Right turn

  • There is little to take the UML at its word when it comes to recognising the country’s diversity
- Deepak Thapa, Kathmandu
Right turn

Jul 29, 2015-

Most political leaders acquire their position by causing large numbers of people to believe that these leaders are actuated by altruistic desires.’ 

So wrote British philosopher Bertrand Russell. I hate to disagree with one of my favourite writers but I daresay it is the rare individual who would be so generous to allow today’s politicians even such guile. There is the rhetoric, of course, that would have us believe in the social worker-cum-politician.

In Nepal, we are generally treated to such an idea during election campaigns and when political parties put out their periodic programmes. However, given how these undertakings fail to guide everyday politics, perhaps it would not be out of place to come to the view that our parties come up with those pages and pages of dense writing simply because that is the nature of a political party.

Just for show 

It has thus come to pass that our rightward-leaning politicians, including life-long adherents of Marx, seem to have bought the argument that secularism is equal to wholesale religious conversion. Let us take the example of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) if only because its General Secretary Ishwar Pokhrel has published an op-ed article in the last few days in the context of the public consultations on the draft constitution. Writing in Kantipur, he deals with secularism debate thus: “It is a different matter that different parties have mentioned different things in their party documents since their inception...It would have sufficed to say that Nepal is a multi-religious country. In that sense, it could have been called a country with religious freedom. We all want a state that treats all religions equally and is neutral towards all. The political leadership should have been able to present this reality and need (which, unfortunately, it could not) and instead worked towards declaring a ‘secular’ state.”

As a party that still insists on calling itself ‘communist’, it is clear what prompted the pre-emptive first sentence. People’s Multiparty Democracy, the political programme adopted by the UML in January 1993 and by which the party still swears fealty, includes the categorical statement that Nepal will be declared an “independent, sovereign, secular people’s democratic republic”. Frankly, it should come as no surprise if some day, another UML leader were to argue that because ‘secular’ qualifies ‘people’s democratic republic’, ie, a communist state, since we have not achieved the latter the former is thereby redundant. 

It is just as well that we almost always refer to it as the UML, or ‘E-Ma-Le’ in Nepali. At least, that way, the presumed pedigree of the party, evidenced by all the portentous adjectives that adorn its name, remains half forgotten.

E-Ma-Le logic 

To go back to Pokhrel, he also dwells on the question of form of governance. Now that his party has come out firmly in favour of parliamentary democracy, he writes: “Nepal has suffered long either from authoritarianism or political instability...As we decide on the form of governance, we have to ensure that we are not burdened by authoritarianism nor buffeted by the winds of instability...Related to this is Nepal’s socio-cultural characteristics. Nepal is a multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious country. The form of governance and the government has to reflect this reality.”

Deviating from the party’s stand on a directly elected executive in favour of coalition politics that will ensure greater representation from all sections of society despite the instability, is certainly, in my view, a step in the right direction. It is admirable though how in the same piece, Pokhrel is able to come out against the country’s religious diversity through his support for an ill-articulated ‘religious freedom’ and yet argue for parliamentary form of government pointing to the same socio-cultural diversity.

In actual terms, since the 2006 peace accord and the 2007 Interim Constitution, to both of which it was a party, there is little to take the UML at its word when it comes to recognising the country’s diversity and a need to ensure equal opportunities for all. For instance, one can take the pronouncements of leaders such as Madhav Kumar Nepal and K.P. Oli, who have variously stood against affirmative action for the country’s excluded along the simplistic line that since some Janajati groups are recruited more than others into the British Army, they would be doubly advantaged if some form of government quota were to be introduced.

The current annual intake of Nepalis by the British army is 310 individuals, with 80 going to the Singapore Police and 230 to the British Army. This number has remained more or less the same ever since the Hong Kong handover in 1997 and the downsizing of the Gurkha contingent in the British Army. Leave alone the fact that the British Gurkhas is now open to people from all social groups, there is no recognition that it was the British who came up with the by-now discredited theory of ‘martial races’ and chose recruits only from a select group of ‘martial’ hill ethnicities, a practice in which the Nepali state, too, was complicit by allowing such a state of affairs to continue for decades. To presume it was the ‘martial’ ethnics that was responsible for blocking the entry of others is not only to demonstrate a grave ignorance of history, but to further use those 310 boys to argue that no marginalised group is deserving of affirmative action is to display a distinct preference for the status quo.

Draw parallels

As a parallel to how Nepali society has evolved, given below is a lengthy extract from a recent interview in The New York Times with sociologist Joe Feagin, described as a ‘leading researcher of racism in the US for more than 40 years’, who said: “Most whites think racial inequalities reflect differences they see as real—superior work ethic, greater intelligence, or other meritorious abilities of whites. Social science research is clear that white-black inequalities today are substantially the result of a majority of whites socially inheriting unjust enrichments (money, land, home equities, social capital, etc.) from numerous previous white generations—the majority of whom benefited from the racialized slavery system and/or the de jure (Jim Crow) and de facto overt racial oppression that followed...For centuries [the concept of American meritocracy and the rags to riches narrative] have been circulated to justify why whites as a group have superior socioeconomic and power positions in American society. In the white frame’s pro-white subframe whites are said to be the hardest-working and most meritorious group. Yet the sociologist Nancy DiTomaso has found in many interviews with whites that a substantial majority have used networks of white acquaintances, friends and family to find most jobs over their lifetimes. They have mostly avoided real market competition and secured good jobs using racially segregated networks, not just on their ‘merit’. Not one interviewee [out of approximately 150 to 200] expressed seeing anything wrong with their use of this widespread system of white favoritism, which involves ‘social capital’ passed along numerous white generations.”

Substitute American blacks and white for the relevant groups in Nepal and enough said.

Published: 30-07-2015 08:22

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