Thursday, 13 June, 2024

Why People Stick With A Political Party?

Kamal Parajuli


Putting into perspective the $20.5 trillion economy of the US – the world’s largest – Nepal with lowly GDP of $28.8 billion – to euphemize – is one perpetually trying-to-develop country. But, ranked 102nd among 196 countries for which GDP data is maintained places it almost at the median. In statistics, median denotes there are as many observations ahead as are behind when values are arranged in ascending order. One might, then, assume things are not as bad as claimed to be. Hold on.
The prosperity enjoyed by citizens can be better gauged by GDP per capita which is derived by dividing GDP by population. The resultant figure gives better sense of goods and services citizens can afford. With GDP per capita at paltry $1,026, it is obvious Nepalis do not enjoy great standard of living. No surprise, Nepal ranks 166th on that criterion. Though Nepal has witnessed growth of over 6 per cent for the last two years it would still need another nine years at the rate to become a $50 billion economy.
Development stalled is dream vaporized. As economic prospect dims, the general public becomes disillusioned. New leaders rise in the nick of time to attribute the malaise afflicting the nation to the regime and persuade people to vent their anger on anything tangible that smacks of government. Simultaneously, they sell new system of governance as panacea to the delirious crowd. In the last hundred years, Nepal has adopted all sorts of political systems – autocracy, monarchy, managed-democracy, unfettered-democracy and republic. But nothing has worked. Successive governments under all systems failed to institutionalise rule of law, empower people, develop infrastructure and create meaningful numbers of jobs.
Now, Nepal has transformed into a federal republic with seven states. History is replete with violence that has accompanied division of erstwhile single state. Many commentators have narrated harrowing tales that unfolded as British India partitioned in 1947. And, what we saw in Nepal post-2008 was no different with various political and ethnic fronts making overlapping claims over a territory setting a stage for inevitable confrontation.
State is rather malleable during political transition. Well versed, vested interests tried to cultivate handles to subjugate state at every opportunity. Political parties would be floated on the fly. Before one could blink they would have disintegrated or would gradually sink into oblivion. The period was tumultuous; survival was precarious; and future looked ominous. Lives were lost and economy was crippled but Nepal ended up promulgating constitution. One might assume leaders have learnt some serious lessons.
Acrimonious politics of transitional period elevated level of political consciousness among general public. People have learnt leaders are answerable to them. And, slamming them on social media has become favorite pastime. One can fathom there is some unmistakable yearning for regime change. But, the desire is misguided. Nepal is already a democracy and a Federal Republic. Political scientists have not imagined any better alternative. Galvanising around promising leaders is possible though. But, have citizens become any wiser?
Large segments of frustrated population routinely blast political parties and their leadership for inability to deliver. It looked as if change in political order was in the offing. But, again, it was the same two old parties that instead deepened their grip on all economic segments and ethnic races. Such was the level of entrenchment that new parties floated by a reputed journalist and veteran politicians failed to make any dent in the latest elections.
How can one relentlessly criticise a political party and yet be a dedicated voter of it simultaneously? Further surprising is how one’s party’s stance, no matter how often it flips, is also unashamedly one’s. Nepalis do not switch party even if it changes its policies; rather they course-correct themselves. Maybe the unflinching support lies in access to resources it guarantees.
In underdeveloped countries, people have to cling to a party for survival – political and economic. Voting on sporadic elections is just a physical manifestation of the loyalty. The weaker the rule of law, the stronger this clinging. And, in the land of lawlessness, despicably feeble private sector is at the mercy of the state. So, whatever resources and jobs there are, they are either with the state or can be created with implicit permission from it. Land grabbing, illegal mining of sand and stones come into mind.
It is how the vicious cycle sets in. People at the lowest rung of society hang on to the person they can trust to deliver promise. He, along with similar others, in turn hangs on to someone senior who can deliver him his promise. And it goes on and on till the top. This is how the parties are structured in Nepal. It is the lure of access to resources by being within the system and uncertainties once outside that keeps all of them glued together, come rain or shine. It is the reason why the established parties are resilient and leaders powerful despite all the visible dark sides.
Many commoners have ideas about what good leadership can bring about. But when resources are scarce and access to them is primary to survival, conscience is relegated. Digital initiatives to clean up political mess are welcomed but their effectiveness is dubious. Much to their chagrin, even the American millennials native to the virtual world discovered they had to agitate in the real world to inspire change. ‘Occupy Wall Street’ was its testimony.
The only way system can be cleansed is by weaning general public of their dependence on political parties for resources. But, this is possible when the state has sufficient wealth to distribute. Nepal did not begin with oil. That would have been fairly easy to exploit. Alternately, Nepalis could keep innovating. But, have they?
Sitting between China and India with combined population of 2.7 billion and 175 million annual outbound tourists little has been done to tap them despite being blessed with natural beauty. Locally rooted tourism projects like home-stay are not even capital intensive. It begs a question, “Are Nepalis entrepreneurial enough?” Or, is Nepali political system non-functional because of their inability to generate wealth. If true, Nepal is in a catch-22.

(Parajuli works with Himalayan Bank Limited and can be reached at