By Chattra Bahadur
The catch phrases in Nepal change frequently. Usually, metamorphosis is almost invisible; however, it spreads uncontrollably like a wildfire. The media, knowingly and/or unknowingly, creates frenzy. We are instantly consumed by the season’s catch phrase and our reactions are often extreme, defying any logic and reaching a point of insanity. Then, we see, hear and read in the media from a new breed of self-professed experts, who seemingly have knowledge of everything. They often propagate radical, intense and idealistic conceptions that make one suspect whether these experts suffer from some delusional syndrome. Perhaps, the experts understand that radicalism does sell very well, given the Nepalese social milieu; at the same time, it is hardly a feasible proposition. Despite their shortcomings, they must be appreciated for pointing out that Nepal is in dire need of transformation in all spheres. Unfortunately, we are also witnessing a trend wherein the experts present a variety of piecemeal packages aimed at transforming one sphere (usually political environment) only at the cost of and/or neglecting other spheres. The rationale for this practice is that ‘correction of the political environment precedes correction of all the other environments’. It is myopic approach because the political environment influences, for instance say, the economic environment and, in turn, is influenced by it. In other words, one particular environment acts as the both cause and effect concurrently, and unidirectional relationship does not exist in the context of societal influences. Thus, only a comprehensive package of transformation, inclusive of all spheres, will be successful.
It is known fact that the Nepalese society is highly politicized and politics permeates every sphere. Perhaps, this is the result of freedom from very long political repression. However, even in the era of democracy, the political power is concentrated in the hands of ‘neo-elitist’ coterie. This is contradiction since the revolt against one-party rule in the early 1990s was against then ruling elitist coterie. The crusaders of democracy (after assuming power) found it convenient to give continuity to the same mannerism and mores that existed before, instead of ushering vibrant and workable democratic values. The politicians, in drunken stupor of power, chose their past hardships and unknown fates of their compatriots (during the one-party rule) as a honorable excuse to perpetuate any undemocratic exercise to remain in power. The definition of democracy was their undeniable right to be in power because of their past hardships and not because they can contribute positively at present. In no time, existent values such as ‘right connection’, ‘nepotism’, ‘favoritism’ and ‘money by any means’ were strongly ingrained and reinforced further in the societal value system, and became inseparable and inerasable fabric of the Nepalese society.
The urban-based exclusive clique of the Nepalese intelligentsia was quick to understand the emergent undercurrent. They were also equally quick to mould themselves to this new reality and take advantage of available opportunity. Instead of influencing the political process in any manner, they allowed themselves to be submerged in the narrow visions and self-centered goals of the politicians. Many of them continually asserted their independent intellectual identities but were seen propagating ideologies of the political parties that accommodated them. Some even took evolutionary (though risky) approach to transform themselves into human (and civic) rights activists; of late, they are known as the first citizens of the civic society. Their strongest contribution to the Nepalese society is that they created a new employable sector for hundreds of unemployed Nepalese. They showed that even without adequate educational qualification or minimum level of understanding, you could have a very successful career as a human rights activist (measured in terms of number of conferences and seminars one attends, number of times quoted in media and regularity therein, and amount of dollars attracted from the donors). Secondly, they showed that loud decibel in the national media, even without venturing outside the capital city, can ensure success and bring great rewards. However, at present, their stock has hit all-time low. In the power struggle to rule Nepal after the April 2006 movement, the politicians have not taken their incessant attempts to dictate terms and assume the extra-constitutional authority kindly. As a result of this, they are having a low-intensity confrontation with the politicians, but without much success. It is certain that they will bounce back again in a new avatar with new agenda and new catch phrase.
Where does it leave us- the ordinary Nepalese? Not exactly in a rosy predicament. However, the optimists call these times as the moment of reckoning. Perhaps it is because we are groping in the dark trying to ascertain our cultural identities and social relevance while being acutely aware of lost hopes and worsening economic and security conditions. We know that our politicians will weave a new catch phrase tomorrow for mass consumption that will be ably supported by our media. We also know that a Mr. John or a Ms. Smith, representing some international agency, will assure us that everything is all right and we are making great progress. By then, many of us will realize that catch phrases and assurances are the roads to nowhere. And tomorrow, rather than being consumed by these catch phrases, many of us will be in India, Malaysia and the Gulf countries to make our ends meet. Some of us will be washing dishes in the western world in pursuit of higher education and better life. Many of us will give in to cynicism criticizing everything and everyone without an inch of belief and faith in anything or anyone. And most of us will ultimately resign to the irony of fate.