Lack of meaningful political discourse is helping neither parties nor democracyLeaders should engage more in issue-based discussions and informed debates, analysts say
Last week, a co-chair of the ruling Nepal Communist Party, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, said, “We have debased ourselves morally.”
“We received the two-thirds mandate from the people to lead the government. But we have lowered ourselves when it comes to clarity on our thoughts, propriety, moral values and conduct,” Dahal said at a programme at the party headquarters in Dhumbarahi. "Today, self-centralism and individualism reign supreme among the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) leaders and they are deviating from the ideals."
Though Dahal was addressing a section of the ruling party leaders, many say his statements are reflective of today’s contemporary Nepali politics.
“There indeed is an erosion in political commitment. They want to tighten their grip on power. They want to win contracts and earn money,” said Ghanashyam Bhusal, a standing committee member of the ruling party. “This is all because they do not engage in informed debates and meaningful political discourses. We lack clarity on issues, agenda and ideologies.”
The decline in meaningful political discourse, however, is not limited to the governing communist party. It’s rampant across the country’s political spectrum.
While in the ruling party, opinions have been lost in the din of prosperity talks, the main opposition Nepali Congress is hamstrung by infighting and factionalism. The two other major parties in Parliament—Samajbadi Party Nepal and Rastriya Janata Party Nepal—do have clear issues, but they appear to be groping in the dark as they struggle to find planks.
Bhusal, who is a strong proponent of political discourse, blames the leadership for the erosion in intellectual debates within and among the parties.
“The leadership is more into daily activities; they care less about ideology, discourse and deliberations,” Bhusal told the Post. “I have been raising the issue of political discourse in the party for long.”
Like Bhusal, Gagan Thapa in the Nepali Congress also has been talking about political platforms and planks but has largely failed to garner the desired encouragement from his fellow party men.
Thapa attributes the poor performance of the government and the main opposition to the lack of political discourse within and between the parties.
“Political parties also need to learn to act as think tanks. They should be able to come up with fresh ideas on specific issues—social, political and economic,” Thapa told the Post. “But to generate ideas, we need to engage in meaningful discussions.”
Leaders from across the political spectrum say one of the reasons for intellectual vacuity is the waning internal democracy in the parties. Debates are few and far between and the leadership tends to keep dissent at bay. Top leaders try to steer clear of criticism, while the rank and file vents their anger among themselves, resulting in rants and whines.
“None of the parties debates on issues. There is a growing tendency among them to oppose dissenting opinions. This leaves little room for political discourse,” said Krishna Khanal, a professor of political science at Tribhuvan University. “Our leadership is reluctant to accept new ideas. Oftentimes, the leadership views new ideas as something that is against the party line.”
Rajendra Maharjan, a political commentator, agrees.
“The leadership today has become intolerant of dissenting voices. They often accuse the dissenting leaders of disturbing harmony,” said Maharjan. “If this trend continues, there is a danger that someday opinions and ideas would stop.”
Khanal credits Bhusal for raising the issue of political discourse in the ruling party. “Bhusal in the Nepal Communist Party earnestly believes in debate, but his voice has failed to make much impact,” said Khanal.
Khanal said he is not very optimistic about Nepal’s political parties engaging in informed and meaningful debates.
But both Bhusal and Thapa say everything is not lost yet. Debates have taken a back seat in both the ruling and main opposition parties because of some internal issues, they said.
The Nepal Communist Party is still struggling to conclude its unification process more than a year after the former CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre announced their merger. The Nepali Congress, on the other hand, is trying to douse factionalism and create party structures.
“There’s a realisation among some leaders on the need for political discourse,” said Bhusal. Congress’ Thapa said it has also got to do with internal democracy.
“It appears as though the parties are practising internal democracy, but the decision-making process is centralised among a handful of top leaders,” said Thapa. “This stifles debate and discussions.”