Psychological aspect of Nepali politicsThe politicians' existential angst comes out clearly in their unrealistic work plans.
The psychological aspect of Nepali party politics has always intrigued me. As a literary writer, I have been trying to spell that out in my own way. The behaviours, activities and language used by political party leaders and some voters have helped me a little in this endeavour. People, including staunch party workers, are familiar with certain behavioural aspects of the political leaders whose speeches and interactions betray the traits of their characters. They openly attack others, they show anger, and in some cases, express deep dislike towards their opponents by breaching the norms of decency. Judging from a literary point of view, the speeches of politicians show their sense of loneliness, loss of trust and a fear of betrayal by their clans. Their male-centric vision betrays more of that.
The striking part is the politicians' existential angst, which comes out clearly when they make unrealistic work plans. Their stories about colossal developmental projects show such angst and sense of insecurity. To fight the angst, they promise they will open tunnels in the hills, make huge airports, sail ships over non-existent water bodies and make railway tracks across the Himalayan terrain. They present an almost utopic vision of Nepal's futurity. I especially find such elocutions suggestive of the party leaders' existential anxieties.
The other side of this existential psyche of the political leaders and their parties can be seen in their shifting loyalties and roles. Prof Lok Raj Baral in his book Nepal: Nation-State in the Wilderness (2012) says that making tall promises and not keeping them is the character of the "power-hungry" leaders. In discussions about the process of history and politics in his interpretation of contemporary Nepali political history, Baral uses haunting imagery like that used by thinkers like Jacques Derrida in his famous book Spectres of Marx (1993). Baral has written, "When the atmosphere of political uncertainty starts haunting the people" changes made for democracy will lose their force. Baral predicted over a decade ago that one may think that a "reverse wave in democratic consolidation would make people nostalgic for the past and they would start clamouring for the restoration of monarchy and the old system". We can see that the nostalgia factor is being enshrined in some political party mechanism today. In the formations and dissolutions of alliances, this psychology appears to play more diverse roles.
This nostalgia factor evokes another side of the existential psyche of Nepali politics today. The coming election has brought all the political factors into play. The ideological part is very important because the major political parties principally advocate the primacies of ideology. Others try to bring the cultural identity question to the fore. The interpretations of history by Nepali communists and the Nepali Congress, for example, have also taken a psycho-pragmatic turn. Prachanda's Gorkha speech and the calls of Sher Bahadur Deuba and other leaders to voters to blur the differences between parties in the alliance represents that psychological turn taken by Nepali politics today.
But if an extreme form of self-centred political leadership evolved, that would not bode well for the democratic system. It may lead to the growth of political solipsism which may give the leaders of the major parties justification for becoming introverts in their political thinking and actions. That will affect the functioning style of the party system and of the governments. Personal traits and interests appear to be playing a role in shaping the character of the political system in Nepal. The personal likes and dislikes such as those shown by the president, prime minister and chief justice highlight the psycho-political factor in politics.
I would say that the behaviours of the political leaders and their expressions showing personal anxieties could speak volumes about the psychological aspect of the party system. All these traits have not developed overnight. We have textual examples of the late leader BP Koirala, a great fiction writer, stressing the psychological factors that could influence the behaviour of political leaders. Both fear and the lure of the coalition is another factor that appears to grip the minds of politicians. The advocates of a presidential system or those with the lure of a centrist nature are seeing a way out of the confusion of the party coalitions and dissolutions in that.
We ask, are the actions of the political parties propelled by a psychology of drifting away from their ideologically shaped positions towards forming difficult and sometimes messy coalitions? In answer, we can only say that the lines of polarisation between parties over national, economic and ideological issues are getting fuzzier because of the predominance of the psychological factors. The elite and independent poll-practice advocates and the media-savvy generation all are bound by the psychological factor of Nepali politics. In that sense, this psychological dimension has bound the broader sphere of current party functionings. The "No, not again" campaign is trying to break the safe seats phenomenon for some party leaders, which is a common psycho-political feature in parliamentary democracies.
The parties have realised that they are being carried away by the self-appeasing schemes they have been making. That is why they are editing their earlier hyperbolic manifestos. But some say it cannot be helped. The dream content has so strongly occupied the minds of those in the leadership that it is simply impossible for them to speak in ordinary language anymore.
As a great admirer of the multiparty parliamentary system, I look at this question with a sense of hope and pragmatism. However, it is very common for political parties to act with a certain sense of haste and impatience when the election date is drawing near, which happens to be November 20. This also gives a clue to interpret the semantics of the political leaders' language especially used to interpret their ideologies and their philosophical visions. But such language appears to come mostly in the vitriol that has become the character of Nepali political idioms over the years. But there are exceptions. It would be unfair to lump all the political party leaders together in this matter. But the dominant psychological and existential features appear to be generating the idioms of Nepali party politics today.