Monday, October 24, 2016

Come Out Of Machiavellian Politics

Yuba Nath Lamsal
There is no dearth of political analysts both in the western and oriental societies, who advocate liberal democracy. They often tend to equate democracy with capitalism. The importunity with which these pundits pursue their treatise on democracy and capitalism sometimes creates confusion in the understanding of democracy. Capitalism and democracy are two different sets of ideas, which represent two different fields. Capitalism is an economic system in which market is the ruler and profit counts more than anything else. Democracy is a political system that is supposed to be more welfare-oriented, which is in stark contrast to the basic tenets of capitalism.
Proponents are of the view that capitalism is not merely economics but also a political and social system, which defends individual rights and freedom of citizens in all fronts and sectors. However, capitalism has to do more with the economics based on market authoritarianism and a little to do with the social face. Capitalism seeks a weak government to be easily manipulated and dictated by the market where capitalists and a few rich will be the masters.
Democracy is the political system wherein people’s representatives are chosen to govern through adult franchise. Democratic polity, in principle, ensures rule of the majority for the common good of all and seeks to protect the rights of the minorities. The political system we have adopted is the liberal democracy, which is in vogue in the world at present. In this system, elections are held in such a manner that the winner takes it all and the loser has virtually no say. This is the ‘first-past-the post’ or majoritarian system. A person or political group gets elected when one gets the most votes among the competitors. In such a case, a person or political group gets elected even when one does not get support of minimum 50 per cent voters. There are cases in the world that the candidates or political parties having secured less than 30 percent of the total votes have been declared elected.
In some western democracies, people’s apathy towards the system is so huge and high that they do not trust the system, parties and even the representatives, which is evident by miserably low voters’ turn out. The voters’ turn out is, sometimes, as low as 30 per cent. When only 30 per cent voters have participated in the election, how a political party or candidate can claim to have represented all people on the basis that one has secured more votes among many contenders out of the votes cast. Herein lies the fundamental flaw in the electoral system.
Proportionate representation is relatively better than the majoritarian one as it ensures representation of wider sectors because representatives are chosen on the basis of the number of votes the political parties get. This, too, is not the perfect electoral system but just better. Perhaps, this is the reason why some countries have adopted the proportionate election system. As many as 93 countries in the world have adopted the proportionate electoral system, of which majority countries have fully proportionate representation system, whereas the rest have semi-proportionate or mixed system. Nepal is in the second category as it has adopted the mixed system in which representatives are chosen on the basis of both ‘ first-past the post’ and proportionate electoral system.
Unfortunately, though, some countries which follow the ‘ first-past-the post’ system champion to be the best model of democracy and often teach others the tenets of democracy and preach their model in the world. What can be a bigger irony than this? This is a new Machiavellian democracy wherein the society’s biggest political hegemonies in the disguise of political parties or leaders compete through electoral struggle to have bigger say in the governance and political decision-making but not the marginalised and secluded ones. In this system, one is either complete winner or total loser and there is no middle way.
Its proponents call the proportionate system as the bane of democracy. According to them, proportionate electoral system fosters political instability as such election often produces a ‘hung’ parliament that always gives room for political crooks to play dirty game, both overtly and covertly, in the formation and pulling down of the governments as no single party secures a clear-cut majority to form the government. Nepal is taken as an obnoxious example of how the proportionate electoral system is awfully unsuitable for a young democracy. They cite the example of how the first Constituent Assembly failed and the second Constituent Assembly, too, reached near failure but was saved in the last hours due to some new circumstances that emerged out of the blue. The other example they cite is the record change of governments over the last eight years since the newly adopted proportionate electoral system was put into function or dysfunction.
However, the electoral system itself is not flawed and what is defective is the behaviour and attitude of the political players. Despite its virtue, the electoral system was misused by our political parties and their leaders for their petty personal and partisan interests, owing to which the political crooks, power brokers and corrupt breeds took hostage of the political system turning it into vicious mode with money and muscle power. As a result, politics was criminalised and crimes politicised, blaming the proportionate electoral system as the key culprit.
The fundamental intent of the proportionate electoral system is to ensure due representation of all political ideologies, interest groups and communities in tune with genuine pluralist idea. However, the apologists of capitalism advocate the ‘ first-past-the post’  and malign the proportionate system with full of malafide intention just because the former gives them more room to maintain their hold on power by buying votes, rigging and manipulating elections.
The election is only a part of political system. But real debate should start on the model of democracy itself. Is the model we have adopted is suitable for Nepal? Can the capitalist democracy solve the myriad of crises we are facing? Certainly not.  Niccolo Machiavelli, the political theorist and philosopher of the Italian Renaissance period, has said, “An effective leader can harness the weaker traits of humanity in his people to great effect, in the same way that a sheepdog can manipulate a herd of sheep”.  The similar syndrome may afflict our democracy if we do not seek answer to these questions and adopt the political system accordingly. Democracy is a must and there can be no alternative to democracy. But the crux of the question is: What type of democracy we are seeking for? We need democracy in which the people should not be treated as subordinate but masters of their own destiny.
Against this background, the political parties need to come out of ideological inconsistency and answer these questions. In principle, all key political parties agree that capitalist democracy cannot solve our problems for which a mixed model has been suggested. The Nepali Congress right from the Sixties of the 20th century has been propagating, at least in principle, the mixed model or democratic socialism, which incorporates tenets of western liberal democracy in political front whereas the Marxist or socialist approach in economic sector. The communists, too, have given up their old traditional dogma and come to embrace the mixed model. Even our constitution has stipulated the necessity of socialist approach. But the discrepancy between principle and practice continues to exist in our political parties from which the parties are required to decisively depart and begin afresh to translate their stated principles and ideals into actions of leaders and party functionaries.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Ideological Deviation In Politics

Yuba Nath Lamsal
Political parties are founded on particular ideology for which they advance their activities. Ideology and values are the soul of political parties based on which they train their cadres, workers and supporters to achieve their policy goal as well as shape their life style. It is the ideology and values that make a political party distinct and different from others.

Power Politics

Originally, our political parties, too, were founded on certain ideological ground and the leaders, at least in the initial days, followed these ideals and accordingly shaped their thinking and life styles.  However, as the days and years passed and Nepal entered into a new political phase, especially after the 1990 political change, ideals slowly started fading in the politics of Nepal. Ideology, political ideals and morality were replaced by opportunism guided by the motive of power politics. In the name of pragmatism, the political parties and leaders started adjusting their thinking, lifestyle and working procedures to cope with the newer trends brought about by the wave of capitalism, which starkly contrasts with what they preach in their party documents and public speeches. The inherent discrepancy between the theory and practice and between the words and actions is what has contributed to the stemming of contradictions and distortions in our political construct.

It is not the case of a single or any particular party but a general phenomenon in our politics. One likes it or not, the stark reality is that all the political parties in Nepal are devoid of ideology and principles on which they were founded. Politics sans values and principles often becomes mere gamble for power, money and position. The essence of democracy and value system is wearing off rendering democracy into a mere show piece in the glass case of ‘market politics’, in which democracy is defined and determined on the principle of ‘demand-supply’ and ‘profit-loss’. Of late, the key objective of our political parties seems to be power, position and perks, for which they are prepared to do anything and everything. This is exactly the identical trend that failed our democracy in the past and gave rise to dictatorship requiring people to wage struggles time and again for their democratic rights and freedom.

The political parties hardly practice what they preach. This inconsistency and discrepancy in principle and practice, and in rhetoric and action have raised question on the credibility of the political parties and their leaders, making it difficult to even guess what course of action the parties and leaders will take in future. Moral authority and credibility are the key strength of the parties and strong basis to win the trust of the people in politics. When principle, ideology and moral authority cease to guide the parties and leaders, people lose faith in system that creates huge gulf between the people and the parties. This is partly the reason why the political parties are jockeying for power and position rather than working for values and principles they cherish. The present crisis in our politics can be attributed to this tendency of the parties and their leaders.

In the present electoral politics, which is also called the ‘market politics’, everything is determined by the demand of the market—the voters. Eyes of leaders get fixed on the next election and anything that helps win the election becomes moral and justifiable for the politicians and political parties. The parties and leaders hesitate to take action on any issue if that does not help the election, no matter how grave is its implication and ramification on the society and the country. In the market or vote politics, anything is valid provided it helps in the election.

In such a condition, immediate gains precede the long-term gains and interests of the people and the country. This is the survival tactics of the political parties and gain power. When the parties accord priority to the existential politics, values and norms take a back seat. The parties, instead of standing firmly for the cause and ideals they fought for, take decisions that serve the immediate interests of particular leaders and their coteries.

Looking at the documents of the parties, they appear to be idealistic, democratic, egalitarian and truly dedicated to people’s larger welfare. However, in practice, they hardly follow their party documents, election manifesto and their public utterances. Let us take a look at the individual political parties.

In the last general election, the Nepali Congress emerged as the largest party in parliament, whereas the CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Center as the second and third largest parties. Now the CPN-Maoist is leading the coalition government in which the Nepali Congress is the principal constituent, whereas the CPN-UML is in the opposition bench.

Replaced ideologies

The CPN-Maoist Center is the party that was founded on Marxist, Leninist and Maoist ideology. This party also led the decade-long insurgency or ‘ People’s War’, in which thousands of people died, many injured and disabled. The wound of the conflict is yet to be healed. Despite being founded on Marxist, Leninist and Maoist ideology, the party has not fully adhered to this ideology; instead it has taken the parliamentary path which is inimical to communist ideology.

The Nepali Congress, too, appears to have markedly deviated from the ideology it has cherished. The ideological ground upon which the party was built is democratic socialism which is slowly but surely losing steam in the party. The democratic socialism remains only in Nepali Congress documents and in practical politics capitalism has taken its place.

CPN-UML is another key party, which, too, faces the question of ideological vacillation. The party was founded on the ideological ground of Marxism-Leninism. Later, the guiding principle of the party was modified in the name of ‘ people’s Multi-party democracy’ to adjust in the newly emerged political scenario and to accommodate parliamentary system. In reality, parliamentary system is the concept of capitalist democracy and has no place in the original Marxism-Leninism.

There are quite a number of other fringe parties in Nepal. They too have no firm ideological ground and consistency. Power and position are the key goal and attraction of most of the parties. Thus, ideologies, principles and values are fading away in the politics of Nepal, which is being replaced by opportunism, intrigues, muscle and money power. It is this tendency that has corrupted and degraded our political system.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Unification Era Diplomacy

Yuba Nath Lamsal
Foreign policy and diplomatic conduct in the pre-unification era of Nepal was basically categorised into two broad types—relationship with principalities within what once used to be a unified Nepal and relationship with Tibet, China and principalities of India. While the relationship and diplomacy with states within Nepal were characterised by suspicion, treachery, deceit and rivalry, the relationship with Tibet, China, and the Indian states was based on the strategy for survival, which mainly sought to defend the territorial control and protect trade especially with Tibet. The trade with Tibet was the main source of income and each state always scrambled to control the trade with Tibet. The state that controlled the trade route to Tibet also controlled the revenue. Several wars were, thus, fought with Tibet in different interval of time basically for trade interest.
Strong Malla Kingdoms
Nepal was divided into over 50 tiny principalities prior to the unification of Nepal. Three Malla kingdoms—Bhaktapur, Kantipur and Patan—were richer and more affluent than other states due mainly to trade with Tibet. ‘Baise’ (twenty-two) and ‘chaubise’ (twenty-four) states used to envy the affluence, power and cultural superiority of the three Malla kingdoms. Gorkha, in particular, was the poorest of all. According to German historian Dr. Hans-Georg Behr, in a book Nepal Geschenk der Gotter” (Nepal Gifts of the Gods) “Since 1716 Narabhupal Shah had been sitting on his throne made of mud. Dr Behr further says “Narabhupal found his throne very uncomfortable, and wanted to change it with the silver throne of the Kathmandu valley at any cost.”
The superior economic status of the Malla kingdoms was due to their control over the trade and supply of silver coins to Tibet. Chaubise kingdoms wanted to control the trade route to Tibet so that they could also share revenue. But they were so weak that they did not even think of defeating the Malla kingdoms. Moreover, chaubise kingdoms had bitter rivalry among themselves, which prevented them from collectively fighting with the Malla kings.
Narabhupal Shah of Gorkha had once attempted to attack Nuwakot, the key trade route to Tibet. However, he was badly defeated by Kathmandu’s king Jaya Prakash Malla’s force. Dr Behr says after the defeat, Narabhupal changed the tactics and sent his 10-year-old son Prithivi Narayan to stay with the king of Bhaktapur Ranjit Malla ostensibly to attain a good education, saying it was ‘only possible in Nepal’.
According to Dr Behr, but his real intention was to place his son in the palace so that he could spy on it and gather vital information and Ranjit Malla showed the young guest every part of the palace and let him play with Malla children. After five years, Prithvi Narayan Shah returned to Gorkha with much information on exact quantity of military equipment and the strategic location.
Knowing well that without superior arms and ammunitions, Kathmandu could not be conquered, Prithvi Narayan Shah embarked on a journey to Benaras where he made friendship with the king of Kashi and through him established contacts with East India Company. He acquired some modern weapons and brought them home. Most historians are of the view that he acquired weapons with the help of the king of Kashi. However, Dr Behr differs with other historians and says that Prithivi Narayan Shah acquired weapons from the British. Dr Behr says: “The British government had supplied the weapons to the Gorkhas, but this fact has been kept hidden in Nepal’s history’s books. The secret treaty under which this was done is still preserved in London in the archives of the East India Company. The pact was signed by Captain Ceane and the Gorkhas. The British government agreed to supply weapons and advice, and in return the Gorkhas had to destroy the old trade routes between India and China.”
However, Prithvi Narayan Shah was still cautious enough on the motive and role of the British, who had eyed on the lucrative trade with Tibet, which until then had been under Kathmandu’s monopoly. Historian Baburam Acharya is of the view that cautious Prithvi Narayan Shah made an arrangement that royal priest Gajaraj Mishra would remain permanently in Benaras to watch the activities of East India Company and inform any kind of potential threat from the British.
Upon return from Benaras with weapons Prithvi Narayan (Dr Behr says ‘Prithivi Narayan Shah received 800 muskets along with 21 British advisors’) planned to launch offensive against Kathmandu. Prior to this, he decided to weaken Kathmandu economically, for which the areas surrounding the Valley had to be conquered. At the same time, Gorkha made friendship with Lamjung, Tanahu and Kaski so that they would not pose any kind of threat to Gorkha during its Kathmandu mission.
Prithvi Narayan Shah adopted the strategy to divide the Malla kingdoms, for which he offered friendship with Bhaktapur and Patan. Gorkha’s friendship offer was a diplomatic maneuver not to allow the Malla Kings to be united because Gorkha was no match if the three Malla kingdoms joined hands.  While he kept the Malla kings divided and neutralised other kingdoms, Gorkha launched an attack on Nuwakot and took control of the main trading route with Tibet. Leo Rose in his book ‘ Nepal Strategy for Survival’ says Gorkha was in a position to cut off all commerce between Kathmandu and Tibet but Prithvi Narayan Shah refrained from doing so. Instead he launched diplomatic offensive forcing Kathmandu to acknowledge Gorkha’s authority over the trade route with Tibet. Accordingly, Kathmandu, under pressure from its own merchants as well as diplomatic onslaught from Gorkhalis, signed a treaty with Gorkha in 1957 accepting joint authority of Kathmandu and Gorkha over Tibet trade route.
With Tibet’s refusal to acknowledge the Kathmandu-Gorkha treaty of 1957 citing the reason that Lhasa was not consulted, the arrangement did not materialise causing friction between Gorkha and Kathmandu. Kathmandu’s king, under pressure from merchants, opened an alternative route via Kuti, which was also soon blocked by Gorkha. Being diplomatically and politically isolated as well as economically weakened, Jaya Prakash Malla of Kathmandu sought military help from the East India Company to counter Gorkha’s onslaught. Taking it as an opportune moment to control Nepal’s politics and business, the British dispatched troops led by Captain Kinloch to support Kathmandu.  Shrewd Prithvi Narayan Shah got the report in advance probably through Gajraj Mishra and ambushed the Kinloch’s force in Makwanpur, hence, forcing the British troops to return. Before any late, Gorkha took control of all areas around the Valley and finally seized all the three Malla kingdoms, thereby, declaring Kathmandu as the capital of unified Nepal.
Prithvi Narayan Shah then turned to Lhasa to revive relations and trade that had strained after Gorkha seized control over trade route. Nepal sent a delegation to Lhasa to settle the issue and bring back the trade and bilateral relationship to the earlier state. Accordingly, an accord was signed under which Nepal would supply new coins to Tibet replacing the old Malla coins and the trade between the two states would continue in accordance to the earlier terms. Prithvi Narayan Shah, then, tried to manage the East India Company, which had been susceptible from Gorkha’s continued territorial expansion. Sensing Nepal’s receptive tone, East India Company sent a delegation headed by James Logan to negotiate with Kathmandu and pressed for providing Indian merchants route for trade with Tibet. However, Prithvi Narayan Shah rejected the British proposal fearing negative consequences on Nepal’s trade with Tibet. Nepal’s rejection annoyed the British and this animosity grew in such a manner that ultimately caused war between Nepal and East India Company in 1814 putting an end to Nepal’s territorial expansion campaign.
Military doctrine
Nepal’s diplomacy during the unification era was basically guided by military doctrine. Nepal during the unification era followed military diplomacy and had a little time to spare for other aspects of diplomacy. The concept of ‘ yam’ and ‘equidistance’ coined by Prithvi Narayan Shah was the diplomacy based on military doctrine, which was necessary at that time when Nepal was a military state. The ‘yam and equidistance’ concept has guided Nepalese diplomacy even today, although this concept has a little relevance in the 21st century’s democracy. But Prithvi Narayan Shah’s other ‘wise counsels’ continue to provide an important basis for Nepal’s foreign policy and diplomacy even today.