Challenges to democracy Time to go beyond the cliches

Scholars of politics must assess whether what Marxists call “bourgeois democracy”, in which the ruling class exercises a form of dictatorship through subtle control of the flow of information, can be used to execute proletarian dictatorship. Most critics assume that the Maoists are pluralists; some argue they ultimately aim to create a ‘monolithic regime’, but for now would encourage foreign-assisted capitalist development as a precursor to socialism. More modestly, Maoist version encapsulates the notions of human dignity and morality. They have incredible confidence in their own abilities and that their messages can move the masses. Nepali Maoists continue to maintain that significant changes are underway in communist movement. It would be interesting to watch their course of action, which is often a tactical approach rather than proactive thinking.

Huntington points out some universal factors that force authoritarian regimes to democratise, but the success of such a democracy is by no means ensured. In Nepal, true democracy will materialise only if Maoists can come up with programmes to address pressing social and economic issues. While heading the government, they should demonstrate that they can make real difference by modernising and accommodating in the world economy. Without converging of multiple interests, nurturing democratic order, building mutually accepted institutions and political and economic transformation to create democratic rules of the game will be a tough task.

In order to build a new Nepal, the challenge is to overcome domestic dogfights in which constitutional issues are appearing at the fore. A plural society seeks harmonisation. While Nepal appears to be stabilising and witnessing the final collapse of monarchy, some significant questions remain to be tackled. For example, the issue of democratic citizenship attached to common ownership rules for the marginalised, which Paine saw through

‘thoroughly egalitarian perspective’ as essential conditions to pursue national interests. Political change tends to be associated with new ideas. Moreover, democratic dispensation calls for citizens and civil society to actively engage in strengthening the institutions that can sustain it.

Democracy implies that citizens must be able to ventilate their views without restriction in an environment that promotes their participation in governance and is based on transparency and accountability. This implies that leaders must respond to varied voices and needs of the people. But political actors seldom undertake risky reforms unless they fear status quo itself is risky.

The Maoist victory is not entirely surprising, although the scale was greater than expected. They did not hope for such a good result either. They had condemned parliament as a committee of the bourgeois and state as an instrument of class oppression. But this is a historic turning point. The victory of political office, following the tri-polar hostilities, needs to be understood in proper context. A small armed rebellion that started in poor remote districts spread like a tornado taking 15,000 lives because politicians failed to address the causes behind the distress and had no clue about how to combat a guerrilla movement. And these former rebels are now ready to contribute to the society through manipulations within the system, albeit with a touch of enthusiasm for democratisation.

While we cannot import democracy, consensus, cooperation, and collective decision-making are the norms in changing circumstances, and so recognising the new challenges raises the possibility to sustain Marx’s vision of a society where the needs of everybody can be satisfied to a degree. So, the ‘electoral revolution’ such as the CA can be viewed as critical to tackle the major failures of social, political and economic structure. Attempts to manufacture democracy without significant people participation are likely to fail.

Nepal is a testament to the fact that significant gains can be achieved where not long ago a protracted three-pronged power struggle was being waged among the democrats who wanted government within the constitutional politics, Maoist rebels who promised a rule of ‘the people’ through ‘revolutionary populism’, and the monarch who claimed to govern ‘for the people’ but wanted to rule absolutely.

Sycophancy, nepotism, cronyism, and politicisation of ethnic minorities, which watered the ground to welcome Maoists’ hypnotic arguments and starry idealism, disillusioned the people. If the goal were to establish democracy with what Dahl calls ‘political equality’, it would be easier to advance a practicable model if one could deduce the Maoists’ proactive thinking sans their strategic swerves and tactical twists. It is imperative now to move beyond all orthodox clichés; even Maoists need not consider a timely policy shift as a sign of inconsistency. Let’s not dither.

Thapa is professor of Politics, TU