June 10, 2013 Sujeev Shakya

One of Us

It seems our inner frustrations are always poured over politicians. From morning till late at night—as we go through social media postings—we see Nepalis blaming everything on politicians. We have grown up blaming others for everything instead of looking into the mirror to see what is wrong with us. We are fine blaming invigilators who don’t allow us to cheat during examinations or question setters on ‘out of syllabus’ questions rather than acknowledging that “I did not study that portion” in the quest of just reading ‘guess papers’ and ‘suggested answers’ rather than the book. I remember, during one of my winter holidays as a student in the 80s, a water tap was running in Patan and a middle-aged man quipped, “These panchayat folks cannot even keep the taps shut!” I went, shut off the tap and moved on. I carry this image vividly three decades later and feel that perhaps it still reflects the state of Nepali society.

We like to take the easy way out. We don’t work hard in our examinations and blame bad luck. And I am not talking about people in rural areas who are emerging out of poverty but of people in the cities who are the second generation of educated people.  We would rather be happy to see a soothsayer to find a shortcut to get a visa or get touts to fill visa application forms instead of working a bit harder to fill in the application ourselves and read the website. We make six calls to six cousins and friends to get a discount in a restaurant. We avoid walking a few minutes from a designated parking lot and instead park elsewhere causing inconvenience to other pedestrians and obstructing vehicular traffic . We love to be dropped off from public vehicles on our doorsteps and do not agree to get down from buses at designated stops. We use all possible connections to jump queues to see a doctor, to visit a temple or even for cremations. We try hard for our children to not go through job interviews and yet get selected for jobs. We would like to get free passes and don’t mind calling authors who live on royalty to gift us books for free. We love to talk about a free and open society during the day over pasta and cappuccinos but argue with our daughters as to why they should marry someone from the same caste while having dal bhat at night. We give speeches on ethical businesses during the day, elaborate on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and at night, work with a ‘Registered Auditor’ to get our books ready for the tax office. We take families on weekend trips on office vehicles knowing very well that the bosses will not object as they will be doing the same. We do anything that we want and blame the politicians for everything that goes wrong.

Politicians merely reflect society; they do not drop in from another planet. They are one of us. If broader society  never abides by the law, then it will be difficult to find law-abiding politicians. If society does not believe in financial transparency, then how can we expect financial transparency from politicians? If society does not believe in merit but tries to manipulate outcomes through connections, then you can’t raise a finger against politicians, for whom manipulation is the key ingredient of their profession. If we live out of inheritance and want to perpetuate our own children and family members in business by bulldozing board and shareholder meetings, don’t blame politicians for pushing their children and relatives. If we are not transparent in contracting and honoring contracts, don’t scream when parties split. If we have business associations of all kinds, why are we surprised when we have a long list of political parties? In a country where we continue hearing of business partnerships splitting each day, why are we surprised when political parties split? If we fight so hard and distribute money to fight for elections in an NGO, Rotary, Lions, Jaycees or other organizations where  one is supposed to be volunteering, why are we surprised when so much money gets distributed in politics, which is all about power and financial benefits?

We all await elections to the new Constituent Assembly and the writing of a new constitution as if it is a panacea for all ills. It’s like businesses continuously writing new manuals and service handbooks to solve institutional problems. Our history since 1950 reflects that political instability is the only constant in Nepal. When a single Prime Minister or Cabinet cannot serve a full term even during an autocratic rule, how can we expect it will be otherwise when we are talking of multi-party democracy and transition from unitary feudalism-based to republican federalism-based politics?

The change in society has to be a parallel exercise driven by individual citizens. We are not talking about big changes; we are only talking of small changes. It could just be planting a tree in our backyard or neighborhood and looking after it well. It could be ensuring that we don’t jump red lights or buy vegetable or fruits from the vendor who is occupying the only pedestrian footpath. It could be just ensuring that you pay full at a restaurant but also demand full service. It could be letting your children write applications and go for job interviews, not calling someone for the job. It could be asking, why do I need to invite the politician or a minister to inaugurate something, or asking why do I need an inauguration function In the first place?

Positive change in a society is brought about by its people. Constitutions and politicians can only facilitate that change.

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