The Congress conundrumThe Nepali Congress faces one of the greatest challenges of the democratic era. With the federal parliamentary and provincial assembly elections fast approaching, the country’s oldest party feels as though it is being squeezed between the leftist alliance and the Madhesi alliance.
The Nepali Congress faces one of the greatest challenges of the democratic era. With the federal parliamentary and provincial assembly elections fast approaching, the country’s oldest party feels as though it is being squeezed between the leftist alliance and the Madhesi alliance. The polls are a democratic exercise, yet they have made the largest political force of the recent past increasingly vulnerable, leading to expressions of deep concern by the NC leaders. The NC top brass see democracy falling into the jaws of “communist authoritarianism”, rising from the dreaded victory of the CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre) combined.
But it’s the NC that trod on the tenets of democracy after the political changes of 1990. Elected the largest party multiple times, it was foolish of the self-appointed custodians of democracy to show the people that only NC cadres could get a hold of jobs in state entities, that freedom meant chaos, and that opening up the economy amounted to withdrawal of state services and monopoly of private businesses. In the early years following the restoration of democracy, top politicians and officials indulged in corruption to advance their personal interests. State bodies were politicised, so much so that they lost autonomy. The most blatant politicisation occurred in the police force, the bureaucracy and the teaching force, giving these bodies a false sense that they were the masters, not the servants, of the people. This thoroughly debased these institutions in the public eye.
As an enduring consequence of this meddling in state organs, professors flaunt their political affiliation while the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary is questioned. In this scenario, it’s of lesser significance that elected people’s representatives have little moral authority to mobilise people for the public good.
Facing the music
The fallout of this misrule, majorly by the NC, is there for all to see. For every Rs100 worth of goods that Nepal imports, there is an export value of only Rs9. An untrained workforce has been the country’s primary export, leaving villages devoid of youth. More than half of the country’s electorate is aged below 40, but this demographic is unlikely to affect results as a big chunk of this group is based abroad for work, unable to cast their votes. As a result, the country has a shortfall in masons needed to carry out post-earthquake reconstruction. The healthcare system is in a shambles largely because politicians choose to seek treatment abroad rather than focusing on equipping the country’s hospitals with necessary technology and doctors. The public schools and domestic universities are in ruins since those with resources send their children to expensive private schools or institutions abroad. And Nepalis as a whole are happy to buy everything foreign, including fuel and electricity. The fact that our misguided leaders seek the blessings of foreign powers while making important national decisions does not bode well for our country, particularly when it is so striving to assert its sovereignty.
The time is long overdue for our policymakers to promote domestic resources and indigenous knowledge while branding our assets—which include our biodiversity and our natural and cultural heritages—in the global market to create jobs for Nepalis. The concern now, before the polls, is to find candidates who sincerely seek to do exactly that and who are also capable of doing so. We have mainly the old horses to rely on, with a few newbies who are only just gaining their footing.
Formula for self-defeat
If it had not frustrated people with its self-defeating ways, the NC would have been a natural choice for a majority of those believing in liberal democracy. Instead, Nepal’s major ‘Communist Party of Nepal’ factions have demonstrated and promised that they believe in competitive politics and periodic elections, and that they will allow free press and independent judiciary. When the left alliance says that it wants to put an end to chronic instability that exists in the form of perennial changes of government, that it wants to promote domestic industry, to boost the nation’s morale by removing the shackles of foreign dependency, and to promote balanced foreign relations in the neighbourhood, it deserves a chance.
As for the NC, it is stuck in trouble of its own making. It claims that ‘socialism’ is one of its defining characteristics, but its policies have always benefitted the well-off and the capitalists, leaving the poor to fend for themselves. The NC claims that it wishes to promote inclusive democracy, but its programmes have always been divisive and discriminatory. ‘Democracy’ is on the lips of NC leaders, but it’s their president Sher Bahadur Deuba, now at the helm of power as Prime Minister, who submitted the democratic polity to the reactionaries in the past. It took the country one-and-a-half decades to emerge from the quicksand that swallowed the state whole as a result of Deuba’s flawed decision.
Confronted by the left alliance, campaigning NC leaders forget the contents of their election manifestos and are consumed by fear while facing their formidable opponent. Rather than offering arguments about why they should win, they are vocal mostly about why the left bloc must lose.
The capabilities of the NC at this juncture can be speculated upon. The NC faced an electoral defeat nine years ago, yet it made a great comeback in five years. The late prime minister and NC stalwart Girija Prasad Koirala knew then that his party was not going to secure a victory in the elections, yet this did not deter him from successfully holding the Constituent Assembly elections in 2008. The CA elections were a crucial step towards establishing loktantra and republicanism. Now, his successor, Deuba, has been given the opportunity to improve his image and reach new political heights by letting democracy flourish while he oversees the upcoming two rounds of election without worrying about which party comes out on top. No matter who wins, it will be a victory for all. We’ll see in a few weeks which party the folks go with.
Guragain is a desk editor at The Kathmandu Post