State capture by ‘Kathmandu Cocoon’A highly cemented network of the ruling elite decides everything related to state affairs.
The reinstatement of Janardan Sharma as finance minister after a 25-day hiatus was largely a foregone conclusion. It was apparent the way ruling alliance and main opposition parties evidently colluded with each other while forming the Parliamentary Special Committee to probe the possible "involvement of unauthorised persons in distorting the tax rates on the eve of the national budget on May 28". The fact of the matter is that the orchestrated failure of the committee "to find evidence of any wrongdoing by Sharma" is only a tiny indication of a highly cemented network of a handful of the ruling elite, which can be termed as "Kathmandu Cocoon", which at present decides everything related to affairs of state.
The probe committee was an effort to deflect public ire, and in essence, to fully absolve Sharma from all blame of possible irregularities in the budget formulation process. Even the representatives of the main opposition party CPN-UML in the committee were accordingly instructed by its leadership. Moreover, the UML used Sharma's case as a bargaining chip to protect central bank Governor Maha Prasad Adhikari who has been under the public gaze after he was nominated as M Adhikari in one recently announced finance-related committee of the party. These give-and-takes have become business as usual in the current Nepali power politics simply because all of these players are in the same cocoon. No one in it acts in a way that may jeopardise the interest of its "own" cohorts.
This "Kathmandu Cocoon" is not a mere hypothesis but has emerged as a true menace to national governance that has literally hijacked the entire state authority. It is a unique composition of a fairly small number of people—about 100 influential politicians across cloaked ideological divides, and about a similar number of businessmen, some two dozen or so-called professionals and "intellectuals", few top-ranking bureaucrats and security personnel, and a handful of power brokers. Its constituent politicians have developed some tangible traits. They are blindly self-centred in complete disregard to critical publicity and public opinion about their acts and behaviour, are extremely powerful which they voluptuously display, ruthlessly extractive of pecuniary benefits and abominably collude, often at the cost of national interest, to rescue each other when any of their comrades lands in trouble.
There is a systematic and coordinated modus operandi among the poles of power within the cocoon. First, by employing all possible machinations, they have now rendered all constitutional and democratic institutions irrelevant and dysfunctional. No major political party, its leader or the prime minister in recent history has paid attention to uphold the dignity and sanctity of these institutions of overarching importance. The federal Parliament has been constantly undermined; not only by engaging in excesses of dissolution attempts but by systematically relegating it from its due role in taking up pressing national issues. An unimpressive and inadequate presence of its members in the House only shows gross political neglect to parliamentarianism. The cocoon has tentacles so long that it is often alleged to have been capable of even influencing the verdict delivered by the Supreme Court.
Second, meritocracy, both in politics and public services, has been replaced by cronyism, favouritism and nepotism; thanks to the entire state power being exercised solely by the cocoon. The only valid qualification necessary for appointment in "lucrative" positions like minister, ambassador or the head of public enterprises is to be in the good books of the operatives of this cocoon. It is public knowledge that there are far more qualified candidates even within the ruling coalition to head the Ministry of Finance in these testing times. But that is immaterial in the face of the brute exercise of state authority by the cocoon. Ambassadorial positions in "attractive" missions of Nepal abroad are clandestinely "auctioned" to finance the luxurious lifestyles of the top party leaders who are the bedrock of this political cartel.
Third, and perhaps the most telling of all, is the fundamental quest for political centralisation of power by the Kathmandu Cocoon, which has severely paralysed the hard-earned federal political system in more ways than one. The tendency of centralisation, which is against the very spirit of federalism and republicanism, is evident in the practice of reframing the laws related to, but not limited to, the police and local security, forestry and natural resources, administrative devolution and the operations of political organisations as well as in the sluggishness in setting up institutions imperative to the federal restructuring of the state.
This has given rise to near dictatorial absolutism in the leadership of all parties. The practice of internal democracy in the ruling and opposition parties alike has been displaced by utter sycophancy and a material "gift exchange" regime. Corruption and defalcation of public funds are no longer taken as a crime or matter of public shame within the cocoon, but rather as a public position-holder's courage and acumen.
In power for three decades
The most worrisome part is the fact that this power cocoon seems to have become virtually impenetrable. First-rung political leaders, including Sher Bahadur Deuba, KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal as the key constituents of the cocoon, have constantly remained in power for the last three decades. The prime ministerial and other constitutional responsibilities have only revolved among themselves. They have no desire to relinquish power despite their age and exhaustion of vision in leading the country forward. Whoever is in power, the circle of deal makers and power brokers with easy access to these leaders' living rooms also remains perpetually intact. The businessmen with political nexus continue to exert influence for rampant policy distortions. Interestingly though, they are the same business houses who supported monarchy during its direct rule under the Panchayat system. They now finance all big party leaders proportionate to their strength and fund parliamentary elections. A generation of actors might have changed, but the legacy of the practice is the same. The bureaucracy and security forces, which are highly prone to corruption, are only tutoring the political masters and businesses alike on how to find loopholes in the system and how to exploit them in their petty interest. A vicious circle, thus, continues unabated.
The nation now debates on the patchwork of arrangement of coalitions of parties, with particular focus on the ruling five-party alliance, which will go into the electoral fray in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Voices are being raised that the septuagenarians in all parties should quit politics to provide room for the younger generation. Ironically, the continuation of the same coalitions of gerontocracy on both sides of the aisle only consolidates the Kathmandu Cocoon that has effectively captured the Nepali state. Sharma's comeback partially uncovers the gravity of such a capture.