Print Edition - 2016-05-28 | On Saturday
What about class?
A quick read of the 2013 election manifestos suggest that all of Nepal’s major political parties have bought into the adoption of a developmental model for the economy
May 28, 2016- Some parallels can be drawn between the present day Nepal and the United States in the 60s. At the time, the US saw a plethora of identity-based social movements like the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement and the feminist movement. So much so, the social awakening seen during the era made a prominent mark among students and liberals and would change the way racism, sexism and homophobia were tackled in the following decades. Today, Nepal’s own New Left Movement—a departure from the old Left political parties—is witnessing a trend similar to that momentous epoch in the West. Particularly after the demise of the monarchy, marginalised ethnic communities, religious communities and sexual minorities have taken up a prominent space in Nepali politics and discourse. In the past decade, a huge amount of time and effort has been rightly spent on addressing the cultural categories of the Nepali society, and the significant progress will ensure that Nepal will change for good, and for the better.
Nevertheless, some voices in the Western Left have argued that the fetishisation with identity in the West has pushed aside the question of economic class—the classic politics for the poor. In a neoliberal society—one that regards the profits of private businesses as the primary economic objective—encouraging women university students to take up a wide array of academic pursuits while tacitly approving a
dehumanisingly-low minimum wage for female house-maids is not out of place. This brings us to the Left’s age old question: “What about the poor?” And by extension, how are our political parties addressing the question of economic class, if be it just in theory, and how can Nepal’s New Left contribute?
Yet it appears that Nepali political ideology has already arrived at its Fukuyamian ‘end of history’ in a democratic socialist disguise when it comes to the economy. A quick read of the 2013 election manifestos suggest that all of Nepal’s major political parties have bought into the adoption of a developmental model for the economy. UML was set to guarantee housing to 500,000 homeless families—aiming to end the squatter problem by 2023. They also stated that they would aim to generate 300,000 jobs every year. UCPN(Maoists) categorically guaranteed private property—effectively doing away with their communist rhetoric. The Maoists have also admitted that their goal, for now, is the advancement of national industrial capitalism, where the state facilitates the private sector, stimulating economic growth. Similarly Nepali Congress wrote that, “The socialism propounded by BP Koirala is not the distribution of poverty. Socialism cannot be achieved without increasing income and production.” So much so, even a socially conservative force like RPP(N) is actually democratic socialist in its economic policies—which are full of promises of free and/or affordable education, health services and housing.
The summary of the economic narratives of all the major political parties seems to be: Let’s industrialise Nepal through the partnership between the state and the private sector; create jobs within the country and produce a welfare state with equal opportunities in education, health services and housing. Even Madhes-based parties like the Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Party, in 2013, did not have anything greatly different in their economic logic than the above consensus. And this democratic socialist consensus within a market economy appears to be here to stay—not just through choice but as a result of the international and geopolitical realities.
UML and UCPN (Maoists), understandably, still have Marxist terminologies attached to their literature. Likewise, the Nepali Congress might still want to show the world that its distinct identity is that of a democrat. However, if one cares to strip the political histories, rhetoric and grandstanding and only concentrate on their present development plans, then the political parties are, in no uncertain terms, the same kaan chirekaa jogis.
I am willing to be proved otherwise when stating that Nepali political parties, aside from minute hair-splitting differences, have the same model of political economy. Nepal’s politicians—whether communist, socialist, liberal, conservative or regionalist—have reached a democratic socialist consensus within a market economy, even if their socio-cultural ideologies clash irreconcilably.
Meanwhile, even though the Nepali New Left—the intelligentsia and identity-based parties—have come up with socio-cultural agendas to break the age-old cultural hegemony, they have also increasingly ignored economic class, at least in popular discourse. Therefore, it has become important to re-establish among activist circles that poverty is also a major disadvantage, with or without the cultural/gender/sexual orientation identities.
In ideal Left politics, identity and class would have both been given equal focus. Class/poverty is not an alternative to identity issues, it, however, should not be forgotten in the maze of identity ‘intersectionality’. Hence, the Nepali New Left need to gradually include class in their discourses so that along with the language of inclusion and pluralism, economic growth and the welfare of the state are discussed as well. Should that take seed, it will help the interests of a cross-cutting majority of the lower class from all ethnicities and regions come to the fore: a win-win situation.
Published: 28-05-2016 11:56