Nepal’s ‘socialist’ partiesOrdinary people rarely care about complicated political philosophies, say analysts, stressing that politicians should focus on delivery, not jargon.
“Nepal is an independent, indivisible, sovereign, secular, inclusive, democratic, socialism-oriented, federal democratic republican state,” the Constitution of Nepal proclaims.
When the Constituent Assembly adopted the constitution in September 2015, Nepal’s major political parties were on the same page on including the phrase “socialism-oriented” to define Nepal’s goals.
Socialism, however, has been talked about in Nepal for many years now. The country’s grand old party, the Nepali Congress, says its motto is: democracy, socialism, nationalism.
The term “socialism” now has once again become a topic of public debate, especially after Madhav Kuamr Nepal, a long-time communist leader, registered his party, CPN (Unified Socialist) last week, severing his five-decade-old ties with the CPN-UML, a communist force that he led for 15 years in the past. The same day, Mahantha Thakur, previously an old Nepali Congress hand, registered his party–the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party, or the Democratic Socialist Party. He broke away from the Janata Samajbadi Party, or the People’s Socilalist Party.
Baburam Bhattarai, a former Maoist leader, who is one of the leaders of the Janata Samajbadi, for quite a while has been making a pitch for what he calls a socialist centre.
Analysts say Nepali political parties barely practice what they preach, hence their party names do not really matter. Now everyone is talking about socialism, without failing to outline any particular programme aimed at putting the country on the path of development.
“The fact is our political parties are the agents of cronyism and comprador capitalism,” Dinesh Prasain, who teaches sociology to MPhil students at the Tribhuvan University, told the Post. “Their actions are opposite to their ideologies.”
According to Prasain, over the years, the governments regardless of who led, either those calling themselves socialists or communists, have only favoured a certain section of business people, promoting oligarchy, nepotism and favouritism.
For the people from the grassroots, the party ideologies do not really matter.
Tika Ram Shrestha, 40, is an electrician.
Originally from Ramechhap, Shrestha came to Kathmandu in search of work.
“The only thing I expect from parties or governments is that they should work in the larger interest of the people, especially the poor,” said Shrestha.
For Shrestha, socialism is what he has heard in the news.
“I have no idea what it means,” he said. “But from my experience, I can say that political parties in Nepal have failed the people. I don’t have much hope from them.”
Even though the unitary Panchayat regime was toppled more than 30 years ago, Nepal’s parliamentary democracy has yet to become strong. Six years after the restoration of democracy, the Maoists waged a war, calling it “people’s war”, in a quest for an egalitarian society.
The war ended after a decade in 2006. The egalitarian dream remains distant, but the Maoist war did help raise awareness among the people, especially the marginalised, the oppressed and the downtrodden, about their rights.
It was the Maoist party’s demand that the country draft its constitution through a constituent assembly. The Maoist role in transitioning the country from the monarchy to a secular democratic republic cannot be ruled out, say analysts. But in later years, the party has been co-opted by its old enemies who it used to call “old traditional parties”.
Now on the verge of losing its relevance, the party is even considering shedding its “Maoist” tag.
Analysts say even though Nepal’s political parties call themselves “communists”, they were never communists when it came to their actions. And this “socialism” is nothing but another gimmick. They say to serve the country and the people, political parties need good intentions, vision, will and morality.
Many say “socialism” may sound fancy compared to “communism”, but unless the parties are committed to their promises, people on the margins will never benefit.
Sociologists say, for parties to have their ideologies is not a wrong idea, but how they build their programmes and convince the people matters the most.
As far as elections are concerned, detailed party philosophies do not matter to voters, as the electorate basically looks for what the parties broadly have to offer that are in their interest.
Pushkar Koirala is a trader who imports goods from China. He says he is fed up with parties’ “vaads”, the Nepali word for “isms”.
“Has there been any real changes in people’s lives? Everyone talks about Maoism, communism and socialism,” said Koirala. “The parties with this socialism tag make no sense to me. These are old faces who were in other traditional parties. I would really like to see what they are going to bring to the table… what programmes they have for the welfare of the ordinary people.”
Though Nepal has made some major strides when it comes to democratic values, freedom of speech, press freedom, individual freedom and people’s rights since 1990, much needs to be done when it comes to ensuring people’s economic and social rights, say analysts. According to them, cronyism, extractive politics, rent-seeking and comprador capitalism have thrived in Nepal in recent years.
Guman Singh Khatri, who teaches sociology at the Central Department of Sociology in Tribhuvan University, said the parties are carrying the socialism tag because they still believe that it is an easy way to woo voters during elections.
“However, the political parties in Nepal have lost their credibility, so I don’t really believe that is going to make a big difference at the time of elections,” he told the Post.
As per textbook definition, there are some fundamental differences between communism and socialism.
Communism aims to set up a system where there is no such thing as private property. Property is communally owned and each individual receives a portion based on their needs. This set-up envisions a strong central government (the state) that controls all aspects of economic production and provides citizens with their basic necessities, including food, housing, medical care and education.
Socialism calls for a system where industrial production, or the chief means of generating wealth, is communally owned and managed by a democratically elected government. Individuals can still own property. Socialism is considered a less rigid ideology. Its proponents insist on reforms and changes through democratic processes within the existing social and political structure, not overthrowing that structure, something that communism attempts to do.
After all, says Khatri, people will evaluate what the parties are going to do to make education and health more accessible, how they are going to bring development projects in their constituencies, and what programmes they have to create employment.
“Parties need to work on their promises,” said Khatri. “Political jargons cut no ice with the common people.”
Rameshore Khanal, a former finance secretary, says there is a problem with the very concept of socialism that the parties want to impose through the state.
In his view socialism is practiced in society and it cannot be imposed by the government or the state. He said in Nepal the parties calling themselves communist or socialist are favouring a certain set of people, who are averse to free competition.
“There is no match in the ideology and the actions of the parties,” he told the Post. “Through my survey in Bajhang, I can say most people are unaware of socialism or communism. What they want is access to education, health care, employment opportunities and to live dignified lives.”