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Loktantra’s Leninism and Political Corruption

– Dipak Gyawali

More than a decade ago, a former defense secretary of India, who served on the board of the Regional Center for Strategic Studies in Colombo with some of us from Nepal, recounted to me this interesting story. His grandfather, a dewan of a princely state, received complaints that a certain state functionary was not repairing a particular road in the districts, implying corruption and misuse of funds. Dewan Sahib did not berate or summon the official, nor did he form a commission of investigation. He simply sent a letter indicating that he would be travelling to some place through that district, would not be stopping there, but that he hoped everything was in order. He never made that trip, but all the roads were repaired to the satisfaction of the locals. This story was passed down in the defense secretary’s family to highlight the power of agya balam, the power of moral force behind the spoken word.

The point is that political corruption, unlike garden-variety bureaucratic corruption, is essentially about an undermining of the very ethical basis of rule. Mahatma Gandhi had agya balam in ample measure which has steadily declined in modern India to the point where, in the infamous 2G licensing scam, the prime minister and his cabinet are currently defending themselves in the court of public opinion like pickpockets in front of a junior magistrate. The loss of the moral high ground has also infected India’s “left-secular-progressive” civil society in the Fai scandal involving an ostensibly American Kashmiri activist but in fact a paid Pakistani spook. Nepal’s partisan civil society that midwifed Loktantra is in an even worse shape: they provided the protective cover to parties and politicians in power who, as Darfur, passport, red sandalwood or the many other Loktantrick scandals indicate, are in politics not for principles but for pelf.

This loss of the ethical base is the main reason why the Constituent Assembly cannot make a new but viable constitution ever. With hype bordering on snake oil salesmanship, the CA was sold to an unwary Nepali public as the ultimate salvation for everything: it has instead turned out to be a Pandora’s Box and the goblins that have emerged have scared our party Pandoras into political paralysis. What indeed has the CA achieved? Six years into Loktantra that promised a New Nepal through this vehicle, the old institutions have been laid to waste but not even the foundation stone of a new order is in place. Those who brought about this desolation cannot agree on the nature of that keystone, nor even have the moral strength to carry one to place.

The real issues of governance in Nepal that needed sorting out are not new: their story began in 1980 following the National Referendum. Instead of seeing that vote as one where almost half the population rejected even a “reformed Panchayat” (in reality a reversal of the autocratic turn the Panchayat took in 1975 shortly after the coronation of King Birendra), the hardliner elements therein saw it as a victory that gave them the mandate to sideline proponents of multiparty democracy. So much so that an elected Kangressi mayor of Kathmandu was summarily dismissed and replaced by Panchayat bureaucrats. The result was public dissatisfaction that erupted in the 1990 street protests that ushered in multiparty democracy, resulting in the 1990 constitution. It was drafted by the Kangress, the EMaLeys, the Durbar as well as the extreme Left including the gurus of today’s Maoists.

The 1990 constitution had many defects but they were not impossible to reform through normal parliamentary measures. Those amendments were only never carried out; such reforms were stopped from even being considered by claiming that it was “the world’s best constitution”. Among its substantive defects was the financial unaccountability of political parties that provided the basis for unchecked corruption by parties in power. It deleted the constitutional protection for local bodies such as municipalities and districts that the Panchayat constitution had. In a move reminiscent of the Panchayat dismissing Kathmandu’s popularly elected Mayor, the Kangress government dismissed Rolpa’s elected district government laying the basis for subsequent Maoist insurgency and the clamour for federalism. The army was not quite under an elected government, which some say was a blessing in disguise as it did not get politicized and corrupted as the police, but which prevented the nation from availing of its service in quelling internal armed political violence. It was delivered a final blow in 2002 when parliamentary parties refused to submit themselves to the curative will of the people through elections, first at the local level and subsequently nationally, thus making corruption endemic.

Despite these amendable failings, the 1990 constitution had sound political foundations. Indeed, it was only by standing on it that the current experiment was even initiated. Since the political adventurism of 2006 has ended in a miscarriage, since the mandate of the CA has long expired (and the Supreme Court too says so), and since the interim non-constitution provides no provision for fresh elections, a fresh popular mandate is only possible standing on the 1990 constitution. Is that even possible now, given that after an omelet has been made one cannot hatch a chicken?

It is important to understand the two basic political undercurrents within the omelet-making set in today’s Nepal that may decide the course this nation takes after August 31. The dominant doctrine in operation is Leninism, a cynical exploitation of Marxism by a class of professional revolutionaries through a mix of pragmatism and opportunism. It is based on political elitism that seeks to capture state power by any means including violence to impose its own idea of what society should be like. Led successfully so far by the Maoists, its primary strength is its ability to split its nearest rival the EhMaLey and to hijack the garb of nationalism in its anti-Mughlani version. Its primary weakness is the distrust it has generated both nationally and internationally with its cynical misuse of power that prevents collaboration with it.

The other doctrine is held by a decimated and divided Kangress (the Madhesis being ideologically mostly frustrated Kangressi personalities anyway) which carries the burdens of past sins including the personal ambitions of its past president that dismantled the Nepali state along Leninist Maoist lines. That the 2006 experiment has failed is widely accepted within this group, but they stand undecided at the fork in the road ahead. Heading one way are mostly Girija acolytes who want the Nepali President to do a King Gyanendra after August 31. Looking the other way are those sidelined by Girija who argue for a return to the 1990 constitution as a base for further reforms.

It is only if this latter group emerges with any significant political voice that the real reform of democratic governance can begin. That would need to include significant decentralization of developmental powers to the districts; Nepalis voting more for principles and less for warlord personalities through a proportional system; separating legislative and executive powers by ensuring that elected representatives remain good legislators who cannot become ministers unless they vacate their parliamentary seats; and assuring the periodical renewal of fixed-term political mandate. The alternative is Leninism’s dictatorship of the politburo where corruption is controlled and amalgamated into the ruling elite’s authoritarianism.

Majority Against CA Extension

At a time when leaders of some political parties are questioning the extension of the tenure of Constituent Assembly, an opinion poll conducted by Interdisciplinary Analysis (IDA) found a majority of people are opposed to the idea of extension


CPN-UML leader K.P. Sharma Oli, Madhes based leader JP Ananda Gupta and NC general secretary Krishna Prasad Sitaula have raised objections to extending the tenure of the CA for another three months without concrete assurances from the concerned parties that they will draft the new constitution and conclude the peace process.

“There must be concrete agreements before any extension of the CA. Otherwise, there is no meaning in extending the term,” said Oli.

Nepali Congress leaders have also been expressing similar views. “Political parties must come out with concrete agreements on the extension,” said former home minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula.

Similarly leader of Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Republic) and CA member J.P. Ananda Gupta also demanded assurances from major political parties that they would promulgate the constitution by the extended period.

RPP-Nepal leader Kamal Thapa even declared the end of the utility of CA and demanded fresh polls.

At a time when there is a growing resentment over the CA among political leaders, an overwhelming majority of the people , 42 percent, are opposed to the extension of the tenure of the CA. Among them, 36 percent demanded elections, 12 percent referendum. According to an IDA opinion poll, some 9 percent want even the revival of the rule of King.

Forty-five percent are opposed to three months’ extension of the tenure which was extended on 28 May 2011. On another question regarding who they will vote for in case of fresh elections, over 57 percent were undecided.

However, 10 percent said they will vote for Nepali Congress and 6 percent said they will vote for Maoists. Only five percent said they will vote for CPN-UML.

Polls Results

  1. People identify constitution formulation as a priority
    People's response to many of the questions in the survey underscores constitution formulation as a priority of the public. In response to the question on the main problems at the national level, a sizeable proportion expressed their worry that the constitution will never be formulated. A majority of people think the country is headed in the wrong direction and they identify political parties being unable to formulate a new constitution as the primary reason for their assessment. A significant proportion identifies the government being unable to formulate the new constitution as the primary reason for their negative assessment of the government. Likewise, a clear majority identifies constitution drafting as the issue that should be prioritized by the current government, while an overwhelming majority identify constitution-drafting as the core peace process-related issue. These responses clearly underscore that the public sees constitution formulation as the number one priority. 
  2. People would like the political parties to announce the date for new elections if parties fail to formulate the constitution within the extended 3-month period
    Almost twice as many people disagree with the 3-month extension than those who agree. The reason for their disagreement has to do with their belief that the constitution will not be formulated during the extended period. A clear majority is of the opinion that the CA will not formulate the constitution during the 3-month extended period. Three times more people think the CA should not be extended for another term – while 13 percent thinks the CA term should be extended, 42 percent thinks the CA should not be extended. In circumstances where the CA would collapse if its duration is not extended, 36 percent are of the opinion that the date should be announced for new elections for the CA. Compared to wave II, public opinion is gravitating towards this option and now a sizeable proportion would like the political parties to announce the date for new elections if they fail to formulate the constitution within the extended 3-month period.
  3. High proportion of undecided voters
    Though going for fresh elections is the preferred option, a high proportion of people, 57 percent, are undecided as to the political party they will vote for if new national elections were to be held. The proportion of undecided voters has gone up by 10 percent points compared to the previous survey. Only a small proportion of those who voted for UCPN (Maoist), NC, UML and other political parties have made up their minds for voting for those very same political parties if a new national election were to be held.   
  4. Specific expectations from the peace process
    One of the core issues related to the peace process is the management of the weapon/arms of Maoist combatants/PLA. People favour managing the weapon/arms of Maoist combatants/PLA by handing these to the Nepal government (41 percent) or placing these under the control of Special Committee for Supervision, Integration and Rehabilitation of Maoist combatants (14 percent). Only 2 percent think that it should remain under the control of the Maoists.
  5. Critical outlook towards federalism
    This wave, as in the case with previous waves, underscores the public's apathy towards federalism. The mean support of the Nepali people towards federalism is 4.1, which is a rating that is slightly negative towards federalism. Likewise, those who report positive expectations from federalism are lower in proportion from those who report negative expectations from federalism.
  6. Negative assessment of various organizations and institutions
    People have rated various organizations and institutions ranging from constituent assembly, to government civil service to political youth organizations unfavorably with most of the organizations and institutions receiving rates of less than 5, which is the average or neutral rate. Those to receive the lowest ratings are political parties, which received 2.6 and political youth organizations, which received 2.8. Those receiving relatively favorable ratings are the media - radio (6.5), T.V. (6.1) and newspapers (5.7).  The ratings most of the organizations and institutions in wave III is lower than what they had received during wave II. The relatively low rating that the public has given to the various organizations and institutions is consistent with negative assessment with regards to the direction in which the country is moving in. 
  7. Relationships at the local level have not deteriorated
    Compared to 3 to 4 years ago, people report either an improvement in relationships or that relationship are the same.  Those reporting relationships between various people and communities to have deteriorated are very small. Though small, those who think that relationships between those who hold different political viewpoints and those who say relationships between relatively rich and relatively poor people in the area where they live in, has deteriorated compared to 3 to 4 years back, is significant (though those having this opinion are less in number than those who think it has improved). From this, it may be surmised that relationships between various peoples and communities have not deteriorated during the past 3 to 4 years.  
  8. The feeling that "I am a Nepali first and foremost" is what unites the Nepalis at this historical juncture
    It is not people's religious affiliations (whether people prefer a Hindu state or a secular state) or allegiance to the Republic (in contrast to those who still see a role for the monarchical institution) that unites Nepalis at this historical juncture. In fact these are divisive issues. What unites the people of Nepal is the identity of being a Nepali. The identity of being a Nepali transcends caste, ethnic, regional and religious identities. What wave III underscores is a growing trend in those who like to be identified as Nepali only. While those who like to be identified as Nepali only was as low as 52 percent in January 2008, it has increased steadily during the past few years to reach 71 percent in June 2011.  
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