Nepali Times
Just a little bit longer

The royal move of October Fourth and the fallout of analysis and commentary from it has triggered a vigorous debate on whether or not there are universal values of democracy, human rights and social justice. And, as happens repeatedly when words are cheap and analysts are nineteen to the dozen, there are glib assertions and sweeping generalisations.

Assertions like: "Nepalis don't deserve democracy." Or generalisations like: "The last 12 years were wasted." It may be more correct to say (without indulging in hyperbole) that our national-level political leadership in the past decades haven't deserved the patience, tolerance and forbearance of the Nepali people. Whether they be the inert leaders of the Panchayat ministries who were appartchiks fulfilling the quotas of royal directives on paper, or elected national leaders of the post-democracy years who squandered the peoples' mandate on self-enrichment and self-aggrandisement, both are equally deserving of scorn.

Whichever way you look at it, the country suffered because the Nepali people didn't deserve these rulers. We were already laggards, and we lagged further behind because they were in the saddle. In the Panchayat years, the economy was stagnant, there was little measurable improvements in the quality of life of the people. After democracy, things got slightly better with economic growth and significant advances in infant and maternal mortality.

Still, despite all that, we are still the poorest country in one of the world's most-deprived regions. We can keep on splitting hairs about whether the "one party" Panchayat state was better than multi-party democracy in delivering the goods to justify our preference for a future polity. And we can do that till the cows come home. But the conclusion will be: one may have been marginally better than the other. But neither were adequate because neither had the quality of leadership and accountability needed to manage the country's needs.

And let's lay this debate to rest here and now: of course democracy, human rights and social justice are universal values. Who could possibly be for enslavement, inhumanity and injustice?

This debate also distracts us from the urgent matter at hand: restoration of peace, stability and development-in that order. We waste our time if we engage in endless unnecessary debates to label some as villains and others as saints. The Panchayat-wallahs see the present royal interregnum as their second coming, while disgraced politicians are tarring the monarchy only so they'll come out smelling like roses.

This transition back to a more rooted democracy offers an opportunity to correct the mistakes of the past 43 years. We know that authoritarianism is not the answer, nor are politicians who mistakenly think democracy is a free first-come-first-served buffet. However much our leaders have tarnished democracy and its institutions, it is still the only political mechanism that can deliver development. We just have to make sure that the people we elect in future will display the kind of accountability, statesmanship, inclusiveness and vision that will lift this country out of the mess we are in. Time is running out, but we have waited so long that we may just have to wait a while longer.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)