Politics matters the most when people start forming their identity around politics or to politicize the non-political
In a functioning democracy, people tend to criticize politicians as crooks. The US, one of the world’s most accomplished democracies, has few people participating in its election process. Approval rate for the US Congress is at an all-time low, almost into a single digit. But neither of this has made much of a difference to the country’s day to day functioning. However, in an emerging democracy where rule of law is still a far cry and streets during nights are still dangerous, politics matters.
It matters most when people start forming their identity around politics or try to politicize the non-political.
A recent punch-for-punch in the media over an article entitled “Fire of Religion in Politics” between politician Kamal Thapa and a seasoned journalist was received by many with cynicism. The article had appeared in Setopati, an online news journal published from Kathmandu.
We all know that politicians are up to many tricks. For them, politics is everything, which is why they politicize everything. Interestingly, they are the darlings of the public despite their antics. Often times they are quickly forgiven for the mistakes they make. But for the rest of us, politics is not everything. To quote David Brooks, a contemporary socio-political critic of American and world politics, “politics should not be nothing, but not everything” for us.
Readers were appalled when the Nepali journalist tried to analyze politics from a religious lens. Many commentators on social media voiced their unease about the piece. They were concerned that writing on the contentious issue of politics and religion in one single article was fueling an emotional addiction that would ultimately lead to hysteria.
I think we all understand that religion does not exist in isolation. It concerns and shapes our fundamental view of the nature of human life, how it is and how it should be lived. It’s good that international politics is not mixed with religion. And there are nations where religious institutes and politics do not cross the same path at the same time. If we google, we find real-time articles and scholarly pieces analyzing the issue of the separation of religion and state. We have seen them performing better when they are independent.
Contemporary Indian politics could be an excellent example of politics unhindered by religion. As a result of the government being separate from organized religion, it has a Hindu President (Pranab Mukherjee), a Muslim Vice President (M. Hamid Ansari), a Sikh Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh), and an atheist Defense Minister (A. K. Antony). The leader of its largest party, the Indian National Congress, Sonia Gandhi, is Catholic, while a leader of the opposition is Sushma Swaraj, a Hindu. Mainstream Indian journalists do not mix religion with politics. Memories of the ghastly Gujarat violence in 2002 have not faded.
Except for a three-day-mayhem in 2003 in Kathmandu following the news of the beheading of 12 innocent Nepalis in Iraq, Nepal has not witnessed riots caused by an unnatural mix of religion and politics. And it should not.
There were times when the King effectively controlled all that mattered in public and personal life: the religion, the army and the parliament. Nepal has traveled a long way from that. Believe it or not, politics everywhere is now on a constant reset button. Although peoples’ real power is manifested just during elections, the check and balance is maintained by the Fourth Estate.
Some leaders have a unique capacity to be with the public for a very long time. No one had imagined in 2006 that then Home Minister Kamal Thapa who did all he could to quash Peoples’ Movement would emerge as a political alternative this fast. In my opinion, being cordial and friendly has been his strength in politics. He was very cordial with me too when I interviewed him for “American Conversations: Connecting Frontiers” on some hotly debated issues like his questionable role in the People’s Movement. He did not express any anger or anxiety after the talk show. He was all smiles unlike Prachanda who had walked out of the studio on the 29th minute of the 45-minute interview session, angry and anxious.
Although we all share the same burden when it comes to safeguarding the social fabric, journalists bear a heavier share. I read an article on Kamal Thapa’s mixing of politics with religion with great interest. His role in supporting the fabric of society is immense, but he must understand that he is criticized not because he is a bad writer, but because he chose to write on two vast and sensitive topics in a single piece. The Western print media, including the New York Times and The Washington Post, regard religion as a separate topic and keep it apart from politics.