Nepali Times
Strictly Business
Chanting for consensus


Consensus, the joke goes, is the most overused word in Nepali politics. In the last two years alone, if you were to be paid a rupee each time the word was mentioned in the press, you would be a billionaire by now. All political leaders talk about the need for consensus. Most end speeches calling for consensus. Yet a lack of it is about to bring the country to a standstill this weekend and beyond, making life difficult for millions of Nepalis, and enlarging the dark cloud of uncertainty over Nepal.

How then to unravel this apparent paradox: that the greater calls for consensus have not led to it? For an answer, it's instructive to look at the anatomy of negotiations that take place in Nepal.

Compromise seen as a sign of weakness: Whoever said that politics is the art of the possible never took account of the psyche of the Nepali politician. Our politicians' world-view is that giving an inch to the other party under any circumstance is a sign of weakness, and one that is equated with a loss of face within one's own group and the larger political landscape.

It does not matter whether the other side can be persuaded to give a little as well, so that, over time, both parties can make progress towards a middle ground. This sort of all-or-nothing behaviour hardens positions instead, sets a bad precedent, and makes future negotiations all the more difficult. Unless a fresh set of leaders take over our political parties (and it's increasingly unclear how new leadership will come about) to sweep away these cobwebs of hardened positions, chants for consensus are just that: chants.

No common frame of reference: Most of our political conversations share little common frame of reference besides the fact of our being Nepali Ė an identity which is itself under assault at present.

In the West, politicians lasso their soaring rhetoric around what's right for their countries' youth and children, who, as everyone knows, make up the generation that's coming next. The booming economies of China and India have given their politicians and the citizens a dose of self-confidence to realise that their countries matter on the global stage.

But in a country where half the population of 27 million citizens is 20 or under (i.e. not even born at the time of Jana Andolan 1), so divorced are politicians from the concerns of the youths and children, or for that matter, from the concerns of the voters, that there is not much of a common national reference for them to refer to when they negotiate with one another to push work ahead.

Vague phrases like 'New Nepal' can only go so far as a common reference before confusing everyone. And in an electoral system which, by design, makes elected representatives disproportionately more accountable to their party leaders than to the voters that elected them, few politicians have to worry about having to face the wrath of the voters come the next election cycle.

Is it any wonder that frustrated by some politicians' penchant for holding the entire country hostage time and again, most civil society pundits are reduced to practically begging those politicians to improve their behaviour? Cut off from both the voters and the future of the country, the politicians have every incentive to focus only on their immediate self-interest, which they will work towards at any cost.

It's time for those who talk about consensus to start talking about the underlying dysfunctional anatomy of our political negotiations. Only then will we begin to come up with ideas for moving ahead. Otherwise, chanting for consensus will just become another diversionary slogan.

They're here, by Prshant Jha - From issue #500 (30 April - 6 May 2010)

1. jange
How can there be consensus when you don't agree with me?

2. CyberLekali
You can not call it a consensus when your opponent puts a loaded weapon in front of you, and asks whether you have any disagreements.

3. Arthur
It was Congress that insisted on switching from consensus as agreed when overthrowing the monarchy to a majority and opposition that has got stuck now.

Consensensus can only be useful for moving forward during a transition. It has to be a consensus of forces that are joined together opposing some other force (eg the monarchy).

Once the common enemy that produced consensus has been defeated, consensus becomes just a phrase for holding onto the new status quo and not moving forward again.

This also seems to get mixed up with "democracy".

In other countries people who insist that nothing can be done without their permission are called autocrats. In Nepal they call themselves "liberal democrats" and speak endlessly about "consensus".

4. Slarti

I have never seen anyone hit the nail on the head as effectively as you do. I don't congratulate you, but I thank you for being someone who speaks clearly. I hope to share with you what came to my mind about the second portion of your article, no common frame of reference.

I have always wondered why our problems persist.  Economic problems are not unique to this country, after all who is responsible for the failure in dealing with poverty throughout the world? Why is it that resource rich countries have poor people, rich ones have soaring unemployment, well intentioned government policies lay waste, private enterprise is mired in corruption, public enterprise in both waste and corruption.

These questions are what define our world today; the answer to all of them is simple and solution too hard, and time consuming, for these men of passion and politics to solve them. 

Here in Nepal, in a society where everyone seeks to blame someone else, where public discourse is founded on crafty imported slogans, and courage to speak the truth and actually take action is limited by attachment to ideology ‚Äď nothing will work, ever.

For anyone who actually overcame challenges in their life ‚Äď and there are millions such ‚Äď and actually managed to do something, it is obvious that Nepal's problems will not be sorted out easily.¬†

This is mainly because building is tough, it requires efforts that get barely noticed, one doctor, one engineer, a road here and the right building somewhere else. All of this requires stability and patience, failure is common. 

At the onset successes get barely noticed, obstacles need to be overcome, progress has to be reviewed and paths corrected. Agility is essential; simply because you can, you don't blast a mountain for a road. Managers often turn out to be ineffective.

Reality of not just Nepal is different and very painful. Look around you, listen carefully, walk the streets with your head down and sense the atmosphere, listen to the chatter and you will find that everybody is talking about problems as if solutions would appear out of thin air, only if someone else could be found to be blamed.

It is not just about Nepalese, such people exist in every society, in all corners of the globe. What these politicians have done is that they have converted the whole country into that of whiners. 

Journalists, activists, workers and entrepreneurs are all pleased to see their work getting easy because someone else is available to take the blame, analysis is easy. Over time, every crisis was made so existential and extreme that when the real one came, it swamped the whole nation completely and nobody knew what to do with it. Even now, passionate screaming is somehow expected to deliver more goods than quite work and careful deliberation.

In my view, solutions are hard, they require careful evaluation of reality, honest identification of issues, acceptance of what is unpleasant and the willingness to work with tools which are available. In the real world of real people with real positive and negative attributes. 

No country in the world changed because of grand projects or effective propaganda, they changed when the rulers knew who their people were and framed problems to design effective solutions to deal with real people's problems, based on the values of the ruled. That is why no two successful countries are the same except in broad features, but all the failed ones are.

In my very humble view, there are many reasons for this universal failure in governance. But, at the core is what I have found through my latest obsession with politics. Those who we call politicians are not our own, they are mere phantoms imposed on us through a coup of universalism, where all problems can be solved by the same slogans, in the same books.

Our life, our values, our history and our culture is alien to their discourse, none of them know what the actual concerns of the young are, none of them know what the concerns of the old are. They do not understand the needs. This would require work and they don't have time for it. The issues that they deal with are not real; they exist on a parallel plain of easy narratives and propaganda. 

Here is what they truly want- 

Alas, only if we had a different country to rule where we did not have the same problems, would it not be so easy to implement all these solutions. Their answer is ‚Äď let's give them a new problem to worry about, let's not give them a chance to settle down and wonder. Once the problems are replaced we would then be able to deal with the problem of our own choice which would fit our slogans and the template solutions.

They were going ahead in that direction, they had softened their target, but the Maoist stole a March on them.

5. May
How can there be a consensus when one of your interlocutors threatens to kill you, break your legs, confiscate your property, hold you for ransom if you don't agree 100 per cent with what they say? First, level the playing field by disarming and demobilizing the Maoists, then there may be a consensus. The Madhav Nepal government may not be the most dynamic, but at least it's not going around openly threatening to kill people who don't agree with it. He should call the Maoist bluff and hold the ground against former revolutionaries who have now become a nationwide criminal syndicate.

6. Consolidation

I enjoyed Slarti's heartfetl analysis as much as I enjoyed Ashutosh Tiwari's beautifully clear writing. A thumbs up to both.

Most of us are familiar with the saying: "If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem." 

Who in the political spectrum are ready to leave because they are not part of the solution? 

I think that 'consensus' is too big of a word to bring into Nepali politics. To begin with we need to all be able to use the same words that bring about the same meaning. That will begin to solidify the Nepali identity. Right now, we all speak the same words and we all mean different things.

I recommend that Ashutosh Tiwari continue to write like above and bring more 'clarity' before we can all expect 'consensus.'  I mean that encouragingly. Please continue to write like above.



7. Satyajeet Nepali

Here's my view. "Consensus" is elusive in Nepal today because the so-called "peace process" was faulty to begin with. By 2005-06, the conflict had become between the Maoists and the King/Army. The political parties, due to their own weaknesses, had already been sidelined. If there was to be peace, real peace, such a process should have included the real warring factions - the Maoists and King/Army, as well as the parties. A true "peace process" would have been tri-partite. But the parties went off and signed a furtive deal with the Maoists under Indian auspices in foreign lands and our media and intellectuals had the gall to hail it as a great breakthrough for peace! Was there ever a greater sham in world history? How can there be peace if the real warring factions are not even part of the peace agreements? Is peace an agreement between allies or between enemies? 

That's the concept. Now to the nitti-gritties. If the King/Army were also involved in the peace process, as they should have been, then the question of Army integration would have been appropriately dealt with back then itself. But political parties, who really didn't care about the Army, signed a deal that involved it. No wonder the so-called "peace process" is now stuck mainly due to this very army-integration issue. The correct stakeholders were not involved at all during the "peace agreement". That's the root of the problem.

Truth be told, Arthur is correct. The so-called "peace process" was not really for peace. It was simply for removing the monarchy. This objective has been achieved. What's bandied around as the "peace process" is a sham, a misnomer at best. It should be called the "anti-monarchical process" or the "republicanism process".

The real peace process should be re-started. And let's do it right this time. True peace should begin with referendums on all important questions, including monarchy. Then, depending on the results of the referendums, a new peace and constitution should be charted. That's what'll lead to real peace in the country. Everything else will just be little stopgap measures that'll keep coming undone every few months. Nepalis, esp those who support the current "peace process" based on the Delhi 12-point agreement, need to decide if this kind of 'ghari-ghari tuna fuski rahane' fragile peace is the peace they want or whether they want a durable peace based on truth and national interest! 

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)