An alternative to alternative politics in Nepal


Alternative politics (वैकल्पिक राजनीति) in Nepal so far has just been limited to creating new political parties. Each time this happens, a party is newly registered after a merger, it claims to be an ‘alternative’.

So, from the Rastriya Prajatantra Party and the Rastriya Janata Party to Naya Shakti (now the Samajbadi Party), Bibeksheel Nepali and the Sajha Party, all have sought to be an alternative force.

Why have all these alternatives have been unsuccessful in getting off the ground? First, the so-called alternative parties tend to be old wine in new bottles. One sees the same faces, same working style, same ideas. You cannot expect mangoes from a lemon tree. Second, the parties are personality-driven by egocentric figures. Nepal’s patriarchy is in full display in the party leadership. Without accommodating the country’s diversity, including gender, no party in the 21st century can implement  progressive changes.

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Third, the main agenda of the new parties seem to be criticising other parties so as to put themselves in a favourable light. Of course, the existing parties deserve to be critiqued. But the parties claiming to be alternatives have to walk the talk. The general public is not interested in whether the party is left, right or centrist. What counts is how politics can make their lives better. The success of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his AAP party shows that performance is more important than ideology.

Fourth, they mistake fame for politics. A politician or a political party has to be bold enough to take decisions that might be unpopular now but will have long lasting positive impacts. A popular person does not necessarily make a good politician, nor  must an outstanding politician be seen on TV all the time. It took Imran Khan 22 years to get to lead the government. Maturity comes with experience and overnight success is a myth – this is also true in politics.

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Last but not least, integrity and accountability are virtues lacking in politicians. This generalisation might be unfair to some individuals, but Nepali citizens have painfully felt the consequences of nepotism, extortion, cronyism, parochialism and patronage practised by the current leaders. To succeed, an alternative force would need to regain the trust of the citizens in politics and politicians.

Nepali citizens do want an alternative force. In fact, they have always given a chance to newcomers, be it the Nepali CongressUML or Maoists. But in order to be a respectable adversary, an alternative force would have to address shortcomings as well as be large and strong in terms of resources.

Existing small parties will not be able to break systematic corruption alone in the absence of adequate resources (capital and competent candidates), a wider network and an overarching strategy. Only a Greater Alliance of Alternative Forces could loosen the current parties’ grip on power. Such an alliance would allow the alternative forces to keep their working style (party management) and party positions (ego management) but still collaborate for the greater good of the country.

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The common goal must be to eradicate systemic corruption, and the agenda must be to truly be committed to serve the Nepali people. The public must trust that the Alliance will work for the basic needs of the people, such as clean water, electricity, education, health care, infrastructure and a clean environment.

Put concretely, the Alliance’s agenda could start with the following activities:

  • Property investigations of the politicians dating back to the year BS 2010
  • Universal health care
  • Free quality education up to grade 12, and a limited number and type of schools allowed per area
  • Decentralised education system with nationwide benchmarks to maintain quality
  • Voting rights to all Nepali citizens, including those living outside Nepal
  • Zero tolerance for corruption, rigorous checks and balances, including punishment
  • Public funding of political parties (with a threshold)
  • Prudent use of technology
  • Controlled ‘observed’ border with India, only IDs necessary but data is maintained
  • Proper recycling and waste management
  • Bring the peace process to a proper end, including court hearings for the accused
  • Reverse Nepal’s brain drain, policies to attract specialists
  • Secure freedom of speech

The challenge is not to be taken lightly. If a new Alliance could implement at least some of the above points, it would be a major step forward towards true democracy. However, Nepal’s elites and interest groups would also have to support this Alliance. The coronavirus crisis should have opened the eyes of everyone to understand that our future challenges will know no boundaries and will not differentiate between rich and poor.

Karma Lama Tamang is currently pursuing a PhD in Political Science at the University of Birmingham. She returned to Nepal from Germany to join the Bibeksheel Nepali Party

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