The oppressed have become the oppressorsEnvy of the power that feudal lords held was the real motive that fueled our freedom fighting generation.
In 2008, our politicians abolished the kingdom and promised a prosperous new Nepal with a brand new constitution. The change was needed, they said, to give ordinary Nepalis a better life and bring Nepal to the twenty-first century.
Once the king was out of the way, they banded together; filled every instrument of democratic governance—from the judiciary to academic institutions to bureaucracy—with their sycophants and started hollowing out the state for personal and partisan benefits. The politicians did everything they had accused the king of doing—and more of it. In 2011, an article in The Economist mentioned that ‘politicians enjoy the freedom to plunder with impunity’ and ‘corruption has become the definitive characteristic’ of the government.
Politicians could be heard blaming the deteriorating state of the republic on the instability of the post-2008 governments. They assured the people that Nepal would be on track once elections were held and a new government would be in place. The constitution was written, the elections were held and, in 2017, the Nepal Communist Party, having a two-thirds majority in the federal Parliament, formed the new government. But the state of the nation has turned even more disappointing.
Corruption has skyrocketed. The politicisation of governing institutions continues unabated. Parliament has been turned into a rubber stamp for the ruling party. A thick air of despondency hangs over the country. Nothing seems to work. Why?
The culture of thulo manche
Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and philosopher, observed the behaviour of erstwhile freedom fighters in several countries and concluded that the environment in which they were raised shapes deep down the thinking and operating style of the leaders. Freire, in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968), writes: ‘Their ideal is to be men; but for them, to be men is to be oppressors. This is their model of humanity’. In other words, the envy of the power and prestige of the oppressors and the hankering to become one of them was the real driver of the freedom fighters’ fight. Liberation and demands for social justice were only incidental.
The senior leaders of all of our political parties grew up within a feudal environment. ‘May all your wishes come true; be a thulo manche (a successful person) and make a lot of money’ was a part of their elders’ all-important Dashain blessings. A thulo manche is someone who could lord over those weaker than him; who is not constrained by law in pursuit of his goals and who has money. Lots of it. It is a hierarchical concept. Historically, the Ranas and the Shahs were at the apex of this conceptual pyramid. Our politicians, like many ordinary citizens, grew up with the ambition to occupy the highest perch in the hierarchy. This was their ultimate objective.
This mantra is at work everywhere—in the conduct of our political leaders and bureaucrats, and even in our homes. We have seen the ex-chief justice of the Supreme Court grovelling in front of the President to receive her Dashain blessings and the President cheerfully doing so, thus asserting her status. The Prime Minister’s Office too announced a similar programme, thus encouraging people to demonstrate their servility and surrender their self-respect to the prime minister. We have witnessed the whole entourage of government ministers and civil servants assembling at the airport, in ceremonial clothing, to send off the Prime Minister—even when he goes on foreign trips for personal reasons. This is a replication of what happened during the days of the monarchy. We have also seen the relatives of political leaders being appointed to critical public positions, regardless of their qualifications—another similarity to what the kings and the feudal lords were doing. The list could go on.
The commitment to humanity and social justice is not a part of the blessings from the elders. In such a culture, anything that inhibits the pursuit of the ultimate goal—compassion, respect for the law, ethical and moral conduct, personal integrity, mutual respect, and self-respect—is considered unrealistic. To be constrained by moral values is assessed as being stupid.
The thulo manche culture erodes mutual trust, decency, and respect, which all enrich and sustain society. It normalises lying, corruption, sycophancy and the exploitation of the weak and, in the long term, destabilises a society. We already see much of our social fabric in disarray. In a society dominated by this culture, education has little value. Our politicians attest that educational accomplishments are not a prerequisite to be successful; to be rich and powerful.
Get rid of this mentality
In one of his novels, almost fifty years ago, BP Koirala pointed to this malaise, arguing that the goal of life should be to be an asal manche (good person) instead. Sadly, BP’s voice has been silenced, and asal persons have become a rarity.
Should the Prime Minister wish, he could stop the gaudy spectacle and discourage the spread of the culture eroding our society. All he needs to do is issue an executive order to stop the anachronistic practice in government. But he hasn’t; he won’t.
Albert Einstein once said, ‘We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them’. The eleven years since the overthrow of the monarchy has demonstrated that our leaders afflicted with the sickness are incapable of the fresh thinking needed for a new political order. The young leaders of all political parties should get together and plan a common strategy to rid the thulo manche culture. The elders have outlived their usefulness.
What do you think?
Dear reader, we’d like to hear from you. We regularly publish letters to the editor on contemporary issues or direct responses to something the Post has recently published. Please send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org with "Letter to the Editor" in the subject line. Please include your name, location, and a contact address so one of our editors can reach out to you.