31 July - 6 Aug 2015 #769

The Shameless

Nepal’s leaders don’t know the meaning of shame and care about nothing but themselves
Foreign Hand

A recent conversation with a taxi driver got the Hand wondering if our political leaders have any idea how far they’ve fallen in the people’s eyes. The cabbie declared the only solution to the country’s many problems is to string up every politician from the lamp-posts around Ratna Park.

When asked if this wasn’t a bit harsh, he calmly assured us that’s what they deserve and pointed out he’s being fair by condemning leaders from all parties equally. This sounded reasonable compared to his opening statement and my next question was “are there enough lamp-posts?”

An extreme opinion, no doubt, but milder versions like “jail them all” are common currency, usually heard within moments of mentioning politics (or price rises, corruption, lack of electricity/ water, etc). If an alien outlander like the Hand has heard “Nepal is finished because of the netas” a thousand times have our insider leaders heard nothing? How thick is that constitutional bubble they’ve grown so comfortable in over 8 long years?

The MP’s ritual journey back to their ridings last week to collect feedback should serve as a wake-up call. Instead of being honoured by grateful constituents, several top brass became targets for an astonishing array of projectiles. Madhav Kumar Nepal of the UML became the latest ex-PM to have a chair hurled at his head and bagged a new record of six vehicles vandalised (including his own) while a full scale riot broke out in his honor. Police fired live rounds in the air and unleashed dozens of tear gas canisters before the crowd was brought under control.

Prachanda’s arrival in Siraha, where he got elected by the thinnest of margins, was welcomed by black flags and verbal abuse. As if to break with a feudal past and honour the New Nepal that he waged a war to create, locals replaced the traditional/feudal showering of flower petals with a lively pelting of stones. Prachanda escaped unscathed while those around him got hurt (the story of his life) with several police injured while protecting Nepal’s man of the people from the people.

Not to be outdone, Congress Finance Minister, Ram Sharan Mahat, fresh from issuing his new budget widely hailed as mediocre, was welcomed in his ancestral district of Nuwakot by a petrol bomb tossed at his car. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, and I like to think the perpetrator was only trying to make a point. Maybe somebody was upset because his PA got caught red- handed stealing metal sheets donated to earthquake victims.

At times your columnist marvels at the exciting era we live in, when age-old reactionary bourgeois customs are abandoned and new traditions begin before our very eyes. It appears the face-slaps delivered a few years ago to Prachanda and Jhalanath Khanal have taken root and blossomed into these new practices, already on their way to becoming time-honoured. Who needs marigold malas and incense of our pre-revolutionary past when you’ve got rocks and tear gas?

Though tempting, it’s impossible to condone such behavior, despite the comic relief it provides. For the record, your correspondent believes harming anyone, including those who wrecked your country, is unacceptable, if only because it means lowering oneself to their level. That said, it’s also impossible to deny the intense frustration felt by millions at the collective failure of the political class.

As the MP’s scurried back to the capital we can hope their bubble burst, if briefly, before being restored by another round of meetings in 5-star comfort. Were they surprised by the hostility? Do they even admit to it? Have the years spent enriching themselves while pretending to write a constitution so addled their minds they don’t know everyone’s fed up? Is their collective divorce from reality permanent? Contagious?

As usual, we’re left with more questions than answers, but the fact our MP’s waited to consult the people until the constitution was already so late there’s barely time to change anything was noticed by many. Only two days granted for 27 million citizens to express themselves after squandering eight years was too little too late and clearly indicative of the respect our leaders have for the citizens.

Despite the suspicion that it was all a charade, the turnout was impressive as thousands eagerly spoke their minds, offering suggestions in an admirable outburst of participation. Inevitably, the recommendations will be largely ignored, especially since cancelling ethnic federalism and the secular state, two of our Maoist netas’ main ‘achievements’, were among the most frequent demands.

In most democracies, citizens can shame their politicians into behaving themselves. For this to work, the leaders must live in the real world (at least part-time) where nobody is above the law, incompetence isn’t rewarded, and shame is something to be embarrassed about. Surrounded by fawning sycophants and armed security, our leaders wilfully insulate themselves from the people and their concerns; after these latest clashes with reality they’re unlikely to change anytime soon.

So where does that leave us? Perhaps the best answer came from another taxi-wallah, who patiently explained Nepal’s leaders don’t know the meaning of shame and care about nothing but themselves. Even when they realise they’ve betrayed and enraged the people, they continue doing the same thing they did before.

Read also:

Vox popularism, Editorial

Federalism, republicanism and secularism, Anurag Acharya

Faith in the future, Om Astha Rai

Made to jump through hoops, Editorial

Protests over draft statute

Pro-Hindu activists call strike

THE 2072 CONSTITUTION, Editorial

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