Nepali Times
Strictly Business
Hollow hope


Our newspapers never tire of reporting on the need for consensus among political parties. They do that because once they are thrust in front of loudspeakers, our politicians can't help but drone on and on about how consensus is important.

The politicians meet, talk and pretend to deliberate on weighty matters. They give interviews. But the result is always the same: guarded agreement to hold more talks in the future to look into ways of reaching a national consensus. Meanwhile, they go on quarrelling with one another. They paralyse the day-to-day lives of the very voters (and their children) who sent them to the Constituent Assembly (CA) to draft a new constitution.

Nowhere else in the world is the word 'consensus' used so flippantly as it is here by all parties. Yet what results, time and again, is not consensus, but quarrels and fights that mutate into traffic jams, highway blockades, ministry gheraos and bandhs.

Enlightened civil society pundits, ensconced comfortably as they are in Kathmandu's high society without having to go through the grind that most Nepalis endure everyday to eke out a living, continue to shrug off all these daily disruptions as the inevitable birth pangs of a young republic en route to reaching that theoretical utopia promised by democracy.

But what if we say that political parties have absolutely no intention of making the institutions of democracy work? After all, success in doing so would actually lessen their hold on power and reduce their influence. Why would they want to do that? What if the parties have - through cunning political manipulations - mastered the art of hoodwinking the voters, fooling the donors, burbling pro-democracy platitudes, and enriching themselves while continuing with the usual game of political uncertainty as far as they can take it? Voters be damned!

After all, if the Panchayat styled itself as a party-less democracy, what we have today is 'party-full' democracy, in which parties decide everything, from which candidate you vote for to how you structure your day. If some group decides to block the streets, you may have to alter your travel plans, or perhaps your goods will not reach the market, with a corresponding decrease in income.

If the concept of 'party-full' democracy is not a valid one, how else to explain that instead of resolving differences through debates in the CA, some parties continue to cast themselves in the role of a government-in-exile?
Not that their antics outside of the CA, performed apparently on account of high-minded principles, have stopped them from accepting their monthly parliamentary paychecks. Who wouldn't want to have the best of both worlds - picketing the very institution that keeps you in clover?

If they do get their way by harassing, physically pressuring and threatening others to bend to their will, what's the point of hoping for a country in which the rule of law will someday reign supreme? Forget unleashing Nepal. The way parties have been behaving, it seems clear that they are more interested in putting Nepal on a short leash ? stunting its growth, sapping its vigour, never letting it reach its potential and keeping it backward.

Nobody who cares about the Nepali people, for instance, would threaten to blockade airports. Such a threat may have played well in the local political theatre. But it causes a flurry of cancellations in hotel bookings and other tourism-related services. Even accounting for the income disparity within the tourism industry, who suffers the most? Waiters, maids and tour guides.

It's one thing to continue to hope for the best. It's another to critically examine the evidence on which that hope is based. If the recent past is any guide, the evidence does not leave much room for hope.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)