Politics in Nepal: Political parties, ideological luggage, inter party indiscipline

Nepal has ended its 240+ tryst withy monarchy and entered into a period that will firmly establish the country as the newest Republic of the world. The process is already underway. Like all changes that took place in history this ongoing change has its share of teething problems. Despite doomsday prophets who predict a return of the monarchy, fragmentation of the country or a military takeover, the country will sooner or later get a new constitution, resolve the combatant’s issue, and hold general elections. Today the country sees three main political actors, the UCPNM, the NC and the UML. The immediate future of the country hinges on the performance of these parties and how they deal with the most crucial issue on hand-the economy. No matter how big we think or talk the most basic issue confronting the common man is a stable economy. The main political actors may in the short run may, be able to sway people with catchy slogans and temptations they know they cannot deliver, but in the long run people will trust the party that puts the most money inside their pockets. This is a universal political fact.

Looking at the big three political actors in the political arena It can be seen that they carry a lot of ideological luggage, lack inter party discipline and are muddled about getting the basic economy on track. Whether one likes it or not, the UCPNM is the dominant player in the political field and responsible for having accelerated the social changes started by the anti-Rana elements and built upon by the NC . Sidelining it and hoping to and reach the next political stage is suicidal. It has a well organized base, dedicated cadres, and a fairly competent leadership and has to some extent managed to transform itself into a parliamentary party. However, the fact remains that the party carries a huge ideological baggage and is simply not able to convince everyone across the spectrum that it can govern and govern well. Its sister organizations, unions and hardliners will always pose a challenge for it to capture the all important middle ground. Discarded clich├ęs like redistribution of meager resources, fragmentation of land into unviable economic units and an anti-industry policy will further make things difficult for the party. In order to win broader public support the party must reconcile it’s ideology with the modern day realities and embrace all interests that put a nation on a firm holding. The labor party under Neill Kinnock had to undergo this painful process so that Tony Blair was able to project the Labor as a party that could represent all Britain and he did subsequently managed with success. Similarly, the UCPMN must convince the people of Nepal that if given the chance it can impractically govern and govern well. It is a tall order given the fact that the party was engaged in a civil war, made all kinds of promises to its cadres and would dread to lose its hardcore supporters. What it must, however, understand is that the whole country did not participate in the civil war on its behalf and governing on their behalf is as important as pacifying those inside the party. This is exactly the point where great leaders are separated from the ordinary. The party leadership must firmly convince the people and the cadres that the imposition of a “people’s Republic” will never materialize. The war they fought was neither won nor lost. The Nepal army still stands as a testimony to the fact. Like the other two big players they too must compete to win over as many people as possible and become a truly broad national party. A national party is a party that can be trusted to protect the rights of all its citizens without snatching the rights of others. The party must also understand that the world is now even more of a global village and all election trends shows us that a party that sets the economy right wins the elections and establishes itself as a force. This point must not be missed. The Congress in India proved this point with vigor.

The NC is of course the grand old party of Nepali politics and has been instrumental in bringing about the important changes we find the country going through these days. As far governing is concerned it has the most experience and the records are mixed. It has delivered some positive aspects on the economic field, while corruption managed to outdo these achievements. It can quite easily collect a broad spectrum of people across all lines and effortlessly incorporate their views and concerns. It is neither a party of the rich or poor and can accommodate all ideologies. In this sense the NC carries the least ideological luggage. However, having said this, the failures of the party are too many and its ability or desire to convert itself into a force to reckon with in the future is suspect. The NC lacks committed cadres and relays more on its past to convince the people of its relevance than anything new. Its recent experiment with nepotism of the highest order will prove a big disadvantage to the organization. In the uncertain stage when parties are jostling for political space the NC can even be compared to Iran’s pre1979 National Front, a party that was simply swept away by Khomeini’s revolution because it failed to reform with time and was exactly like the NC in nature. (A collection of all merging to oppose the establishment) Another flaw with the NC is the weak and unorganized political base it possesses. It is there, it is large but when it is needed it is nowhere. Compared to the communist parties it is a big disadvantage. Another striking feature about the NC is despite the fact that it is the Democratic Party by all standards, it has chosen to not to use this virtue to its full advantage. It has young capable leaders, no ideological hangover, no overzealous cadres, can built confidence among voters as the most moderate party and has both history and experience on its side. With so many advantages over the other two players, it will only be the NC’s refusal to adapt to the present context that will relegate it as has been party. The NC must strive to win over part of its base eroded by regional parties, promote inter party democracy and let the people know that only capable people will be at the helm of affairs in the party of the future. The NC has a relatively easier job cut out for it, but again delivering is crucial. It is baffling why the NC cannot use its biggest advantage as being the only perceived democratic party and hold an all out free party elections, choose the leaders for the next generation, get rid of dead wood and firmly takeover the political space they deserve. It would be a great petty if narrow family interests are given priority and the NC ends up vacating political space to the two communist parties. The NC might be unsure if it can survive the post GP Koirala era, but it must remember it has survived the loss of much greater men like BP Koirala, GM Singh, and Subarna SJB Rana.

Another party that remains a formidable player in the Nepali political context is the CPN-UML. Despite being a communist party it is the only party that has conducted elections to choose its office bearers and the disunity seen today could be a result of this exercise. Despite having its cadre based chipped away by the UCPNM and its moderate elements preferring the NC, the UML remains a well oiled political outfit that can throw in a lot of surprises in the future. It has very capable leaders, capable of formulating sound economic policies, has the capabilities to the rise to political needs and is seen as a party that can attract dissatisfied elements from the two other parties. Despite carrying the communist tag it finds itself more of a socialist party. For the time being its problem seems to be party discipline and having to govern a coalition despite having lost the CA elections. Despite all these shortcomings the UML will continue to play a dominant role in Nepali politics and if a two and a half party system does evolve the UML, s role would be crucial to fill the role as the King maker.

Having said this, the role of regional aspirations must not be ignored. The big three must be able to accommodate the aspiration and feelings of the marginalized and make them feel as much Nepali as the rest of the country. Given the size of the country and our economic status, too much of federalism may not be a feasible idea. The task on hand for the three big parties is to now set their petty differences aside, get the constitution ready, prepare for the general elections and come out with concept papers that lets us choose the best party to govern us for the next five years and on the part of the UCPNM convince us that it is truly for a multi-party system of governance. All three must come up clear economic plans on how they plan to improve the economy and not wild ones like turning Nepal into Singapore. People must be made aware of the facts prevailing the country and made to understand that good governance coupled with hard work and dedication by all citizens will make Nepal new and prosperous.