Ordinary Nepalis are recoiling with disappointment and disillusionment as the ruling Nepal Communist Party plunges into another public power struggle.
This should come as no surprise. After all, Nepal’s political evolution is still far from complete. Recent developments are merely part of that evolutionary process.
The Maoist uprising unseated the monarchy, shook up the social order a bit, and ushered in a new constitution. But it failed to fundamentally break the socio-economic nexus centered on Kathmandu. In the years since, Nepal has sunk into an election-only democracy, with weak supporting institutions. Federalism and decentralization remain token ideas. Central power has become even more central and even more powerful.
The next phase of Nepal’s revolution is right on track and draws closer. This article discusses the three ingredients that will fuse to enable that evolution. Whether that revolution—or evolution—will occur by design or accident, I leave for you to determine.
Discrediting the system
The striking feature of the feud within the ruling party is not that there is a feud. Rather, it is that the feud has been so public.
Politicians around the world squabble all the time. Senior Nepali politicians are reasonably experienced. They can manage their press, messages, and public persona. Yet every element about this ongoing feud within the ruling party is publicly relayed with all its details, as if it were some national TV drama. Surely, much of it can be conducted behind closed doors with the curtains drawn.
Turning the row within the ruling party, and other similar events, into public spectacles is both intentional and strategic. It is part of a broader pattern that undermines public confidence and adds to the disillusionment with government. The disillusionment is not just with specific individuals or a party but with the entire system. As ordinary citizens, our response to such events is to sigh, throw up our hands, resign to defeat, and say in frustration, “They are all the same, nothing will change.”
The next phase of Nepal’s revolution isn’t going to be fought with guns and bullets. It will be fought on public perception. Disillusionment with the system will be the weapon.
Financing the revolution
No revolution can progress without money. Nepal’s previous uprisings were financed by forced domestic contributions—in effect, extortions from individuals, households, and businesses.
The next phase relies on siphoning from the State. Nepal’s overall fiscal position is strong, with ample space to increase borrowing significantly. As a post-conflict young democracy with a large need for infrastructure investment and adequate repayment capacity, Nepal is attractive to development-focused lenders.
Nepal has taken advantage of its position and developed a large pipeline of State-led capital-intensive projects. International development financing has responded to meet those requirements. Leakage from these capital-intensive projects, along with the sale of concession rights, is now helping build the war-chest for the next phase of Nepal’s revolution.
This may in part explain why there is much tussle to get access to the State machinery—the ones who control it control the fiscal hose.
Appeal of leadership
Many Nepalis wistfully long for able leadership that can overcome the shortcomings our current political leaders appear to exhibit. Alternative political parties have emerged in part to address the public demand for able political leadership. Their appeal isn’t any distinctive ideology or governance model—it is simply that they offer to lead better and more honestly than everyone else.
With a new constitution now in place, most Nepalis have convinced themselves that the problem of governance is not institutional but entirely about leadership. Longing for able leadership without adequate institutional safeguards against the erosion of democratic rights is often a prelude to soft dictatorship. Nepal lacks those institutional safeguards; nor are there any real efforts to build them.
In due course, a strong leader will emerge in Nepal, promising all the things that we perceive as missing—national pride, economic growth, stability, employment. And why not? If a leader offers all that, would you not take them, even if it threatens a few democratic values?
Disillusioned by the system and enamored by a leader who promises, we will be led into the next phase of Nepal’s unfinished political revolution—a journey that will have been financed by the generosity of taxpayers from around the world.