Democracy’s discontents

Published On: March 31, 2019 02:05 AM NPT By: Babu Ram Neupane

Democracy is just a fad in a country like Nepal. Greatness lies in having the biggest motorcades, or maintaining a respectable distance from the public while making public appearances

Dichotomy dictates Nepal’s democracy. The mainstream news media is dominated by journalists, who hold an unwavering faith in democracy. However, a large majority of opinionators, freelancers, and wordsmiths hail from political ideologies that are hostile to democracy. The national narratives and political discourses seem to be titling toward favoring authoritarianism. Hence, the unwarranted desire for a ‘soft tyrant’ gets currency among the general public. 

The current establishment/government has a landslide majority achieved through legitimate elections but its leaders’ commitment to democracy is perfunctory and unconvincing. Sometimes, they even wage an incendiary against the media or the Fourth Estate. A stance against freedom of expression is a stance against democracy. In that sense, most influential people in the current establishment hold a double standard when it comes to proliferation of ideas that are vital to keep debates going. They want to be part of the debate in which they want to exempt themselves from criticism. 

If you want to be a part of conversation, you have to be ready to listen to others’ opinion and make earnest efforts to accommodate them. Therefore, being courteous and defensive is a democratic attitude but being overtly offensive is tantamount to undermining democratic values. 

Anybody with a common knowledge of history knows that Nepali communists have unsuccessfully tried to establish media houses (read propaganda machines) since the restoration of democracy in 1990. After failing to do so umpteenth times, they reluctantly decided to befriend the mainstream media to partaking in the conversation, albeit with an ill-conceived intention of overwhelming the public with distorted views of democracy.  

A host of global researches have suggested that women are far more balanced, practical, empathetic, and rational than men. Our very own Madam President seems to have embodied all the attributes except for empathy. Going by the ongoing observations, she does not seem to bother about the traffic jam caused by her motorcades in Kathmandu or wherever she goes. It looks as if she has already internalized a snobbish, and sadist character which is an ever-present malaise, characteristic of male powers-that-be in Nepal. 

That is why Nepali people on social media keep heaping praise on European and American politicians for riding a bicycle, travelling in a commuter train, carrying a Christmas gift pouch to the children’s hospital etc. As a matter of fact, they do those things to break the monotony of their highly routine and hectic public life. A heavy security detail is deployed to abort any lethal attacks on them even as they seem to be enjoying some moments of personal life in the photos.

It is obvious that these people intend to underline and present a humane side of their character by being in close proximity to the pedestrians, park-goers, shoppers, and people working at the eateries. Such little episodes of intimacy with the public contribute a lot in forming a positive public opinion about them in the long run. Former American President Barack Obama was (in) famous for such behavior during his presidency. He himself termed it ‘the bear is on the loose’ hinting at the headache of the Secret Service Agents, who protect the American president. Anyway, he still enjoys the highest popularity ratings in the public polls because of that.  

This is usual in countries where democracy is a way of life. The public life never gets disrupted because of such unplanned public appearances. The public does not expect anything more than a selfie with the leader. Nobody puts forth any personal demands. Anyway, such appearances boost authenticity and originality of their character, which ultimately gets construed as a sign of greatness.   

Fad of democracy 
But in a country like Nepal, democracy is just a fad. Greatness lies in having the biggest motorcades, or maintaining a respectable distance from the public or having an impressive security details while making public appearances.  Moreover, it is futile to expect a president or a prime minister (especially from communist background) to offer moments of enlightenment to the public through their unplanned appearance as they normally do not hold an enthusiastic view of democracy. 

If a president were to ride a bicycle in the streets of Kathmandu, I am sure the public would label it as an act of insanity. Also, s/he would be instantly overwhelmed with requests for jobs, political appointments and what not. Undoubtedly, it is a concomitant effect of poverty. 

We tend to believe that the government is panacea to all problems facing us rarely bothering about our own responsibility in nation building. This notion of big government does not bode well for democracy. Our reckless decision to vote pompous leaders with bombastic rhetoric to power is what ails our democracy. Still, we shamelessly curse our leaders in the public without being stung by moral conscience. It is true that Nepali politics is a theatre full of insipid characters, shabby choreography, and boring dialogues. But its audiences are a bundle of anomalies.

We frequently come across photos and videos showing political leaders being felicitated and adorned with mammoth garlands made up of up to two hundred kilograms of sayapatri (marigold) flowers. This speaks volumes on sycophancy of cadres and narcissism of leaders. This is what I believe is the most beautiful object (read flower) having been abused to achieve the most sordid gains (through favoritism) by inflating the egos of the leaders/recipients. 

Nepal’s politics is also an incomprehensible ‘nautanki’ (theatre where folklore and mythologies are dramatized with interludes of song and dance) where the self-declared ‘samyabadis’ (socialists), who command two-thirds majority in the federal parliament, are hell-bent on privatizing education and healthcare at a time  when the epicenter of capitalism, America, has seen a surge in public support (especially among the Democratic Party activists and supporters)  on the inevitability of government intervention on healthcare. But Nepal’s parliament has recently passed a bill that essentially hands over power to the medical mafia system that refuses treatment to patients until the payment is made at the counter. 

What a tell-tale sign of progressivism on the part of our comrades who claim to have taken the world communist movement to a new height in Nepal. I doubt if they know a fish starts rotting from its head.

Discovery of self 
The global political scenario attests to the fact that combative, obstinate, and pugilistic leaders are insecure and always pick up fights with their detractors rather than listening to their opponents to iron out the existing differences. Such leaders’ life is full of remorse which does not essentially manifest in their words but could be gauged from their behavior. Nepal has an abundance of politicians who belong to this group endangering the very essence of democracy.

There is an obscure line between narcissism and self-discovery. The journey of self-discovery begins with subjective assessment of the self and identification of the shortcomings aimed at correcting them before venturing out to seek changes at broader levels: society, country, and the world. Sadly, most Nepali politicians prefer preaching what they do not practice in their own life, family, and even within their own party thereby performing very poorly in this regard, which forces us to deem them undemocratic.


The author loves to write on contemporary issues

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