Who is in charge?Nation-building has never been our national policy
Politics and governance should remain independent. Any administration of the government is steeped in politics, carrying with it most of the same, immediate concerns. Governments, by their very definition, strive to do that which will receive the most popular support. They remain at the mercy of public whims. Governance, however, looks forward—much further than the next election.
Good governance requires visionaries. Good governance fosters a culture of transparency, makes those at the help of affairs accountable, and obliges everyone to uphold the rule of law. It is not a one-time thing. Practicing good governance is a continuous process. But the Nepali government’s utter misinterpretation of the notions of governance continues to be an obvious problem.
Architects of history, though not exclusive, are rare enough that most are deified. Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, being the foremost in this realm, entered the popular imagination. While the three exemplars may have had personal flaws and drawbacks, as architects of history, they remain unparalleled. Closer to home, India had Gandhi. On our part, we had Prithvi Narayan Shah. All these illustratious names are visionaries who could foresee the future and dared to do what their contemporaries did not.
The afterbirth of the American Revolutionary War, much like the aftermath of the People’s War, was chaotic, with every faction seeking their own interests. While overwhelming in terms of its scope, the vanguards of American democracy did the impossible.
They wrote a constitution—an imperfect, vague set of laws that has sustained the nation into prosperity for over 200 years. Two centuries later, the American constitution has stood the test of time. Political grievances and strife aside, their constitution is perhaps one of the most compelling and powerful pieces of writing ever produced.
It is obviously unfair to compare a fledgling democracy like ours to one as established as the United States’s. But to strive to surpass successful teams forms the basis for our sporting events, our business ventures, and our marketing strategies. Why should our approach to governing be any different? As a state, we have been playing at democracy. Nepal has struggled with the very basics of democracy for a decade. And yet, instead of playing the game any differently, we still prescribe to the same unsuccessful rule we have set for ourselves: settle for mediocrity.
The sad truth is that nation-building has never been our national policy. The only concerns that gain political traction are short-term concerns that are geared towards winning elections. We’d rather allow ourselves to be distracted by policies, electoral strategies, and developments of little or no importance. Nearly a decade ago, when certain political factions began promising grandiose, impossibly extravagant visions of turning our capital into Singapore, the shrewdest skeptics among us laughed while others were transfixed by the gilded dream before us. Although our basic infrastructure is in shambles, we refuse to hold these politicians and their factions accountable.
Transitions demand leadership that does not succumb to petty toils and, instead, yields to urgent matters. After twenty odd years of instability, economic stagnation, flagrant migration, we’re here attempting to serve as Nepal’s vanguards of democracy. If we were to look at socio-economic factors like child mortality and education, there have been tremendous improvements. However, the idea behind the improvements remains foreign. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and now its heir, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), that provided the ultimate objectives were initiated by the United Nations (UN). While the real-world impact of the improvements should be celebrated and continued, the issue that I find with the whole ordeal is that, as a country, we excessively rely on foreign organisations to identify some of our most critical and crucial issues.
Aside from blatantly ignoring and not understanding the demands of our people—particularly our new workforce—we are also not doing enough to keep people in our country. We can no longer afford to ‘play’ at this system of governance. Our society seems to need a reminder that there is an entire generation of young, dynamic individuals who would rather stay in their own country to work and build something than go abroad. Right now, we are becoming a major producer of migrants for the rest of the world.
Youth in Nepal, from a startlingly young age, seem to aspire to go abroad. Our national pride seems to hinge solely on Buddha and Mount Everest. We saw these two achievements and decided to continually peddle narratives of pride around them instead of forging new ones. India has Ganga and Gandhi. They didn’t stop. America has Lincoln and Mount Rushmore. Didn’t stop. We cannot hang our entire notion of national pride on two symbols that don’t make any difference to our daily lives.
Democracies require work. We asked for this. The very name, demo-cracy, demands that people be invested and engaged. Not taking the time to maintaining this commitment will only lead to another overhaul of our national state apparatus in another decade. We need to focus on substance, not just on window dressings.
Upadhya is a Political Science graduate from Texas Wesleyan University