Royal rumble

  • The tussle among RPP leaders shows that aristocrats are not compatible with the democratic value system
- Khagendra N Sharma
Royal rumble

Jun 22, 2014-

Aristotle, the father of political science, was not happy with democracy. For him, aristocracy, or a government of the elites, was the best form of rule. He believed that democracy was cheating, as its motto was Suppressio veri: suggestio falsi, or suppress the truth and suggest the false. But in the context of current Nepali politics, the opposite is true: the aristocracy’s real motto is to suppress the veri (truth) and carry the falsi (false).

We have a swarm of aristocrats-turned-democrats. But society does not seem to recognise their aristocracy. Aristocrats cannot simply switch from their dynastic nature to democratic mode. It is simply incompatible.

Four aristocrats

Let us personify the political simile. The four aristocrats in the dragnet are Surya Bahadur Thapa, Lokendra Bahadur Chand, Pashupati Shumsher Rana and Prakash Chandra Lohani. All belong to the heydays of the Panchayat: trusted servants of the now-defunct monarchy. Thapa’s loyalty bought him an invitation to the post of ‘chief servant’, or prime minister, more times than we can count on our

fingers. Even after undertaking a fast-unto-death against the royal power, he was so essential that he was hired again to save the Panchayat  from its multiparty enemies. He dirtied his hands by depleting the forests in the name of saving the Panchayat. Born a commoner, Thapa became the greatest aristocrat of the Panchayat epoch.

If Thakuris signified the ruling class, then Chand was born a pseudo-aristocrat and was the complete opposite of Thapa. Like Thapa, he was offered the post of prime minister numerous times but he revealed himself to be a gentle aristocrat. He conducted his business by hiring cheats to do his dirty work. He had the great privilege of being nicknamed ‘Mr Clean’, despite being encircled by cheats-for-hire.

Rana, the born aristocratic to a dynastic line of PMs, was among the most loyal servants to the king. However, his bad luck prevented him from ever reaching the post of prime minister. But he has remained an aristocrat both by birth and upbringing. He was educated in England, where democrats rule in the name of the monarch. He was offered the post of prime minister countless times but history has shown that he was a total mismatch for a democratic role.

Lohani, born to a traditional Brahmin family, studied in the US, a country without dynastic aristocrats. His technical background brought him on equal terms with the other three in our sample. He was a technocrat, not less—if not more than—an  aristocrat. He was also offered PM numerous times but was not seen vying for the post.

RPP in a democracy

Miraculously, the four aristocrats/technocrats now appear in a drama to save the democratic tradition. They all belong to a party called the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), formed exclusively from among Panchayat cadres. The formal creator of the RPP was Thapa but the party has already split twice. These four leaders were responsible for the splits—and later, unity—of the party.

Over a year ago, in its last plenum after the second unification, it was clear that the party could not run on a one-leader model nor under a multi-leader model. This was because there were at least four claimants to the leadership. Thapa, Chand, Rana and Lohani all vied for the position, so it was decided that there would be a cyclic rotation among the four. Thapa would serve for a year, followed by Chand, Rana and Lohani successively. This was a unique solution, accepted by the rank-and-file as a gentleman’s agreement. But that agreement did not prove to be gentlemanly at all.

Thapa did not step down after a year, so Chand declared himself chairperson in a provocative manner. Thapa, instead of feeling embarrassed for having failed to comply with the agreement, declared Rana his successor, relying on an informal head count among central committee members. A dilemma presented itself, however: there were two claimants for the post of one chairperson. Whose fault was this? Was it Thapa’s for refusing to step down? Or was it Chand’s for declaring himself chairperson without the due process? Or was it a dual conspiracy by Thapa and Rana to keep Chand out?

Lohani came to the aid of Chand because the succession line ensures his chairmanship in the fourth year. A dirty war had been initiated and Chand has pursued recourse in the courts, asking for a stay on the illegally executed succession. The court will take legal aspects into consideration but there is the more dangerous violation of democratic values than legal provisions. Are our leaders democratically oriented? What is the status of personal or official accountability in Nepali society? Do we still believe in the savage law that the man who holds the stick owns the buffalo?

Aristocrats, not democrats

Democracy believes in certain universal principles: equality before the law; liberty of the individual; decision by the majority; and accountability for any action taken by or on behalf of some authority. The irony in Nepal is that no leader really believes in these principles. Democracy does not lie in the formation of a government by the representatives of the people alone; it is a system of values and culture. Aristocrats are not the products of a democratic culture. Therefore, they cannot adjust to the demands of a democratic culture. Even in the communist system of organisation, there is the practice of the leader offering a self-criticism for any default. But an organisation run by the aristocrats does not have this tradition of self-improvement. The drama enacted by the aristocratic leaders in the RPP is a signal that if the responsibility of the state falls again in their hands, the aristocrats will not abide by the rules. They still represent the value system that vicinity to the power centre (the king under the Panchayat) absolves the faulty of intended or inadvertent offences.

It is a relief that the RPP is not in a position to influence a major portion of Nepali government. But Thapa was audacious enough to push his son in a ministerial post in the coalition government. The RPP rank-and-file was not happy with this arrangement but they could not preclude it. It may lead to some cracks in the party but it has done greater harm to democracy by being unable to check the malevolent intentions and actions of irresponsible leaders.

One way or the other, the court’s verdict may end the dispute but it has shown that aristocrats are not compatible with the democratic value system. The next plenum’s challenge will be to look for younger and more democratically oriented members to lead the party.

Sharma is a freelance political analyst and can be reached at


Published: 22-06-2014 03:52

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