. A nation aspiring to evolve civic culture spurs the role of institutions in public good. 

Social capital

Noted economist Adam Smith has rightly said that the duty of “the sovereign or commonwealth is that of erecting and maintaining those public institutions and those public works, which, though they may be in the highest degree advantageous to a great society, are, however, of such a nature that the profit could never repay the expense to any individual or small number of individuals.”  Public works provide legitimacy to institutions and leadership structures. Political institutionalisation offers the leaders the substance of social capital: popular trust, policy predictability, authority and legitimacy and vital information to shape strategy for the allocation of public goods. 

Moreover, their transparency and accountability add real political credence for efficacy. The shackles of poverty stunts production and douse the flame of democratic hope. Freedom of choice, not necessity, is the lynchpin of this flame. In Nepal, however, political parties and public institutions have fumbled to tie up the top leadership with the bottom of society. The articulate refutation of personal rule following the collapse of Panchayat, however, turned short-lived as each political leader often considered it always right and failed to knock the roadblocks to national progress through supportive means. 

The post-movement political processes have hatched a neo-liberal, authoritarian style of leadership having more interest in realising the goals of financial capitalism than addressing the basic issues of livelihoods, national identity, state authority and social integration. Authoritarian leadership, by definition, is manipulative, neurotic, distrustful and ego-inflating oriented more toward shifting power equations but limited in skill, knowledge and capacity to give and receive affection from the ordinary Nepalis. Deficient of citizenship feeling, cultic figures like their feudal twins, are status-bound as refused to mediate between the society and the polity through socially desirable public policies. 

The dispensation of an inclusive, secular, federal democratic republic regime raised radical hope but failed to transform the subject and parochial political culture into a participant one and make Nepalis capable of exercising the popular sovereignty. The paternalistic attitude of cultic figures has lent continuity to pre-democratic patronage culture and partisan conformity to their comic speeches and ideas. Only the sensitive ones represent the cry of ailing masses. Similarly, gerontocracy in the old parties has bred a certain amount of self-admiration and self-centeredness without lifting the parties to national perspective and sociability. 

Numerous splits, factions, shifts and cartel of parties return the intricacy of linking popular interests in the polity, one not experienced in true democratic life.  The prospects for political institutionalisation have been spoiled by reckless factionalism within party structures, their ancillary bodies and tendencies of certain leaders to switch sides to collect rewards from the new patron. The nonstop fission and fusion of political parties produced a segmented nature of political culture, spawning the growth of leader-for-life around which cadres and followers crazily hang around to seize opportunities. The birth of new parties can be attributed to nausea to the style, temper and manner of cultic figures.  The strength of personality cult and its stultifying conformity indicate institutional rot. 

The values and ambition of each leader indicate a patchiness penchant to build a network of family, relatives, clients and financers rather than cultivating democracy in its inner life. The entrenchment of patrimony in leadership succession is another element that demonstrates the difficulty of transforming cultic figures and building leadership from bottom-up. So does their centralising tendency that serves a reason for sedative progress of the nation.  Party cadres and intellectuals are awed by the cultic figures and easily succumb into subservience on the decisions made rather than allowing themselves to move on to a deliberative path and associative leap. This has cut the choices for alternative leadership, policies and programme. 

In democracy, all citizens are equal. None own hereditary rights higher to others.  The pusillanimous leadership has limited any hope for constant birth of non-clientalist civil society, the mainspring for democratisation of political society and the state structures. A kind of top-down leadership built by collusion or coalition from above has left the ordinary Nepalis desolate. This amounts to Achilles' heel for inter-generational equity and representation in the institutions of governance. As a result, public awareness of democracy, human rights, justice and peace has marked the birth of new institutionalism -- proliferation of people’s institutions, CBOs, NGOs, civil society, cooperatives, professional solidarity, etc. 

Independent media are auditing and monitoring the performance of public officials, leadership and parties and suspect the move that reduces democracy to a procedure for selecting the elite, not stabilising it. The walls of cultic figures’ ego continue to strangle the growth of civil union bound together by an organic common purpose for nation building. Their will to power makes no secret of their motivation and the parties in power find trouble in eliciting the respect of their opponents. Smaller left and non-left Rastriya Prajatantra Party, Janamat and Nagrik Unmukti and Rastriya Swatantra are trying to create political counter cultures.  

Only re-ideologisation and their traditional commitments to social justice and egalitarian policies including national identity can re-attach them to poor Nepalis. If leadership does not harness national potential but keep on pursuing negation and revenge, they will eventually become identical. In Nepal, rescuing the minds of politicians from undue materialism is essential. Leadership consensus reveals not a pluralistic expression of a general interest of society but only a power-sharing arrangement like the one evolved among governmental trio --legislative, executive and judiciary branches -- in the past for duty-free pajero cars regardless of any sense of legitimacy and constitutional ethics. It insinuates democratic deficit especially an erosion of separation of power and checks and balances existing in the polity. 

The demand for constituency development funds is another blow. It is prone to devalue the purpose of politics to craft suitable public policies and deviate from their vocation of serving public interest. Democratisation does not occur if its principles are not fully applied in the decision-making process as well as in the personal and public life of leaders and people.  Ordinary Nepalis increasingly observe the torrent of luscious and lollygagging words yet they feel that some officials have changed after new dispensation, press censorship has been lifted, monarchy has been abolished and the nation has been federalised but the power-manic old political culture of vengeance and self-elevation remains unchanged.  If posterity chooses their leaders from amoral politicians, no system is going to be stabilised. 

The parliamentary politics too reflects deep rifts between the government and its own coalition partners, and between the government and opposition parties and small parties airing vociferous voices. They have fostered an intensely avaricious individualism and unhinged an entire generation from any sense of common national purpose. Nepali leaders have to set a concrete national vision, otherwise national life finds no sustenance from the strength of the heritage of tolerance and the roots of its enlightenment message. All political gambits are to pontificate about abuses of political power and corruption in other’s cases and to excuse the same practices in one’s own, not become a paladin to fight for the cause of people.

No regret for cycle of evils! 

 As democratic leaders expected no regret for the cycle of evils they committed, the polity is pulling these sores into the nation’s future. As a result, many corrupt leaders and bureaucrats having freed themselves from all moral and legal criteria have amassed their fortunes illegally and are promoted to higher positions without becoming the defenders of law and order -- the main pillars of civilised society. Withering away of national outlook and constitutional spirits has further set off an acute sense of crisis.  Corruption is linked to a lack of transparency and accountability in the system beefed up by a culture of impunity for the powerful in the nation. 

An inefficient system had been able to survive with international assistance which provided huge loans largely on account of influencing the nation’s strategic geography. The political cost of corruption, nonetheless, is self-evident: increasing erosion in the legitimacy of governance. An enormous wealth of leaders formed a hard shell which prevented them from seeing the misery of Nepalis surrounding them. Visible signs are only the deflation of popular hopes affirming partiocracy incompatible with the growing needs of citizens.

The incompatibility is not in terms of values and institutions only but in terms of the dynamics and adaptability of the system to dispense with distributive justice. Durable peace and stability will be possible if all national actors are brought in democratic competition and discipline. The evils of Nepali politics can be removed by bringing politics basics to its life -- beneficial, orderly and meaningful based on cooperation, reciprocity and collective action and transforming cultic figures into the spirits of constitutionalism.

(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)

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