11 - 24 October 2013 #677

The party that can throw the best party

This festival season coincides with campaigning and will tell us a lot about the culture of Nepali politics
Muma Ram Khanal
FIRST PAST THE POST: UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal registers himself as a candidate from Kathmandu-2 and Rautahat-1 for the direct polls.
The relationship between politics and Dasain is much more intertwined this year than before.

The 19 November election for a second Constituent Assembly will colour the campaign with the hues of Dasain and Tihar because the political parties will rev up their home visits to campaign in earnest.

The festival is ideal for campaigning because of the movement of people, the celebratory mood, and get-togethers of families and clans across the country. This time, both the candidates and cadre will be going not just to their family elders, but also their party seniors to seek blessings. But it will be the candidates who will have to use the festival for maximum public relations.

Dasain is probably derived from a pre-Vedic harvest festival, but later got the connotation of the victory of good over evil. Because of the link to victory and political parties will attempt to portray themselves as the winning ‘good’ side. Political candidates will be trying to emulate the victors of mythological wars in which the evil were vanquished.

Dasain is also a time of blood-letting: hundreds of thousands of goats, buffalos, and chicken will lay down their lives over the 10-days of Dasain and their blood splattered over deities, cars, and even aeroplanes to appease the gods. Indeed, if the shooting of UML candidate Mohammad Alam last week is any indication, there will also be human blood spilt.

In the past, it would be the village elders in rural villages in the mountains who would be up-to-date on political gossip and the tactics for elections. But with the spread of FM radios to even the remotest districts almost everyone is a political analyst.

After Dasain comes Tihar and Chhath in the Tarai and together these festivals will fuse with the political festival of election time. And for once, the focus of attention will not be the semi-deserted capital but the 75 district capitals and the hinterland.

Nepali society has been overly politicised with the proxy front organisations of the four main political formations dominating every aspect of life from education, health, transportation to the bureaucracy. Even members of the same family are often divided along political lines.

Such divisions may affect the festivals this season because members of the same family maybe taking their affiliations more seriously. Some elders may be transmitting curses to relatives instead of blessings. Party members denied tickets are already rolling up their sleeves and are standing as independent rebel candidates. Both the UCPN (M) and NC are plagued by this.

The CPN-M has decided not just to stay away from polls, but to disturb campaigning and voting. Their Dasain slogan is ‘Boycott Elections’ and threats have been issued to candidates and one can expect symbolic violence to scare off contenders. There is a danger of political parties using the excuse of the CPN-M to intimidate candidates from rival parties.

Political leaders clearly know that Nepali voters do not read election manifestos, so many promises have been broken in the past. The Himalmedia Nationwide Public Opinion Survey in March showed that only four per cent of respondents said they voted based on manifestos. Nearly half said they would vote based on performance. Which is why political parties will be trying to show that they are generous and efficient this Dasain. The vote may go to the party who can throw the best party.

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