Towards a meritocracy

  • What is wrong with Nepal is that people are not doing the jobs they are supposed to do
- Neeti Aryal Khanal
Towards a meritocracy

Jun 5, 2014-

This article is based on two entirely different discourses prevalent in print and social media at present. First, the debate on the need of a ‘new force’, naya shakti, in politics and second is the incessant praise of a few individuals such as doctors Govinda KC and Bhagwan Koirala and police officer Ramesh Kharel.

A new political force

First, the need for a new force in politics is a futile discussion. An envisioning of politics without a discussion on the evolving nature of Nepali society is superficial, even at its best. My assertions are based on the perspectives of Prof Chaitanya Mishra who argues that at present, democracy is being replaced by a ‘party-cracy’. He discusses how social institutions, ranging from academia to business houses, have been plagued by overt politicisation. However, there is little examination of the micro issues actively contributing to this party-cracy. Though there are numerous factors attributing to this system, I am more interested in observing the role that individuals play in sustaining this system. There is pressing need to examine how individual behaviour gradually transforms into an acceptable social norm.

The people, in one way or the other, are themselves contributing to the strengthening of this party-cracy: a system where individual politicians and their parties become so important that they overshadow democracy itself. Nepali citizens are the harshest critics of ‘dirty politics’ and unaccountable politicians. However, it is these very people who kowtow to politicians. Every other family has a relative in politics; every other professional is affiliated with the sister organisations of mainstream political parties. Here, it is important to make a distinction between ‘political faith’ and using one’s supposed ‘political faith’ to cater to individual interests. Nepali politicians are easily dubbed as kharab but they continue to be omnipresent in individual lives. Their repetitive contradictory quotes appear in the headlines of newspapers day after day. Despite being criticised, politicians are still considered the most suitable thulo manches for ribbon cuttings.  

Of course, there are always exceptions but a majority of the Nepali people is keen to cash in on their familiarity with politicians. People feel powerful and safe when they are on good terms with a politician. Perhaps, the next indicator for human development and social inclusion will rate the people’s level of empowerment based on their level of familiarity with politicians. The foundation on which party-cracy rests is none other than these exhaustive attempts of individual citizens to designate politicians as their afno manche.

An effective way to defeat party-cracy is to instill a strong belief and evidence of meritocracy: a system that promotes and enhances capability. When meritocracy is established in all institutions, including political parties, then the rise of a new force will follow. This new force needs to be envisioned not only in politics but in all institutions. It would be a group of people who believe in responsibility and accountability as a way to develop capability. This new force will establish a new work ethic and be open to new ideas and perspectives.

Individual efforts

Another frequently occurring phenomena in the Nepali media is its efforts to bring committed professionals into public consciousness. But at times, I wonder why news is made about them at all. A close observation will reveal that Dr Koirala, Kharel and Dr KC are simply doing what they are required to do but with full dedication and commitment. This can help us understand what is wrong in Nepal: people are not doing what they are supposed to do. This does not mean that other professionals are not doing their jobs. But how many police officers have been able to remain committed to the integrity and ethics of being a police officer like Ramesh Kharel did? How many doctors are like Dr KC and Koirala, who not only made a difference in individual patient’s lives but also helped to revive their sinking institutions?

Close observation shows that in any institution there are three groups of people: upholders of the status quo, believers in change and followers of the crowd. The first group only talks about the problem and does nothing. In many institutions, there is also a second group, which may not be even a group but just individuals with fresh ideas and perspectives. These are the people who believe that the only possible way to change the system is to do something about it and start the initiative themselves. The third group will simply follow the crowd as it is hesitant to do anything that might threaten its welfare and interests.

Facilitating change

In any situation where the second group becomes a majority, the first group modifies its ways and the third group follows. The most profound example of this is the movement at Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital led by Dr KC. It takes one individual with vision and daring to challenge the system. These individuals, when supported by other groups, can change the system. However, this is rare. The usual scenario in most institutions is that believers in the status quo are in power and believers of change are labeled misfits and sidelined.

Change can thus come from anywhere. Those seeking change learn to adapt themselves. But change is not an ultimate goal in itself. It is just a minuscule process leading to larger social change. So before we talk about how things are not working in Nepal, perhaps we should pause and ask ourselves, ‘what exactly am I doing to change it?’

Khanal is a lecturer at the Central Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Tribhuvan University

Published: 06-06-2014 09:12

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