Politicisation is necessaryThis will ensure a more democratic and transparent governance process and practice
Speaking on TV on the subject of politicisation of the education sector, Health Minister Gagan Thapa said, “It is not because of politicisation, but because of lack of politicisation that the country is facing the current situation with regard to governance.” The word ‘politicisation’ has taken on a negative connotation, and is often equated with ‘party politicisation’ due to the prevalence of bad governance and dirty politics. I cannot but fully agree with the honourable minister that the current state of democracy and governance in the country is due to lack of politicisation of issues that are important for the broader public good. There is a need for politicisation of such issues in order to ensure a more democratic and transparent governance process and practice.
One of the key problems in the current socio-economic and political situation is proliferating patronage politics. The nexus between business persons and big contractors is a concrete example. As election campaigns have become increasingly expensive, most candidates depend on businesspersons for financing. And politicians, regardless of whether they win or lose the elections, have to return the favour even if they have to resort to illegal practices or abuse public institutions and resources. Moreover, the roles of patrons and clients keep changing depending on time and space. Political parties also induct rich and resourceful business persons and contractors into their party organisations, leading to frustration and disenchantment among long-serving party cadres.
Trap of vested interests
This form of patron-client networks is very much intact among rich people, strong politicians, journalists and representatives of trade unions and social organisations. As we can see across the country and mostly in the district headquarters, membership in most of these institutions and committees is controlled by this limited group of people and their families. Ordinary people or even active individuals hardly get an opportunity to become members, forget about being nominated to leadership positions. The biggest problem is that most public decisions are made by these small groups, and the general public is forced to be mere recipients of these undemocratically made decisions.
The media and journalists who are expected to play the role of a watchdog and help strengthen democratic governance and promote transformation in the country through objective dissemination of information also fall into the trap of vested interests. Since these vested interests control local TV, radio, newspapers and FM stations, they are the ones who also define and control the public agenda. Additionally, journalists who are affiliated to political parties further nurture the patronage system, weaken the role of watchdogs and reinforce corruption, unaccountability and existing structures as they are more loyal to their party leaders than to the general public.
Unfortunately, there is no alternative form of communications that can contribute to promoting governance and sustainable development.
Inclusion, social justice, proportional representation and affirmative action have taken centre stage in Nepal’s political discourse. Obviously, these actions might prove to be instrumental in correcting the historical mistakes and discrimination against certain groups and ensure a more inclusive society. However, what seems to be lacking on the part of these movements—both Janajatis and Madhesis—is that they have not given equal priority to basic economic rights, principles of universal citizenship rights and group-differentiated citizenship rights.
Similarly, civil society actors and individuals of the Madhes have misplaced their priorities. Their primary focus has been on the federal structure and number of federal provinces and their demarcation. However, issues of inclusiveness, representation and internal democratisation of Madhes-based political parties need to be brought into the public discourse. Deeply rooted forms of exploitation, domination and discriminatory practices by the so-called high caste and landed elites of the Tarai against the so-called low caste groups and marginalised communities should be discussed and debated equally strongly.
Another reason why public affairs and issues important to the public have been depoliticised is that civil society has remained weak and even been co-opted onto politics and the patronage system. This is, however, not to belittle the historic and pro-democratic role it has played to oust the autocratic Panchayat system and the king’s direct rule, end the Maoist conflict, establish a republic and politicise an inclusive and transformative agenda.
What I mean to say is that these pro-democratic forces and movements have declined drastically or disappeared after the fall of autocratic regimes and the rise of political parties. Even the ones that have attempted to become active have often been fragmented.
Progressive sections of civil society too remained content with advocating some single and fragmented agenda related to freedom and political rights. They have failed to create a common platform to generate a transformative agenda for the larger public good such as welfare measures, employment or more comprehensive national-level public policies. The shrinking public space has also been blamed on the civil society actors themselves. Yes, many of the issues remain to be politicised or re-politicised, as Gagan Thapa has said. Unless the reasons behind de-politicisation and lack of politicisation are countered effectively, the situation is not going to improve. And improvement requires unified movements and solidarity besides a strong political will, commitment and effective strategies.
Baniya holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Oslo and is associated with Social Science Baha, a non-profit research organisation in Kathmandu