By Chhatra Bahadur (UWB received this article via email)
It appears that every moment in Nepal is being defined as “the crossroad of historic change”. It would not be incorrect to state that we may have taken a step forward, only to return to the crossroad again taking two steps backward. It is even more likely that we would never be able to move away from the crossroad, making it a permanent feature. Of course, there are many to counter argue that Nepal has been deviated from a path of being a ‘failed state’ and we are now on the eternal path towards recovery and betterment. The contemporary oft-repeated justification presented by the media, politicians, rights activists, and neo-elites of Nepal is that democracy is regained from an autocrat after the popularized April Revolution, which will subsequently result in peace through negotiations, and thus provide impetus to prosperity.
We are made believe that a new form of governance for the first time in the world’s history has appeared – people-centric governance. I coined this form of governance as ‘peoplocracy’. At least from the continual emphasis placed by the newly christened defenders-of-liberty, we understand that peoplocracy has already provided the most advanced form of political freedom in Nepal. The conduct of various interest groups and people show that the mass has all the right to frame its own rules, destroy public property, burn tyres, run amok by igniting vehicles, and bring traffic and life in the city to standstill while the police turn its head another way. Thus, the most impressive salient feature of peoplocracy appears to be lack of control leverages, lack of responsibilities, and lack of accountability. Other instances such as subordinates’ demanding resignation of the superior on flimsy political ground (and not on the basis of inefficiency or lack of proficiency), students ransacking various office-building and burning furniture and equipment of the University, motorcyclists slapping the traffic controllers, etc point at the most advanced form of people-centric governance.
From time to time, the leaders of the SPA (the Seven Party Alliance) claim that as soon as the SPA took the reins of political power, all forms of inequality and injustice in Nepal are removed instantaneously by promulgating various laws through the reinstated Parliament. According to the proponents, peoplocracy delivers justice and ends age-old discrimination instantly. It is another matter that discrimination is still rampant in practice, but who has time to either investigate, report, or rectify such instances.
Overnight, the reinstated Parliament is declared supreme (by being the members, the Parliamentarians became supreme as well). Usually, citizens of a country are permanent and they also possess ability to create and dismantle any political system – the Parliament can be created and dismantled by the citizens but the Parliament does not have ability to create or dismantle the citizens. From this viewpoint, the supremacy should rest with the citizens of the country. However, in peoplocracy practiced in Nepal, the Parliament created citizens by passing controversial Citizenship Bill. The Nepalese Parliament proved that it can create citizens out of its whims. Perhaps, because of this, the Parliament in peoplocracy is supreme, instead of the citizens of the country.
Sensing the fluid situation as opportune time, many interest groups sprang into swift action presenting radical set of demands, with a view to transform the society immediately. Some national newspapers even carried news stating that various interest groups had to be allocated time to allow them to ‘encircle’ Singha Durbar, the seat of the country’s power, to press their demands. Precarious law and order situation showed signs of serious breakdown.
Another feature of peoplocracy is to invent new words and to resurrect old ones. By adding new words such as participatory democracy, republicanism, federalism, autonomous regions, etc. in the Nepalese lexicon, it enriched Nepalese language and made it more susceptible to literary abuse. Some words such as regressive elements, feudalist, monarchist, royalist, etc. got fresh lease of life acquiring heavy negative connotation. And it is time when everyone, even those who are not remotely connected to the Nepalese political landscape, is in race to prove revolutionary, progressive, and democrat. This is true in the case of special class of citizens, better known as eminent members of civic society and intellectuals (often self-appointed and specifically decorated by so-called ‘free’ press). They are often seen clamouring for attention by dishing out their set of radical prescriptions to resolve widespread malaise in Nepal, on the basis of some obscure political theory framed for conceptually different scenario. They have shown flair to dominate national press and television, often presenting confused opinions and viewpoints even when they lack expertise in the subject of discussion.
Their favorite topic at present is regarding irrelevancy of monarchy in current political configuration and abolition of the institution of monarchy. The majority of them favor of abolition of monarchy; only few suggest monarchy in strictly ceremonial form. The majority of these special classes of citizens seeking abolition of the monarchy put forward diverse justifications. Those justifications can be roughly summarized as: (i) whatever ‘peoplocratic’ achievements have made can be negated by the monarchy sometime in future; (ii) monarchy represent regressive element and only by removal of regressive element, we can take progressive path or said to have chosen progression; (iii) all the ills of Nepal is the creation of monarchy and by abolishing the monarchy, we remove all the ills instantaneously to create modern Nepal; and (iv) peoplocracy and monarchy do not together hand-in-hand because the guiding principle of peoplocracy is republicanism.
However, their justifications appear opportunistic on two grounds. (1) They do not discuss their own roles when democracy was in place since 1990s till the time the King took over. They conveniently disregard the fact that they did virtually nothing to strengthen democracy as an institution and a way of life during those years. Addressing press conferences and participating in seminars in five-star hotels within the Kathmandu Valley cannot qualify as significant contribution in any manner since these actions hardly institutionalize democracy or alleviate living condition of poor majority or increase the understanding of democracy amongst the Nepalese. Their wise words, without concrete and visible action, did nothing to meet the expectations of the people. In short, their own contribution to institutionalize democracy had been practically nil because they were busy profiteering from democratic system of governance. (2) When they stress that the monarchy may negate achievements of the April Revolution in future, they indicate that they will again do absolutely nothing to strengthen democratic institution, leaving open space for the monarchy to play the same role they fear it will play. Perhaps the only way to check the political ambitions of monarchy, if it remains, is to institutionalize democracy. Only declaring the Parliament supreme is inadequate to justify that the democracy is already institutionalized. When the means to reach highest seat of democracy is fraught with undemocratic practices, it is foolhardy to expect that democracy will be upheld. Some may even counter argue that people are now more conscious about their rights and many laws are in place to check the monarchy so that incidents such as royal takeover will not occur again. However, we cannot forget that loyalty of people is fickle since it is guided by their desire for respite from desperation and pessimistic economic predicament. As of now, there has not been much progress in these two fronts. The desperation is intact as the Maoist extortion, in the name of voluntary donation, has reached its zenith and they are doing it openly. In addition, the collections are done in the name of different Maoist-affiliated organizations such as revolutionary trade union, revolutionary women organization, revolutionary cultural troupe, revolutionary students union, revolutionary regional government, etc.
Thus, a single person ends up satisfying many groups of the same outfit thereby increasing the financial burden exponentially. The ‘free’ press has not missed any opportunity to scream hoarse that normalcy has returned even when the ground reality indicates that the Maoists threat looms large from frequent abduction, forced extortion and strong-arm tactics. It is likely to reach epic proportion because the Maoist supremo, Prachanda, has already signalled at urban-based struggle immediately after the Hindu festival of lights, Tihar. It is already in pilot-test phase in Mahottari district in mid-Eastern Nepal wherein urban struggle committee has been formed and they have already started their work. Apart from announcement, nothing much has been revealed regarding the objective of this exercise, time frame within which it will be completed, or number of areas where it will be undertaken.
On the other hand, the recently released government data indicates that business confidence has not improved much. Basic macroeconomic data show that trade deficit has widened (meaning less of exports because of less economic activity and more of imports to fulfill consumption demand), 25% increase in number of people going abroad for employment (because of lack of employment opportunities within Nepal), and decrease in number of tourists coming in Nepal (meaning more unemployment in services sector such as hotel, restaurant, trekking, etc. and indicates that foreigners’ security perception has not changed much). On the basis of these crude parameters, it may be incorrect to claim return of normalcy. However, large armed offence has ceased completely which is positive development.
The path towards peace – from negotiations to amicable resolution – appears to have floundered. Earlier the Maoists presented endless list of ever-increasing set of demands: every Maoist leader kept on adding new conditionality for the success of the peace process. Three breakthroughs were said to have achieved in the first round of negotiations – (1) arms management under aegis of the United Nations Organization (UNO); (2) the reinstated Parliament will cease whereas the Maoists’ will dissolve regional governments and people’s court; and (3) interim constitution was to be drafted which would pave way for formation of interim government to conduct the Constituent Assembly elections. However, the implementation of breakthroughs has been lacklustre and disappointing – perhaps because of lack of commitment of both sides suggesting all-talk-no-substance. The second round of negotiations has been dubbed as crucial and ‘informed’ sources emphasis that serious breakthrough is expected. However, preliminary talks between the government and the Maoist negotiators had reached deadlock as they could not agree on whether arms management be accorded priority (the government wanted to) or whether other political issues be accorded priority (the Maoists wanted to). In addition, each constituent of the SPA has sent 4-member team for this round of talks with the 10-member Maoist negotiating team: there are about 38 people involved in this round of talks.
To make matters worse, each constituent with the SPA has own political agenda and ideology often conflicting to another constituent member. The convergence amongst the constituents is very difficult to achieve. With so many people with diverse set of political agenda pulling in different directions, it is likely that chaos will set in without any concrete results. Even when scenario is not exactly bright, there is still optimism that Nepal would emerge from the shadow of peoplocracy for betterment.