In politics, if you tell the truth, you are finished before even starting your journey to power. Nepal’s political history of the past few decades confirms the veracity of the above view. It would certainly not be wrong to flag that many of the entries to the apex of power have been possible thanks to intense pitches for utopian dreams, unfulfilled promises, unclear deliverables, and continual rhetoric about people’s power and sovereignty. People’s sovereignty, indeed, has been a term frequently referenced but grossly misunderstood by many of us, even those self-declared experts-in-politics, whose tonality, verbose, and intensity also have changed based on the direction of the ideological wind.
Literature iterates constitutionalism, legal reform, rights-based development, equality, equity, all aselements indispensable to ensure the peoples’ exercise sovereignty, sometimes directly and sometimes through proxy. Literature also iterates that, for people’s sovereign power to be meaningful, the national governance system with a clear political, institutional, social, and economic accountability mechanism detailing the terms, conditions, and criteria for the enjoyment of sovereign rights should be in place. In that vein, the elections to choose representatives, procedures to recall the non-performing elected leaders, good governance, and rule of law to protect citizens, adequate food, health, and shelter for their survival, equal social and economic opportunity for their growth, all come under the broad ideal of people’s sovereignty. Certainly, because of the opportunity costs involved, its comprehensive materialization only remains possible in theory, even in the most affluent of countries, although most such countries do not hesitate to boast about the equality they provide and empowerment they implement in a broad context of equity.
With such a broad philosophical coverage, the understanding about sovereignty is bound to be differentiated, almost by necessity, leading to tussles amongst sovereign entities(an anachronism in itself).Such tussles amongst the various segments of sovereign entities that actively dominate the country’s political life, have led to much of its problems.
The blame cannot be put on the citizens-at-large that have been mostly silent and patient. Their patience has been unmeasurable and impressive. The continual changing of plots, the forming and reforming of alliances, the whimsically practiced blame-game and praise-culture, all resulting in unclear political equation and national landscape have frustrated peoples’ aspirations. Completely disappointed, most of the people have now reached the conclusion that parties clearly took them for a ride; that ideological difference was ingeniously displayed only but to attract voters; that promises made have been aplenty and deliverables have been scarce; those diagrams of development-plans were rich, and implementation was misplaced; and that, simply put, copper was sold as gold.
Citizens expected to get more rights but obtained more obligations. They expected their standards-of-living improved, but saw their taxes increased. They wanted more jobs to work in their homeland but were informed about closure of factories and granted visa for work-abroad. They wanted law and order and safety but saw peace breakers morph into legislators.
The multifaceted and multilateral negotiations of social contract amongst the leaders and the larger citizenry, expected to have been hermetically sealed two decades ago, seem to protract. Leaders’ big lies and the intermediaries’ tiny secrets have confused people. People stopped dreaming. They mechanically welcome events that unfold. They have no strength to protest, only a duty to concur. Whilst their lives continue to be expensive with resource scarcity, their deaths are becoming cheaper due to delays in dealing with diseases. The political leaders, on the other hand, continue their unhinged march, not for the benefit of the nation, but for their personal financial, political, or social successes, in parallel chastising, as traitors, other political leaders.
It is ironic to see so many political leaders referring to fellow leaders as traitors. Is not a traitor, by definition, an old friend? Otherwise, the term traitor would not make sense. They were the best of friends, not long ago, united to ensure a bright political, social, and economic future for the nation. Now, beyond their own comprehension, they are apart. And all that happened without them even knowing it, and most importantly, without their constituents’ involvement. Vox Populi, so revered in democratic politics, was royally ignored. The overingenious leaders with the conspiratorial assistance of their overconfident advisors, were successful in duping the overly trusting and naïve followers.
In a private interview, a devout citizen mentioned: “Actually, I expected nothing in 2006, but now I expect absolutely nothing. ”Such a nuance has been aired individually by many patriotic and devoted soul. For such souls, the scribe would only but remind what Tagore said: “if nobody responds to your call, then you move forward alone”.
As time went by, the leaders and the system, praised as assets a decade-and-a-half ago, and identified as irrelevant a few years back, have now become a clear liability because of their inability to keep institutions intact, leadership credible and management clean. No institution is spared from a deliberate destruction, whether executive, legislative or judiciary. The destiny of the proliferated and once all-powerful civil society has not been different. It has been completely decimated to remain in theory only, without teeth and agenda but with ample time to go to streets to populate the uncoordinated protesting human cloud as a daily recurring chore.
Amid those silent but resourceful individuals wanting to abscond from citizens’ duty and those unimaginative entities willing to be involved in everything, a balance seems to be needed for a practical overture to be crafted. If the source of the current ills -the original sin- is identified, then boldness is required for its rectification. A careful course correction, in substance, needs to be carried out by securing consensus amongst all the major stakeholders. A change befitting the need.
But, as everything lies on thin ice, the change issuing from the course-rectification risks to tilt in favor of the unknown. Multiple outcome-scenarios are possible.
Under the first scenario, if everything goes as expected a change through a peaceful reclamation and delimitation of sovereignty, well-shared between the governed and the governor (without over-empowering anyone)may be possible. Such a change will help mitigate the current day ills and firm-up national reconciliation.
But erring due to misreading of the vox populi could trigger a full shift of sovereignty to an unknown, otherwise unexpected, force of influence on the reign of power. This change, depriving the larger citizenry from becoming people-sovereign, would completely halt the nation-building efforts.
The change may also be engineered to ensure a partial relinquishing of selected segments of sovereignty to such unknown force. Although recognizable, any action against that force, however, will not be feasible, and the sovereign peoples’ powerlessness will only but increase. Moreover, such a change, although not necessarily sustainable on a long-term basis, will hugely damage the country on a short-term basis, the recovery of which will be extremely difficult and onerous.
There is another final risk of complete crumbling of the sovereignty into several unmanageable entities. As scary as it sounds, this would be a recipe for a complete political disaster, the fate of many countries in the world.
Therefore, managing the sovereignty issue in a careful, pragmatic, matured and logical manner and based on consensus and due process, no doubt, is the need of the day!
The author can be reached at Kshitiz@juno.com