Happy New Year 2010: Pramod Shrestha Sir

December 22, 2009

On this happy occasion of New Year 2010, may we extend our warmest wishes to you and yours for peace, happiness, good health and prosperity.

Today, Nepal is plagued by greater and greater division – within political groups, and families, even individuals. We are all in a state of total distraction and diffusion, hardly able to keep our minds in one direction before we are pulled in a thousand others.  Yes, we say, we live in a democratic age. But let us all remember the fundamental truth previously articulated by Aristotle and Tocqueville: unregulated democracy undermines liberty and the rule of law.

In the context of democracy in Nepal, the democratic institutions and instruments might exist but their utilization might be quite limited. It may be partly through our own faults because we don’t engage enough or the way our political parties are organized. Democracy in any country is a case of unfulfilled expectations. Yes, in many countries, elections have just become a ritual. In some case, elections merely legitimized power grabs. Elected governments in Nepal claiming to represent the people have steadily encroached on the powers and rights of other elements in society. A strong government is different from an effective government; in fact, the two may be contradictory. In Nepal, we all have seen and felt that the first source of abuse in our so called democratic system have come from elected autocrats – which is the case of the tyranny of the majority. This problem, alive and urgent is important for us today because the majorities have – often quietly, sometimes noisily – eroded separations of power, undermined human rights, and corrupted long-standing traditions of tolerance, respect and fairness.

Massive corruption and a disregard for the rule of law have transformed Nepali politics. Have we reach a point when we will describe our political system as ‘bandit democracy’ in which our ballot boxes are stuffed, elections are rigged and the elected become immensely rich and powerful by looting the public coffers? Let us all pray that this will not be the reality of democracy in Nepal. Our democracy should live up to its promise – the promise we have made for the ‘excluded millions’. But we still believe that democracy has not lost its luster and its legitimacy in the world and in our country!  It is because democracy is a new way of perceiving power that is premised on the fact that human beings can govern themselves. For some, democracy may also be a utopia; the key is how the disappointments of democracy can be contained. In a functioning democracy, we all have to be more tolerant, more secular, more law-abiding and more equitable. We will always believe that in a true functioning democracy, the ‘people’ should do all the corrections in the system. It does not matter if the people are poor or illiterate. If we are talking about growth and economic development, it should always be attempted through democratic institutions. While historic evidence is mixed on the contribution of democracy to economic growth, there is also no conclusive evidence in favor of non-democratic regimes either.

Over the last 2-3 years, in Nepal, we see democratization of violence; now small groups of people can do dreadful things and we all are silent spectators. In future, we can see the rise in ethnic and regional communal violence in Nepal. Can our democracy accommodate ethnic divisions without violence or terror? Ethnic conflict is as old as recorded history and democratizing societies display a disturbingly common tendency toward it. The reason is simple: as society opens up and political parties and politicians scramble for power and position, they appeal to the public for votes using the most direct and effective language, that of group (ethnic) solidarity in opposition to other ethnic group. Often this stokes the ethnic or religious conflict and sometimes the conflict turns into a full-scale war. This, we think is one of the major challenges in Nepal. Our political parties and politicians are organizing support along racial, ethnic, or religious lines. In this context, once an ethnic group is in power, it tends to exclude other ethnic groups. Compromise seems impossible and political competition that is so divisive can rapidly degenerate into violence. The unilateral declaration of autonomous republican states by the Maoists will create ethnic and regional violence and promote communal disharmony. New names for cities and states might seem merely symbolic, but they represent a seismic shift in attitude. In crises, this shift can turn bloody. India is one example. Let us not forget the Gujarat riots.

Let us pray that may we all live in freedom; freedom from fear, freedom to live up to our potentials and freedom to dream about a better world and better new Nepal. Let us also pray that we all will preserve our integrity, which for us is the highest form of loyalty. Integrity should mean being integrated or centered on principles, not on people and organization. You will find that the root of most issues that we are dealing with is “Is it popular (acceptable, political) or is it right?” When we prioritize being loyal to a person or group over doing what we feel to be right, we lose integrity. We may temporarily gain popularity or build loyalty, but downstream, the loss of integrity will undermine even those relationships. It is better to be trusted than to be liked. Ultimately, trust and respect will generally produce love.

We have always admired and respected you for your simplicity, your kindness, your civility, and the depth and extent of your scholarship. Here we would like to quote the Olympic Creed that we think captures the occasion and it reads as follows: “Ask not yourself for victory, but for courage, for if you endure, you bring honor to yourself; and even more, you bring honor to us all.” Let us all have the courage to speak against ‘injustice’. We are honored and proud to have friends and well-wishers like you all.

Prarthana, Pranita, Rita and Pramod
21 December, 2009

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