Purpose of politics : It should find centrestage again

Pradeep Giri, in a deft and timely write-up in a leading vernacular daily on September 29, has coined another attractive if pithy phrase, likely to find popular usage in Nepali vocabulary. “Congress and Communists in Nepal have always believed that all-round development of Nepali society is not possible unless the traditional capitalists (bourgeoisie?) are dismantled, but’, he adds, ‘we have not recognised the new special and strange kind of bastard capitalists (mathyaha punjibad) that have emerged in the country of late; the Communists and Congress leadership and the movement are caught in the iron grip of this new form of capitalism. The Maoists are trying to fight this element”.

One may agree with the first part of this assessment but a couple of questions emerge. First, has not a nouveau riche society sprung up in the rest of the sub-continent? Is this not an all-time global phenomenon that precedes or accompanies growth in ‘developing’ countries in their run-up to prosperity? Second, can the Maoist leadership, some of whom are as genuine in their ideology as Giri is in his, claim that they will be able to restrain the negative aspects of a similar kind of growth in their own ranks? Such a trend is traceable to the local leadership especially in districts outside the Valley, aided and abetted by the shadow of the guns that continue to follow the comrades. What will happen, the villagers are asking, when they are actually part of the government?

Talking of political settlement, the article points out rightly that ‘the issues are broader than that of the management of arms alone’. Admittedly, nowhere in the world have the rebel forces given up arms without meeting at least part of the demands. But then it is equally unrealistic for the ruling state to admit participation of the Maoists in the national government while a parallel government is in operation, collecting ‘taxes’, using strong- arm tactics and threats to extort money and services, distributing contracts for public work, operating alternate courts which accept no judicial conventions, forcing closure of schools so that the children march to cheer their meetings, and in essence trying to substitute state governance and paralyse private business. These acts violate both the letter and spirit of written understandings, agreements and code of conduct. On the reverse side, the Maoist leadership contends that the reinstatement of the House of Representatives was supposed to be only a stopgap measure. But once installed, the House is acting as if its authority is boundless and tenure eternal. Both sides have grounds to point to ‘betrayal’ of the other. Such postures, however, serve no purpose, and in the process each side is losing credibility. Past agreements should be understood as statements of intent drawn up in the heat of the hectic surroundings and pressures, and the semantics of the phrases and words used should not bog down negotiations. All concerned should understand that the mechanics of political power sharing and that of safe-keeping of arms will need to be worked out simultaneously.

Unfortunately, power sharing seems to occupy major space in the ongoing dialogue and media coverage at the expense of the purpose of politics. The purpose of politics should find centrestage again, not hindered by ideologies and dogmas of the past but as very clearly expressed by millions who thronged the streets throughout the country during the final days of the Jana Andolan. They want a government of the people, not of the King. They want a democratic order that guarantees civil rights and liberties. They do not want threats of gun power to rule their lives. The Maoists should understand the people’s mood and their determination to fight for these causes. Most positive developments of the past few months are to be found in the Maoist policy shift towards these values. They now need to prove their intent.

The political leaders too should not forget that they have lost the electorate’s confidence. Infighting, lack of commitment to good governance and neglect of socio-economic agenda promised in their manifestos: these failings combined to disenchant even their own supporters. People are waiting to detect an outward looking approach targeted for the society’s welfare. The Parliament too needs to be clear about its role and refrain from meddling in judicial or executive domain. The insurgency had found its initial people support on account of the weakness of the state and on strength of their own call for a just society; that support has all but disappeared following their acts of violence and cruelty.

The critical cause celebre of the Jana Andolan and its driving force revolves around the search for a just and free society and necessary modifications in the structure of the state and culture of governance is needed to ensure such a change. This agenda must find adequate space in the political dialogue and action. Any diversion could lead to fatal long-term consequences.

Rana is with Nepali Congress (Democratic)