Monday, January 3, 2011

Will 2011 be any different?

With the end of a year also comes punditry from the usual suspects that people are often forced to consume. Getting predictions from them, who told us that the Maoists were for multi-party democracy and that the extension of Constituent Assembly (CA) would definitely fetch us a new constitution, is a bit obnoxious but that is the price we all have to pay for being citizens of an unaccountable nation. The one good thing about 2011’s predictions though is that pundits have been a lot more conservative. It is better to come across as an unintelligent person rather than to be proved wrong. Smart move, indeed!

In the absence of reliable predictions, most people are anxious to know what really is in store for the nation this year. But before moving to that, let us look at how 2010 was for certain groups of people. For Madhav Kumar Nepal and his cabinet members, the year could not have been any better. Likewise, for the 601 CA members, who were all for the extension of CA to continue their hard work (pun intended), 2010 was not a bad year either. Land sharks and ethnic entrepreneurs, too, did well for themselves in the past year. Rising land prices and degrading law and order situation provided them with an unthinkable opportunity to fleece both the state and innocent public. Politicians, land sharks, and ethnic entrepreneurs were clearly the winners of 2010 and will continue to remain so unless the existing structure is altered.

For many of the 601 CA members, the year 2010 might have been the luckiest year of their life. Why would they want 2011 to be any different? It is only the general public with fixed incomes and struggling due to rising inflation, rampant corruption and chronic power shortage who want the coming year to be different.

What about the media? Instead of reporting how the helpless Nepali citizens confronting a dysfunctional state felt about the past year and what their expectations are in the new year, the mainstream media did what it does best—fill the newspapers with predictions. Would not Nepal be better off if our journalists and pundits stopped predicting political events and politicians’ behavior and spent quality time analyzing why Nepali politicians behave the way they do and what we can actually do to correct their reckless behavior?

Politicians will not do anything different than what they did in 2010 unless the media and the general public exert pressure on them. Except for the peace assembly that forced the Maoists to end the blockade of the valley, public has been absorbing nonsense, nonstop. The more we put up with that, the more we will get it. The choice is ours. Instead of holding politicians accountable for false claims, the media often ends up regurgitating what politicians claim to be possible. If my memory serves me well, not a single newspaper analyzed the option of holding fresh election when the term of the CA was expiring last May. Instead of looking at the factors that caused inaction in the CA and sincerely analyzing whether or not it was actually possible to have a new constitution from the same set of actors, who appeared more interested in forwarding their own agendas through an extension, the mainstream media joined the political chorus. The prospects of democratic consolidation gets bleak when the media, instead of holding politicians accountable for inaction, helps them get rewarded for it.

Given the situation that the major political parties are in and the limited choice that India has at its disposal, the political stagnation that we witnessed in 2010 will continue to persist, at least till May 28th of 2011. The status-quo is not that bad for politicians as it does not stop the cabinet and 601 CA members from drawing their salaries. Neither does it affect local-level party cadres who are becoming amazingly astute and savvy in dividing commissions among themselves. It is the general public that wants a positive change. For almost half of the population that live on less than $2 a day, living in the most corrupt country in South Asia also means cutting down on basic needs. People have started taking extreme measures as the state is getting increasingly dysfunctional. Families are ending their lives for not being able to foot medical bills.

Citizens can make 2011 better than 2010 if they really want to. It is not going to happen on its own. For that to happen, people will have to do what they did to end the Maoists’ blockade of the valley last year. Unless people exert pressure on politicians and make it clear that nonsense in the name of democracy is unacceptable, there is very little chance that anything positive will happen in 2011. Pundits can, for sure, help people make 2011 better. As political winners and losers have already been picked, how about analyzing ways in which we can make winners act more responsibly and losers play by the rules of the game. Is that too much to ask for?


Yasmin said...

Thank you for this insight to Nepal and the need for asserting pressure to the government. This is very useful information for me on my multimodal presentation for class. Thanks again.


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