Myth of stabilityIn a recent interview with The New York Times, Colombian President Ivan Duque Márquez made a distinction between demagogues and pedagogues stating that demagogues were populists who embrace extremism of either the right or the left; pedagogues have vision and a mission for steering the country by following a more centrist role that can bridge differences and create conditions for positive change.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Colombian President Ivan Duque Márquez made a distinction between demagogues and pedagogues stating that demagogues were populists who embrace extremism of either the right or the left; pedagogues have vision and a mission for steering the country by following a more centrist role that can bridge differences and create conditions for positive change.
According to him, “Societies no longer need demagogues; they need pedagogues—people that can tell a country, ‘Where is it that we want to go, how is it that we want make it happen, and what is it that everybody has to put in the basket to achieve those goals?’”
The problem of democracy across the world today revolves around demagoguery that breeds populism for scoring points for grabbing power. Ideology and rational thinking are increasingly becoming hostage to cheap emotive slogans for catching the sentiments of the people whose hopes for better living are, rather wrongly, manifested in such catchy propaganda of leaders. Donald Trump of America could swing the results of frustrated Americans who thought that their job markets had been seized by outsiders turning them unemployed and poor. Indira Gandhi’s Garibi Hatao campaign in 1971, KP Oli’s nationalist image created during the 2015 strained Nepal-India relations caused by an undeclared ‘blockade’ or the propaganda of other leaders with similar personal traits have not only made democracy ungovernable, but it also prepared grounds for instability.
Democracy, populism and demagogy are antagonistic because democratic legitimacy starts fading when leaders fail to deliver as per their high sounding slogans and instant image projection. Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, for instance, is facing such a downward trend in his popularity due to callous handling of state affairs or to his tendency of turning institutions into fiefdoms. It is not only Oli, populist leaders across the world tend to be authoritarians when they flout institutional norms of running a modern democratic state.
Oli’s popular mandate eroded soon as the people in general, let alone his supporters, realised that his governability had sunk to the lowest ebb within a short period of seven months into his five-year long tenure. Indications of crises of governance, plus his own fatigued admission transpired through informal sources, suggest that the government with a two-thirds majority is also irrelevant for taking the country ahead. A rotten administrative machinery, the nature of ‘command politics’ under which a variety of nirdeshans (directives) flow, rampant corruption, influence of the mafia, crony capitalists and commission dealers are taken as some of the causes of the low performance of the Oli government. Like Oli, any other prime minister without any mission would face a similar situation for the same reasons listed above.
Political party leaders in Nepal have inherited the traditional authoritarian political culture reminiscent of the Rana and monarchical eras. Even if they come from different revolutionary backgrounds and struggles, they have not internalised the core principles of democratic governance. Thus, democracy is only a slogan for access to power and position, and for ostentatious lifestyles like those of the Shah and Rana rulers and their lackeys. Changes brought by the three revolutions—1950,1990 and 2006—made significant contributions to promoting social awareness, building infrastructure, but the democratic substance is not yet found in republican Nepal.
It is more so when a leader centralises all power in his own hands but fails in institution building and effective governance. Surprisingly, however, authoritarian rulers stay in power longer than democratic leaders, but at the risk of being toppled by anti-regime movements launched with a mission for democracy. South Asian countries are witness to such trends as authoritarian rulers who come to power with a big bang end their career in jail or in disgrace. India, and to some extent Sri Lanka, are exceptions because the foundation of democracy laid by the freedom fighters is still strong despite all pervasive aberrations of democracy.
Indians complain about the duopoly of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Amit Shah, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president, a Modi protégé, prompting BJP’s own recalcitrant leader to say that BJP was a ‘one-man show and a two-man army’. Yet, Modi’s projection of a charismatic leader who wants to transform India into a developed and strong country has not been wholly diminished. For, in India, parties, leaders and the people wait for the general elections to seize an opportunity to alternate rulers if they wish to change.
By contrast, psychic instability seems to be pervasive in Nepal despite the huge mandate given to the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). Its underlined reason is attributed to intra-party quarrels, sweeping popular feeling that such a government forfeits its performance legitimacy, and hence is at great risk of being toppled. A corrupt and rustic administrative system that works in tandem with the mafia, crony capitalists and other factors including external influence work against the government. How can an ‘elected’ government doused with charges of corruption and money power provide effective governance?
‘Democracy’ in Nepal has thus reached a stage beyond correction. Politicians who survive on corruption, nepotism and full-throated partisan spirit cannot provide any alternative way of making democracy free of such malaises. A course correction is possible only when there is realisation among all political party leaders and their followers that they want a genuine people-based democracy. Some of the Gandhian approaches to education, society, polity and economics can be remedies if taken seriously. Electoral arithmetic giving certain parties a mandate does not work when the government that comes into office after the election continues to be haunted by its own delusions. It has been stated by an Indian analyst that ‘strong leaders can also be a liability when they develop delusions of grandeur, or are surrounded by people who only give achchi khabar (positive feedback)’. In the given Nepali context, the leader of the two-thirds majority government has shown its ‘feet of clay’ making no effective decisions for giving relief to the people.
Baral is a professor of political science.