Inspired by an article in The Economist about the secrets of the longevity of the Chinese Communist Party, in this column, I want to comment on the condition of the established political parties in Nepal. On July 1 this year, the Communist Party of China will complete 100 years of existence and more than 70 years in power. The Economist points out three reasons for the success of the party (which it calls a ‘dictatorship’): ruthlessness, ideological agility and the ability to save itself from becoming a kleptocracy.
The suggestive undertones in the article are revealing: the West starts all observations about China, or the other world for that matter, with an air of authority granted (supposedly) by the feeling that they are the harbingers of the universal values of liberty and democracy. So, the observation about the CCP’s success has already been labeled the most successful form of authoritarianism ever.
At the moment, the West is having a hard time dealing with the harsh realities of the new world. Covid-19 has exposed the inadequacies many developed nations were sleeping over for decades. Misappropriated priorities, like more investment in weaponry than in health, have laid bare the truth that the self-claimed laissez faire enlightenment is self-delusional. The Trump episode and the BREXIT have also curiously highlighted the shortcomings.
In this context, when one looks at China from the West, the scenario is nothing but perplexing. Contrary to the predictions of pundits for decades about the Chinese system’s impending collapse, the descendants of Mao and Deng have proved themselves adaptive and quick learners. They call themselves a democracy despite what the West wants to label them with, but they take that narrative to a higher level by calling it a system unique to Chinese history and culture.
The CCP has proven to be a self-learning system that runs on a clear long term strategy, rewards performance and prefers a disciplined order over laissez faire anarchy. Although the skeptical outlook of the West about the Chinese Party continues, the party has been able to keep its stronghold over the nation because of its aversion to external influence and the ability to keep external players’ attempts to interfere at bay. With the size of the nation, and the focus on long term strategy that is now seen as ingrained in Chinese thinking, Chinese rulers were able to save themself from the devastating helping hands of outsiders.
A recent example of the helping hands gone wrong is Iraq. The US wanted to force a power equation favorable to its interests, but the lack of in-depth understanding of local dynamics made its strategy ineffective. And now, Iraq has turned into a battlefield of interests between Iran and the US.
Nepal, too, because of its geo-political juxtaposition and the selfishness of its elites, has become another case study where external interference has led to many quick fixes but damaging outcomes in the long run. Recently, five ex- Prime Ministers issued a statement giving a shout out to the damage such heavy-handedness of external players are causing in internal politics. This is nothing but pure opportunism, as some of the same ex-PMs have been vocal in the Indian media, asking for an intervention in Nepali politics when the power equation here is unfavorable to them.
At the moment, the two main established political parties of Nepal are both in crisis. The Congress is unable to come out of the grip of the septenerians who have been proven to be failures again and again, and the main communist party has completely wasted an almost two-thirds majority in its ongoing internal power struggle. The Chinese example may not be of much help for us because of reasons like the difference in size and culture. But some things are still worth pondering over.
In the 30 years since the establishment of multiparty democracy in Nepal, our political parties have failed to build a character of their own aligned to their ideals. The Nepali Congress became consumed by the forces that it fought in the past, and became the vehicle to safeguard the interests of the feudal elites in the name of democracy, as the same Panchayat-time elites of the society became influential in the party at the grassroots. The fear of communists, propaganda about the ruthlessness of their methods, and the hard power of the status quoists of the society were the feeding forces for it. Today, the Nepali Congress has turned into a rigid, feudal structure, albeit wearing a liberal mask.
But the communists of Nepal have undergone a decay worse than this. After raising expectations of the marginalized people through an armed struggle, the communist parties have turned exactly into 'straightforward kleptocracy in which wealth is sucked up exclusively by the well-connected'. So, unless a new political party establishes itself based on ruthless meritocracy, and builds a mechanism to bring to power capable young leaders from diverse backgrounds, this decay shows no sign of halting.