Rightist tilt in NepalHistory shows that politics devoid of philosophical underpinnings last only a season.
The results of the recently completed general elections point to a definite resurgence of right-wing politics in Nepal. A new entrant in the fray, Rastriya Swatantra Party, has been advocating a return to a unitary system against the constitutionally explicit “federal democratic republic” which shows its right-of-centre tilt. The party has secured seven seats under the first-past-the-post system and is set to win 21 to 22 seats in the federal Parliament when the proportional representation tally is announced. The pro-monarchist Rastriya Prajatantra Party is also poised to garner 14-15 seats in total, thanks to its electoral alliance with sworn leftists CPN-UML. Moreover, there are influential elements in all parties, including the Nepali Congress, willing to subvert the constitutional provisions of secularism, proportional representation and inclusion which would squarely boost the agenda of restoring the Hindu Kingdom.
Even if the CPN-UML's alliance with monarchists is discounted as pragmatic politics, the number of right-leaning Members of Parliament will be at least 15 percent. This is indeed a paradigm shift from the last Parliament where more than two-thirds of the seats belonged to left-leaning parties. Though not an immediate threat, the move towards the right poses a risk of accelerated derailment of the democratic constitution.
What is happening in Nepal may also be seen as an extension of the increasing influence of right-wing politics globally. Rightists gained popularity after Western democracies failed to ameliorate the hardships unleashed by the 2008 financial crisis. The past-was-better narrative gave rise to rightism built on feigned nationalism (as opposed to patriotism) and sham democracy that advocated majoritarianism. Rightism seeks to negate the idea of competitive politics that is rooted in the plurality of political ideologies. The shadows of some of these global political trends would certainly fall on Nepal regardless of her political history and evolution.
Two issues have delayed the institutionalisation of Nepal's democracy and tested the people's patience, forcing them to look for alternatives. One, Nepal's political energy has been exhausted in reorienting communist forces indoctrinated in “power of the bullet” towards competitive parliamentary politics and “power of the ballot”. In the 1990s, it was the CPN-UML which needed to convince itself that parliamentary democracy was the course of future politics. Following the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2006, the ideological transformation of the Maoists to democracy has been equally challenging. In recent years, the efforts of the Communist Party of China to unite Nepal's communist forces have not only slowed the “democratisation” of Nepali communists but also undermined political stability. Several fringe communist forces are yet to join parliamentary politics.
Two, the crisis of governance only intensified despite incessant political experimentations during the last 32 years since the fall of Panchayat in 1990. Corruption watchdogs like the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority became instruments to protect the corrupt, and impunity under political protection became the norm rather than the exception.
Productivity and employment generation have fallen close to zero. Investment has not increased, except in the hydropower sector. The state's resource absorption capacity remains worrisome. Both secondary and tertiary-level education systems are nearing collapse. Students can't wait to leave the country for higher education after graduating from high school. Public service delivery remains suboptimal. In a nutshell, democracy has been hijacked by kleptocracy.
Nepal is a fledgling democracy where the ghost of the “partyless” Panchayat lingers, and the deposed king indulges in wishful thinking of a return to monarchy. It is a fertile ground for regressive rightism. Additional manoeuvring space for the so-called non-ideological forces has been created by burgeoning public disenchantment with the traditional parties—particularly the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre)—due to the sheer dysfunctionality of the governments they led by turn.
The objectives of the different rightist political entities may vary marginally, but what they all agree on is correcting multiparty politics. Their pronounced hatred for ideologies and focus on issues like effective service delivery and corruption control may be what has raised their status in Nepal's political landscape. This politics of “no politics” and “no ideology” is undoubtedly a paradox, and it may cause unwanted system instability for lack of clarity in vision and unity of purpose. Global political history shows that such politics devoid of firm philosophical underpinnings last only a season.
Nevertheless, the sudden rise of the Rastriya Swatantra Party, in particular, has given a much needed shock to the existing major parties. The fact that the party succeeded in gathering votes in major urban areas is indicative of the changing demographics of politically uninterested middle-class youths seeking immediate attention to their set of problems. In other words, it is a warning bell to all major parties to pay attention to changing dynamics like the increasing use and power of social media in election campaigns, among other things.
The Rastriya Swatantra Party needs to immediately move towards ideological convergence, considering the divergent views that have recently surfaced among its functionaries, to save itself from possible ignominious disintegration. Since the party's ideological foundation is in a formative stage, it would be wise if it could do away with rightist temptations in the interest of democracy and its own future.