When long-suppressed emotions find legitimate outlet, everyone wants to speak at the same time. That could be the reason noise is the defining feature of evolving societies. The challenge lies in transforming the clatter into voice, which then becomes the stepping stone of the staircase that holds the potential of leading towards democracy. However, the task becomes extremely complicated when even those that should do the listening insist upon being heard first.
The problem of epistocracy—a word that David Estlund, professor of political philosophy at Brown University, is claimed to have coined to describe the rule by the wise—is that everyone is a know-all in such a system and nobody wants to learn anything from anyone. They can acquiesce to learn something from books, but never anything from each other.
Dr. Ram Baran Yadav spent several years studying medicine and surgery. Medical doctors have to read to keep up with latest developments in the field. After decades of being a physician, Dr. Yadav has perhaps internalized the habit of reading. Burdened with the responsibility of understanding the disease that afflicts Nepali polity, he probably went to the book exhibition last week at Bhrikuti Mandap, with security detail down to sniffer dogs in tow, to pick up tomes that attempt to explain Nepali society.
Dr. Baburam Bhattarai is no less erudite. He reportedly never came second in any formal examination in his life. Such a feat requires single-mindedness of extreme order. Bookishness is ingrained in the character of academic achievers. It is said that Dr. Bhattarai carries a case of books wherever he goes. It is not known whether the largely illiterate Musahars of Phulkaha village in Mahottari—a district of Madhesh comparable to Mugu in the mountains in terms of development indicators—got a glimpse of his reading list or not, but books are reported to be the Maoist ideologue’s constant companion even during field visits and weekend retreats. He too graced the book exhibition at Bhrikuti Mandap, once again accompanied by full security paraphernalia, and picked up titles that he might have missed when pursuing formal studies in Nepal and India.
How very fortunate for Nepal to have two very scholarly and cultured individuals—one a highly qualified medical doctor and another, an overachieving architect-planner—as head of state and the head of government! What an irony that they are busy going round and round in circles with an exit out of the political impasse nowhere in sight!! Perhaps both of them should ‘read’ Bhupi Sherchan’s thin but powerful volume Ghumne mej mathi andho manche (shortsighted person upon a revolving chair) all over again. In the opening lines of a poem Hami (We), the poet laments: No matter how high we rise, / No matter how much we run around, / No matter how thunderously we roar, / But, we are merely drops of water, / Powerless drops of water.
Good poems contain distilled wisdom of a society. The metaphor Bhupi has chosen for the collectivity in Hami is that of a drop of water. A droplet—a globule of liquid that hangs, falls, or adheres to a surface—is indeed powerless alone or when stagnating. However, when it gathers mass and begins to move, there is no force strong enough to withstand the might of water. Aggregation and movement, however, is an unpredictable process.
Political culture, broadly defined as “attitudes, values, beliefs, and orientations that individuals hold regarding their political system,” varies according to established norms in a society. While it is true that when there is a contradiction between laws and values then it is the legal order that often prevails, culture has insidious ways of asserting its primacy.
In a society mired in latent as well as blatant conflicts, the rhetoric of consensual politics is contradiction in terms. Consensus is easy to reach when the aim is to uphold status quo in the name of maintaining harmony. However, when change is necessary and possible, political rivalry is inevitable. Politics, after all, is a legitimate contestation between unequal social groups for the control of resources of the collectivity. Consensus can be reached for a short period to establish the legitimacy of the process—for instituting rules of the game—but the outcome is invariably competitive.
The problem with current cacophony about consensus is that it is not being sought to set up rules of the game—reinstatement of the dissolved Constituent Assembly (CA) or alternative arrangements for conducting elections for a new one—but to form an all-party government of some kind. The correct term for such an arrangement would perhaps be called a political compromise. But what do the opposition parties have to offer to the reigning coalition partners in order to obtain political concessions, which include nothing less than the control over Singh Durbar, and go forward towards fresh elections?
A hirsute Sushil Koirala can be forgiven for living in a fool’s paradise, but smartly turned out and routinely clean-shaven Jhalnath Khanal must be looking into a mirror on daily basis. A reflection of reality should have shown him the futility of consensus rhetoric.
With his own party leaders constantly breathing down his neck, Khanal had an extremely uncomfortable stint in Singh Durbar. When Maoists threatened to pull the rug of parliamentary support from under his feet, he had no option but to vacate Baluwatar. Bhattarai is under no such pressure to oblige Messrs Madhav Nepal, Mohan Baidya, Kamal Thapa, Chitra Bahadur KC and other desperate political elements of their ilk united in nothing except their common aversion to Bhattarai government. Pushpa Kamal Dahal may not be very happy with the government under the leadership of his own party, but it is extremely unlikely that he would dislodge it to put someone from the opposition at Baluwatar.
President Ram Baran Yadav has even less reason to go on a confrontation course with a council of ministers representing a large cross-section of Nepal’s population including Madheshis and Janjatis. A head of government may be answerable to the electorate through his party, but the head of state is accountable to nothing less than the verdict of history. Allegations of critics notwithstanding, it is difficult to believe that President Yadav would be willing to stand accused in the court of history without iron-clad guarantees for the success of any step that he is publicly being asked to contemplate.
Lambasting the Lilliputian ‘We’ and the Gulliver, Bhupi wails inconsolably—sublimity of their lines often hide the unbearable agony of poets—We could never move ahead on our own, / Someone has to hit us and drive us from behind.
“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world,” claimed Archimedes. On the eve of Dashain-Tihar festivities, European Union has called for elections for the legislature and the local government. However, the lever to change the course of politics in Nepal is Beijing or Washington, not Brussels, and the fulcrum to place it lies somewhere in New Delhi.
Waiting for Godot, as Samuel Becket correctly diagnosed, can be excruciatingly exasperating. Meanwhile, the show must go on. Enjoy the break, everyone.