Maoist-led government : Paradox of democratisation

Whether Nepal needs reconstruction is no longer a question. Decision-making process is witnessing increased emphasis on participation and transparency, but the state is not the prime mover for modernisation, nor does the coalescent elite behaviour feel challenged to be adequately involved in a systemic transition entailing an overhaul of political and socio-economic institutions. It must be conceded, of course, that politics sometimes operates at its best when fundamental questions are opened to collective conflict and deliberation, but if those elected are criminals, terrorists, separatists, and radical nationalists, formidable obstacles stand in the way of realising the goals of constitutional politics. Indeed, the situation has transformed dramatically, but democracy promotion tasks are not yet on a smooth upward trajectory.

Another significant dilemma is the poor performance of the Maoist-led coalition, which can be attributed to ineffective institutions resulting in increased political patronage and uncertainty. The government is consumed with settling old grudges rather than attacking real problems, as reflected in high-sounding recent Maoist conclave that endorsed its dream project of ‘People’s Federal Democratic National Republic’.

What Marxism-inspired intellectuals love to believe as a thoughtful synthesis of the West-advocated rights and Leninist legacies is in fact a hybrid entertainment of sorts reflecting the proletariat reaction if democracy is defined as a system of widespread public participation; constructing peaceful, institutional means for resolving clashes over tangible interests, including disputes about fundamental values; and specific institutional strategies to manage cultural pluralism along with functional demands of economy and political-bureaucratic structures that can win public support for the regime. The historic conclave enveloped their terrible past with a scaffolding of exciting possibilities, notwithstanding the vagueness of their republic, or its underlying logic.

No injustice is believed to have been done unless discourse in defence is allowed with respect for public reason, notwithstanding the presumption that liberalism and nationalism are incompatible or even antagonistic in theory as well as in practice. Assuming that liberal nationalism cannot be solely based on authoritarian or ethnic tradition, the innate temptation to create a single-party regime sans totalitarianism alone is a major hindrance for democratic pluralism and the legitimacy of the Nepali state.

The Nepali political culture does not have unqualified belief in legitimacy of democracy — a crucial component which is necessary to facilitate its consolidation. Yet our muddling-through-phase politics indulges in rent-seeking forms that cannot crystallise political adherence to create a stable environment in which reconstruction, reintegration and peace building may flourish.

Restructuring in response to varied problems requires constant assessment of roles and responsibilities of all the participants. However, in view of the neo-patrimonial nature of politics, wavering commitment toward democratic practices and arbitrarily managed transition, democracy in Nepal has moved neither a mile wide nor a few inches deep; rather it is characterised by a scepticism toward utopia, what Tally calls ‘sham democracy’ or Aristotle likened it to ‘mathematical expression of majority’ which bestows constitutional opportunities but invariably undermines citizens’ inclusiveness in practice.

To put it more succinctly, if Maoists have been facing an ideological dilemma perceived as resolvable in the near future, we all know amply well that it is a subversive, tribal and uncivilised political ideology that nurtures congenital habit of tyrannising people rather than creating a society thriving with prosperity, civility, liberty and distributive justice.

Indisputably, carving a suitable constitution depends on serendipitous conjunction of political and personal events, able drafters, and favourable negotiating circumstances. More significantly, the constitutional system may be pervaded by its distinctive emphasis on values. Even if constitutional texts are often open-ended, it requires well-designed federalism to enhance representation in which citizens are able to exert pressure on the elected officials for desirable democratic process and to maintain a stable structure of national power. Constitutional democracy with embedded liberalism is unlikely to develop soon unless the people are encouraged to play a crucial role in major socio-economic transformations that may enhance justice and political legitimacy and hammering out a consensus on constitutional structure. The CA election offered a unique opportunity to jump-start a new post-conflict political order. Lamentably, most politicians and academicians have taken it merely as a means for conflict transformation.

Thapa is professor of Politics, TU