If there’s one thing we’ve learnt from watching too many films it is that participation in politics is natural progression for gangsters
Well, it does. But not nearly as well as politics. Which explains the long queues of gangsters and villains vying for party tickets for the upcoming provincial and parliamentary elections. Of late, a lot has been made about the ‘quality’of these candidates being fielded by various political parties. In one of the most ridiculous euphemisms I’ve ever heard, one social commentator referred to these criminals and lowlifes as ‘anti-social elements’. Anti-social elements? That doesn’t even begin to cover some of this lot and their choices of livelihood. We might as well start calling them fairies or unicorns.
In Nepal, politics has seldom thrown up the most likeable characters, but when our law breakers decide to try their hand at being lawmakers, it seems incumbent on us to take offense—at the very least. I say this because there’s not a lot we can do to sway party decisions. You get to defeat the candidates through your votes but don’t get to choose who stands and who doesn’t in an election. All this rubbish about candidates and the requirement for a ‘high moral character’—which by the way is enshrined in most of our acts and regulations—is really a joke. If the EC decided to follow the letter of the law it would be like dropping a nuke in the middle of the political and administrative establishment—no one would be left standing. This begs the question: Why have it in the first place?
Anyway, I digress. The fact is that our winner-take-all politics has created such an elaborate nexus for post-election enrichment that it drives massive spending by all parties in the run up to the election which in turn reflects on the ‘quality’ of the candidates. Gone are the days when love for your country, grassroots support and a record of service counted for something. All of these, without exception can be dispensed with and substituted for cold, hard cash. Hence, the only type of candidate these days is not only a self-financing one but also one who can handsomely contribute to party coffers. If they happen to have a bit of muscle power, all the better. Apart from business, I can think of only one other activity that raises money in those quantities.
But funnily enough, we voters were not the only ones taking umbrage at this development. In a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, some of our politicians were less than thrilled by this turn of events. Yes Sir, our white-collar criminals were offended by the emergence of these blue-collar upstarts. How dare these criminals—with their petty hooliganism, small time swindles and trifling extortion rackets—try and compete with us big time scammers? While gangsters and criminals are often portrayed as lovable rogues on celluloid, in real life they seem to be as welcome as Baburam Bhattarai in a leftist coalition.
Class of their own
Why aren’t we offended like this when unscrupulous businessmen, tainted bureaucrats and disreputable politicians stand for election? If one were to put all these ‘gangster’ types on one side and Gopal Khadka or Chudamani Sharma on the other, these people would still have stolen less money than these fat cats. It would seem that crimes committed in ‘daurasurwals’, suits and those ubiquitous white shirts and blue trousers are a lot more palatable than this common riff-raff and their villainy. Granted that you can’t equate murder and kidnapping to stealing and I’m certainly not trying to defend these scoundrels but the visceral nature of their crimes often tends to overshadow the more insidious white-collar crime and results in the collective outrage being markedly different for the perpetrators.
Anyway, if there’s one thing we’ve learnt from watching too many films it is that participation in politics is natural progression for gangsters—it is a part of their evolution. You only need to look at our current crop of leaders and you’ll find that in their time, quite a few of them weren’t exactly averse to violence. An elected post provides criminals a double advantage—safety from political expendability and a certain degree of institutional authority. Moreover, these days it’s not sufficient for criminals to ‘nominate’ or fund their kith and kin, be influential and fund candidates from behind the screen. In order to ensure political longevity, criminals must themselves be officially protected. This sort of thinking and rationale in many of our current politicians has endured as long as they have.
All said and done, there are no blurry lines between crime and politics in Nepal; they are inseparable bedfellows. It’s really just the type of crime that differs. Maybe this sort of integration is what our constitution meant by inclusive progress and it is because of this spirit of inclusion that our new goons, if they win, are going to feel right at home among the career criminals in the political establishment. This is the sort of vertical integration (of muscle, cash and politics) that any reputed business house would be proud of—never mind uneducated politicians. But what you and I will get is the same quality of leaders playing the same old politics of how best to milk the system and cling on to power. All whilst we continue to labor under the illusion that crime doesn’t pay.