Monday, 6 August 2012

Country without people

The centrality of ‘people’ in a democratic polity is undeniable. People’s voices are the most significant aspect of any democratic country. People are an invisible yet powerful center for the sustainability of democracy. However, how and to what extent are their voices heard by the political parties that tend to represent them? Why do political parties often forget people’s mandates? These are some critical issues to be discussed in the changed political context of the country.   
Just before and after the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly (CA), I am having a series of informal discussions with people from different walks of life. I went to my birthplace to meet my parents earlier this month. During my informal discussions, the villagers expressed their strong discontent with ‘Rajnitikaran’ (politicalisation) in all sectors, especially in schools. One of my seniors said there was likely a fight among Maoists, CPN-UML, Nepali Congress and Limbuwan cadres regarding a controversial recruitment of a new ‘Rahat’ (relief) quota teacher in a local school where I finished my primary education. He criticised that, in the name of consensus, political parties are recruiting their cadres in different committees and activities related to development in the village. Jokingly, he said that he was offered some opportunities by different political parties if he would join their parties. During another talk, a teacher from a neighbouring village said, “I was challenged by the cadres of political parties when I raised questions regarding the decision of the ‘sarbadaliya samyantra’ [all party mechanism] to allocate the budget haphazardly in the village.” He further shared that his query about the sovereignty of people is simply ignored by the ‘samyantra’. He said the members of the ‘samyantra’ turned a deaf ear when he asked them whose voices—the people’s or party leaders’—should receive attention in democracy. 
These two anecdotes are examples only. The contentions shown by the common people during my visit to eastern Nepal reflect two issues. First, there are many cases of abuse of authority and misuse of the budget allocated for the village development committees (VDC). Although political parties fight each other over agendas, they make consensus on sharing budgets equally. It is apparent that almost all developmental budgets are handled by the cadres of different parties, as they have their hold in the consumers’ committee. Second, in the guise of development, political parties are free to impose their worldviews through the ‘samyantra’. Surely, this is not good for democracy. But there are two fundamental reasons behind the emergence of this situation. First, all political parties know—even in each ward of a VDC—the number of party cadres. They not only distribute memberships to the people, but also appease them financially (not ideologically). Through unions, political parties also know the number of teachers, professors, doctors, students, engineers, pilots and so on who are affiliated with their parties. It seems that through politicalisation of all sectors, Nepali society is fragmented in accordance with the number of political parties. This fragmentation has already weakened the integrity of civil society. Due to this, political parties are not really worried about their accountability to the people. They often break their promises for nation building, as they are confident that their cadres must vote for them again. If party cadres do not vote for their leaders, they are penalized. They cannot be critical about their leaders and the agendas of parties. This leads to the imposition of central and top leaders’ ideology to the cadres at the bottom. 
Second, indirectly, people are forced to become a member of a political party. For example, all teachers should be affiliated with a political party for their professional security. Without being affiliated with a party, it seems that people are not able to get jobs, because being a member of a political party is the first criterion to be qualified for employment. This may be good for the political parties to win elections, but due to lack of neutral and critical mass, political parties not only become weaker, but also tend to be less accountable to the people.  
Present political chaos results from a lack of a critical population. We have developed a unique culture where people are not ready to accept the mistakes of the parties they are affiliated with. Everything that is accomplished by their party is right, and whatever is accomplished by others’ parties is wrong. Why are our political parties not able to forge consensus even if they sit for a series of talks? It is because they are part of a political culture where whatever other parties say is always wrong. This indicates that our parties need to revamp the way they are functioning. 
First, they have to develop a culture of listening to others, critically assessing their own agendas and seeing how they can develop a common ground to forge consensus with other parties. Second, they have to rethink their organisational structures. Rather than forcing people to take membership, political parties have to take their agendas to the grassroots level and educate people about their vision for national development. They have to let people decide which parties’ agendas are better. This will ultimately foster a culture of political harmony and respect for other people’s sovereignty. Last but not least, political parties, as a key agency to foster democracy, should think of increasing the critical mass of people who can closely assess their ideologies and activities. In the absence of ‘people’, as it is happening currently, political parties cannot develop their ability to govern the nation and contribute to social transformation and nation-building. 

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