Politics, Morality And Madhes
Ritu Raj Subedi
There has been debate on the role of morality in politics for a long time. Even if politics is frequently described as an amoral field of human activity, few can undermine importance of ethics in politics while defining it in normative terms. Morality is emphasised and invoked as vital driving force in building a fair, just and inclusive society. However, the penetration of bourgeois vices has commodified human beings and behaviour so much so that they have been reduced to mere consumers devoid of reflective, creative and critical aptitude and knowledge. Paradoxes too are galore in academic realm as puissant writers ranging from Niccolò Machiavelli and Friedrich Nietzsche to Oscar Wild and Milton Friedman showed their clear disdain for morality and its meaningful presence in day to day political affairs. However, scores of great thinkers from Socrates and Kant to Marx and Gandhi had stood for ethical politics in order to create an equal, just and free society.
Clashes of these two ideas continue. Still selfish and parochial politics has not robbed the ordinary beings of all positive virtues of life essential to forge consensus among the competing interests and build common ground for the smooth functioning of democratic society. This scribe was taken aback when the term ‘morality’ was in the greater emphasis of majority of respondents at an interactive function held in Lahan in central Terai recently. Themed with ‘civic education and implementation of federalism,’ the programme pulled the crowd of grassroots people – elected representatives of local units, cadres of different political parties, social activists, teachers and intellectuals, among others. To start the ball rolling, the attending participants were asked to answer a question: What led to the decay and decadence of politics at present? They offered varied answers. Majority of them suggested that the pervasive political decay is largely caused by lack of morality in the political leadership. This answer was stunning as it demonstrated how conventional wisdom guides the common folks despite the diabolic ethno-centric politics that swept the Teari hinterland in recent the past.
Some others cited the absence of civic education and political consciousness while others mentioned corruption and incompetent leadership as the main factors behind underdevelopment and ineffective delivery of public goods and services in the country. Of them, one or two activists from Madhes-based parties pitched for amendment to the constitution. Around 90 per cent participants were of Madhesi origin and these people had demonstrated political sagacity and maturity. They vastly differed from the Madhesi leaders who often resorted to bellicose rhetoric and tantrums. It is here worth mentioning that Lahan, lying on the east-west highway, was the epicentre of Madhes movement that had also pitted one ethnic group against another. As a result, many of hill-origin people were displaced from the central Terai for security reason. But now peace and normalcy has been restored and the people from different ethnicities live in harmony in booming town.
The grassroots gathering served as an interface between the elected representatives and conscious citizens. Many criticised the attending mayors, vice mayors and ward chairs for indulging in posts, perks, facilities and luxuries at the cost of state’s coffers. What was more striking was the rational and middle-of-the-road approach that the participants tended to follow. They laid emphasis on universal values of democracy that transcend small identities, communalism and regionalism. Though they may not represent the entire Terai, their views are worth emulating at the national level where the major parties have been divided on the partisan lines and vested interest.
However, divisive elements have not completely disappeared from the flatland. While the Lahan people were giving a message of ethnic harmony and solidarity, a mob had thrashed a hill-origin (Pahade) employee named Khem Oli in Rajbiraj recently. They were openly calling for removing the civil servants of hill-origin from Terai. They were targeting the high caste hill-origin employees. How this pernicious attack occurred all of sudden is a matter of shock and surprise. This exposed the weak security arrangement of federal and provincial governments. Though this case does not reflect the reality of the whole Terai, it is likely to demoralise the hill-origin employees working in the plains. Many employees are unwilling to work in provinces and local units despite the repeated efforts of government to deploy them. Now this particular case adds complexity to the government’s bid to effectively operationalise the federal system. The country has adopted federalism with the local and provincial governments exercising their rights and powers. But a sense of conflict and ambiguities still persists in defining the roles, rights, powers and jurisdiction of federal, provincial and local governments.
Terai is not only the country’s basket of grain but a strategic geography that carries immense importance for the economic, political and social survival of nation. But attempts are also made to turn it into a soft belly with external meddling. To tame the centre, the foreign powers had fuelled ethno-centric sentiments in the Terai in the past. Still some are funding for the secessionist drives in a move to destabilise the nation forever. Now it is high time the strong government asserted its position and enforce law and order in the southern belt. While addressing the genuine grievances of Madhesi people, the federal government should implement fiscal programmes unveiled for Terai region effectively and without delay.
It is imperative that the centre should take steps to minimise conflicts with the government of Province 2. The government of Province 2 has developed tendency to disobey the centre and resorted to provocative actions. This sort of anarchy must end to ensure that federal system operates smoothly, effectively and autonomously. Our constitution has envisaged a cooperative federalism based on mutual coordination and collaboration among the federal, provincial and local governments. The three tiers of government must embrace this spirit of federalism. At the same time, the Oli government must not drag its feet when it comes to safeguarding national interest, sovereignty, territorial integrity and social harmony.