January 5, 2016 Sujeev Shakya

Time to Change Tune

A favourite pastime for us Nepalis has been lambasting politicians on social media. However, we tend to forget that politicians do not drop from Mars or Venus; they are the products of our society. I observe scores of people each day and question what would happen if they were to become  politicians. Will they be any different from the lot we have now?

We Nepalis have become very good at making big statements and commenting on big issues that haunt us, while completely forgetting little issues. It is these little things that matter, that build habits and perhaps institutionalise a system that people follow.

The Mannerism

I find it fascinating to observe people, especially those in high positions. I like observing the license plates on government vehicles, especially on the ones that the ministers are driven in. Do observe them carefully next time–the quality of the paint used and the way of writing. You then start to question: is this the benchmark of the quality that they believe in? I observe the way four people sit in the back seat with the minister squashed between. Does the vehicle manual not suggest how many people should sit? The minister then emerges out of the vehicle with crumpled dress. I observe his body language and the dust laden shoes. And I observe the way he picks up the phone sitting with dozens of people on stage treated like erstwhile royals and speaking loudly as someone else is reciting for ten minutes the names and titles of people crowding the stage. If you bump into the minister in the restroom, watch his manners. It is not difficult to form an opinion.

The other day I noticed a former minister look down upon us mere mortals as his car sped through the streets of Thamel with a police vehicle blowing sirens and flashing red lights. A passerby, who along with me and my family  had let this erstwhile minister pass in pride, quickly commented, “Oh, he is going home for food!”

Shape The Nation

Perhaps the habits of the people who reach key positions define or shape the habits of the people who work for them. Followers of Gandhi became strong believers in conscientious consumption. Followers of Mao wore the same set of clothes throughout their lives. In Nepal, during the autocratic Rana and Shah regimes, order was created  on the basis of a set of rules for the subjects that did not apply to the rulers. Perhaps, this trend has continued with people in power  feeling they are outside the purview of law. Perhaps people fight hard and spend a lot of money to get to key positions so that they can get impunity from the law.

We watch around us, the way we flout basic civic behavior. Be it throwing trash out of the windows of SUVs, letting our garbage pile up in our courtyards, speaking on the phone continuously inside a cinema hall disturbing others around you, occupying the footpath to run one’s business, encroaching on public space, parking where you are not allowed to, students blocking streets while they walk out of their colleges, having minimal parking space in establishments where hundreds of cars turn up for events, breaking queues, turning up late, speaking ill of people without evidence and the list can go on.

Good Habits

I grew up in an age where you listened to your parents and there was little room for disagreement. In school, when the principal appeared for the Monday morning assembly at 8:15, it was 8:15 and there was pin drop silence. You could rarely get away with indiscipline. Religion, culture and practices were to be followed without questioning. I grew up in an organisation where strict discipline flowed from the top, and any compromise with rules could cost you your job.

Perhaps the new generation has grown up without a strong sense of inner values. Therefore, they ape the successful in society. The idea of success in our society is to be a political leader, perhaps become a minister, drive in a vehicle with red lights flashing and security folks in tow. You do not have to pay for stuff, gifts flow, donors take you on junkets where you stay in hotels you would never stay in with your own money, and  get away with practically all intentional mistakes you make. You do not have to feel accountable to anyone!

If in 2016 we are to rebuild Nepal battered by the earthquake, blockade and pathetic governance, we need serious introspection that does not need another constitution to change for the better. A person who changes himself/herself for the better and who can take up the challenge of politics can then perhaps change Nepal for the better. In 2016, Nepalis will also continue to search for such leaders.

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