There is no recognized term as compassionate democracy. But it suits our practices. As we are good in political jargon, one new term won’t make much difference to public intelligence. Moreover, since we have not finalized our choice of a system of government, let alone controversial issues like federalism, ethnic rights and war crimes, we are still open to suggestions.
Many countries are identified with the democracy they have adopted. All of them feel proud of their individually-tailored versions. The British, for instance, gave birth to what is known as parliamentary democracy and have been practicing it for centuries. The Americans are famous for their presidential democracy. Indonesians once tried their hands at what was dubbed guided democracy. China explains its system as a people’s democracy. We can discover many hues of democracy if we go into its experiments in Asia and Africa. Efforts have been made in many countries to camouflage dictatorship in democratic garb. But who can doubt the merits of our democracy that catapults communists into power through a free election? Judged in the global context, ours is a unique system of democracy that is best described as a compassionate democracy.
If there is anyone who deserves credit for it, it is indeed Nepali Congress, which has the best claim to propounding compassionate democracy. It was Ganesh Man Singh, the supreme leader of first people’s movement, who opened the fountain of compassion by leaving the chair of premiership for Krishna Prasad Bhattarai in 1990. Following hot on the heels, Girija Prasad Koirala was equally generous towards Bhattarai to get him elected as a member of the parliament and also as Prime Minister in his second term. Madhav Kumar Nepal became yet another beneficiary of compassionate democracy when Girija Prasad Koirala anointed him as the head of government forgetting how he (Koirala) was socially and politically boycotted during the Tanakpur controversy by the same UML leader.
To vindicate compassionate nature of Nepali democracy, Nepali Congress sided with the institution of monarchy for over 60 years since King Tribhuwan first spearheaded the struggle for the downfall of Rana regime. But, in return, it got the most undeserving backstab from kings right from Mahendra, down to Gyanendra, culminating in the royal coups of 1960 and 2005. But till the end of monarchy, Koirala, out of compassion for kingship, was proposing to enthrone a baby king. It is a different matter altogether that he did not succeed.
To cite yet another example, Girija Prasad Koirala claimed to have brought the armed Maoists to peaceful mainstream and granted them numerous seats in the restored parliament with no people’s mandate. But he felt let down by them on being denied the title of the first President of Nepal once they emerged as the largest party in the Constituent Assembly. Similarly, Nepali Congress also has reasons to grumble against the UML for not supporting its candidate, Ram Chandra Poudel, for premiership as an expression of gratitude for its support in appointing UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal an unanticipated ruler. Walking on Koirala’s footsteps, Pushpa Kamal Dahal was equally compassionate to yet another UML stalwart Jhalanath Khanal. Mr. Dahal and Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai have lately revived the tradition of compassion by naming the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Khil Raj Regmi, the Prime Ministerial candidate of a consensus election government.
The tradition of compassion has not been limited to politicians. It encompasses other walks of life as well. Those, for example, who were held guilty by a post-1990 probe of smuggling idols, dealing in illegal foreign currencies, and killing, were freed from imprisonment; and their confiscated properties were returned for no apparent reasons, other than kindness. Those who indulged in corruption and amassed wealth got cushion from the party bosses out of brotherly feelings. It was the beginning of the age of impunity under which one could get freed for just about any crime, from murder, to burglary, to rape, to blatant misuse of power.
That tradition holds good even today. During the period of the armed conflict in Nepal, acts of extortion and kidnapping were institutionalized, which in no case were or could be brought under normal course of law and justice. All of them were swept under the carpet in line with our compassionate democracy, leaving the victims of conflict in lurch. With the same hope of being pardoned with empathy, a number of small groups are engaged in violent acts for political and non-political causes. The UCPM (Maoist) has openly called for withdrawal of all cases of war crimes committed during the 10 years of insurgency.
The spirit of sympathy has permeated the body politic of Nepal. It is evident how the people pardoned the 600+ members of the Constituent Assembly guilty of failing to write a new constitution within a period of two years. They did not make great fuss over the unconstitutional extension of the term of the body several times on the pretext of political consensus. In bizarre public protests, the lawmakers got “castigated, cremated, and ceremonially bid farewell as departed souls.” But eventually, they were all exonerated.
Our self-serving leaders who have come to power since 1990 have let the people down by working against the greater good of the country. Still the people have extended their support to them time and again. They voted Nepali Congress to power twice, the UML once and the Maoists too. All these parties failed to keep their promises, but people still endure them out of compassion. Nepalis could not be unkind to their leader Girija Prasad Koirala, the builder of compassionate democracy, when he died and therefore turned out in massive numbers to pay homage. All our leaders can rest assured of similar compassion despite their repeated wrongdoings. Buddha must be in a quandary over the warped application of ‘compassion’ in the country of his birth and wondering if and when his native Angulimals (an established killer) would see the light.