27 Feb-5 Mar 2015 #747

Waiting for a Nepali Kejriwal

Nepal’s grassroot communities also have anti-corruption crusaders waiting to come out and clean things up
Bihari K Shrestha
On social media and on listservs like NNSD, all the talk this past week was about what effect Arvind Kejriwal’s surprise landslide victory in New Delhi elections would have on Nepal. It rained in Delhi, and we are unfurling our umbrellas in Kathmandu.

Most commentators hope that, one day, we will get our own Kejriwal in a Dhaka topi, and that may not be so far-fetched because Nepali voters are sufficiently mature and such changes will emerge in their own time. But we must not forget the three main factors that made this anti- corruption crusader win big:

1. He was able to put together a critical mass of a dedicated political team with vision, commitment and visible integrity.

2. Kejriwal addressed concerns of Delhiwalas for clean government, free drinking water and cheaper electricity

3. The voters of the Delhi Union Territory are overwhelmingly urban, working in predominantly non-agrarian pursuits and living in sprawling slums or vast estates in the suburbs. They have no feudalistic loyalties to power centres.

Having won the election, Kejriwal’s challenge will be to deliver on his populist promises. That is where most opposition parties, particularly the BJP, are hoping the Aam Admi Party will falter. Kejriwal’s challenge is to prove that this win was no fluke of history.

Most factors that propelled Kejriwal to power in Delhi are abundantly present in Nepal. For one thing, corruption is now standard operating procedure seemingly condoned by the highest executive authority in the land. For instance, in the recent annual day celebration of the anti-corruption watchdog, the CIAA, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala had no qualms in publicly admitting that he received complaints about his own ministers having been involved in corruption. But he did not mention any action he took or intended to take against them. Instead, in the same breath, he accused the CIAA chief of remaining preoccupied with corruption among junior officials, while he let the big fish free

The CIAA itself has its hands full with a huge backlog of corruption cases against politicians, the most prominent of them being the one against Pushpa Kamal Dahal on the alleged siphoning off of billions of rupees paid by the government to non-existent Maoists fighters in the cantonments. Nepal’s paradox is that the top politicians who are most corrupt seem to enjoy immunity from the CIAA.

While corruption remains endemic, the citizens grapple with daily shortages of everything: no cooking gas, no power, no water, and no jobs, no security, no health, no education. There should have been a thousand Kejriwals on the streets of Kathmandu already. Unlike Delhi, Nepal remains rural. In addition, a convergence of high caste status and economic power give rulers the license to extract resources from society. Since the feudalistic order is invariably attended by the chronic persistence of widespread poverty and all-pervasive lack of functional literacy, money effectively plays a major role in elections and that provides a perfect alibi for a feudal elite masquerading as politicians to remain deeply enmeshed in corruption. As things stand, a successful politician in Nepal is necessarily a corrupt man.

To be sure, there are a few Kejriwals in the political parties, but are pressed down by the deadweight of corrupt aparatchiks. Take Gokarna Bista of the UML who performed superbly as an energy minster but was punished for his integrity. Nepal’s democracy needs an altogether new architecture  under which concerned citizens are empowered to make their own decisions. Our success in forestry through forest user groups and in primary healthcare through mothers’ groups are based on the same approach. Potentially, our grassroot communities are full of Kejriwals. So, the Gokarna Bistas in all the parties have to redefine their role and mission in life. The sooner they come out of their party cocoons, the faster our country can mass-produce Kejriwals.

Read also:

Dichotomy in development, Bihari K Shrestha

Watching the watchdog, Binita Dahal

Afraid of catching big fish, Muma Ram Khanal

Nepal’s Aam Admi, From the Nepali Press

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