NEPAL: Dearth of honesty

An oped from the Kathmandu Post forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission

A country cannot survive in the absence of honesty and integrity. Additionally, there is a need for unity, compassion and eagerness for development among the people. Similarly, the government must observe the rule of law for the regulation of good governance. Nepal has had six constitutions, and the sustainability of the present one is being debated. The US constitution which was made in 1789 is still in existence. Likewise, the Japanese constitution drafted in 1946 by General Douglas MacArthur, who led the Allied occupation of Japan at the end of World War II, is effective till now. At the same time, there are several countries, which do not have a constitution, and they are doing just fine.

A constitution is a supreme document in any nation. It confers rights and liberties to the people and enables good governance. However, the implementation of the constitution can only be efficacious when the people in a state are united and share a single spirit aimed towards development.

Back to the beginning

Although 66 years have passed since democracy was established in Nepal, we are still in the same situation as we were when we began. Whatever changes have occurred in the country are due to the passage of time and the effects of change happening around the world. The extent of development which we Nepali people should have gained till now remains elusive. Therefore, a question arises in my mind: Why has our country not been able to achieve development that is sweeping over the world? Countries which emerged into the modern world at the same time as us have made greater progress. A country becomes developed not only because of its natural resources, but because of dedicated and enthusiastic people.

I remember a verse from a poem composed by Kavi Shiromani Lekhnath Poudyal: “I eat, I wear, I enjoy and make merry, I dance and be alive, let others die.” The poet was referring to the attitude of the rulers of Nepal towards the common people. It was written in the 19th century, but is still relevant today. Nepal still suffers from nepotism, selfishness, misappropriation, monopoly, and indulgence. I remember another verse by Adikavi Bhanu Bhakta Acharya which refers to how a government employee repeatedly told him to come tomorrow and hampered his domestic business. Tired of waiting to be served, he composed the poem and sent it to the office chief for which he was thrown into jail. This was in the 19th century, but this kind of negative attitude continues in our public service offices even today. The people are masters of the country and the government employees are servants, but this is not seen in practice.

During the Rana period, government employees served at the ruler’s pleasure and they could be fired during the annual muster known as ‘pajani’. During the Panchayat system which was established after dismissing the elected government in 1960, courtiers, ministers and officers who were loyal to the Royal Palace were hired, and those who differed were declared anti-nationals. The same thing happened after the 1990 People’s Movement when the multi-party system was reinstated. Politicians totally forgot that they had stepped into a new democratic system which was gained after a long struggle. Slowly, the style of functioning of the new government started to resemble that of the one that had been replaced. In modern days, fashion and lifestyles have changed, but attitudes have not broadened. Nepotism, selfishness, misappropriation, monopoly and indulgence is our legacy.

Diseased nation

The 2006 People’s Movement ousted the monarchy, and power was transferred to the hands of the Nepali people. After the movement, people expected that there would be drastic changes in the country. They thought that they would be able to enjoy the freedoms and rights to equality enshrined in the constitution. More than a decade has passed since the People’s Movement, but people are again compelled to live under the same status quo.

Now, baseless quarrels and unwanted caste discrimination disputes have arisen in the country. These problems can be addressed only if the government treats them with the concern and gravity required. Additionally, there is a struggle between big and small parties for a share in political power. In this situation, fast changing governments are paying less attention to development and the people’s welfare and focusing more on clinging to power. The government is not of the people, by the people and for the people. It is a rule of brokers, smugglers, bad elements and vested interest groups. These anti-social elements have encircled the government, and their core interest is to exploit the economic resources of the nation for their self-interest.

If we read our history, we can take the example of Bhimsen Thapa. He was a patriotic and dedicated son of Nepal, but had to sacrifice his life for no fault of his own. Some cunning courtiers spread false charges of treason and sedition against him. Likewise, innocent patriotic courtiers lost their lives in the Kot Parva and Bhander Khal Parva massacres in the course of power struggles. Power struggles to seize the state sovereignty is a serious and chronic disease of the country. A self-centred group with vested interests constantly try to grasp power and obstruct the development of the nation for personal interest. Our history unveils this bitter truth, and this practice is still in existence.

Our country also suffers due to the instability of the government and the repeatedly changing constitution. The state can be stable, democratic and progressive only if we follow the rule of law and give the voice of the people due regard through a fair voting system. Bureaucrats and civil servants should be honest, qualified, enthusiastic, and devoted towards working for the betterment of the nation and the people. There is an old Nepali adage that translates to the English: ‘As you sow, so shall you reap.’ If we as a nation promote dishonest and corrupt people into the higher posts of bureaucracy and government, we cannot expect the system to be fair. However, if honest, dedicated people with integrity get promoted, even a natural ruling system can bring progress.

Looking back at more than 200 years of our history, we can see perfect examples of kings and natural rule. Ram Shah and Prithvi Narayan Shah had qualified, decent and honest courtiers in their palace. So both these kings were successful in the history of Nepal.

This oped has been written by Sushila Karki, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nepal.