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Politics for politics’ sake

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Politics gets a bad rap because its practitioners are generally so self-centred, power-hungry and corrupt. Most people with integrity and a vision are put off by what they perceive as the dirty business of politics and the fear that it will taint them too.

Democracy, also, has earned a bad name for itself in Nepal largely because of the antics of a succession of elected leaders who exhibited an appalling lack of accountability since 1990, many of those faces are still with us aspiring for elected office.

The problem is that Nepalis, while being hopelessly disillusioned with ‘trad pols’ and elected ex-revolutionaries have come to blame the system of democracy. It’s become fashionable to argue that democracy is not suited for Nepal’s divisive culture, it’s poor and illiterate citizenry and that we may need some kind of benevolent dictatorship. Sound familiar? That was the justification King Mahendra used way back in 1960 to dismiss Nepal’s first nationally-elected government, dissolve parliament and imprison the prime minister and his cabinet. There is a nostalgia for the command and certitude of the past, but many forget that authoritarianism has been disastrous for Nepal, whether during the Rana period, the 1960-90 Panchayat years, or Gyanendra trying to turn the clock back. Democracy is the messiest system of government, to paraphrase Churchill, but it is a mess that can be fixed if politicians put their minds to it.

After all, politics is just the mechanism that allows democracy to function. Competitive politics offers a marketplace of ideas through which citizens can select the leader they think has the integrity and managerial capability to govern for four years, and lift their living standards. Unfortunately, the cacophony of the media reduces politics to an endless quarrel over power, where today’s talking heads in the evening tv news are rebutting yesterday’s talking heads. It is politics for politics’ sake. We are obsessed with the operational strategy of politics, and have lost track of the larger picture of what politics is for.

And that is precisely what is happening with the media-fanned row between the President and the Prime Minister. In fact, as we understand it, there is no row at all. If there is a clash it is actually between the Prime Minister and his party Chairman, between rivals within the three other parties for who can scarcely hide their loathing for each other. The President, despite his ceremonial role, is caught in the middle at a time when there is no parliament and the mandate of the prime minister and his government have expired. Any move that President or the Prime Minister make will be constitutionally questionable, even illegal.

These are uncharted waters, and only decisions taken by the President and the Prime Minister together will have a degree of legitimacy and help untangle the overlapping political knots. All the President is trying to do is goad a recalcitrant caretaker coalition that has got comfortable in its job to disassemble itself and accommodate other parties to form a new election government. That is so that no party has an unfair incumbent advantage during the campaign.

The current disagreement is over who gets to be prime minister, who bags the powerful Home and Finance portfolios in that government. The Madhesi parties in the governing coalition are wary of being sidelined, and that is where things are stuck.

This day-by-day jostling for advantage is being played out in the media, and the rhetoric had got shrill ahead of the President’s Thursday deadline for the formation of a consensus government. This being Nepal, it will be a miracle if the four forces come up with an agreement. So, the President will have to extend the deadline, multiple times if need be.

In all this, we should not lose track of the goal of holding elections sometime in 2013, only that will stabilise politics and allow the country to catch up with lost time and move ahead.

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2 Responses to “Politics for politics’ sake”

  1. abhimanyu on Says:

    Mr. Dixit,
    Have you seen the movie “The Untouchables”? Sometimes it takes just a few good wo/men to clean up the cess. The bigger question is WHO rather than IF or WHEN.

    Perhaps a look at a new generation of leaders might be where we might need to focus.

    Or as a parsi friend once mentioned hand over Nepal to us on a yearly contract basis. Not that it would be possible but perhaps the highest levels of government might need a disinterested individual.

    The question remains unfortunately who do we turn to for governing us?

  2. danny birch on Says:

    It is amazing to me that you chose to characterize King Mahendra’s banning of parties, jailing of netas and forcing others into exile as his Majesty’s desire to have a benevolent dictatorship. Why can’t you credit him as a farsighted leader who knew that if Nepal were ruled by the parties, it would be an unmitigated disaster? He was not anti-democratic. He just didn’t accept the conventional wisdom that democracy has to be some sort of an imitation of the Western European or North American political systems. He was, in fact correct to be distrustful of the political parties. Have not the last 22 and certainly the last 5 years proven the veracity his foresight? Certainly the Panchayat system was plagued with corruption and mismanagement. But, it was an honest attempt to develop a new sort of democracy which was rooted in and suited to Nepali society and tradition. It was never intended to be anti-democratic. I feel that you are wrong to define it as such. It was intended to rescue Nepal from the clutches of the parties, which are really nothing but a group of criminal gangs without any redeeming qualities. Please don’t denigrate and over simplify King Mahendra’s efforts to introduce an alternative to the multi-party (gangster) rule. The fact is that the panchayat system was unsuccessful However, I maintain, that it was introduced with good and noble intentions. By the way, do you remember the peacefulness of the panchayat era, the lack of violent crime and the absence of guns and bombs from society? How is what has replaced it since 1990 been in any way an improvement? Please don’t say that there have been elections. The mere holding of elections by a group of criminal enterprises (political parties) can’t be used as evidence of progress in a society. Maybe you don’t believe that King Mahendra had good intentions when he took his historic action and introduced the panchayat system. Many people in Nepal disagree with you. I think history has vindicated his assessment of the political parties.

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