Saturday, 4 December, 2021

The Alchemy Of A New Class

Dev Raj Dahal


The notion of class refers to a group of persons of the society based on economic and political resources and distinctive social and cultural features that spring from this division. The prefix ‘new’ gives a sense that its growth in Nepal is a fresh one. The vital trait of this new class is: nouveau riche. It relishes leisure and consciously holds particular worldview and interest to working class, displays ostentatious wealth and status, disposes certain authority and articulation against other classes and believes in alien ideas and praxis of progress unreflective of the nation’s worth and wisdom. Wise economic policies aim at reducing misery, creating jobs and fair economic growth to facilitate a decent life. These aims are vital to attain political stability, social cohesion and peace.

Economic inertia
Nepali scholar Mahesh Chandra Regmi long ago narrated the cause of the nation’s plight in a dismal way: “poverty is endemic in any agrarian society where the peasants, the actual land cultivator, is forced to share the major portion of their produce with parasitic groups who have no role in production and whose income from the land is not available for use as capital in increasing agricultural productivity” to secure livelihoods. The social formations of this new class in Nepal emanate mostly from power brokers, business, contractors, consultants, bureaucracy and the public institutions who enrich themselves by stealing public money, tax deceit and rent-seeking straining social contract. Not many issues face harsh critique in Nepal than this new class by virtue of its seizure of state machinery, control of political life, decision making and public facilities enfeebling the laws of the land. Owing to a lack of legal and institutional safeguards against it, economic inertia in Nepal has abridged the social base of democracy and a vast array of interrelated transformations. Political atrophy tore the polity’s legitimacy, capacity and stability.
The life of this class contrasts with ordinary Nepalis bulging in precarious existence. Media often displays the pictures of its palatial residences, costly cars and modern frills. It produces what majority of Nepalis do not consume and it consumes what the nation does not produce thus pushing citizens out for earning remittances. As a result, diversification and specialisation of the economy for basic needs, import-substitution and export needed to spur indigenous progress have been stunted. Dependency theorists point its growth as a source of the nation’s enduring ordeal of marginality, backwardness and a sense of injustice. The privileged class whose economic interest was not rooted in the nation was quite huge during the Ranarchy and Panchayat. The organised interests during these regimes were landed and business ones whose representation in the state enabled them to mine wealth and power. The execution of many development projects accompanied by bureaucratic control, obviously favoured official elites and their business clients. The elaborate system of regulation, licenses and monopoly slashed distributive justice.
Nepal’s popular leader B.P. Koirala’s indictment of bhuiphutta barga, the upstarts, has a reason. It thrived on foreign aid, corruption, illegal trade and extraction of social surpluses, not agricultural and industrial progress for national independence. Absence of competition between the private and the public sectors deferred any hope for development synergy and erase the curse of sati. The fifth five-year plan had pointed how foreign aid bred commercial class, contractors, building construction, etc., showing decline in agricultural and industrial production. Now it has degenerated into the class interests thus becoming responsible for livelihood crisis, shift to financial capitalism and a debt burden on posterity. But this class under the Panchayat system could not brazenly seek autonomy from the polity and society as it does now with cross-party opportunistic coalition. Despite inclusive constitution, enlarged civil liberties and growth of civil society under various regimes, the execution of their policies failed to be people-centred. The flaw of the diverse sectors of society to shape their social, economic and political interests provided it monopoly in decision-making in the same way as does Latifundista famous for their cruelty in exploiting peasants in Latin America. The bureaucratic sort of conservatism of this class has dampened a civic sense of citizenship. Once the political class and business function in a bureaucratic way, they lose interest in democratic life and uplift the eternal underclass from lingering pain.
The new class is neither involved in production, technological innovation, investment, public education and health nor in labour welfare. An old Nepali proverb expresses a raw poetic truth: “A cat habituated to licking cream does not catch any mice.” It is engaged in intermediary type of activities for the accumulation of private profits, draw consensus of legislative, executive and judiciary branches of the polity for a pact of benefit, set laws, institutional array to stabilise it and rein control over the institutions of enlightenment, the rock of effective sovereignty. As Nepal does not have a strong base of industrial capitalism of its own which can invest in the nation, train the workforce, utilise cheap labour, use national resources and compete in the market, the growth of national capitalism is sluggish. As a result, a sense of work ethics and achievement drive do not spur ample common good.
Nepali regimes encouraged what leftist scholarship calls comprador class which is inclined more towards commerce than industrialisation, consumption than production and manipulation of tax than entrepreneurship. Ralph Pettman says, “A comprador class facilitates the flow of primary exports and the promotion of specific and subordinate industries in its own material interests, in collusion with, where they have not already been co-opted by the bureaucratic machineries of state.” The political formation of comprador class is not much different from this new class as both are disembodied from the nation’s ecological, social and cultural matrix and work for their own and alien interests. The former provides finance for the growth of new class in return for impunity for it. As their functions go beyond territorial loyalties the nation is rife with social decay, economic crisis and political instability. Both have dictated the rural periphery to adjust to the capitalization process and forfeited the power of state to lead the productive forces of society. The outcome of neoliberal drive is: many intermediary institutions, such as cooperatives, small-scale enterprises, cottage and handicraft industries which in democratic society facilitate the economic participation of citizens have sharply declined. It has delayed democratic transformation of the rural periphery by means of their alternative path: control of local resources, market, finance and technologies, manage labour and their productive use by their participation, empower women, indigenous, Dalits and deprived people as per social inclusion and pursue the holistic vision of society. The economic power in Nepal is independent of the control of local popular interests.
Devendra Raj Panday says, “As long as the people tolerate, the domestic elite coalesce with their institutional partners to enrich themselves” and marginalise the peasants who obviously lack political consciousness, self-organisation and effective leadership.
The fission of critical masses into atomised parts such as political parties, civil society, business and identity forces has enabled the new class to confiscate the power of society and the state and cut any initiative for decentralisation, political competition, transparency, accountability and participation. If Nepali polity persists with these practices and renounces its responsibility to the wretched, the base of domestic resource mobilisation and economic sovereignty on which democracy flourishes will remain fragile. This new class makes development projects, education, health, public contracts, licenses and public corporations new birtas and jagirs to be distributed among their affno manchhe thus reducing citizens’ rights in favor of clients. The enrichment of this class has imposed institutional and psychological barriers to the mobility of the poor in the same way as did “The New Class” of Milovan Djilas whose hunt for illicit power led to the rot of one-party regime. A knotty dynamics of today is the mutual slur of leaders eased by this class which tied them in risky drills, raised great powers’ stake in domestic politics rather than strengthening the constitutional system and turning it an engine of social transformation. As this class has no stake in the nation’s future, its members entertains an array of costly privileges- educate their children abroad, seek medical treatment abroad, foster luxury consumption of goods, participate in the flight of capital and rely on the advice of external expert producing collective insecurity for Nepalis. The de-industrialisation of rural areas, unchecked flow of factory made goods from outside and migration of craftsmen, workers and peasants for jobs abroad squeezed any prospect for indigenous development. Capital flows to Kathmandu’s durbars and abroad, drifting to regressive charade and limiting the egalitarian promise of democracy.
Deepak Gyawali asserts it is the “hefty commission in making large purchases for development projects, or renting out state patronage through licenses and permits that is driving the newly forming political elite away from hard but correct decisions on behalf of the people.” Its effects: compromise of accountability and legal procedures of polity resulting into the devaluation of politicians and politics by means of their insulation from every-day life of Nepalis. The new class has evaded the issues of popular concern by integrating trade unions, human rights organisations, student unions, women’s organisations, NGOs, civil society and professional classes in the general consensus connecting them to political parties and reducing their ability to express conscience and articulate. The economistic content of the mainstream parties’ ideology manifested in the denationalisation has spurned the convergence with some donors, bureaucracy, comprador class and new class, as each one is aligned with like-minded local and alien partners and patrons. It has trimmed the fiscal basis of the state and its capacity to pursue social development–poverty alleviation, employment generation and social integration. This has increased rent-seeking culture rooted in hierarchical notions of authority and social influence and suffocating the working of incentive-driven competitive markets. This is why the struggle of powerless Nepalis for fairness and social justice in blinking in the eyes of national and global public.

Patrimonial rule
The upstarts, new class and comprador share the same interests in governance. As a result, decisions are insulated from social feedback creating a chasm between experts and larger public. As most of the parties are clientelistic-- operating under a catch-all formula, rather than programme-based their political culture mirrors atavistic reflexes of feudalism Nepalis are seeking an exit. Their inner life and structures are very much personalised. This has created a culture of lust for party-mindedness in government, bureaucracy, police, business and social institutions thus marking the suppression of individuality and implying an image of patrimonial rule. Instilling the integrity of persons in public office and private business improves the adaptive capacity of non-partisan Nepali polity. Economic emancipation from these classes entails the transparency, accountability and capacity of polity to implement democratic rule and deliver public good. It means an imperative of defending, protecting and restoring the capacity of citizens to shape alternative vision and institutions in order to break the class monopoly which cuts national priorities.

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