Nepali Times
Strictly Business
All politics is local


The last time a Nepali voter elected a local representative was in 1997 14 years ago. Since then, she has not had a chance to freely choose her own representative on a periodic basis at the village, district or city level. As a result, for the last 10 years, 3,915 VDCs and 58 small towns and big cities across Nepal have not had a fresh supply of competitively elected public officials, village chairpersons, mayors and so on.

Nothing is more damning about our Democracy (the one with a capital 'D', and the one that seems to be synonymous with the heads of major political parties in Kathmandu) than the fact that it has completely smothered democracy (the one with a lowercase 'd', and the one that is about how ordinary people in all corners of Nepal choose local representatives to provide local public services without always obsessively having to worry about what party heads think and do to one another in the capital).

How did we come to this stage?

In 2002, six years after the start of the Maoist insurgency and at the end of the five-year electoral cycle, the then-Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba could have called for local elections. But amidst the drumbeat of Maoists' threat to incite more violence, worries about safety and possible victories of Maoist sympathizers led Deuba to dilly-dally and ultimately decide otherwise. His decision ultimately led to him being sacked for 'incompetence' by the then-king.
Deuba replaced locally elected officials with government bureaucrats. Thinking that this was a temporarily necessary measure put in place until the insurgency could be quashed, the mainstream pundits and the press did not challenge Deuba's decision at the time.

After taking over from Deuba in 2005, the king held local elections. Those were boycotted by most political parties. Since the king's absolute rule did not command legitimacy in the eyes of the many, whatever the elections concluded, it did not last long.

Looking back, it's fair to say that Deuba's decision and the further decision by all political parties to keep the issue of local elections on the backburner seem to have sucked the life out of our Democracy. What's more, they have contributed to the state of affairs that we are seeing today, whereby Nepal's Democracy has not risen above Kathmandu's party-heads' personality-based politics.

To no one's surprise, the vacuum created by the absence of locally elected bodies was occupied by politically appointed bureaucrats and local outfits of all major political parties.

These outfits constantly quarrel with one another, engage in corruption, and derive their power not by winning the confidence of the local people but through the blessings of their political masters in Kathmandu.

So entrenched has been this arrangement that its results have recently played out in different ways: a reporter was beaten up in Biratnagar. Local law enforcement machinery could not take on the local politicians who provided shelter to the alleged culprit. Instead, it looked to Kathmandu's party heads for what to do and not to do.

In Dadeldhura, CA members went on a rampage and beat up school headmasters in front of students and parents, forcing them to resign. There was no local recourse because everyone knew that the fist-wielding politicians enjoyed their Kathmandu-based party heads' blessings.

Early this year, Chitwan was proud that all its residents were about to have access to improved sanitation services. Its residents looked forward to declaring Chitwan Nepal's first open-defecation free district. But long-running local party-political quarrels over who gets how much over what contracts put a damper on the residents' enthusiasm.

Locally responsive democracy is the heart and soul of Democracy. Unless we achieve it in a competitively electoral manner, the hollow smugness of Democracy would only add to bad governance on all levels.

1. Soni
"Locally responsive democracy is the heart and soul of Democracy."

I agree with the article, but I do unfortunately get irritated when people say things just to sound impressive. The quote above is rhetorical nonsense. The churning of ideas is the heart and soul of democracy. 

2. Soni
"How did we come to this stage?"

Indulge me here because I am groping in the dark. Given how much of systematic propaganda we are faced with and how little credible information is available to the general public.

Nepal's journey to this state of affairs is a result of a number of very simple facts.

A) Poor media oversight,complete lack of depth in understanding of key issues with nearly all analysis corrupted by both laziness and overwhelming partisanship.

B) An unimaginative political leadership bereft of any ideas to create structures which would help deliver solutions.

C) Obsessive ideological bickering as a consequence of (B). The argument has always been about which idea is superior instead of how best to deliver "good governance".

I don't think I need to say anything more on this particular matter.

However, an interesting article would be one which could reveal the true cost of politics in Nepal. Which would show us the true cost of the chaos in Nepal. Productivity lost, unemployment, the real cost of infrastructure destroyed, the real cost of indecision, the real gap between potential and actual growth. Of course, all of this would have to be based on facts and verifiable numbers. 

As far as I could see on my own, and as Rubeena's article confirms for us, it is unlikely that we are ever going to see anything even resembling such an article.

3. B2B

I hereby endorse the present write-up of Mr. Tiwari. He at least appears to be truly inspired while writing these lines.

For once, in order to give the country a much required reboot in polity and socioeconomic revamping, we remain forthright beholden to the elites like Mr. Tiwari whose incessant efforts to squawking about all that are truly nuts in the country and also not hesitating to point the finger at all that woefully going amiss to halt the rural progress under the malicious and partisan acrobatics of some tainted rubes affiliated to political parties are outright praiseworthy.

In support of Mr. Tiwari's article let me annex the following addendum:

Nepal's state structures in question

The downfall of state structures occurs whether through defeat by an external power or simply caused by the internal chaos which leads to a vacuum of political power.

The breakdown of state institutions plummets when the mechanisms through which political powers are exercised might become less consistent and citizens might lose trust in the judgment of the state.

Next, one of the most important ways to make states work conveniently is by means of creating apolitical bureaucratic structures such as civil service, judiciary, police and army in order to play the role of legitimate and neutral state authority in maintaining social order through prescribed procedures and the rule of law.

It ain't the simple lack of a state that undermines human security but the incentives that dictate how power is wielded and to what end.

In Nepal the blame as well as responsibility lie with the politicos who once more failed in their mission to provide the country with a new constitution which could have mapped out the main topics to deal with by strengthening societal fabric of the nation.

Effectively, every niche of good and favorable laws to be effective, it requires things to go legit and must entertain the consent of the majority of the citizens. Also, we must first reveal it to the mass that before 1990s there was blatant absence of the state except in cities like Kathmandu, Janakpur, Biratnagar, Nepalgunj, Birgunj etc. Because in small towns and villages there weren't even a civil service where one could record the birth and death of a citizen lambda. So why even today in foreign lands when we are asked by the local authority to produce a document relevant to our date of birth as well as birthplace we need a certificate from the Embassy mentioning that there is no such a recording civil service bureau in Nepal.

After the Maoists' insurgency, political instability, lawlessness, nepotism and lack of accountability have prevailed in Nepal, and corruption is perceived to be of major concern by the INGOs thereby tagging this country as 143rd the most corrupt nation out of 180. Various high dignitaries of the country are going through thorough investigation in graft cases so as to eradicate this bane or scourge from the governing bodies of these successive governments of all colors.

Nepal needs all the trappings of a legitimate democracy along with a strong Parliament with an effective opposition in a multiparty and alternate governance and polity to reinforce solidity of the sovereignty of the State called Nepal.

Most of the time the populace see the state as a predator because still the corruption and bribery are so much deeply imbibed in Nepalese bureaucracy that every time if you want to obtain some service from the part of the state agents you are entitled to pay him an extra money if not you will hardly get things done quickly. Furthermore, the government provides next to nothing as health care, education, or even security for its citizens.

Not surprisingly, the key insight is that states cannot be made to work from the outside. The viability and legitimacy of a state requires enlightened local leadership, coherent institutional and international assistance.

If there is no checks and balances how the local government can become accountable?

For want of anything better, if you are fond of Humanities and Social Sciences you must be in the know that you have to delve into Old Babylonian socioeconomic history forged by a king named as Hammurabi (1894 BC) who is believed to have given for the very first time state structure to facilitate better polity alias system of government. Then the timeline of Indian Subcontinent makes you focus your attention on the Laws of Manu (roughly 700 BC) which refer to the Brahmanical tradition from the Vedic period (roughly 1500 to 600 BC) which gives us the brief overview of earlier cultural and political events. At length, no one escapes from the Code Napoleon of civil service that prevailed in all of Europe after 1804 AD, and later on in South America, in Louisiana, Quebec, Thailand et al.

At present, if a country decides to reboot the civil service of a state it first consults the Code Napoleon and then drafts the Code of Civil Service adapting the same according to the mores and culture of the state concerned.

It adds a new level of understanding about the profound changes wrought by Napoleon's armies as they traversed the length and breadth of Europe. This may open up new avenues of studies for those who are fond of deepening their knowledge if they are intrigued by this period of European history.

Code Napoleon's checks and balances begin with the reform of tax structure, which exempts nobody from paying his taxes no matter what is his birthright privilege. One of the main reforms was the establishment of the National Bank of France. The Napoleonic Code codified all of France's civil, commercial and criminal law. Napoleonic Code reinforced the social reforms which already were promulgated after the French Revolution comprising the abolition of hereditary social distinctions, feudal privileges and social inequalities characterized by the old regime.Still, Nepal has a chip on its shoulder because the old habits do not die easily. In consequence, the injustices of the past feudal time continue lingering thereby giving the Maoists an opportunity to try to impose on the country a yoke of Maoism, a totalitarian regime, where checks and balances are done likewise in Iranian Islamic regime wherein every house your own kith and kin and siblings serve as finks for the sake of the autocratic party. You can be anytime denounced if you do anything that ain't suitable to the ruling single party regime.

All said and done, I would like to end up by quoting a line from one of the greatest statesmen of our modern history, i.e., Winston Churchill, "What is the use of living if it be not to strive for noble causes, and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone."

4. Naresh
Thanks for your valued judgement. Came to understand lots previously ignorant of.

5. yogibear
Isn't your column meant to be 'strictly business'? Stick to what you know.

6. jange
How did we come to this stage?

Appeasement of murderers, looters and extortionists.

Why do you complain about people being beaten up by politically connected people? You are all quite happy with the Maoists using violence for their political objectives but you complain when others do it?

As long as other people were getting killed by the Maoists you hailed them as revolutionary. But when they beat up and kill journalists you start to complain?

And you are still asking how we came to this stage?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)