Loaves and fishes - Does merit exist only within parties?

It may sound paradoxical to describe a Nepal without Nepalis. But it is nonetheless true that Nepalis have no standing being a simple Nepali. In other words, one needs to be a Congressman or a Communist, a royalist or anti-royalist to have an identity and recognition. A simple, non-political Nepali is considered a nonentity. The entry of Maoists in the national mainstream is reaffirming this phenomenon.

The drafting committee of the interim constitution was the initial product of coalition political forces that included the Maoists. That knowledge and expertise does not merit a consideration was made crystal clear from the inclusion of the incompetent members from various political parties in the committee.

The political settlement and subsequent peace accord between the government and the Maoists are indeed commendable. But they are as much spectacular achievements as a reiteration of the principle of party affiliations. The interim parliament will accordingly be constituted with 330 members mainly from various political parties. The provision of including 48 members in that interim body from civil society is a deserved recognition of the contribution it had made during the Jana Andolan II. However, that too is subject to decision on the basis of party configuration. Of course, the interim government will all the more follow this principle.

The 425-member Constituent Assembly (CA) will not be different from this trend. The 205 members cannot but be party members as they have to face the people at the elections. An equal number of members are to be co-opted from the marginalised communities on the basis of votes obtained by various political parties. In other words, it would be incumbent on the representatives from the ethnic, women, Madhesi and Dalit groups to be fellow travellers or bed fellows of one or the other party. In that sense, the CA will not strictly be a Nepali body but an assembly of the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, CPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress (Democratic), and a number of small parties.

Coming to governance, we have seen how and why the ambassadors to more than a dozen countries could not be appointed. It is primarily because of in-fighting among parties over the loaves and fishes. If a Nepali is to be made an ambassador purely on the basis of merit and competence, there should be no hassle. But it has become a big dispute as simple qualification and competence are not sufficient for the job. They need a strong and close affinity with the parties that have a say in the state decisions.

The same is true with the appointment of vice-chancellors of different universities of Nepal. Despite the urgency of this act, it’s not happening only because the parties could not have their nominees in the posts. It is a clear indication that the assignment demands greater links with powerful parties rather than ability. Able men or women will not be picked for such posts until they are the followers of the party that be. Being an able Nepali is of no importance.

It reminds us of the royal regime, which gave loyalty to the king the top priority in qualifying for appointment in the public positions like the cabinet, civil service, security organs, foreign and high-level bureaucratic assignments. It does not look intrinsically different when loyalty to the political parties is the basic criterion for similar assignments. The personnel have changed but the principle and practice guided by loyalty have not. It is characteristic of the outgoing and incoming regimes not to be true to their words. The King, in his February 1, 2005 speech, used the word ‘democracy’ 50 times, ‘people’ 45 times and ‘peace’ 20 times. But he had no intention to follow his words. Similarly, the peace agreement between the government and the Maoists has used ‘Nepal’ and ‘Nepali’ 36 times. Recent observations have shown that these invocations were empty too. They only intend to grab power in the name of Nepalis with no acknowledgment of their existence as simple Nepalis.

The only place the Nepalis are identified and treated equally as Nepali is the foreign land. No Nepali in a foreign country is a Congressman, a Communist or a Maoist. He or she is simply a Nepali and is treated according to his or her qualification and competence. They lose this identity once they land on Nepali soil. If you want to live as a Nepali, better get out of the country. If it is not ironic, tell me, what is?

No doubt that, as the Maoists are championing, feudalism must be abolished. Feudalism spearheaded by monarchy is crashing and, therefore, has no future. But what about the feudalism growing around political parties? Even the Maoists are not immune from this malaise. To prove your loyalty to the parties, you have to compromise your values, ideas, merits, conduct and conscience. What difference does it have with royal feudalism? Are we supplanting royal feudalism with party feudalism?

Shrestha is a freelance journalist