Dev Raj Dahal
The desire for power separates political life from other spheres. Integrity of this life is central to ease cooperation among various political parties for the collective good of the society. Nepali political parties have successfully generated an awareness of modernity, political mobilisation and democratic change but seem weak to secure the gains and foster constitutional behaviour of leaders, cadres and ordinary folk. The nation’s fast changing political life with values shift in gender, divorce rate, family atomisation, social stratification, migration and social mobility of people has altered the inner dynamics of political parties, producing multiverse of democracy, development and peace beyond constitutional vision. Despite critical roles played by Nepali political parties, the main challenges they face in the lumbering pace of democratisation are:
The first is the friction between the constitutional provisions for parties to be “democratic” “inclusive” “diverse” and periodically “approved by elections” and universal ideological platforms. Anti-ideological consensus among top leaders for power-sharing has swamped them with contradictions. A culture of listening to the legitimate grievances of local leaders, cadres and people can raise their faith in peaceful mediation of their interest. The vague nature of “democracy” has created another friction between constitutional vision of “an egalitarian society” and differentiated citizenship rights for many groups and social and economic inequality breeding a new social stratification, differentiation and struggle. Party laws have opened many sided unstructured participation of citizens and incubated radicals inclined to move beyond constitutional spirit. The disproportional influence of societal forces on the fragile polity has created uneven level playing field and weakened its ability to fix institutions of good governance. Politics of negation has thus made the victims free ride.
The third friction is between inclusive constitution and winner-takes-all politics which insults other’s legitimacy and recognition. The operation of Nepali parties without alternative policy content prompted them to struggle for power without concrete policy. Formulation of contextual common policies based on broad-based consultation rather than fully borrowed ones can contribute to realise national tasks and stabilise social transformation. Fourth friction is the glut of civic rights and lack of state resources for the party government to fulfil. The fifth friction lies in its political culture where the change in government does not mean better condition of living as per the spirit of law, electoral promises or need. This has driven Nepali electorates to seek government change in every national election aiming better future.
In Nepal coexistence of the impersonal state with personalised political parties limps the concept of the political as a public sphere. Its courts, bureaucracy, police and public institutions are saturated with the surge of partisan passion thus hampering leaders’ ability to resolve the vital institutional questions central to the art of governing-- execution of the Constitution of Nepal, settlement of the nature of polity, determination of laws based on public reason, transitional justice, coherence in the functions of federal, state and local level governance and better governance outcome. The awful deduction of state capacity and polarisation of polity have made Nepali political parties vulnerable to a myriad of social forces—professionals, NGOs, tribal groups, social movements, caucuses and non-state actors. It has replaced the concept of impersonal citizens with cadres, clients and consumers.
The scale of inner party factionalism in the ruling Communist Party of Nepal, Nepali Congress, Madhesi parties, Rastriya Prajatantra Party and Samajbadi Party Nepal do not mean intra-party dynamics but parochialism of fractious politicians, like tribal leaders, who often deviate from the national tasks and reduce the boundary between the personal and the political. Network-based politics and ineffective organisation culture of Nepal cause institutional erosion posing difficulty in achieving political stability, legitimacy and governance goals.
The interest of Nepali parties more in executive power than educative, communicative, representative and legislative roles has bred wavering politicians hunting often for green pastures to land in like economic pressure groups devoid of moral and political ethics. Party mergers, cartel, monopoly and amoral collusion reflect economic copy of politics where followers focus only on their leaders not on their thought about the transformative power. It has constrained transformation of transactional into transformational leaders based on electoral and performance legitimacy.
As a result, primacy of professional politicians marks the gush of divisive politics and the loss of public order. Without the notion of a common space among Nepali parties indulged in a scramble for power, the ferocity of undue partisanship can easily reduce the value of checks in the polity, swell the influence of money in politics and spread clientelist culture. The rise of new leaders from feudal structure, NGOs and business has cut the stake of the poor in the polity. In contrast, radicalisation of identity politics is posing trouble for the parties to discover common ground for the solution of practical issues. There are quite a few strategies and issues for managing party frictions in Nepal.
Nepali parties are struggling to rediscover their ideologies as per the constitutional spirit of socialist democracy. The ruling CPN is debating multiple strands of communist philosophy ranging from the ideas of Marx, Xi Jinping to Rosa Luxemburg. The NC is learning the experience of Socialist International and Progressive Alliance while Samajbadi Dal is exploring a possibility to join social democratic fraternity. The incongruity between ideologies and policies has stoked the emotional loss of party cadres and a sense of volunteerism. This helps them to institutionalise in terms of embeddedness in the society, autonomy from interest groups, constancy in roles and duties, density in integrating diverse social demands, resilient to new social stratifications and artful in handling grievances of people as per statutory rules.
Democracy in the inner life of Nepali parties can transform leader-oriented bias into mass-based democratic parties. It empowers them to perform all input functions such as political education, recruitment, interest aggregation, articulation of legitimate needs, communication, mediation of interest and collective action and builds responsive capacity for output functions such as rule making, rule execution and rule adjudication. Political stability rests on a balance between the two. Similarly, inclusion of regional, class, ethnic, caste and gender identities of Nepal into the structures of political parties discourages the autocratic bent of leaders to abuse the cultural, class, social, ethnic and regional diversity of the nation for the growth of political constituency.
Inclusion of social diversity in all the layers of party committees discourages alienation, factionalism and split and enlarges their social base. It brings Nepali nation back together. Democratic dynamic entails constant “feedback” between Nepali leaders and people and the constitution serving as common point of reference. The inclusion of right to information in the Nepali constitution presumes to make the rule transparent to the electorate, even build the trust of weak. But a lack of transparency of party fund and absence of ethical code for leadership succession have bred distrust, eroded discipline and strained their efficacy.
The shifting partisan loyalty and jubilation of all regime change - democratic or not—indicate less politicisation of leaders, cadres and people, their inability to choose the right one and skewed democratic dividends. Civic education is crucial to discourage them to join muscular politics and encourage engaging in correct thought, policy debates, campaigns, membership drive, participation in study circles, development initiatives, voting in elections and collective action. An education about enlightenment frees them from their biological, feudal, hereditary and undemocratic habits and hones audacity to defy vices that subordinates them.
The role of Nepali political parties lies in cultivating peoples’ awareness of rights and duties with their ability to pursue self-chosen goal. It opens them to a larger horizon of building a cosmopolitan worldview as citizen of Nepali state. Indigenous and contextual formulation of implementable plans and programmes build stable relationship with functional groups of society, such as trade union, women’s bodies, human rights NGOs, youth groups, teachers’ association, chambers of commerce and industries, etc. and local institutions of governance.
Experience sharing with the international community, intellectuals and the attentive public can help in capacitating Nepali parties while exposure to literature and dialogues with experts, academics, researchers and local leaders increase outreach and effectiveness. This can provide opportunities for communication, learning about the zeitgeist and always question one’s belief, reflection about human condition and behavioural change. This removes the subverting strategy used against each other, bring all sorts of dissents, cope with non-political challenge of violent groups and build confidence in constitutional system of governance.
Renewal of democracy from the grassroots exposes them to participatory ideals, mostly social and gender equality, inclusion and inter-generational justice capable of providing outlet for people’s discontent and expectation; communication and voluntary engagement in debate, public hearing, opinion polls, citizens’ juries, public consultation, voting, involvement in social development as they open up Nepali society and erode irrational trend; the use of subsidiarity in party committee especially due to the demand of various social classes such as youth, workers, women, Dalits, indigenous people, Madhesis and marginalised for participation, ownership, transparency and accountability; and increase the access of diverse people and cadres to leadership position. As a bonus of their struggle democratisation of parties’ ties with the diverse society can eliminate the tribal view of politics and transform affluence trap of leaders and make a transition from endlessly transition politics into a stable civic culture.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues)
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