Oped

The dystopian present

  • Existing democracies have largely failed their constituencies, and there seem to be no better alternatives.
- Shreya Paudel, Kathmandu

Apr 15, 2019-

In George Orwell’s famous novel 1984, he describes a crime called thoughtcrime. People in the novel are not supposed to think anything against the government. Else, the Thought Police could arrest and make them disappear without a trace. Or, it could make the thought criminals confess whatever it wanted to by using torture tools. About 70 years have passed since Orwell wrote about a dystopian future, and now it seems as though he was warning future generations of what democracy could degenerate into.

On April 11, Julian Assange was arrested from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London by British police. Assange is the founder of the whistleblowing website, WikiLeaks. The site, in the past decade, has leaked details of many atrocities of the US military including the indiscriminate killing of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan to unspeakable monstrosities executed at Guantanamo Bay, which is described by Amnesty International as being ‘emblematic of the gross human rights abuses perpetrated by the US government in the name of terrorism’.

These are dark days

The US government had vehemently sought to extradite Assange from the UK, alleging him to be a ‘national security threat’. It was unable to do so as Ecuador had granted Assange asylum at its embassy in London. But on Thursday, the Ecuadorian government revoked the citizenship granted to Assange and unprecedentedly invited the British police to its embassy premises to arrest him. If the British government has its way, it is almost certain that it will extradite Assange to the US. Now, Assange might not be a saint, as he has been accused of rape by a Swedish woman. But what is important at this point is that the US is pursuing him for his investigative journalism, which shattered the lofty American humanitarian image with concrete proof.

Edward Snowden, another whistleblower, has called Assange’s arrest a ‘dark moment for press freedom’. Indeed, these are dark days not just for press freedom but for the ideas of democracy, liberalism and social justice all over the world. Governments in the Western democracies cannot be trusted to uphold their citizens’ freedom if it is against their interest, ultra-nationalism is on the rise from the US to India, anti-Muslim hatred is rampant from the streets of New Zealand to Uttar Pradesh, skirmishes often break out between nuclear powers like India and Pakistan, and climate change is not being tackled adequately. Meanwhile, in Nepal, Nirmala Pant’s rapist and murderer is still at large, the government has banned porn sites and PUBG, and leaders of the ruling party are being implicated in humongous corruption scams.

In these pessimistic times, one does not know what to do except despair. Where is the political agency that could challenge the status quo, whether nationally or internationally? In Nepal, the communists are the crony capitalists, corrupt to the core. Madhes-based parties, that fought for the identity of marginalised groups in the past, are cosily sharing political power with their former nemesis. Biplab is worthlessly dragging the heavy burden of the past, which at best, should be buried in history. The Nepali Congress leadership itself is the epitome of the status quo.

Then, who can challenge the status quo on the international stage? In the US, the current Republican and Democratic leaderships are two sides of the same coin. They both can play ‘good cop and bad cop’ roles and eventually police the world. A little ray of hope, Bernie Sanders’ moderate social democracy, was sabotaged by the Democratic leadership. Britain has a more hopeful opposition in the form of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. However, given the persistent demonisation of Corbyn by big media houses, it is unlikely that he will emerge victorious in the probable general election.

In our own neighbourhood, pundits still believe that the right wing Hindutva party, Bharatiya Janata Party, could emerge as the largest party in India in its parliamentary elections. So, who could be an alternative to the current global political order? Not China, which has controlled its billion plus population with an iron fist. Not Russia, which is equally illiberal and ultra-nationalistic. Not the oil-rich Saudis, whose leadership still believes in publically stoning prisoners to death and privately cutting dissident journalists into pieces.

It is true that there have been glimmers of hope provided by popular movements in the recent past, only to be co-opted by the overpowering world order. In Greece, the popular movement against the austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund was knocked down to its knees. In Nepal, the former Maoist proponents of equality magically gathered money to fly to the ‘imperialist’ US and get expensive medical treatment.

Voting machines

The ruling classes, even if they are not a monolithic unit, are too powerful for the ordinary people. Neither can the people take up arms, as tactically their weapons would be too insignificant in front of the billions of dollars-strong world military complex. Nor can the people’s popular movements cross the red lines of the ruling classes. Arab Springs will be halted and Occupy Movements will be ridiculed. The actual people on the ground are rendered powerless, only to be used as voting machines every five years.

If undemocratic societies are already bad alternatives, then the existing democracies have also largely failed their constituencies. The world needs a better progressive alternative, but now it reels under the burden of human selfishness, arrogance and greed. The cards are decked against the ordinary people, and you never know when the card house of democracy and liberalism will crumble down.

Paudel tweets at @Shreya_Paudel.

Published: 15-04-2019 07:46

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