The democratic treatmentThe third phase of local elections has made a few things clear. First of all, the local election from Limbwan-Kochila in the east to Tharuhat in the west is a prologue to the main show of parliamentary elections that will follow soon.
The third phase of local elections has made a few things clear. First of all, the local election from Limbwan-Kochila in the east to Tharuhat in the west is a prologue to the main show of parliamentary elections that will follow soon. If the local elections were comprised of a mixed bag of local issues, personalities of local candidates, and the rub-off effect of national issues and specific political parties behind them, the upcoming parliamentary general elections will be a clear referendum on KP Oli’s jingoistic hill caste nationalism versus the pluralistic, inclusive nationalism of the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN), Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSFN) and others.
During a short stay in my village in Morang this past summer immediately prior to the election there, I could clearly see that the local elections were merely a warm up and that the national elections would be fought over epoch-defining issues of inclusion and exclusion.
Deeds, not words
To be sure, Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and the Maoist parties remained the main parties in the local elections. But they will have to choose one particular definition of Nepali nationalism for the parliamentary elections because they can no longer get by just by flaunting their election manifesto as they did in the second Constituent Assembly elections. The years following the second CA elections have clearly exposed the political parties’ real character and intentions through a series of their deeds, particularly through the promulgation of what they called ‘the world’s best constitution.’
Nationalism, inclusion and development still remain the three primary hot buttons for Nepali people. While development may be the most urgent need for the country, it is nationalism and inclusion that will shape Nepal’s future in the coming years until these issues are clearly resolved once and for all by satisfactorily demarcating the provincial boundaries, and by passing just and equal citizenship provisions and proportional representation in the state so that those who are marginalised in Nepal can identify themselves with the state. The growing popularity of Upendra Yadav and Ashok Rai’s FSFN in the third phase of elections is a harbinger for the future.
The NC, the UML and the Maoist parties will remain strong because of their long histories of general political struggle, insurgency, organisational structure and reach, and their accumulated coffers—all hardware of successful political parties in electoral politics. However, the new software of Nepali politics is not development, but inclusion and exclusion—the hue, cry and bloodshed of the past decade. All new and old political parties have to credibly weigh in now on this grand scale of inclusion and exclusion and clarify whether they are for or against either. Are they paying mere lip service to the real issues of the marginalised or are they just playing an electoral game of power to fool the change-seeking public?
The successful local elections have also demonstrated that democracy has slowly been deepening its roots in Nepali soil. The Madhes movement and protests against the flawed constitution was, and will remain, an integral part of the democratic process in an unjust state. In the 250 odd years since the foundation of the Nepali state, structural injustice and discrimination has seeped deep into its foundation and structure. The Maoist insurgency, the Palace Massacre of 2001, the People’s Movement of 2006 and the abolition of monarchy all served as both the causes and consequences of such a foundation and structure. While these events cleansed the state of poison to a certain degree, thorough cleansing will require additional time and effort. The above could be called allopathic treatment.
A total cure, however, would require naturopathic therapy of slow and steady immersion and cleansing. For this, electoral campaigns and elections, protests, circulation and exchange of discourse in the media, in the village tea shop or town public square will work as therapeutic cleansing processes. Therefore, I see the move to dismiss the elections and put all the aspirational eggs in the protest basket as a short-sighted move. Neither elections nor protests alone can purge the poison that sits smug and heavy on the foundation and structure of the Nepali state.
I found the Madhesi youth and intellectuals uncompromisingly committed to the Madhesi cause of inclusion and equal citizenship and passionate about their right to be equal citizens. But to my surprise, I found them highly sceptical and critical of the leadership of Madhesi parties, at times for petty and personal reasons and differences. I got the sense that the intellectuals were a little too caught up in differences that could be overlooked in a struggle. The young activists were a little too angry, though some would say that this was a natural reaction to the frustration felt in the face of the repeated failure of Madhesi leaders to deliver. In one sense, this exposed the shortcomings of both the Madhesi leaders and the young activists and intellectuals; in another sense, this also revealed that a new line of assertive, firebrand Madhesi youth leaders who are intellectually prepared, emotionally fortified and politically ready are impatient to take over the flag. The Tarai Human Rights Defenders (THRD) Alliance, the newly established Tarai-Madhes National Council, and the Nepal Madhes Foundation have a broader vision, a wider intellectual reach and an unflinching commitment to the achievement of equality for all Nepalis. Sooner or later, this collective energy is bound to be translated into political action.
The path that Upendra Yadav and Ashok Rai’s party has shown by forming Janajati-Madhesi alliances and transcending differences in caste, ethnicity and region is the political version of what Madhesi intellectuals have begun to articulate. Forming alliances, not necessarily mergers, to collectively take on the Nepali state to purge its poison is the only way to progress in the future. The caste politics of the RJPN will bring them only disappointment and despair, despite all the hard work of their party workers. The RJPN leaders need to learn to be followers, accept the leadership of others within the party, and learn to serve rather than always hanker after power and posts. Only then will they earn their voters’ respect and vote. Otherwise, despite the ripeness of the political scene, they will once again fail to harvest the dividend in the national elections. Their poor showing in the local elections, even in Province 2, is evidence enough.
Mishra is department Chair of English Studies at Lewis University in the United States