Reorienting democracy

Published On: April 28, 2019 01:30 AM NPT By: Jivesh Jha

When mindset is ethnic or caste-controlled, people cannot stand in favor of broader national cause

Our constitution has not envisaged democracy along ethnic and caste lines but this is what we get to experience on a daily basis here—thanks to NGOs, so-called progressive political parties and international donor agencies for championing a progressive democracy devoted to caste and ethnicity. This ‘progressive’ democracy is exclusive in that it seeks to ensure representation in government and non-government sectors on the basis of one’s caste and ethnic orientation, not merit. For the advocates of this school, those born to certain castes are ipso facto elite, even if they are struggling for survival, let alone opportunities. This vision is terribly faulty. I have seen hundreds of Brahmins and Chhetris (from the hills as well as the plains) working as peons or dishwashers, selling vegetables as vendors or flying to the Middle East or Gulf countries for menial jobs. 

Democracy is all about regular and credible election, zero corruption, rule of law, equal opportunities, constitutionalism, commitment to serve people and guarantee equal rights to people without any distinctions. Most of these values remain only in paper. 

This Loktantra Diwas, I was thinking why are the people best in leading the protests for political change terribly bad at governing? Every party that has been at the helm has staged street protests in the past. But they are awful at governance. They showcased their immense intelligence, will power, and hard work on igniting street protests but fail to address real challenges of people.  Look at the trend post-2006. 

People’s Movement changed the governance system—from monarchy to republican democracy. But those who replaced monarchy are behaving no less than former monarchs. Madhesi parties, which emerged from Madhes movement, allow themselves to be dictated by foreign powers. These regional parties, now limited to Province 2, follow the command to launch street protests from outside and criticize Kathmandu establishment for no good reason. They argue that all hill people are oppressors and all Madhesis the oppressed. Another faulty vision of theirs is Madhes should be politically ruled or administratively controlled by Madhesis and Madhesis alone. Though many Madhesi leaders have become ministers in the past, they have not done anything substantial for development and good governance in Madhes. 

If Madhesi parties have contributed to anything it is in spreading communal politics, hatred, and corruption and NGO politics. They propagate the agendas of NGOs, prioritize the interests of donors and launch street protests and finally grab vital government offices. Nowhere do you see this more starkly than in Province 2, where NGO activists of the yore are holding top government positions in Province-2 including in various state commissions. 

What have these NGOs and international donors taught us? ‘Think about your caste, creed and ethnicity, forget national identity,’ they told us. And this has been done in the name of ensuring fair representation. And the result? Top positions are occupied by rich class of certain caste groups, while the poor ethnic minorities, whom the policy of positive discrimination must benefit, remain struggling.

The person born in certain castes having strong political connection gets space in constitutional commissions or state machineries. It is the caste and ethnic orientation which helps you get there. This reductionist approach makes people think of themselves along their caste or ethnic orientation and undervalue their national Nepali identity. When mindset is ethnic or caste-controlled, people cannot advocate for and stand in favor of broader national cause of development.

We need to reverse this process. The focus should be on educating people about virtues of democracy, organizing them for creative and constructive purpose, and convincing them to pressure the government to implement economical, education or all other necessary reforms in line with global standards. Celebrating democracy day without a commitment to stand tall against the wrong precedents is meaningless. There should be a unanimous consensus on national importance, development and politics. 

Political parties should endeavor to enact state-specific—not person-specific, caste-specific or ethnic specific—laws, plans and policies. We need a democracy that treats every Nepali equally, instead of compartmentalizing them in distinctions of castes and ethnic orientation. We need a system that considers Nepali identity over other identities and stand for the cause of the nation as a whole rather than certain castes or groups. Let us not make democracy a casto-cracy.


The author is a Lecturer at Kathmandu University School of Law

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