Nepali politics is marvelling at the peculiar tangles. On May 21, President Bidya Devi Bhandari, as per the decision of the government, announced the dates for mid-term elections for November 12 and 19, dissolved the House of Representatives and shunned the rival claims of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and opposition leader and Nepali Congress (NC) president Sher Bahadur Deuba to the post of Prime Minister. Prime Minister Oli has instructed the Election Commission to do the necessary poll preparations, promised to have all citizens vaccinated before the elections and built trust with one faction of Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) led by Mahantha Thakur-Rajendra Mahato by fulfilling the latter’s demands for the release of their cadres during the Madhes agitation and easing the declaration of ordinance on citizenship which he himself vehemently opposed in the past. Citizens are linked to survival interest of the nation, not just voters, consumers and clients, and they define who insiders are and who the outsiders. Deuba, backed by factions of Nepal-Khanal faction of CPN-UML, Upendra Yadav of JSP, CPN-Maoist-Centre and NC, has filed case in the Supreme Court with the signatures of 146 legislators demanding the revival of parliament and allowing him to form an alternative government. The SC has started hearing on the constitutional validity of issue. The opposition parties and civil society are resorting to legal, political and agitational means, defying the possibility of any moves towards elections though they lack coherent roadmap for the resolution of nation’s pressing problems and chart a peaceful democratic path.
Extra-constitutional course Turning Nepali politics value- and law-based has become difficult when political unity and change in the nation harbour the tradition of extra-constitutional mode while skewed power sharing injected stubborn differences thus posing the problems of governance and completion of government’s tenure. Long socialised into agitational politics and inclination to partisanise Nepali society, party leaders, mostly pro-impulsive, have equally reared social cleavages with no local mechanism to mediate for cooperative action and uplift ordinary citizens from their pre-existing condition. A strategy to untangle political maze demands both leaders and citizens to be rational and widen partisan to political and national perspective and action so that the scale of national problems does not outrun solutions. It is hard to predict whether the spread of COVID-19 is fully controlled to enable better informed electorate about leadership, politics and policy. The political trust is nourished for the creation of election-friendly environment and administrative, financial and security measures that are well placed for political socialisation, political mobilisation and national integration. Legitimacy rests on breaking the habit-driven conduct of leaders. One remarkable thing about Nepali politics is the domination of cultic personality of leaders and weakening of institutional base of political parties in a spree of power struggle. It has cut the connective tissues with society, their vital energy, networks and circuits so essential for politicisation of citizens. Its classical value of the art of associating citizens to organised political life for articulation of their interests, problem resolution and public order are now losing ground. The dissociative nature of politics has produced a fragmented political sphere and erosion of trust in the impersonality of public institutions. The Maoist Centre, JSP and UML have shown this fissiparous tendency. The RPPs too have suffered from this disease and now seem some semblance of stability. The NC, the nation’s oldest party, is not without affliction either though it remains united by a common vision of parliamentary democracy. As a result, one can see the manifest deficiency of political acculturation of Nepali leaders and cadres to constitutional direction beyond flattering and fawning the virtues they sorely lack for the safe landing of this crisis-prone nation to rebuild shattered lives, restore their dignity and nurture hope in freedom. The outcome is that political cadres and followers show exaggerated deference and obsequious loyalty to their leaders and are afraid to criticise their misconduct even if they deviate from normal democratic and constitutional path and fail to demonstrate reasonable achievements associated with the morality of leadership, mandate and promise for the benefit of general Nepali public. This is so crucial for democratic party building from bottom up and constant communication from top-down. The imbalance between the party organisation and positional hierarchy based on authority structure and the practice of democratic equality mar the shaping of constitutional vision of an egalitarian society. The erosion of egalitarian norms within Nepali political parties of all hues marks the depletion of inner party democracy where leaders of diverse beliefs and persuasions sit together to solve personal, organisational and ideological questions through dialogue and compromise rather than split the party, indulge in mutual accusation and project each other’s negative image. This led to the politics of negation of the other and ousting of non-conformist from the leadership positions thus propelling abrasive tendency within the parties. It is the source of internal destabilisation, lack of discipline and split of parties. Multiple political spectrum of Nepali political parties such as conservative, radical, moderate, single issue, regional, ethnic and cultural does not provide a robust recipe for constitutional stability as many of them have uneven level of trust in the constitution and polity animus to the benefits of associational life based on reciprocity. Institutional trust across the political spectrum is vital to keep development low cost. Nepal’s political history bears witness to the fact that it is difficult to change the nation’s political culture of what Bhuvan Lal Joshi and Leo E. Rose said not long ago “politics of revenge and politics of self-aggrandisement” through several political movements in a heterogeneous and complex society of Nepal could not minimise demands of varied political parties to common goals and vision. The forces of resistance from the losers of political game are natural. It is thus difficult because no single force in Nepal is dominant to determine the course of politics. As a result, conflict resolution is crafted on the basis of external mediation, power equation of powerful actors or courts which often leave the needs, concerns and aspirations of general citizens. Ironically, multitude of Nepali public divided along partisan lines and corresponding media socialisation have accepted unreasonable transitional means thus lingering conflict residues haunt again and again. The growing gap between the government and the opposition does not make Nepali politics free of entanglement and non-zero sum game where each political party, civil society, business and citizens has equal stake and reasonable benefit from democratic dividend. The culture of constitutionalism is important to make all actors of governance law-abiding, predictable and outcome-based and enable politics a matter of community of mutual concerns. It limits predatory behaviour of leaders and redistributive demands of citizens. Fractious politics Only on this basis, a sense of community at multi-level governance can be fostered, a community which flourishes with mutual obligations and shared sacrifices and minimises the negative effects of fractious politics that buffeted Nepalis for long. It pulls the losers from the economic and political game and creates level playing field for the privileged and disadvantaged population. The persisting unfairness in the Nepali polity with aspirational constitution with bloated rights and fewer duties for citizens have made it vulnerable to identity politics of victimhood. It is corrosive of civic sensibilities. In such a context, it is important to care for the common good so that Nepalis are not inflamed by radical appeal of the system — disruptive forces and consumed by growing frustration of governance weakness. The art of associational politics is the art of giving citizens collective voice, visibility and ordered participation required to cope with the general health crisis and its attendant effects on ecology, economy, polity, society and international relations. The civic culture of democracy underlines a profound belief that sovereign citizens have the right to self-determination, responsible for their destiny and legitimacy to untangle the complex nature of Nepali politics that only muddles around in a vicious circle, without breaking it to leap forward to wisest path of discovering common public and national interests.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)