The cost of the ruling party feudThis chronic dispute is abominably destructive because of its disconnect from the pressing issues of national interest, such as the pandemic and the economy.
The Nepali media and intelligentsia, in general, appear to be obsessively following the incessant bickering between rival factions in the Nepal Communist Party, and, for that matter, by the similar feuds in other political parties of the country, including the main opposition in the federal parliament, Nepali Congress. Even during these precarious times, when the country reels under an unfolding crisis, the national discourse seems to be hijacked by these unpredictable bouts of accords or discords between two co-chairs of the ruling party KP Oli, who is also the incumbent prime minister, and Pushpa Kamal Dahal. The cyclical nature of dialogues between the two is treated as a new scoop every time.
In a recent development, the chairmen duo has decided to form a six-member task force for dispute resolution. Since the 'dispute' is rooted nothing beyond their personal ego and petty vested interests to cling to or grab power, it should not have been a concern or matter of national attention. Also, it was predicted long ago that Oli's opposition in the party, despite their high-pitched criticism, had very limited constitutional scope to actually remove him from power; the other communist leaders would be forced to settle for a cabinet reshuffle at the maximum. This reconciliatory task force, therefore, was a natural outcome.
But, unfortunately, this meaningless feud is, in essence, grabbing too much attention, which ideally should have been undividedly focused on containing the Covid-19 pandemic, saving the lives of the people from the virus and reviving the economy that is already on the verge of collapse.
What's in a name?
Although the Nepal Communist Party appears passionate about clinging to the term 'Communist' in its banner, the outfit has not only ceased to adhere to the principles of outlined in the classic communist manifesto but has effectively become an edifice of mere comprador bourgeoisie (if we are to take cue from the Marxist lexicon itself). Such ideological renunciation may have been caused by several practical compulsions including globalisation and the sweeping wrath of universal capitalism. However, it is an obvious outcome of the conscious love of lucre and the voluptuous hedonism practised, promoted and protected by the top leadership.
The inherent incapacity of the government has been exposed by the absolute mayhem caused by the absence of governance—as the number of coronavirus infections has spread exponentially nationwide. It is a mystery why the government didn't buy adequate testing and treatment equipment, set-up temporary hospitals and trained available medical personnel in the seven months since the first case of the virus was detected in Nepal. The lockdown contagion has spread to the local levels, but this has not seen a reciprocal rise in effective strategies against the novel coronavirus. After all, the lockdown is not a cure-all but rather a way to buy up some time to implement measures. That the public officials have failed to understand this will only worsen the situation.
Another equally alarming issue has been the blatant and pervasive corruption in procuring the drugs, kits and equipment related to the containment of the virus. The federal government initially did not allow the provincial and municipal governments to procure these materials, with apparent malafide intention, to pocket huge commissions out of these purchases. The state structure is rendered so systematically dysfunctional that no watchdog dares to investigate into such graft, for fear of retribution by the powerful executives. Instead, key anti-corruption agencies now have become machines to issue 'clean chits' by whitewashing these crimes of their political bosses. As a result, the mandarins in the federal government have become so disgustingly cynical that they would not even initiate the purchase of urgent health service materials where there is no scope of commission.
Unfortunately, none of such issues of immediate importance is part of the agenda in the ongoing dialogue within the ruling party. On the contrary, the faction outside the government seems jealous for being out of power and missing the opportunity to snatch a few golden eggs. Therefore, any shade of outcome from the power-sharing arrangement among the factions in the ruling party, or lack of it for that matter, has nothing desirable in store. Whichever way the dispute goes, it will not prove to be any less costly to the nation. Therefore, the forcibly created narrative that unity within the Nepal Communist Party is important for the national interest is a pure fallacy.
Causality and casualty
Nevertheless, it would be naive to see the current power struggle in the ruling party in isolation. It has both trend and pattern. A chronic culture of such squabbles and their pervasiveness across the political spectrum has already inflicted a telling adverse impact to the country's dream for prosperity and welfare. One of the major causes of these feuds often sprawling out of proportion is the sheer lack of intra-party democracy in all major political forces of the country.
If viewed through major theoretical models of intra-party democracy, the operation of all notable political parties of Nepal is abhorrently undemocratic. Even the partial adherence to key components of any of these models would have made these parties responsive to their constituent members and electorates and, in the process, would have reasonably contributed to institutionalising democracy in the country. The candidate selection model relatively respects efficiency and meritocracy of the candidate and provides a sense of representation of voices from the ground in government. The direct participation model provides space through some mechanism for the party members to participate in decision-making debate (or ideally in the process) and the deliberative model ensures an exhaustive deliberation process in the formulation of the concerned party's policies and setting priorities.
Lack of consultation, participation and deliberation are exactly the allegations Oli now faces from his opponents. If we look back to the last three decades of multi-party democracy in Nepal, every political party almost went through a comparable phase of discontent, dispute or even division.
Interestingly though, no leader or party seems to realise the importance of recompensing this structural deficit of intra-party democracy first and then betting on the formal institutional mechanism to resolve crises like the one now faced by the ruling party. The general thought process among the powerful in the parties is that when the institutionalised mechanisms are allowed to function, personal vested interest might have to be sacrificed. Country's democracy and economic prosperity have been direct casualties of this psyche and ensuing ad hoc modus operandi of the political outfits, particularly in the ruling party.
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