Open letter to Rabindra Mishra

January 23, 2018 01:30 AM Bishal Thapa


Nepal needs Rabindra Mishra as a leader of civil society, not a politician. A civil society leader is a thankless job but you will have a real chance to bring change.

Dear Mr Mishra,
I commend you on your highly energetic election campaign. It was a disappointing loss. The results could have gone either way. 

I am your well-wisher. My profile perhaps matches the stereotype of your avid supporter: well-educated, professional class and most importantly, highly cynical of the current leadership but with a strong (almost idealistic) commitment to persevering for change in Nepal. 

But I did not vote for you. 
I’m sure you are undertaking a detailed analysis of your election outcome. To many of your supporters, the final vote count represented a moral victory. They may be encouraging you to carry on. 

Don’t be fooled by the sense of false victory.      

I’m writing this open letter because I fundamentally believe in you and your commitment to bring change in Nepal. Like many young Nepalis, I’m cynical of our current leadership. Nepal needs you to succeed, not just for yourself but for all of us. 

Be the change

Like the change you espouse, you must also be willing to change.

Your decision to join politics and run for elections was a mistake. The premise of Bibeksheel Sajha, the party you lead, is incorrect. 

These mistakes, unwittingly perhaps, demonstrates the same arrogance, selfishness, ego and vanity as that of other entrenched political parties. In fact, a case study of your campaign and Bibeksheel Sajha party offers an illuminating explanation for why Nepali politics and politicians cannot shake off their self-interest, why they can’t constructively work together for national interest.

Start by answering a simple question: Why did you choose to become a politician? Why did you feel it necessary to become a politician to drive change?

You, or your party, do not offer a new ideological perspective. At the time you announced your decision to participate in Nepali politics, there were approximately 250 registered political parties. The entire spectrum of ideologies was contained with the diversity of parties. In reality though, there is already a great deal of ideological convergence. Almost all parties are left of centre, differing only in the hues of socialism they include. It is clear that most parties are not in politics to represent an ideological perspective—they are in it as interest groups. 

If you bring no new ideological perspective, why join politics? You have said that you and Bibeksheel Sajha party want to be change-makers.

But you and Bibeksheel Sajha party have failed to absorb the nature of changes that have swept through Nepal. We have been through a lot over the last few decades: a brutal insurgency, a tenuous peace process—shaky at times but holding—overthrow of old institutions (monarchy, state religion) and the introduction of new ones.

I don’t need to remind you of these changes. You reported on all of them from the frontlines. 

Painful as they were, these changes were necessary. The institutions of exclusions and inequality had to be dismantled. Government and power needed to be decentralized. New institutions offering equality, prosperity and empowerment needed to emerge. 

But the process of change was very frustrating. Politicians lost their way. Leadership was disjointed. In the era of institution building, government and governance failed, impunity and corruption became entrenched. We lost faith in the government. We became cynical. 

You and your party stepped in to exploit this frustration. The proposition you offered was two-fold. First, you sought to discredit the institutions that were trying to manage the process. Second, you offered yourself as a viable leadership alternate. Your proposition was very disingenuous.

What we needed at the time wasn’t yet another force that ripped us apart or added to our cynicism and despair. We need a force that would have rally us together to manage change. A force that would rally us together to get our new institutions, government and politicians to perform.

Take Dr Govinda KC as an example. He has gone on several hunger strikes to demand that the anti-corruption head, the university dean and now the chief justice be sacked from their positions. You and your party have endorsed these positions. 

Dr KC may be right. The individuals he targets may be corrupt and inefficient—those facts are not in dispute. In several instances, like with the head of the anti-corruption unit, his hunger strike has been successful. 

But in the end, Dr KC’s success does more harm than good. It makes us more cynical and more distrustful of institutions. We lose faith in institutions. The legitimacy of government is eroded. We can sack the corrupt official but we can never find an honest one. In the process, it is not the official but the institution that is damaged. 

In this era of institution building, which has come at the end of a long war, such outcomes are counterproductive. It makes Dr KC a hero but Nepal loses.

You and your party imbibe the same ethos. In Nepal today, change cannot come if we only discredit institutions and don’t let them perform. Change can come if we can reinforce what we have achieved and get it to work the way we want. 

Illusion of power 

The greatest challenge to Nepal is the perception of power. Today, government is the only game in town. You have chosen to be a politician to drive change in part because you believe that the only way to bring about change for Nepal is if you have a formal position of authority within the government. That authority could be anything, even if only a member of parliament or a legislator. 

Your decision to enter politics reinforces this perception about the absoluteness of government authority. But it doesn’t inspire us to change. It tells us that our emphasis is right: if we want to get ahead, we must have clear sources of influence within government. This is why, for instance, we need provincial capitals in our backyard. We believe it enables us to exert influence. After all, government is only game in town. 

I have no doubt that if you ever make it to parliament or government, you will be honest, diligent and a great leader. But you will not be able to achieve change.

The obstacle to achieving change in Nepal isn’t only that politicians are failing us. It is rather that as ordinary citizens we do not believe we can effect change. 
You chose to be a politician in part because you do not believe that as a civilian you can bring and sustain positive change.

Reconsider your role 

I urge you to reconsider. Nepal doesn’t need any more politicians. We have plenty, the whole lot—good, bad and ugly. But we lack civil society leaders that can inspire ordinary citizen to take charge of their destiny. 

We need civil society leaders that can rally citizens to pressure their governments to perform, institutions to perform, citizens to recognize that responsibility does not end with the casting of a vote, motivate us to reject corruption and reward honesty. 
Nepal needs Rabindra Mishra as a leader of civil society, not a politician. 

A civil society leader is a thankless job. It will not make you famous. No one will write about you in the history books. But you will have a real chance to bring change in Nepal. 

bishal_thapa@hotmail.com  

 

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