Politics and courageTheir contribution to democracy is so great that we are expected to remember the past and be content.
Socrates identified different kinds of courage besides what a soldier evinces standing steadfast at his post during battle. He alluded to those "who are courageous in perils by sea, and who in disease, or in poverty, or again in politics, are courageous; and not only who are courageous against pain or fear, but mighty to contend against desires and pleasures…"
The latter forms of courage are difficult to identify and even more so to acknowledge. There are exceptions though, such as Nelson Mandela’s famous challenge to the white supremacist government of South Africa at the trial that sent him to prison for life. "I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities," he asserted. "It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
I am not aware of any of our politicians having come up with such a stirring formulation (and that could easily be due to the nature of our official record-keeping). But there is no denying the courage shown by our politicians who have been in power for 30-plus years in standing up to the autocratic, and sometimes brutal, Panchayat regime. There can be no doubt that we all need to be thankful to them that they chose to stake their liberty, and life as well, in the pursuit of an ideal akin to what Mandela articulated. Thanks to them, we are all able to aspire towards the same ideal without fear whether through action or using words, as I am doing.
Among those making sacrifices, one surely has to count KP Sharma Oli not only for having suffered imprisonment for 14 long years in the prime of his youth, but for also having played a role in building the CPN (Marxist-Leninist) into the formidable force it had become by the time of the demise of the Panchayat system.
A former comrade-in-arms of his and now a trenchant Oli critic, Radha Krishna Mainali, has recalled the difficult life Oli had and how he had to rely on the generosity of a benefactor for basic survival during childhood. Mainali also remembers though that neither such a tough upbringing nor personal adversities later in life managed to cow Oli. Mainali talks with admiration about the days of their incarceration together and how Oli would read any and everything in his quest for knowledge, confident that they would soon be in power.
Even though the cause he stood for was a just one, it certainly would have required a lot of chutzpah to believe that the Panchayat edifice would soon fall. One certainly must hand it to Oli for believing in himself so much, and for his personal contribution to ushering in a democratic polity. Unfortunately, in the time since Oli has risen to the highest offices of the state, it has all unravelled. In fact, it all seems to have gone to his head as well.
Take the recent rant by him against those making plans to stand as independents in the forthcoming elections or as part of third parties. Instead of trying to understand the reasons for the popularity of these forces, Oli takes issue with their lumping of all politicians as a thieving bunch. He gets somewhat emotional in reminding people of the immense sacrifices he and those from his generation had to make. These included, in his words, going to jail, being physically maimed and forsaking children and parents—all very true indeed.
Oli further rues the canard being spread that political parties are not required so long as there are independents who can take charge. He rightly points out that parties are the lifeblood of any polity whether it is in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, India or even China. What Oli seems to ignore is the simple fact that it is not that people are against political parties per se, but only against those who never know when to let go even decades after being in the public eye. Hence, the trend to vote for any alternative, whether it be Nani Maiya Dahal during the so-called partyless but actually a one-party Panchayat system or for Balen Shah and Harka Sampang during this third coming of democracy.
In the same rant, Oli also goes on to question the kind of programme independent candidates will have and how all those unaffiliated would come together to seek a common national vision. By implication he would have us believe that once in power, political parties hew to the promises made in their election manifestos, conveniently forgetting that no such document from any party has survived the act of voting. Thus it is only to be expected since these supposed commitment papers are filled with fantasies that no one would expect to be fulfilled, such as his own party’s promise in 2017 to usher in a growth rate never ever experienced in the history of the world.
Turning a blind eye
I have often wondered why, despite being a career politician who should have developed a thick hide by now, Oli is always quick to take offence at any criticism. His tirade partly provides the answers as he seems to genuinely believe that politicians should be free to do pretty much anything since they had "earned it". That probably explains the failure to never acknowledge his terrible record during his last stint as prime minister. Among the transgressions that spring to mind are: the inaction over the clear-as-day endeavour by his blue-eyed boy to make money off the establishment of the much-needed “security press”; the turning of a blind eye over the alleged corruption in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic; the very belated stuffing of constitutional bodies with those credentialed with being no more than yes-men and yes-women; the consistent assaults on the spirit of federalism; and the repeated attempts at derailing the new political order itself.
What was rich was Oli complaining about the vilification of politicians. He cannot even see the irony of that coming from one famed for his acerbic wit, with ready insults all around. He appears to believe that politicians should be revered forever for their role in establishing democracy. Calling them out for any of their shortcomings is a no-no. Their contribution to democracy is so great that even if its fruits continue to be enjoyed mostly by a cabal of them, we are expected to shut up out of respect for their sacrifices once upon a time.
I would say to him, no, sir, not in this day and age, and certainly not under a democratic system that you yourself gave up so much for.