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Why Nepali Congress should lead in enhancing democratic values and principles

As a trusted democratic force, Nepali Congress now has a greater responsibility to set liberal narrative around democratic norms in the face of growing populism and political stunts. 

Kathmandu: Commitment to the democratic values and norms does not come from any kind of formal solidarity to political party declaration or manifesto. Instead, it should be reflected in the working culture of politicians. The essence of democratic values should be embraced without calculation of loss or gains. 

In modern politics, political parties, by default, are the ones who should take the lead in terms of promoting democratic values and strengthening democratic institutions. Political parties and representative institutions always remain in a key position to safeguard a healthy and resilient democracy.  

When political parties fail to lead by example in terms of promotion and protection of democratic values, no country can institutionalize people’s aspiration for liberty, justice, equality and prosperity. 

Based on these standards, if you analyze the case of Nepal, the majority of political parties seem reluctant to embrace democratic values as guiding principles, even  if they do they appear to be paying a mere lip service to it. In my personal opinion, our leaders have failed to set a precedent that democracy is more than elections and winning and losing the elections. As a result, fundamental aspects of democracy including that of accountability, transparency and integrity are compromised. Ineffective service delivery has contributed to the rising frustration among people, which, in the long run, could pose a threat to democracy. 

Public frustration is real 

Public frustrations are mounting in the country. Even powerful politicians know this fact. However, politicians try to divert or dismiss genuine grievances of people by diverting the public concerns or discontent. 

Why do citizens become frustrated?  Mostly, when consecutive governments fail to deliver services, ensure justice, guarantee inclusion,  create decent jobs and make the citizens feel safe in the country. There may be a list of issues. 

Instead of identifying the root cause of frustration or dissatisfaction, our political leaders, mostly the top ones, try to engage in blame games. In my observation, they tend not to take ownership of poor governance that can cause hurdles to the citizens. 

People should be at the core of democratic system. Democratic governance should be in the position to ignite hopes among people for positive change and transformation. 

Populism and stunt politics 

What is the foundation of what we call populism? What are the circumstances conducive for the stunt politics? In our context, these trends are on the rise mostly because of bad governance, corruption and inaction of the consecutive governments to ensure justice and effective service delivery. 

Yes, the politicians should fight the growing challenges of populist and emotional politics. But the responsibility of leaders who claim not to be populists does not end there. We need to find the answer of why people are not satisfied? We also need to find ways to fully engage citizens in the democratic values so that no populist force can further damage our established principles. 

Political parties need to think about and find answers to these questions: Why are new forces expanding their support base over the years? Who is responsible for creating a situation where ‘genuine leaders’ are scared of ‘populist ones’? 

As a matter of fact, even those entities which claim themselves to be alternative political forces do not have a base of ideology or accountability. They lack commitment toward democratic values. Their working culture shows that they are just trying to take advantage of ongoing chaotic situations. Still, people are attracted to them.

Countering populism 

Nepali people are exhausted to see the ongoing political transition. It is true that democracy takes time to deliver. But the process should not be too long. In the rapidly changing world, it can be challenging for the governments to live up to people’s expectations and aspirations for development. 

Alternative to democratic forces should always be more responsible, more accountable, more credible and more democratic actors in politics. 

New political parties are just like flash floods. Their shallow commitment to political transformation will not help people to achieve positive change, rather citizens will just get tricked by their cheap statements, covertly or overtly. 

It is worrying that populism has been growing in the country over the years. Who will pay the price of political populism and stunt? It is always people. The people will again be deceived.  Thus, it is the responsibility of democratic forces to tackle this situation all in a positive way.

Why Nepali Congress? 

Here is where the role of Nepali Congress is paramount.  As an ardent believer that reforms are possible, Nepali  Congress, as the largest democratic political force, should act more responsibly to change the existing situation. 

Nepali Congress should lead by example. It should be more accountable and more transparent. People should be in the position to feel that they are heard and their voices respected. In any democratic setting, it is always people who should have trust in public institutions including that of political parties. Nepali Congress should be involved in a constructive way to win the hearts and minds of the people. 

It is easier to fish in muddy water. Sometimes fishing in troubled waters might pay off. Thus, people should be made aware that new forces are luring people, and playing stunts to be in the government. We cannot just blame them for being populists and do nothing on our part.  We have to improve our internal issues too. 

The major weapon is taking people in confidence to fight against populist forces. We have to listen to people. People should be connected with the party. They might have grievances with the party. Those grievances should be heeded to. 

When a political party stands in a high morale in terms of political honesty and integrity, it is always easier for the party to fight against any forces that are founded in the ground of political populism. 

For this Nepali Congress should work on two fronts: First, engagement with people at large, and second, sincere efforts to strengthen intra-party democracy. 

Nepali Congress as a political party should not be limited to the federal capital. We had started Rupantaran Abhiyan [Transformation Campaign] keeping this fact in mind.  We need to continue with this transformation campaign.

Genuine and sincere confession to the past mistakes, clear roadmap for the pro-people politics, effective plans for the service delivery and doable vision for the economic growth including that of creation of decent jobs should be some of the priority agendas of Nepali Congress to reignite hopes among people. 

An answer to the growing call for populism should  always be more accountability and transparency in the system, strong institutions to deliver services and justice and opportunities for livelihood to the people. 

Nepali Congress should take the lead in all these areas. 

Bhupendra Jung Shahi is a Nepali Congress leader leading a transformation campaign within the party. The article is based on his interview with The DMN News.