Nepali Times
Strictly Business
Democracy and democracy


I had lunch with a 71-year old retired Nepali doctor in London recently. He had left Nepal when he was 31, when Surya Bahadur Thapa was the prime minister.

Forty years later, regardless of what your politics is, the 80-plus years old Surya Bahadur Thapa is still in the running for prime ministership of Nepal, a country where two out every three citizens are under the age of 35. Thapa is one example among many politicians over the age of 60, who were around in 1990, and who are still around now. Meantime, Tony Blair and George W Bush, both still in their 50s, are parts of history.

Even accounting for politicians' lust for power, what's wrong with our particular democratic structure that keeps on returning the same old politicians to power no matter how many Roman numeral andolans we have?

Design thinking has not penetrated the consciousness of Nepal's democrats, who equate democracy with truth, beauty and justice: rarely pausing to consider that politicians, like humans everywhere, have every incentive to design and maintain a system that is aimed at keeping them in power for a long, long time.

Architects know that the way rooms in a house or an office space is designed affects the outcomes: how and to what extent people interact, work together and play. Change the design, and you change the outcomes. Likewise, how a political system is designed affects the outcomes of how that system responds to people's concerns.

On the outside, our system has the requisite avatar of a democracy (multiple parties, elections, political horse-trading, etc). Dig deeper, and you will find that it's not the voters who call the shots but the party leaders, who have designed their parties' internal structures in such a way as to keep them in power for as long as they live. Voters can express resentment, but come election time, they have to choose among the same menu of candidates.

Meantime, our democrats love to argue for the capital letter Democracy. That's because doing so is easy and it attracts both the global attention and the donor funds. But read the papers, and you will rarely find them steadfastly pushing for small-letter democracy: the boring process of making parties accountable to voters, being transparent about finances, handing out election tickets based on candidates' proven ties to localities.

Democracy gets a lot of support, democracy gets almost no support. The result is that Democracy has trumped democracy in Nepal. That is why, to cite one example, no matter how much our free press reports about corruption and bad governance, things do not change because politicians' answer remains the same: "We have Democracy". To which, the civil society adds, "We have Democracy". Pundits chime in: "We have Democracy." Donors say: "You must have Democracy".

Thanks to the good work of political activists, rights-based organizations and the media, Nepalis know about and appreciate the value of Democracy by heart now. But they don't want to be forever debating its inherent goodness. They now want to move on to the small-letter democracy: the nuts and the bolts of the devolution of political power, the accountability, the transparency of public decision-making processes, the palpable sense that we are heading somewhere better as a nation. Else, just having Democracy without democracy is like owning a BMW without an engine.

The era of old-time politicians will only be over when younger politicians focus more on democracy without getting into the hot air that forever surrounds Democracy.

1. Rishi
Please tell me, how is this Strictly Business? If only, all of us stuck to doing what we do best,....

2. jange
Rishi- It is the business of politics and the politics of business...

3. Satya Nepali
Mr. Tiwari has hit the nail on the head. We Nepalis have run after "Democracy" as if we'd get "democracy" simply by removing the king at the top. But our Democrats have turned out to be as dynastical as kings. Hats off to Mr. Tiwari for presenting this problem so well! This article should draw attention to a neglected issue as we write the new constitution. We need to institute *constitutional limits* on the number of terms or years that a person can serve as PM or President. If someone has served say 8 years as PM, or has served 4 terms (even though they may not add up to 8 yrs) then he should be disallowed from being a PM again. Of course the details of these limits will depend on the kind of governance system we finally go for. I'd say there should be constitutional limits even on internal party Presidencies though these may be more relaxed. This will prevent politicians from gaining a stranglehold on power and give chance to young blood to run the country. From 1990 until now, Girija Prasad has held a disproportionate grip on power. Young blood like Gagan Thapa will have lost their energy and youth when/if they ever get to power. In order to prevent repeats of this kind, we should definitely build in constitutional limits to power in the new constitution.

4. Rishi
Jangeji- I woudn't be complaining if the article was about the latter. That is what the column is for. Imagine D'Silva writing a restaurant review in his movie column or the Ass giving a religious discourse in its satire column. Nothing wrong, but doesn't sound nice, does it? You may say business and politics are related; but if we go by that argument, almost everything in the whole wide world can be made to be related. The other column, Economic Sense, too at times deviates so much it makes no "economic sense." Ofcourse, the writers are free to choose what they want to write, but in that case they should change the name of the column to "My Meandering Thoughts" or something to that effect. Would save the time of lots of new readers like me.

5. jange
Rishi- Give Ashutosh a break! Maybe he is thinking of a career change!!!! Maybe Ashutosh's next coloumn will be on "giving a break"???

6. Arthur
Rishi, the unproductive and corrupt characteristics of Business in Nepal is not unrelated to the prevalence of Democracy without democracy. Lots of parasitism, little actual investment. That's "Business" in Nepal - not very "businesslike".

7. Madan
Rishi- To this reader, Asutosh is talking about business. He talks about incentives. He talks about how the system is designed in favour of the incumbents. He says how young leaders (Gagan Thapa?) can differentiate themselves. All these seem like applications of basic business and economics principles.

8. Rishi
Jangeji, definitely looks like it. My best wishes to Tiwari ji. Arthur ji, I wonder how exactly they are related. The recent upheavals in the US/global finance sector showed us that many businesses can be just as unproductive as well as corrupt, even in a full-fledged democracy (all small letters) like the US. Would I be going too far if I said that business is corrupt, inherently so, regardless of the political structure or the state of development of a country?

9. pashupati
Hope- Mr Tiwari does not have to travel to London to figure out the plight of Nepali democracy without any democrants. My villagers most of them do not have formal education, but they understand who are the real ugly players in the Nepali politics. We donot need to name here, by naming Surya B. Thapa, mr. Tiwari has just trying to make him a scape goat. Why Mr. Tiwari cannot write about nepali Congrss, the Koirla family? Is it democracy here? Please help me to understand if we have any democractic party in Nepal?? All loosers are in the government? Secondly, Mr. Tiwari is comparing apples and organges by giving the example of former English P.M. Blair, and former American president Bush 1 or 2( does not matter which one Mr. Tiwari is trying to show us). By comparing Nepalis ( us) to English or American is Nepali congress way to cheat the Nepali People in the Name of Democracy in Nepal. One has to understand what is real American democracy, or English democracy. The Nepali Congress is not even a close to neither of them. We Nepalis have to understand who we are, what are our public instituation stands for. The most public institutions are corrupted from the supreme court to the Nepal Army to the office of PM to the of office of President. So, Mr. Tiwari is comparing to Mr. Bush, and Mr. Blair in Nepali context , does it make any sense? Pashupati,

10. Arthur
Rishi, I think one could make the same point about Democracy and democracy related to Business and business in the USA and other developed countries and this is well illustrated, as you say, by the Global Financial Crisis. But it certainly seems worse in Nepal where both business and democracy are much less developed and crisis more permanent than periodic. Only future struggle can determine whether the corrupting tendency of business to become Business will be overcome in Nepal or whether it too will end up passing through a stage like the USA. But certainly that future struggle cannot even begin until business in Nepal is liberated from the corrupt "Democracy". More democracy is needed by business just as it is needed by landless peasants in the villages and just as it is needed by the workers employed by business. The peasants and workers may or may not later run things without "business people" as bosses but business certainly cannot take off at all in a country like Nepal without the peasants and workers achieving democracy. There is little market and not a very productive labour force among people living on less than USD $2 per day so how can business prosper without first unleashing basic change? For example what kind of financial journalism can you expect from a writer who feels "constrained" to refer to the longevity of Surya Bahadur Thapa rather than GPK? Could such a writer analyse a difficult investment problem or expose a complicated financial scam?

11. Santosh Gurung
Mr. Aushotosh, Please do not write from now-on-wards. Your point of view is too trifling and the presentation too boring. If you think you came up with a great Cliche about the two Ds, then God save your Oratory skills. My point is, please don't pontificate on a pointless subject. We all know that Nepal is misgoverned. Isn't it. ? The solution according to Mr. Tiwari is Democracy and democracy

12. Words that can be twisted
D, d; in Nepal, or the West, C,or c, in China or Cuba; at the end of the day "jusko shakti usko bhakti". The only difference being there's a term limit in the USA slapped by either conscious out of box thinkers from the past or out of pure punishment against the ones who they couldn't beat in leading.

13. Satyajeet Nepali
Hmm. Interesting how much antipathy this article seems to have generated. I personally thought the writer has broached an important, though tired, topic from a fresh angle. In a country where politics dominates so much (can any business survive without strong political connections?) trying to untangle its knots in a "business" column is hardly a cardinal sin. For me the key point of this article is: "Even accounting for politicians' lust for power, what's wrong with our particular democratic structure that keeps on returning the same old politicians to power no matter how many Roman numeral andolans we have?" It's a spot-on question to be asking at the moment as we're in the process of "re-structuring" our country. One answer I offer, and one which seems to have eluded the author, is to have *constitutional limits* on the length of political office. No one can be PM for more than 2 full terms (8 years). Boom. A heckuva lot of our probs will be negated by this constitutional limit, though of course not all. I even suggest there should be constitutional limits on internal party power structures. I urge everyone to think seriously about it. Another prob in the 90s has been how someone elected by a few thousand from one corner of Biratnagar (where he's no different than a feudal lord) came to determine and set the destinies of 30 million others, many of whom absolutely despised him. The amount of power wielded by any politician has to be in proportion to the level of trust and respect he commands in the whole population. Direct elections (as in the US) is a potential answer to this problem. I hope our country can come up with other useful solutions to correct our "democratic structure" of the past 2 decades.

14. Dr.manohar budhathoki
Spot on this time, Ashutosh. i feel a lot of the present political deadlock would have been avoided if there was a mechanism where a politician in Nepal could be sworn in for a maximum of two times only as prime-minister or president. This would effectively limit the power vested on any one person like Girija Koirala or PKD. Party supremos from any political party would be less keen on becoming PM every time the post fell vacant. They would bid their time and hopefully wait for more favourable circumstances before staking claim.There would be less horse-trading among powers to be and a government would have a better chance of completing its term. Will this limiting take place in the coming constitution? Your guess would be as good as anyone's. Of course, GPK or MKN or PKD or JNK want to be heads of state for life! No way they will restrict this term to two times only. What have we done to deserve our current state of affairs? Good grief! Our country is still waiting for that one 'man' who will lead us to our destiny and he or she is not amongst this current crop of leaders, i can assure you.

15. jange
Ashutosh must be doing something right. 13 comments on his thread and, just to compare, zero on the latest CK lal effort. Now, that's business.

16. jange
Dr. Manohar Budhathoki- " What have we done to deserve our current state of affairs? Good grief! Our country is still waiting for that one 'man' who will lead us to our destiny and he or she is not amongst this current crop of leaders, i can assure you. " The question is what you DIDN'T do. You kept quiet while there was murder, loot and extortion going on. As someone said, "It only takes for good men to keep quiet for evil to take hold." And expecting another strongman to get things right is not the answer either.

Agreed fully with Rishi ji. Reading a political treatise on a Business Column is like going to an eatery ordering dal-bhat from the menu and getting mutton-pulao - most people will be ok because food is food but suppose the person ordering is a vegetarian. But then there is Arthur ji's point, which is, you cannot separate Business from Politics. In every country, UK and US included, they are joined at the hip, BUT in Nepal, are more like Siamese-Twins. Instead of pontificating about politics, Mr. Tiwari might have served his readers better by providing insights on how Nepal can disjoin Politics from Business.

18. dr. manohar budhathoki
Mr Jange, thank you for your comment. i agree none of us has done enough or else things would not be as they are. My view is that the educated clan has let the country down. Where is the educated man's vision in planning of our civil services? In our infrastructure? In our declarations and our constitution? In our education? Everything is haphazard. An example familiar to me would be the Nepal Medical Council which is supposed to be the guardian of people's health but whose reputation and work is shady and the vast numbers of doctors qualified in a certain foreign country who have been erroneously given the license to practice in Nepal, jeopardizing people's health. Not that people should not go to that country to study medicine but they should make this licensing more rigorous, i can tell you. And every doctor should be made to take exams about every 5 years, rather than the present once a life-time exam because the nature of medical knowledge keeps changing. Also, Just think of what difference the educated and the uneducated have made? Compare the remittance the uneducated workers from Malaysia and the gulf countries send home compared with the educated class who live in Europe and America. Who, among these 2 groups is making the difference to Nepal? All of us who have better jobs, whether in the government or outside it, whether in Nepal or outside it,have let Nepal down in some way. It is the uneducated who have done more, both constructively and destructively, and they have also effectively taken over the country.

19. Satyajeet Nepali
Dr. Budathoki, you are right. The better educated of Nepal have let the country down. But I would hesitate in placing the blame on the whole group. The fault lies with the 'agra-panthi' of this group. Those who strut around as the "intellectuals", civil society leaders and so forth; those who have the ability to influence public opinion. I think there were people in the educated class who were warning against the coming calamity. But they lacked the avenues to express themselves more widely. These avenues (media) were already captured by politically biased groups out to support their parochial causes without regard to the right principles and long-term interest of the larger society. This paper, NT, is also very much a part of this 'agra-panthi' that, not only failed us, but deceived us! I suppose you know for yourself who others make up this 'agra-panthi'. Thus it is these leaders of the educated class that failed us. Due to the very political stance taken up by these leaders it was immensely difficult for other educated people to freely and fearlessly voice their opinions. The media made it their business to misinform the people, twist facts, hide others, misrepresent, exaggerate etc etc to promote its specific political interests. This is what led to the signing of what I call the "bastard peace" that we have been ladled with. This is what led to the legitimization of violence. It is what has weakened us as a nation, sold off our sovereignty and turned us into a vassal state with no control over ourselves. Saddest of all, attempts to cover up and continue the lies go ahead unabated. Thus it is this top class, the agra-panthi among the educated that have really failed us. Worse failures, in my opinion, than the politicians themselves. You wail against the educated who live abroad. Do note that many of these would likely have returned back home to offer their services had the politics in our country not taken the nosedive that it has in recent years - thanks, in large measure, to the efforts of the agra-panthi.

20. Satya Nepali
..and while I'm at it, that famous quote about the ascendancy of evil ("All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing") is attributed to Edmund Burke, Irish philosopher and politician of the 18th century...

21. bridohi
Ours is a nation still governed by seismic sociological thought process. We have replaced the king & subjects by leaders & followers. In a polity, there are "thinking men" & "good men" to quote Aristotle. "Thinking men" lead with ethics in mind, whereas, "good men" follow. If all "men" were thinkers, we would have anarchy or if all "men" were followers, we would have dictatorship. In similat manner, one can assume Tiwari has similar connotations with "D & d" in the word play of democracy. Our thinking process is still in the "ke garne? yastai ho!" phase. We have that fatalistic tendencies. Until, we all Nepalis learn to demystify the power of lords to be & take matters onto our own hands, nothing is going to change, ie, break the chains of karmic cycle. This fatalistic thinking gives corrupt leaders opportunities to take advantage of the situation--they feel endowed to lead us. We are like babies always needing a father figure no matter how dysfunctional the house is. Lets kick the "deadbeat dads" out of the house & start the small d (democracy) jan andolan....

22. bijaya
Nice article from Ashutosh Tiwari. Two small errors that I see in his article : One, the age of George W Bush is 64. Two, People under 35 in Nepal are 72.3% according to a projection of 2006. So that comes out to be around 3 out of 4 people under 35 rather than 2 out of three.

23. jange
Of course, if you are not happy with the current crop of parties you can always set up one of your own. As someone familiar with business Ashutosh must know that it is very difficult, almost impossible, to come up with a new political "product" and to come up with a successful marketing, financing and product system to continue selling the political product in the long term. The Maoists tried it- new slogans ( New Nepal, out with the King, samabesi, federalism, ethnic representation etc. My favourite is the thesis that anyone richer than you is an exploiter and if you are poorer than anyone else you are exploited), new strategy ( agree with us or we kill you), and brilliant financing mechanisms ( loot, extortion), new marketing (red flags, song and dances, strategically timed bandas, pretending to be independent of their patrons etc.). Maybe Ashutosh should analyse the business aspects of the relatively successful Maoist strategy and see what the others can learn from it. Who knows he might even start a new party if he is not happy with Surya B Thapa.

24. Shellfish
19. Satyanepali: And what were you doing in the meantime?

25. Satya Nepali
@Shellfish: Trying to voice my opinions (which were/are different from the 'mainstream')..unsuccessfully many times due to the biasedness of the media as I pointed out. Still doing the same - speaking out for the truth I see and believe, as unpopular as it may be.

26. manohar budhathoki
Mr. Satyajeet, i agree the peace accord has legitimized violence and the perpetrators of heinous crimes have been awarded, sometimes with the highest office in the country. While i agree ending the insurgency was a priority and reconciliation was a noble goal, what is disturbing is there is no effective mechanism to question the acts of violence and crime both warring parties committed during the conflict. Those criminals are the new face of Nepal, the messiah of the masses. It is like 'if you kill one it is murder, if you kill many it is a revolution.' This lack of accountability is encouraging other armed groups because they have seen they can be heroes simply by killing and later negotiating. A handful of half educated 'high caste' oldies have exploited a lot of naive and gullible youngsters for their political vendetta and the result is this new Nepal. We did need a new Nepal, mind you, but all this has gone so so wrong.

27. jange
Surely S B Thapa is a successful example of how to do politics. Why are you complaining that he is still around active in politics? And don't forget that Tony Blair left office because if he had stayed longer he would have been thrown out. TB would have stayed if he thought he could or if he had the majority in his party. Mr. Thapa is around because he still has the confidence of his party. Ashutosh has fallen into the trap of the typical Nepali mentality of regarding politics as a "jagir". It isn't. The younger generation politicians are simply too lazy and do not have the political skills, knowledge or experience to oust these old leaders. They are waiting to be anointed or hoping to be in the right place at the right time when the old ones drop dead. That is the problem.

28. Shellfish
25. Satya Nepali: "Opinions" and "truth" are not interchangeable terms. More importantly, just because your opinions are unpopular does not make it the truth.

29. Arthur
jange makes a point I have to agree with in 27. Most of the parties are based on patronage so they don't actually have any "leaders", old or young, but only patrons. The younger ones can only wait to inherit, or as jange says, be "anointed". On the other hand in the party not based on patronage there seems to be quite a lot of younger Maoist leaders and all the shouting about the YCL at least indicates that it has considerable importance. Youth organizations of the other parties are even more insignificant in comparison than the parties themselves. After all what makes more sense for a younger status quoist with some actual leadership abilities - to go into "business" or to wait around to inherit from the older leaders of some status quo party? Most young people are less inclined towards upholding the status quo than older people and there is plenty of ways for them to exercise their talents in the Maoist party and its sister organizations.

30. Budabaaje
Tiwari's article shows why the monarchy was justified in being suspicious of politicians in our country. Politicians were not for "d"emocracy, but "D"emocracy. Monarchy understood this, but was unable to articulate it properly. It was just trying to do what it could to ensure that what Nepal got was democracy and not Democracy. This is not to say it would have succeeded. But simply that it was justified in being suspicious of Democracy. Monarchy has been punished disproportionately for its mistakes. Monarchy has to be restored.

31. sshakya
Madhav Nepal syndrome is more fatal than what Ashutosh concerned about. In the last 8 months, one wonders why Ashutosh has not broken his silence on the sizzling issues (such as the loosers becoming the executives of goverment) in the camouflage of "Stricktly Business". Trivial as it is: the devotion of Interest ! After all, Ashutosh was one of the cohorts who could not sleep well on the night when the "Sarkar" left through the "Dakshin Dhoka". CK Lal has been rightly pointing the problem as the play of Military-Sahuji complex in the ground. Reminder: Ashutos's 'Stricly Business' column alias "Democracy and democracy" is being marketed in the backdrop of formation of HLPM that is headed by Girija Babu, the octogenarian. It is not only Ashutosh who is asseting what he is, but also the manifestation of Nepali Sahujis towards HLPM. The marketing guru of 20th century, Louis Chesckin is famous for his idea- "Sensation Transference" or the famous- "Pepsi Challenge".

32. FH
Re 22:bijaya - Remember Tiwari baje does not facts get in the way of his tall stories. So what if George W is 64 ? If Baje says he is 56, he is.

33. Battisputali
Pardon me for the long post. I happened to stumble on these excerpts from George Washington's Final address to the American people.In the excerpts below, he warns of the problems of party politics. I think it quite relevant to the discussion here. "This spirit[ of the party], unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy. " "The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty. " "There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume." The speech in its entirety can be found here: Now, many posters have mentioned term-limits as mechanisms of uniform vigilance. What else could Nepali individuals, communities, and Nepal as a country come up with to protect our young republic from the excesses of the political party?

34. Satyajeet Nepali (1)
Budathokiji, yes, certainly change was necessary. Equally, it was necessary to effect it in an honest and transparent manner with due consideration to the long-term interest of the country. Instead a few Bahun men and their buddies from across the border went into a secret meeting in foreign soil and gave us the so-called "peace deal". Worse, the agra-panthi of our educated class frollicked around this illicit, unholy deal and promoted its LIES, hoodwinking the people. What were these lies? (1) That the Maoists were willing to be "mainstreamed". Now who knows what exactly that term means, but my suspicion is that the Maoists clearly did not mean they'd permanently give up violence and become just like the other parties. Yet this was the fallacy that was actively spread and promoted. (2) That this peace deal was "homegrown". (As many of us know by now, the first draft, apparently, was in Hindi.) (3) That the deal was for an egalitarian, inclusive, peaceful yada yada yada "New Nepal"

35. Satya Nepali (2)
..For me, that Peace Agreement is nothing but the bastard child of opportunism (parties/agra-panthi) and terrorism (Maoists) delivered by the midwifery of foreign intrigue (India). An adulterous act committed by pulling down the blind on all the Nepali people. It was signed for the benefit and interests of those 3 adulterous parties, but NOT with due regard to the interests of Nepal and its people. And as we can see now, each of those 3 parties have benefitted from it, but the Nepali people are still suffering. The Nepali people need to recognize this truth and reclaim our power and sovereignty from the clutches of these 3 adulterating CHEATS. Otherwise these politicians and agra-panthi will forever keep hoodwinking, cheating and lying to us. They need to be taught a lesson. We need to establish, once and for all and in no uncertain terms, WHO IS BOSS!

36. Satya Nepali (1B)
(remaining part of (1) .. (3) That the deal was for an egalitarian, inclusive, peaceful yada yada yada "New Nepal". Fact is, besides the Maoists, the others had no darn clue what their vision for "New Nepal" was. It was a thoroughly empty promise whose true intention was simply to grab power and save their skins. (4) This peace deal is structurally faulty. The Monarchy or at least Army should also have been part of it. "Peace" is signed between warring factions, not among allies! Secondly, "reconciliation" demands that even those who lost power are part of the new peace. This is what Mandela managed in S. Africa and why he is worthy of the Nobel Prize (unlike Girija or Prachanda). Besides, the Army never really lost the war against Maoists. But it was kept out of the peace deal anyway. No wonder "combatant integration" has become a major obstacle today. It is the manifestation of the structural weakness of a dastardly document that was passed around as a "peace deal". For all these reasons, that so-called "peace deal" is the greatest HOODWINK that our politicians and agra-panthi have pulled on the Nepali people ever!..

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)