Big festivals in post-political timesFestivals directly touch the lives of the people and lay bare their living conditions.
A juxtaposition of the greatest Nepali festivals Dashain, Tihar and Chhath with the country's post-political times could sound a little unusual. But I am doing so struck by the festive mood of the country on the one hand, and the somewhat overt interest and shifting developments in the country's political matters on the other. I take Dashain as an example here. This festival has always given some breathing space for Nepali politicians in terms of pausing to plan, negotiate and forget the ire and fire of ongoing political imbroglios. This has been a factor in both turbulent and peaceful times in the country. Political players and power contenders appear to have been using this occasion to negotiate and meditate.
Festivals everywhere share some characters. Use of festivals for power positioning in society is one. The larger community is ignored in such situations. Authority and patronage emanate from individuals and institutions on such occasions. A festival like Dashain combines such factors. We can see that in who gives blessings to others or who shows a pattern of patronage and hierarchy. The festivals generate performances. As a performance-savvy person, I see that as a very important feature of the festivals. But the artists and performers, the musicians who accentuate the performative character of the festival, are put at the lower spaces even though it is they who give character to the festival. They have always been categorised as Dalits or people whose performance is crucial for the festival. Ironically, the people of the so-called higher echelons, despite their lack of ability to appreciate music and art, become the audience.
Blessings to the people
This hierarchy cuts deeper. People of such higher echelons who also are placed at the higher positions in the power structure are chosen to offer blessings to the people. People go to them and form lines to receive tika, for example. Such a system can be seen in the ritual functions in the West also. We are familiar with the festival in Athens in the fifth century BC. As they were based on a system of patronage, festivals, especially Dionysia, were used for the leaders of the city. Dashain, unlike Dionysia, has a broader base; it encompasses wide groups and communities. People during Dashain, for example, can create their own comfortable microcosm and form a culture of intimacy, warmth and love. The family hierarchy and the system of senior and junior are not included in this argument. That is cultural and a mutually arranged moment of warmth and celebration.
The other thing that strikes me is the present state of politics in Nepal. Why it is relevant to bring in politics here is that both big festivals and politics share some common conditions. Festivals show the characters of those who live in the country and those who go to work, mainly in India, and return at the time of the festival. The condition of people's existence becomes clearer at the time of the festival. The management of the economy, market and life in general are affected by politics. Reports show that people find life harder during festival times inasmuch as they involve the management and conditions of the celebrations. Despite the atrocities of the times, people are driven by a desire to lead a normal life, even for a brief period of time. How to manage life during festivals and post-festival times is the main question. Festivals directly touch the lives of the people, and lay bare the conditions under which they live. They are the brief happy interludes created with great efforts by the people.
But we are grappling with a situation that can be characterised as overtly political. Our times and our conditions of relationship are shaped by politics. I personally find that state of consciousness as an encouraging sign of positive development. But politics, if it deviates from its normal path, can create confusion in the lives of the people. Some features of Nepali politics indicate the post-political condition. If we listen to people talking about politics and the political situation, we find that certain conditions of disillusionment are becoming a force to reckon with. Who is on the rise and what kind of politicians are taking centre stage speak volumes. The hope and enthusiasm dominating the earlier phase of Nepali constitutional politics are in decline. Fewer attempts are being made to understand the causes properly. Forming power alliances at the centre and in the provinces has become not a normal political process but a game of chess.
I feel sad to think about the politics in Koshi, which is my province. What is happening there is a minuscule drama of what could happen everywhere else in federal Nepal. The politics of alliances and opposition and the widening gap between the people and those in power do not bode well. The condition has triggered negative responses from a large section of society that we can see from the available media information of various natures.
There is a strong need to seek a language that is free from mere jargons. All the Nepali political parties now must have begun to feel that the political and so-called ideological and principled jargons do not function anymore because people think and act in post-political times, which is now. Post-politics is not anti-politics. It is a mode of action and thinking that does not solely rely on established and traditional politics but follows discussions about alternate political theories that have captured forums, academia and free discussions. I would not say that is entirely absent in Nepali political practices. But what is worrying is that some kind of a culture of jest, a state of farce that Karl Marx in Eighteenth Brumaire said is a state of politics, a condition that replaces the serious or what he said tragedy, appears to dominate our politicians' language.
The element of celebration in post-politics is waning slowly. The festivals cannot entirely replenish what is lost. The sense of celebration that the festivals represent and teach us is that, to be able to celebrate the politics of the times, the people who consider indulgence in politics and nothing else as the dharma of life should change their behaviour. They should understand that they have a great responsibility to establish the norm of relationships and interpersonal communication, and cultivate a minimum sense of celebration.
Finally, I want to confess that I like the festivals that evoke good memories, woes, and moments of joy and contemplation. But those who are acting in conditions of post-politics and rule the roost should act with a sense of common bonding with the people in society by freeing themselves from the feudal practices of hierarchy, casteism and narrow sense of humanism on the occasion of the festivals.