Loktantra's Democracy Deficit

In theory, we have a new constitution under which a government has been elected with a two-thirds majority that should provide political stability and rapid economic development. In practice, nothing works.

Nov. 2, 2018, 8:15 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL 12 No.07, November 22, 2018 (Kartik. 16, 2075) Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75

Francis Fukuyama, the cheerleader for the end of history and the triumph of the neo-liberal global order, confesses in the latest October issue of Foreign Affairs that this polity of electoral democracy is now dead, not just in much of the Global South but in its very homeland, the US and EU as well, what with Trump, Brexit and the emergence of the Far Right on the Continent. For this mess, he blames the new tribalism of identity politics in the West where the Left gave up on issues of economic redistribution to focus on promoting the feelings of disgruntlement among a variety of marginalized groups, and the Right shifted to the Far Right in championing "the patriotic protection of traditional national identity, which is often explicitly connected to race, ethnicity or religion".

There is an apt Nepali saying that will help us understand our predicament here on this front: Jetha mama ko ta bhangra ko dhoti, kanchha mama ko jhan ke gati? (translation: if the senior maternal uncle wears ragged clothes, what better can one hope of the younger uncle?) Electoral democracy is failing those in its very birthplace in the West. Meanwhile, the EuroAmericans have been using it as the etalon of good governance to whip the rest of us in the Global South into submission with a plethora of their "democracy strengthening projects". Can we hope this ideology-in-decline, for that is what it is akin to that other Western invention, i.e. communism, will help solve deep-rooted predicaments in a socio-cultural milieu so different as ours?

Nepal's is a pathological specimen case where we have an unholy khichdi governance broth of neo-liberal electoral democracy practiced by a two-thirds majority cranium-conjoined Marxist-Maoist combo that still believes in the dictatorship of its communist politburo chief and use of violent thuggery to achieve political goals. If there is one place in the world where one can find the form of electoral Westminster model of democracy with none of its substance, it is in Loktantrick Nepal. In theory, we have a new constitution under which a government has been elected with a two-thirds majority that should provide political stability and rapid economic development. In practice, nothing works.

The elected local bodies have been unable to function because the top party feudocrats do not want to decentralize their powers to their own party underlings. After all, a central minister is strong only if he can distribute patronage for which he needs a stronger ministry, not one whose powers have been decentralized to the provinces. Elected representatives, top party functionaries and even cabinet members are completely beholden to corrupt contractors from whom they have received support during and after elections and for whom it is now payback time. Agreements with agitating civic movements are ignored immediately after a compromise agreement a la Dr Govinda KC. Blatant criminal activities such as the Nirmala rape and murder or the gold smuggling at TIA or absconding civil works contractors derelict in their duties, let alone being vigorously prosecuted, are being swept under the carpet to protect these villains who are connected to powerful politicians. This is no political stability: instead it is a kind of suffocating stagnation under which massive discontent is brewing across the land with a potential for explosion that may sweep away many things.

While this state of affairs has deeply disappointed many, both here and abroad who supported the agitations of 2005/2006, it was already apparent even then that these doldrums would be the logical end of a politics born out of the dubious 2005 November Delhi deal. For one, the Maoists were nothing of the sort their name claimed to be: they were a Mughlani-tuteleged fifth column interested only in becoming billionaires owning Mukti Towers and other such private properties including hospitals, finance companies and colleges. (The more ideologically honest among them have already shifted their loyalties to the Baidya and Biplav factions.) The Nepali Kangress gave up its democratic practice by opting for a one-strongman dictatorship of Girija Koirala and its ideological credentials by surrendering to the Maoist political platform. Today, having lost to the communists in the elections and become reduced to parliamentary cloutlessness, it is unable to speak out and take a public stance on any issue of national importance, be it Budhi Gandaki or anything else that requires a clear position born of party-defining political and economic philosophy. The only one seemingly benefiting has been the UML which has been able to provide lucrative state-funded positions to its junior members but nothing else for national development.

And the roots of this malaise lie in the 2015 constitution (and the 12-point Delhi Deal of 2005 under which it was framed despite the new Mughlani leadership of the BJP having second thoughts towards the end) that promises everything and delivers nothing. It has enshrined socialism as its guiding aim but take the case of Budhi Gandaki as a glaring anomaly. If socialism is anything it is about developing public goods as opposed to private goods. Budhi Gandaki produces mostly public goods in the form of irrigation to Chitwan and Nawalparasi, flood control, navigation both downstream and in the upstream reservoir, fisheries and tourism benefits. While electricity can under appropriate conditions sometimes be traded as private goods, these other outputs are public goods not amenable to market self-management, meaning the state has to be party to producing it while ameliorating social and environmental costs. Giving it to a Chinese, Indian or even Nepali private contractor will not ensure its development, at least not in a healthy economic manner. One can site many such anti-socialist measures, such as the acquisition of aircrafts by the government-owned flag carrier, highway contracts etc., by those who swear by socialism and communism but practice crass comprador capitalism. Such a system rife with contradictions has to collapse sooner or later, especially in an inequitable society such as Nepal's.

Take the other case of secularism written into the constitution but shamelessly deformed in meaning by calling it "the protection of age-old traditions". While the Maoist supremo Prachanda has been notorious for his appeasing the malefic Saturn in his horoscope by worshiping a buffalo, the UML's prime minister and president have taken the joke to new heights. Owing allegiance to a party that, as per Marx, calls religion an opium of the people and professes materialism as its primary creed, it was near comical but sad to see them giving tika and jamara during Dussain mostly to civil servants ordered to receive them. Now jamara (sprouted barley) used in Dussain is not merely wheat grass: it is the consecrated depiction of Durga Bhawani that gets it meaning from the nine-day puja that precedes it distribution. With the King, it is clear his jamara is Gorakhkali brought from his traditional family deity in Gorkha and consecrated at Hanuman Dhoka puja house. What one would like to know is where and how our avowedly atheist president and prime minister consecrated their jamara or was it merely grass grown in Shital Niwas/Baluwatar that they were showering on the unsuspecting public? The picture of a former chief justice who administered to the president her oath of office (with no reference to God) but was made to kneel before her to receive the atheist grass has churned deeply many stomachs within the entire country!

These contradictions and the subsequent acts of malfeasance are enshrined in the 2015 constitution; and lest we forget twice the number of people died protesting its implementation than died in the Mughlan-supported and externally inspired civil society-led anti-King agitations in the Spring of 2006. It would be difficult enough to resolve if these issues were only of Nepali concerns: they have to be solved by visionless party leadership against an international backdrop that is equally fluid. All major political shifts in Nepal happened against a changing international context: 1951 with the end of WW-II and decline of British imperialism, and 1990 with the collapse of the Berlin Wall. The 2005/06 agitations came at the tail end of the Fukuyamian neo-liberal Washington Consensus that began to fall apart with the financial crisis of 2008.

Its basic premise would not last, despite the billions in funding from Mughlani and Western sources for over a decade with "democracy strengthening projects". Loktantra, whose indigenous credentials were suspect in the hands of party neo-feudals, could not be propped up by a Western neo-liberal order that itself was in retreat following the rise of the Far Right, a multi-polar world including Russia and China, and the attendant clash of Western civilization with Islamic, Sinic, Indic and Orthodox ones. Herein lies the roots of current Nepali nihilism and frightening doldrums. Will a new leadership emerge to take this bull by the horns? It will have to, but that will not come from those within the tainted parties without a significant revolt. Instead, hope has to be pinned on the as yet politically quiescent entrepreneurial class between the ages of 25 to 40 who have not migrated but have chosen to make Nepal their karma bhoomi and have a future to protect.

Dipak Gyawali.JPG

Dipak Gyawali

Gyawali is Pragya (Academician) of the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) and former minister of water resources.

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