Common Man And Democracy : Mukti Rijal

Democracy is all about the common man exercising his agency in making the state agencies respond to him. In other words, it is also about ensuring the participation of the ordinary people in the affairs of the state. The common man, if angered and frustrated by the dismal performance of his elected representatives in delivering good governance, can easily oust them in the elections. It happened in the New Delhi legislative assembly polls recently, in which the voters rejected established parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress (I) and gave an unprecedented mandate to the new Aam Aadmi Party led by Arvind Kejriwal.

Mood swing

It is said that the common man does not want the moon delivered to him. What he wants is the government elected by him to work towards securing the basic rights like food, shelter, education and health. If the parties fail to secure a minimum of these basic conditions for survival, the mood of the people tends to swing to find alternatives. In New Delhi, this mood swing of the Aam Aadmi decimated the old and established parties, giving the new party an opportunity to govern. This is the beauty of democracy as well.

In this regard, a saying by Winston Churchill - the British prime minister - is relevant and apt. In a speech at the House of Commons on October 31, 1944 about the role of the common man in democracy, he said, “At the bottom of all tributes paid to democracy is the little man, walking into a little polling booth with a little pencil making a little cross on a little paper – no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of that point.”

The little man gave a slap on the face of the Congress(I) and BJP and bestowed an unqualified mandate to the Aam Aadmi party to rule. In Nepal, the common man has produced similar results, too. In the first election of the Constituent Assembly held in 2008, the new political force - the CPN (Maoist) - was brought to the centre stage of politics and given a mandate to govern, but in the elections held in 2013 the same party was rejected, and the NC and UML forged ahead to govern the country and deliver a constitution to the people.

After being elected, the political parties should be able to secure performance legitimacy, too. Electoral legitimacy is not enough. Performance legitimacy can be secured only when the parties work towards decentralising authority and creating institutions at the local level for local governance and democracy.

In Nepal, the elections for local governance institutions where people feel and get a sense of real democracy at work have not been held for over a decade and a half. The political parties have committed themselves to holding the local polls, but they are averse to working towards this end in the real sense of the term. As a result, corruption and mal-governance have increased. Local democracy is in a crisis.

Local democracy in Nepal has been the casualty of the entrenched political squabbling aimed at advancing the parochial interests of the group elites specialising in the game of power politics. For almost one-and-a-half decades, local democracy in Nepal, needless to say, has been subjected to virulent attacks by the political groups and elites masquerading themselves as protagonists of democratic rights and aspirations of the people.

Though the Interim Constitution, promulgated in 2063 BS following the end of the high intensity armed conflict, has assigned a separate and distinct provision for local governance institutions and local democracy, and provisions a new arrangement for re-toning and revamping the local bodies as autonomous self-governing institutions for democratisation and decentralisation, this has never received the attention of the political parties and stakeholders.

The local bodies have been run by bureaucratic appointees at least in the DDCs and municipalities for over a decade whereas the VDCs are, in most cases, especially in the remote areas, left to fend for themselves in the absence of even the secretaries, who are often times accused of playing truant in the neglect of their duties under one or the other pretence in delivering services to the people.

The country elected a gargantuan-sized 601-member Constituent Assembly twice in 2008 AD and 2013 AD - a ludicrous instance that has not happened elsewhere - but the political parties have failed to mount and demonstrate the political will to hold the local polls to breathe new life into the defunct body politic of local democracy in Nepal.

Nepal in this case reflects and represents a situation of neo-patrimonial states where the real decision-making power lies outside the formal government institutions, in the hands of big
political leaders and their cronies who seek to serve their own interests rather than the well-being of the citizens. The dilly dallying on holding the local polls witnessed of late testifies to the fact that patrimonial tendencies reign supreme in the decision-making process, and the leaders lack what is called political want.
 
New alternatives

As a result, the common man is watching and has started to air his frustration at the performance of the traditional political parties that have shattered their hopes not only in delivering the constitution but also holding the local elections for local democracy. Time is slowly knocking at the doors of the Nepalese common people to create new alternatives in the form of the Aam Aadmi Party that really delivers democracy and corruption-free governance in Nepal. The traditional obsolescent parties should be challenged by the common man democratically, and if need be, they should be punished for their continual failures and mis-governance.

 

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