Print Edition - 2015-02-25 | Editorial
What people want
- Political agendas espoused by the parties do not necessarily reflect the people’s priorities
Feb 24, 2015-Nepali political course has deviated from its democratic track ever since the opposition parties, led by the UCPN (Maoist), boycotted Constituent Assembly (CA) meetings and formally launched a series of protests against the ruling Nepali Congress-CPN-UML coalition, which has set in motion a majority-based constitution-drafting process.
The opposition wants to pressure the government to get the latter’s formal commitment in drafting the constitution based on ‘political consensus’. Such political
consensus, according to the opposition, should ensure a number of ‘progressive’ agendas, such as secularism, ethnic recognition, identity-based federalism, and republicanism.
But do these issues really address the everyday needs of the general public? There seems to be a wide gap between the agendas the Nepali public is interested in and the agendas Nepali politicians are offering to the public. This article attempts to analyse the arduous context of Nepali politics from the perspective of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
According to Maslow, there are five levels of human needs, ranging from physiological, safety, social, self-esteem to self-actualisation. In other words, physiological needs are the most basic while self-actualisation is the supreme one. These needs generally move on to the next when one is fulfilled. For instance, without fulfilling physiological needs, safety cannot be a priority.
At present, Nepali people lack access to clean drinking water, uninterrupted electricity supply, gas cylinders to run households, pollution-free air, adequate clothing, and shelter to face chilling winter. The demand for adequate water supply in Kathmandu, for instance, is not today’s issue; it has been advocated for since 1990 when the Melamchi water project became a political agenda. The inadequate water supply in Kathmandu has resulted in poor health and sanitation inside and outside a typical household. In this context, we can only imagine the suffering of the rural public with regards to clean drinking water.
Similarly, power shortages for almost 12 hours a day is another gloomy example of poor political vision in infrastructure development. The impact of hours-long power cuts on domestic life, children’s education, the industry, administrative works, and public services has been horrific. Frequent interruptions in the supply of petro-products have been frustrating people as never before. Finding a solution to these physiological needs is more important to a majority of the Nepali public than the drafting of a constitution with political consensus ensuring whatsoever political promises.
When people are relatively satisfied with their first-level needs, safety-related issues become dominant. Issues such as an end to domestic violence and child abuse, financial and job security, social harmony and peace, health and well-being, safety from accidents, and implementation of rules and regulations can be incorporated in this category.
Approximately 1,500 Nepali youths go abroad every day in search of employment opportunities as a result of prolonged political transition and economic despair. Cases of domestic violence and child abuse have been increasing every year. Research has demonstrated that women in Nepal have become more vulnerable because of the absence of their male counterparts,
who are in foreign countries to seek job opportunities. Social harmony and tolerance has been weakened because of several political campaigns that provoke particular communities to take revenge against historic injustices. As a consequence, all members of the general public feel insecure politically, economically, and socially. Neither the government nor the political parties have paid adequate attention to the safety needs of the public.
If safety needs are fulfilled, social needs will prevail. Social needs incorporate feelings of love and belongingness among family members, co-workers, professional organisations, religious groups, and so on. Since a large number of Nepalis are out of the country seeking employment and education opportunities, loneliness, social anxiety, clinical depression, and increased suicides have become common. At present, there are many villages in Nepal without youths and public support for maternity, illness, and death has become very hard. Not a single political party inside or outside the CA has any strategies to address these social issues in their political manifestos.
However, bypassing these three basic needs (physiological, safety, and social), Nepali politics has been engaged in the fourth level of Maslow’s needs hierarchy, or self-esteem needs. All major political agendas, such as secularism, ethnic recognition, and identity-based federalism, are in the fourth or fifth level of the needs hierarchy. So Nepali political actors have to build consensus on and work to fulfil physiological, safety, and social needs before advancing to self-esteem needs.
The next stage
Top politicians in Nepal have overcome the first three levels of needs by getting benefits through legal and illegal means. For instance, electricity power cuts do not affect key political actors because they have alternative sources of energy. Clean drinking water is not an issue for them because they either have regular supplies of water or can purchase it from the market. Health and well-being are not their priority because they can (mis)use public taxes for treatment in foreign hospitals. Petroleum products, gas cylinders, and other necessary goods are readily available for them because they have access to sources. Similarly, political strikes do not hamper the education of their children because they are in foreign countries. Ultimately, political actors do not face death due to a lack of clothes and shelter because they have access to adequate
The aforementioned instances are enough to argue that political agendas in Nepal are strategically designed and that they do not necessarily reflect the people’s priorities. For the poor, survival is important, so they prioritise basic needs, such as food, water supply, electricity, energy, education, and health. For leaders, identity, secularism, and federalism are important because they have met their basic needs and their priority is to obtain self-esteem and achieve self-actualisation.
This is not to say that the constitution-drafting process has to be stopped right away to ensure the people’s basic needs. Such needs, however, should not be undermined in the name of constitution drafting. Fulfilling basic needs should be emphasised so that the general public too can feel that their next priorities are self-esteem and self-actualisation, similar to their political leaders.
Acharya is a research assistant on media ethics and accountability at the University of Ottawa, Canada
Published: 25-02-2015 07:28