Saturday, September 29, 2012

Nepal needs genuine democracy

It's alarming to see that the Himalayan country has no real economic roadmap in place. Industries are either being shut down or they are stagnating. Meanwhile, politics is being shamelessly played out.

In a recent quantum leap, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the constituents of United Democratic Madhesi Front and other Madhesi and Janjati parties came together to form a Federal Democratic Republican Alliance, with the professed aim of moving towards ‘a Constitution with federalism, and federalism with identity’. Unfortunately, this hardly presents any positive signal to end the political uncertainty in that country.

The FDRA’s aim is to put pressure on the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) to accept an identity-based restructuring of the state before the polls and then go in for an electoral partnership. Altogether, this alliance has done little more than angering the Opposition and preventing any potential thaw in relations.

The present state of Nepal’s politics allows for such an unusual condominium of parties that make little sense when it comes to resolving the greater political mess in the country. The overblown ambitions of the political class nullify the earlier efforts of democratic experiments. The current state of instability in Nepal seems to be more the result of the behavioural recklessness of politicians rather than the consequence of a celebrated political transition.

Undoubtedly, such pacts and agreements among politicians who are under pressure to survive have pushed governance issues to an all-time low. When the roads were not all rubble and 12-hour-long power cuts were not the norm, things were different. The people of Nepal had hope in the new generation of politicians and their brand of democratic politics.

For instance, the Maoists, until recently, were viewed differently as they focused on inland development and did not wish for Nepal to continue as a dumping ground of imported goods. However, their economic vision has been lost mid-way. Today, the work done by the present Maoist led-Government, headed by the once ideologically pure Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, is no less disappointing than any of his predecessors.

The wider connect among the people of India and Nepal has remained the cornerstone of ties between these two countries; the bond here is simply unmatchable. Still, the current level of engagement between these two countries is less satisfactory than it used to be in earlier times. From the Indian side, there is need to limit reliance on the diplomatic mission in Kathmandu for all negotiations, most of which should actually be carried out by Ministerial level delegations.

Also, the inadequate response from India in diplomatic engagement has kept Nepal on the margins; in this regard, there is need for course-correction. Greater people-to-people exchanges will help minimise anti-India feelings among a large section of the Nepali population. In the recent past, India has played the role of a cautious yet concerned neighbour, with respect to Nepal’s fluctuating political scenario. But to stop the vendetta of misguided radicals, India should deal with the situation in a proactive manner and without any biases.

Since 1996, Nepal has witnessed a series of troubling developments. Primary among them was the outbreak of the highly violent Maoist insurgency and later the royal massacre of 2001 which pushed the nation into an age of uncertainty. King Birendra had acceptability among the masses and political parties as well; and his willingness to lead Nepal to democracy was well known. It is true that had he still been alive, the credibility of the throne would not have been lost so early and without the emergence of any better substitute. Before 2001, Nepal was a nation in political transition. Now, it is a land ruled by leaders, who have no other plans except to walk with their erroneous ideas.

It’s alarming to see that Nepal really has no economic roadmap in place. Industries are either being shut down or they are stagnating. Janakpur, a remarkable city in the Terai region, has no other industry apart from a state commanded cigarette factory. As a result, the city is far worse today than it was twenty years ago.

This problem is contagious. The condition of Nepal’s other big cities is not very different. Nepali leaders visiting New Delhi have no will to execute the Memorandums of Understanding signed with the Indian Government or the Indian private sector in the areas of thermal power, telecommunications, tourism etc.

Until the political class reacts to economic impulses, things in Nepal will be hard to change. Nepal deserves a better deal than shrinking under the false promises of undeserving politicians. Democracy is indeed desirable but only if Nepal has chances of getting a real one, not something clownish in its place.
Atul Kumar Thakur
September 29, 2012, Saturday
(Published in The Pioneer, dated on September 20, 2012/ )

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