Antsiness in an unsettled arena
Candor is not uncharacteristic of Dr. Baburam Bhattarai when it comes to public pronouncements. It’s just that our former prime minister usually trains it on those governing us. This time he has challenged the governed to assume our portion of culpability for the rampant mal-governance we have been complaining about.
Paraphrasing words variously attributed to the likes of Joseph de Maistre and Alexis de Tocqueville, Dr. Bhattarai ostensibly limited his remarks to the ongoing cleanup campaign in and around the Ring Road. (Don’t expect the government to keep picking up every cigarette butt you abandon, or something.) His colleagues in the political fraternity are probably relieved that someone has finally told us as it is.
Granted, it is difficult to acknowledge – much less appreciate – the exasperation collectively gripping our political class. After all, we choose them to do what they promise to do and pay them quite decently for trying. In addition, our taxes fund their housing, travel, communication and everything else they need to do their job properly.
Top, mid-level and rookie leaders alike prosper in the public limelight to the point that many end up making a career out of public service. If brickbats happen to exceed the bouquets they get, it’s more than likely because they aren’t doing a wonderful job. Consider things from the politicians’ point of view, though. Sure, voters elect them to do their assigned job. But what kind of job is it? It’s hard to be held accountable to specific and binding pledges when the electorate doesn’t know what it wants. Over the last seven decades, we’ve been struggling to figure out the political system we can live with. In the national trial-and-error mode, maybe the best politicians can do is try and err? Today a unified communist government enjoying a two-thirds majority in parliament can’t seem to sustain the republican, federal and secular edifice that is new Nepal. We can blame Oli, Dahal et al all we want for this sordid state of affairs, but they can take only their share of the responsibility. For every egghead who saw in this three-pronged prescription a cure-all for our accumulated ills, there was another who counseled extreme caution. Yet newness was so eclectic a proposition that we missed it nebulousness. If Dr. Bhattarai has been able to establish himself as the prime sustainer of the eternalness of newness, it’s because our entrenched perplexity has allowed him to shift the goalposts with utmost ease.
It took a decade and two constituent assemblies for our political class to produce this constitution. We may not have names and capitals for every province yet, but we do have a basic law that seems to be functioning amid all the domestic acrimony and geopolitical jockeying.
Instead of contemplating ways of doing things better, many of us are having second thoughts about the very enterprise. Callous as they might seem, the political class can’t call us out. So they are going through the motions: internal party conferences, external war of words and inelegant pledges to perform better.
No, our politicians don’t have the temerity to request hardship allowances and probably never will. A little appreciation would be nice, though.