“Democracies do not always make societies more civil—but they do always mercilessly expose the health of the societies in which they operate.” — Robert Kaplan
The self-proclaimed democrats in the country never tire of defending our dysfunctional democracy with the oft-repeated lame argument that it’s not the system but the present set of leaders who are to blame for the mess we are in. The reality, however, is that democracy as a system has failed miserably in Nepal. One has to be high on something to be optimistic about Nepal’s future if the current system is to continue.
First, let turn to the argument that calls for patience, i.e., when we have a good set of leaders our democracy will deliver. If it's the leaders that are to be blamed for our present misery, then, maybe our society is not ready for or compatible with the kind of democracy we have today. When are we supposed to get the leaders who will make our system work? And where will these leaders come from? Because as things now stand, the next in succession, the so-called youth leaders who are already in their 50s, are no different to the old leaders we have today.
Those who are benefitting from the present mess further console us by saying democracy takes time to take root and your grandchildren will reap the democratic dividend. So be patient. They can afford to say that because they are either paid to be democratic, democracy is their career/profession, or they just want to fit in by appearing liberal. The mainstream press and a handful of those who write for it or those claiming to be public intellectuals and members of civil society and those who have successfully monopolized the debate and discourse and as a result the national narrative, have made other gullible wannabe liberals and democrats parrot the same view. Therefore, questioning the effectiveness of the system is tantamount to blasphemy. We have become a democratic theocracy in which only the select few ordained by foreign gods can preach and others have to obediently listen and not ask any question—no matter how ridiculous their preaching is.
And obediently we listen to all the crackpot theories and concepts that have been promoted in the past 30 years by our media and illiberal intellectuals to show the past rulers/system as illiberal and undemocratic. Questioning those, we are made to believe, would make us appear deranged and illiberal and feudal. Further, having an independent mind is not tolerated in democratic Nepal. That's why no one dares ask these intellectuals the validity of the crackpot theories and concepts they use all the time to dismiss their critics just to appear scholarly and to hide flaws in their arguments. Two such nonsensical concepts, the absolute darlings of our mainstream intellectuals (?) and media, are Bahunbaad and Mahendrian nationalism—the two concepts that have divided our society and weakened our nationalism, but no one dares say anything against those.
You question their assertion and provide counter arguments to the popular narrative that pits Bahuns against others and that wrongly blames them for Nepal’s underdevelopment and the plight of others while forgetting that the majority Bahuns and Khas-Aryas too are miserable like the rest. If you question this “sacrosanct” theory/concept, you are automatically labeled feudal and undemocratic. You question granting citizenships to foreigners married to Nepali nationals without any waiting period, or you argue for vigilance against foreign designs on Nepal and for adoption of a strong, independent foreign policy to resist undue foreign interference, be it political or cultural, and you are automatically labeled a Mahendrian nationalist.
Let's also ask what exactly have we achieved with the (il) liberal democracy in the past 30 years. Mob mentality has taken over, thanks to the state’s inability to control anything due to corruption. People have lost faith in the government and state institutions, so much so that they have resorted to punishing those accused of committing even prettiest of crimes themselves. The mob is the judge, the jury and the hangman in today's Nepal. Democracy was supposed to make us more tolerant and our institutions stronger, but the exact opposite is happening. And yet, we cannot question the system.
In terms of foreign relations, too, we are now reduced to being an extension of our neighbors. And our leaders openly ask and invite foreign interference in domestic politics. Yet the media pundits have us believe that there's absolutely nothing wrong with it. Those who dare criticize the system and ask about its ills are shunned by mainstream media. That's the way freedom of speech and expression is practiced in our democracy by the mainstream press that calls itself the bastion of democracy.
And some of you would be quick to dismiss my arguments too. My last name would work against me. A Bahun, hence, automatically feudal and illiberal. And some illiberal liberals may quote Churchill to prove me wrong: democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried. But as BBC correspondent Humphrey Hawksley writes in his book Democracy Kills, quoting Churchill no longer does the business. We all need to ask, what's so good about having the vote in societies with weak institutions? The answer is, nothing.
As Robert Kaplan argued in his 1999 essay, “Was democracy just a moment?”: “Democracy often weakens states by necessitating ineffectual compromises and fragile coalition governments in societies where bureaucratic institutions never functioned well to begin with. Because democracy neither forms states nor strengthens them initially, multi-party systems are best suited to nations that already have efficient bureaucracies and a middle class that pays income tax, and where primary issues such as borders and power-sharing have already been resolved, leaving politicians free to bicker about the budget and secondary matters.”
But we are yet to see a strong middle class and we have our own share of problems that make democracy ineffective in Nepal. We don't want to talk about them because the immoral leaders, with help from equally immoral, shortsighted and illiberal intellectuals, have “retreated to moral arguments only to justify democracy” and as such they have been successful in hoodwinking many of us into believing that democracy, the form we have today, is the only solution to Nepal’s problems. Of course, those who do not buy this humbug can't speak out against it because in today's democratic Nepal it would make them appear immoral and idiots instead.
With the critics silenced with the silly moral arguments, the immoral bunch is having a field day, and the country is suffering. As things stand now, the country will suffer for a long time. Democracy is indeed killing us and no good has come out of our right to vote.
Go ahead, give your moral arguments in support of democracy, but before you do, ask yourself: are you really happy and proud to be living in the current mess that is Nepal?