Dor Bahadur Bista, also known as the ‘father of Nepalese anthropology’, unravels some critical socio-cultural aspects of Nepal’s endeavor to modernization and development in his groundbreaking book ‘Fatalism and Development: Nepal’s Struggle for Modernization’ (1991). Although controversial, his views that bifurcate why Nepal’s efforts to development fail are worth contemplating.
His view on how chakari, as a fatal culture, obstructs Nepal’s development endeavor still carries a huge currency in the country’s transitional political context. Bista argues that chakari (literally ‘sycophancy’) ‘as a social activity, is simply being close to or in the presence of the person whose favor is desired.’ During my informal discussions with the people from all walks of life after the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly (CA) in May, a common issue that I found was their frustration toward the accountability of political parties, increasing corruption and abuse of power and authority. I had also got an opportunity to talk to some young cadres of three big political parties, Maoists, NC and UML. They were very anxious about their political future because, as they have argued, the leadership in their respective parties seems to be more undemocratic in their ways of functioning. They strongly criticized that the political parties, mostly led by old leaders, have to be more transparent on what, why and how they are making every decision for the benefit of the country at large. Most interestingly, they also shared that the CA was dissolved because the discussions on the issues of national restructuring was limited to the top leaders of major political parties.
I also had a series of profound discussions with villagers on the relevance of education for their children’s upward social mobility and development. Crucially, most of them contemplated that education their children are receiving may not contribute to their personal and social development. They said that even if their children are qualified they do not get job opportunities. For them, a job refers to sarkari jagir (jobs in the government offices). They have developed such a belief because they have seen that many qualified people (even with Masters Degree) are not employed yet and youth have been flying to the gulf countries for jobs. It is unfortunate that youth population in villages is disappearing rapidly. Due to this, it is becoming tougher for the elderly people to cultivate farm lands, which are left barren in many places.
The villagers also said that they did not have a close relationship with any people (especially political leaders) with certain kind of power. They strongly believe that without having afno manche (relatives), as argued my Bista, there is a little chance of being employed in Nepal. General people accept as true that one’s merit is judged on the basis of whether or not he or she is close to the people with power especially to the top party leaders. A middle-aged farmer from Ilam contended that although his son is qualified and experienced he was denied a job in an NGO in which another person who was less qualified was offered the job because the NGO was run by the friend of latter’s brother.
These voices indicate that Nepalese society is guided by the chakari system in which meritocracy is considered less important than personal relationship. One of the most crucial manifestations of the system is the ‘taken-for-granted-culture’ that is seen in almost all institutions (e.g. politics, NGOs, schools and universities). We see that most of the present political leaders from the big parties are not ideologically indoctrinated with their respective political camps rather they have sympathy from the top leaderships. There are very few leaders who have developed themselves by raising critical issues against their party leaderships. As the cadres are always afraid of being penalized by the leadership they do not elevate their voices although they know that the leadership is doing right things.
Another form of chakari is chukli, the way one plays a double role. Generally, Nepalese spend their most of times talking about others. They do not really discuss a particular agenda or issue rather gossip on other’s personal matter for hours. In order to please the leadership of any institution, an employee or cadre reports him what other people (from the same institution or outside) was talking (or not even talking) about him. Such chukli system not only weakens the leadership skill but also ruins the integrity of any institution. There are many cases of increased enmity among people including family break-ups due to chukli.
This is applicable to the political parties as well. Those leaders who do not have a vision and leadership skill spend most of their times criticizing each other. Rather than talking about the issues of national development, our leaders have confined themselves in grumbling each other. This tradition has not only promoted the chakari system but also weakened their political spirit. Rather than promoting fair and free democratic system, our leaders are engaging themselves in fostering nepotism promoted by chakari and chukli. For them the best person is one who can be around them every moment than the one who is critical to them.
The chakari-produced leaders have very little idea of leadership and negotiation skills. They cannot contribute to strengthen democracy and do not even think of national development. Chakari not only makes a leader resistant to diverse ideas and workforces but also increases dependency. The lack of our leaders’ productivity at critical moments is the result of their mind-set grounded on the chakari. What is urgent for our political leaders, at this moment, is to put chakari and chukli (can be external and internal) aside and discuss agendas for the national development. They must promote critical dialogues in their own parties that lead us to build a free, fair and harmonious Nepalese society.