Severe flaws in the governance systemThe mantra of politics, it is increasingly being realised, does not appear to be the spirit of freedom and equality.
I want to take a very worldly approach to discuss the two basic components of politics—system and agency. This is a subject for the political scientists, philosophers or academicians who have spent the best part of their lives teaching them. I belong to none of these categories. As a teacher and writer of literature, arts, performance studies or theatre, my focus is always on what is simpler than the other approach.
We work with one mantra—theatre is the simplest subject or theme; it has no paraphernalia and is unassuming and simple. We work with the belief that the world goes dotty at different cycles of history threatening to demolish the human achievements, and it is the duty of the theatre people—the playwright, director, artists and those who create the mise-en-scène to restore some degree of sanity. Our mantra is, always go towards the basic, the simple and thereby to the profound. It's like a Zen Satori, or realisation, acquired in a flash.
I do not pretend to judge the juggernaut of politics and the systems of government, which is beyond my ability. But I would like to interpret or question some of the prevailing norms about politics and the systems of government that govern our lives today.
Democracy and Parliament
The parliamentary system of government has been the greatest focus of democratic politics in this region. I want to cite BP Koirala's experiences, which reflect his great adherence to the democratic functional power of this system. In his memoir, Atmabrittanta, Koirala recalls how he had expressed his confidence about winning the elections in Nepal in his interactions with his Asian Socialist comrades. That was just after he returned from his European tour of 1956. BP recalls his meetings with the Asians. Following is my translation of one:
‘Elections were going to take place in six countries of this region—and that was just before our own election was going to happen—when our Asian Socialist Conference was underway in Bombay. Elections were going to take place in Sri Lanka, Burma and Nepal. That was towards the end of the fifties. India too was going to the polls soon. ... Prominent Socialists of Israel, Europe and Asia were participating in that. I said to them, "my analysis says that we have a great possibility of winning; our chance of winning the election is the highest.”’ It is interesting to recall here that BP's prediction turned out to be correct. Nepali Congress made a landslide victory in the parliamentary election of 1958.
The political drama of this system took various turns after king Mahendra dissolved Parliament, imprisoned BP and introduced the Panchayat rule in Nepal. My inquiry focuses on where we stand in republican Nepal, in terms of the parliamentary system functioning. The history from BP's experience to the present shows a shift of power from the monarchy to the people.
Anomalies in the system
It seems that we are now trying to find the causes of the difficulties of the parliamentary political system on a day-to-day basis. The Parliament becomes a centre of algorithmic exercise when a party fails to win a sufficient number of seats to form a government. But aberrations in the algorithm appear when even a party that has won a two-thirds majority fails to live up to that achievement and becomes the largest minority, as is the present case of the elected communist parliament of Nepal.
Discussions about alternate systems are going strong in Nepal now. There are two variants of this line of argument. One is that a directly elected presidential system alone will solve the problem. The other line of argument is that the capitalist parliamentary system is the cause of instability and incessant negotiations for power. This system should be abandoned. Those who take this line of arguments are the erstwhile Maoists, or khatti communists, or those who do not want, as they claim, to see the people fall into the quagmire of the parliamentary system of government.
The communist parties of Nepal who have opted for a parliamentary system of government fought in tandem with the other parliamentary parties to establish a democratic republican system of government. The constitution is in place. Ironically, the same political parties are making it difficult for the constitution to operate. In essence, the dynamics of this political system does not appear to be propelled by democratic passion and commitment. It seems the constitution and the parliamentary system are devoid of creative political dynamics. It has become just a form of algorithm, pure and simple. To use the language of theatre again, the mantra of politics, it is increasingly being realised, does not appear to be the spirit of freedom, equality, rights of the people and economic amelioration.
The element of agency has become the dominant factor now. It is not the spirit of the constitution, but the attitude and approach of the agencies who function with that have become dominant now. I personally had not imagined that the democratic or the socialist ideals would show signs of erosion so fast. Different perspectives may come into play if sincere discussions are opened about this phenomenon.
Thinkers believe two elements—melancholia and spectrality—dominate the political psyche today. A melancholic psyche appears to be a strong factor, the source of which is the mindset of the rulers or the governing elites. The minds of those in the upper echelons of power govern politics, no matter what system is in place. Big or small countries present such examples.
The second factor is one of spectrality, which is, the spectres of history continue to haunt the rulers and their followers. As a result, even a communist becomes an orthodox worshipper; a powerful leader of a great democratic country becomes the exponent of the apparitions, ghosts or spectres of conspiracies and lies. Both of those who are melancholic and haunted by the spectres resort to the promotion of their agents to do things like amassing wealth at the cost of the people's health, as we see now, and indulge in the violation of fundamental rights.
A system, whether that is parliamentary or presidential, fails if the political leaders in power and opposition drift away from the right course of action. BP Koirala's faith in an honestly managed parliamentary system is even more valid today than ever before. But the agents who run it should be honest and visionary for that.