Revamping The Political Culture

 

Kushal Pokharel

The latest interview of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba in a popular talk show ‘Sajha Sawal’ made a huge buzz in the media last week. Structured on a question-answer format based on active public participation, Sajha Sawal is a familiar programme for television viewers and FM listeners, particularly for those interested in contemporary politics and society. After the interview broadcast, many controversies have surfaced, though.

 

The Sajha Sawal Saga

First, the Prime Minister’s way of handling the issues raised during the show has received a great deal  of criticism. Infuriated by the public queries, the PM on many occasions throughout the programme often scolded the public for raising questions on some serious issues of national importance. On many occasions, the PM not only failed to maintain the grace of a coveted position but also tackled the questions in a way that often irritated the audience.

For instance, on a question pertaining to the reason for the pathetic situation of the Muglin-Narayangardh section of the road, also called the lifeline of the country, and the expected time for the maintenance of the road, the PM replied: ‘You should know when it will be smooth. I haven’t done much study on this’. This answer typifies the process in which the PM approached the public concern.

While the interviews of the former PMs were also broadcast and went relatively smooth, the latest show  sparked some critical debate in the society over the growing political culture of unaccountability. Some pertinent questions include: How has the political culture evolved in our society? Is it heading in the right direction? What values does our politics embrace?

Baseless Allegation

The episode of Sajha Sawal has also been alleged to be politically sponsored. The matter has become intense as a prominent Nepalese journalist outrightly criticised the show for corrupting the public mind. According to his charge, the list of questions to be asked during the show to the PM were predesigned by the BBC media action team to damage the image of the current PM.

In his latest op-ed, this journalist has stated that the intense preparation before the actual show was televised involved warm up sessions for the audience to prepare questions folowed by a lavish lunch.

Furthermore, he has also examined the function of the BBC in Nepal as an attempt to interfere in the domestic affairs of the state. But one of the participants in the show has publicly stated that no such obligation was imposed on them to ask questions. He added that the questions were asked purely on the basis of an individual’s judgement rather than succumbing to any pressure. With one of the participants of the show publicly stating that no such instructions were given to them in terms of preparing the questions, the journalist’s claim has become questionable.

The PM should have prepared mentally beforehand for the interaction that he had to be a part of. Perhaps the role of his press advisor also could have been better in this case. He could have either suggested the PM about the nature of the programme or  even advised him not be a part of such a programme unless he felt comfortable.

While such live shows for the PM’s direct interaction with the public are broadcast in different countries, the leaders generally show a calm and composite posture at such forums. However, there are a few instances where high profile leaders have gone erratic, the latest round being the walk out by West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee from a similar talk show due to her unhappiness with the types of questions being asked. 

It is only natural for people to demand answers to some troubling questions from their leaders. Anyone can observe the level of frustration that the general public harbours towards the political leadership of this country. Whether we are in a coffee shop or commuting on a bus, we can have a get a clear sense of the public outcry. Nothing has been working in order in Nepal for long.

The irritating traffic, skyrocketing prices of goods and services, high-handedness of the middle men in every sector with political protection have deeply affected life of the ordinary people who are always looking to vent their ire. And a programme like Sajha Sawal often gives them the platform to do so. 

Regaining faith

It is imperative that politics be driven by some core values for instilling hope in the public. Undeterred commitment to the values of meritocracy, integrity and responsibility could be a turning point to revamp the deep rooted political culture in Nepal. Instead of a short-sighted policy, a long-term vision with achievable goals will help to arouse aspirations among the public for a better Nepal. Being accountable to the public will help to regain the lost faith for the party leaders.

 

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