Dev Raj Dahal
In Nepal, good politics can be shaped not only by leaders who are well-known for sharing political power among themselves but through cooperation among them for common good by which the majority of people can improve their scale of freedom and standards of living. This equally requires pulling the restless and polarised politics of the nation’s political leaders moving into the reverse direction of their respective ideologies and parties and fixing them at the centre. It is essential to keep up strong partisan attachment of their cadres and followers alive and contribute to democratic stability.
The costs for people’s snub to participate in politics for its not-often spotless image is that they will be governed by those who they do not like and know they are less adept in governing. Public-spiritedness in leaders is an important political virtue for the trust they garner from society promising to eradicate their vices. The edifice of good politics requires the crafting of a number of strategies. One strategy is the ability of political leadership to listen to the voice of the grassroots population while the other is to reflect on the dissenting tone and ideas within the parties and adjust to the reasonable ones, not maintain a strategic relation of mutual exclusion characteristics of CPN-UML and CPN-Unified Socialist, seeking a monopoly on the narration of people’s multiparty democracy and justifying their deeds.
Culture of tolerance
Still the other is superb redemption defined as an act of correcting past wrongs to improve future reputation. Mutual hatefulness is a sign of combustible politics which knows no destination. Democratic politics thrives in the culture of tolerance of the opposing views and stands as a locus of peaceful change of society. It engages political actors in its non-zero-sum game. Both the victory and defeat are peacefully determined by the mandate of people, the outcome is accepted and public institutions of the state act impersonally to guarantee no vendetta revisit to blot the rules of the game. The Nepali Congress, CPN-Maoist Centre and Janata Samajbadi Dal are each seeking to make the other parties compatible with their ideologies, interests and policies for comfortable governance. This opens a spark of hope for the adaptation of parties. This is also the requirement of democratic leadership.
The ascendant leaders in each of them have, however, mustered their courage and ability in glitzy rhetoric and language of communication to stir up the emotion of people about the rise of superman in party politics. The notion of superman leadership dehumanises cadres and followers as the latter feel a sense of subordination or exclusion in the pyramidal command and control style politics, even sovereign people dispassionately breathe the air of unease. Yet, many of the newly emergent leaders are less consistent and experienced in public policy making enterprise, commit to execute the constitution and fulfil the promises so as to lift Nepalis from the present condition of worry, misery, pandemic and inertial progress. Life-preservation under the rising contagion of pandemic and poverty should be the first leitmotif of good politics in the nation.
The edifice of good politics fosters the sovereignty of people entrenched in the Nepali constitution, their emancipation from prejudice, institutional, traditional and political cultural constraints, through civic education and democratic agencies. It emboldens people to take worthy initiatives and grasp and tackle their problems. The frame of good politics is the constitution of Nepal, the laws of the land and constitutional behaviour of leaders, authorities and people, not their struggle for control, divide, atomise and dominate sovereign people against their wish and legitimacy. In Nepal, this is possible if people and civic institutions collaborate for due diligence of leaders and remind them of their oath, promises and mandate even observe humanitarian global responsibilities that have uplifted Nepalis to a level of global citizens.
Otherwise, the mediocratisation of politics will intoxicate democracy and reduce it to crude materialism, cultural relativism and cronyism with no stake of people other than instinctively celebrating every government change regardless of the winning party’s record. Four factors are responsible for this: decline of public morality in politics, enervation of ideology, influence of money and poor political education thus spoiling a great hope that democracy is a better regime than its enemies. These factors have made Nepalis nostalgic of history reverting to the atavism of great leaders BP Koirala, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, Ganesh Man Singh, Man Mohan Adhikari, Madan Bhandari, etc. who were conscious of their power and principles and performed their accountability in the interest of the nation and people.
In a crisis time, the wisdom of good politics lies not in the spiralling of offensive politics for partisan advantage but cooperative action for the general welfare of Nepalis. They shore up the background experience in this. What political leaders have to do is to reflect their conscience which allows them to make a distinction between good and bad politics. Of course, good politics elevates Nepalis to high ground of freedom which is the primary goal of democracy and positive peace. Both sound idealistic postulation but they demand maximum courage, culture and strength so that Nepali politics is able to move from a “return to human nature” to civilisation even if the play of global geopolitics is reducing the choices for leadership and linking foreign policy to the operation of domestic politics.
Only the concept of equal and common citizenship and fellowship sustained by constant communication, education, feedback and democratisation of parties can build national consensus and overcome the deficits of national self-determination. The structure of good politics fosters democratic enlightenment of citizens and leaders and sharpens up the freedom and autonomy of truth-seeking and truth-offering institutions so that no person is left in other’s guidance, ignorance, fatalism and determinism and finds resonance in the standards of J. S. Mill’s liberalism.
The fundamental irrationality of Nepali political life is a budding propensity to herd life, tribalism and identity politics that reduces the common zone of national sentiment and an imperative of cosmopolitan concept of human rights that does not reduce and dissolve individuals into haemophilic “group think” and lack both bonding and bridging trust across the diverse public which are vital for democratic nation building. The self-walling up of leaders and parties within their institutional frame and unable to know the intention of others, however, did not put a stop to cadres and followers to move to and fro switching sides, wearing away partisan attachment and incubating hate politics.
One can see politics of negation has bred various kinds of restless opposition, rebellion and reaction thus turning the constitutional middle path unstable. The edifice of good politics in Nepal, in this sense, requires the cultivation of the higher side of divine human nature rooted into self-discipline and duty that sees human life in connection with all others, not the lower side of human nature described by Thomas Hobbes driven by selfishness. The former spirit acts against self-extension of personal, familial, clientalist and partisan politics. The Hobbesian asocial individual often moves by the desire of self-love and rights without a sense of duty.
Its predicament in Nepal is clear to see. The memory of Nepalis is turning towards the future, the pledges of leaders and their non-fulfilment. Now they are seeking a point of departure from their past habits corresponding to rule of law and rejection of illicit practices. The media of communication has increased the ability of Nepalis to exercise the constitutional right to know, acquire judgmental capacity and forge solidarity and social movements for collective action, an action often required to rear good governance that is just, legitimate and responsive to the people. The atypical political thrill of Nepali politicians has thrown them off balance, sometimes to the opposite ideals of the constitution, thus inspiring the ferocity of the critical mass.
In this sense, balancing good politics requires countervailing mechanisms so that it does not cross constitutional and geopolitical boundaries of the nation operating under the doctrine of consent of governed. The frame of politics in Nepal needs to set up life-affirming values, institutions and policies and create a public order where leaders’ conscience does not collide with the condition of existence of people. It does not deny leaders’ will to power but it rebuffs their obscurantism, caricature of each other and political blindness to the nation’s reality. To be sure, democratic politics is the leveller of society which is also entrenched in the vision of Nepal’s constitution. Ironically, the privatisation of the public sphere is the very anti-thesis of the public purpose of good politics that aims to oppose it.
What one conjures up in a good leader is the one who is often pictured as a visionary person with the power of thinking and persuasion, ability to craft sound public policies, courage and inquisitiveness to reflect on the changing circumstances, alleviate the scarcities of people and spur their life-furthering possibilities. This is the reason many retired politicians, bureaucrats and army generals who are now leading a contemplative life reveal the discrepancy between the democratic spirit of Nepali constitution and lack of social discipline and decency in leadership thus manifesting anomie and swamps of ostentatious speeches lacking melody, eloquence and coherence in political ends and means.
Indoctrination of cadres and followers is only an art of deception. Critical and contextual education is vital for exonerating people from phony consciousness and orienting the sublime bent of Nepali politics towards civic culture. Good politics provides a constructive stimulus to public life. Niccolo Machiavelli is right when he says that the purpose of politics is a struggle for power. Power for him is not an end in itself but to use it creatively for public responsibility for peace and order, not to seek truth which is the job of scientists or governed by private morality. He unloved those who opted out of government responsibilities without serving and sacrificing self for the public and national interests.
Machiavelli, like Kautilaya in the East, was enamoured by the ancient virtues that justified the autonomy of the state to protect people’s own way of life though many scholars dub their approach to politics disapprovingly for its callousness in statecraft. Politics of Nepal can be purified by informed discourse on what it means and what it is not and negating the not aspects’ greater influence in public life, its purpose, organisation, policies, ideologies, strategies and leadership. The allurement of good politics rests on maturing of Nepali leaders and people, generating prudent policies and laws and bridging the gaps between constitutional promises, democratic aspiration of people and setting robust edifice of ecological, social, economic and institutional base of the nation.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)
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