How does one define politics in Nepal, especially when it comes to the use of power? The definition of politics before the 1990 era can be explained by the Nepali term rajniti, which in its literal sense means raja ko niti – the king's policy. This definition implied that all ordinances came from the king, one who was above the law, and could not be contested because any policy that came from the royal institution was also by its literal Nepali definition, sabai bhanda ramro niti, that is, 'the best of policy'. Of course the king had his advisors to guide and caution him but fundamentally there were no constraints on his use of power. Power at the time was in the literal sense the 'king's authority'.
The second definition of politics follows the 1990 democratic movement. This movement introduced the western concept of liberal politics, where 'politics is the constrained use of power'. Constraints include the parliament, judiciary and the various bureaucratic institutions, providing different levels of checks and balances within the governing system. Most importantly, no one is considered above the law.
The 1990 movement in its democratic essence should have brought about the end of the first definition of politics. But in the years that followed, including after the 2005 movement, the dual implementation of the first and second definitions has brought about a moral decadence in the overall polity and society of Nepal. Regardless of what happened before 1990, the current definition of politics cannot be said to be adhering to the fundamental principles of democracy.
Quite contradictorily, our leaders straddle both definitions, using whichever is convenient for them. They use the first definition to dodge accusations, lapses of duty, or to delay decision making that may not be in their favour and to avoid punishment for any unlawful act. They use the second definition to prop up their false democratic rhetoric for the people. Besides other explanatory variables, the interchangeable use of these two definitions also accounts for why nepotism, favouritism and 'partyism' continue to run rampant; why coming to a consensus in writing a new constitution seems so difficult; why it took 18 elections to choose a prime minister; why Devi Prasad Regmi was thrown into jail for the slap case while minister Begum escaped punishment for a similar incident; why we hear commitments from successive governments that the loadshedding problem will be solved in five years; and why improvements in security are hyped up when we know our borders are in their most vulnerable state to date.
Some may argue that since politicians are rational they obviously juggle these two definitions for an optimum outcome. But rationality, and most importantly democracy, cannot operate without a set of rules where the game is fair and everybody is equal in the eyes of the law. The leap into the democratic era, or the republic, is a symbolic rupture between the old and the new. It should herald a transformation in which, according to Weber, power should be embodied in the formal organisations of rationality, by which he meant power governed by a set of rules.
Flipflopping on both definitions makes for a dysfunctional system of governance and fosters moral decay in the people who believed in and voted for them, only to be let down. Raising the price of oil one day and sending one's own student union to the streets the next day is akin to a split personality disorder. Similarly, there can be no justification for keeping the country hostage for almost seven months as 18 elections ran their course. This is a modus operandi worse than the rulers of the pre-1990s would have chosen. Ambiguity in political actions sends out a message of futility and fickleness of governance, stalls any hope of development and progress, and generates frustration in the people that will inevitably lead to the demise of the regime.
A strong regime is one that conforms to a single definition of politics, sticking to the norms of a democratic republic, in which there is a set of rules based on the principles of equality and freedom. Unless the people of Nepal feel that everyone is equal by law, they won't see a difference between the politics of Naya Nepal and the old Nepal. Real change does not necessarily stem from the election of a new prime minister, or by overthrowing governments. Real change will come when the people of Nepal finally sense the fundamentals of democracy being implemented.
Biraj Bahadur Bista is a PhD candidate at the Department of Political Science in Seoul National University, South Korea
1. nepali voice
Congratulations Mr. Bista on yet another well articulated piece. Your articles are a delight to read and very enlightening. The scenario described is eerily reminiscent of the satirical book 'animal farm' by George Orwell wherein the leaders of the revolution overthrowing the overbearing human in turn start to emulate the very regime they dispensed with. To quote from the animal farm, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." A word of caution to our leaders not to fall into the lure of power that the seat bestows...
18 FEB 2011 | 12:18 PM NST
Dahl and Khanal combo will be a lethal no less. And they will renege on their promises as like all other politicos!
18 FEB 2011 | 7:06 PM NST
3. sad nepali
what is this article all about? Seems it neither has head nor tail.. a confused article which neither address situation nor a solution, just a waste of pageful of words.
Waiting for better one from a doctoral candidate
18 FEB 2011 | 8:27 PM NST
4. Social Misfit
Brilliantly laid out how the so called new politicians still continue act like kings when they say that they have begun a new era of democratic republic. I see the dual usage and maybe like Bista says the politicians cannot breakfree from the traditional way of doing politics. So if it is true it is better to bring back monarchy rather than politicians who cannot decide which boat to straddle.
19 FEB 2011 | 2:24 PM NST
Mr Bista your thought provoking article should be helpful to the leaders of nepal who act differently and talk differently. May this be eye opening to those who think themselves as leader.
20 FEB 2011 | 4:52 PM NST
Bekaar Article. Nothing new; this kind of predictable "thoughts" can be found in editorial section of any cheap Nepali newspaper.
21 FEB 2011 | 7:09 AM NST
Biraj, good read. You have presented a different way of looking at the ills of nepali politics. I presume you will do more research on this subject area in the future. Apart from bahunbad, party structure, education of our leadership etc., continuity of using old definition of politics and thinking that one is the law or above the law also mars democracy from flourishing. Does that mean that Nepali society and leaders haven't been able to disassociate from practicing politics from the old way? Certainly more research will be required to explain this phenomenom than a small article and I hope to you will continue on this topic in the future as well. _ sanjay
22 FEB 2011 | 6:12 AM NST
With due respect, I beg to differ from the enlightened author. I under-stand 'rajniti' as 'raj' means rule and 'neeti' means a set of moral codes. Hence, 'rajniti' literally means a set of moral codes for ruling or governance. The real contest is in 'What constitutes that set of moral codes? Who constructs those rules? and, above all, 'Who exercises de facto those rules?' A ruler could be a King (Raja), or any other agency, e.g. a Parliament, or even a foreign agency the, e.g. 'British Raj' in India. In monarchy (mono archy= one person's rule) the king pretends to tap the so-called 'divine power' as the source of his authority and legitimacy and rules over the people ('praja'). In other words, feudalism is the proper name of the game (1961-1991). In oligarchy (oligo archy= rule of a few), a few self-selected 'tatha batha' or higher cast pundits, or 'sambrhanta pariwar' (the elites and aristocrats), or the novoua riches ('nava dhanadya') rule in the name of democracy (1991-2001). Both are fundamentally flawed as the sovereign people is excluded from the real power to govern themselves. After 2008 Nepal entered into a Republican era. The on-going fight in Nepal is whether the political parties, the intellegentsia, the professionals, the bureaucrats, the remnants of monarchy or the elites are willing to accept the supremacy of the sovereign people. 'Self-transformation' (I call it 'Swayambhoo') is an essential precondition for 'Swa raj' (Gandhi coined the term?). Political party leaders and the stakeholders of the 'New' Nepal need to show moral discipline to transform themselves. New set of values become norms of the day only if one is ready to apply those values on oneself ('praxis'). Sooner or later, we will know whether leaders of 'New' Nepal are truly committed to the moral codes of 'Swa raj'. Right now, there is a dearth of 'Raj Neta', a Statesman, with a stratgic vision and the courage to say "No" to 'Prabhoo' (Para bhoo= rule by 'the others')
22 FEB 2011 | 7:36 AM NST
it does not matter what they use - mono, dual, or plural - the current leaders cannot do nothin' they are all rotten eggs just waiting to be thrown out by the people.
23 FEB 2011 | 7:12 AM NST
Dear Arun # 9. Please take care of environment, Nepal now populous country these Eggs may harm many, allow them to self disposal by the concern Establishment. Good comment.
23 FEB 2011 | 2:46 PM NST
The article is excellent piece to read. I congratulate the writer for this nice article.
23 FEB 2011 | 6:47 PM NST
Nice portrayal of the dual personality of our leaders, they should learn to stop reaping the benefits of their power for their own selfish means and put it to good use....
@ Anonymous (8)- I suppose if one looks into the Nepali dictionary (shabdakosh) one can see that the literal meaning of 'Rajniti' as the author correctly points out is listed as 'Raja ko niti', because I suppose the term was coined before the existence of the modern concept of politics was introduced into Nepal....maybe a good topic for research into the origin of words and their implications on society, for e.g. Politics (from Greekï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ός, "of, for, or relating to citizens")- The word Governance derives from the Greek verb ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½άï¿½ï¿½ [kubernáo] which means to steer and was used for the first time in a metaphorical sense by Plato-source wikipedia.....
Hence 'Rajniti' cannot be directly translated to mean 'Politics' as the very term implies the policy of one person, or the best policy determined by one person, whereas 'Politics' is for the citizens and it is this transition of power from one person, or one institution to that which is best for the citizens that the politicians seem to find puzzling......
24 FEB 2011 | 9:17 AM NST
Sorry to inter fer as supplement to your view in # 8 RAJ-NITI means , Raj (state) + Niti (policies). The degree of morals differ region to region & people to people globally. Look Nepal has no capital punishment yet. As per a reputed Newspaper Drugs Dealers from different nationalities has home in Nepal.This our moral standard. Safe for all. Thanks to Write and com mentors.Continue... thanks more
24 FEB 2011 | 10:38 AM NST
14. chandra gurung
Yo suman (#12),
I don't know why you spent time writing something that is evidently wrong. I have Nepali dictionary in front of me (by dictionary, I mean Nepal Rajkiya Pragya Pratisthan's authoritative one) and in page 1133, it has three meaning for Rajneeti and none of them mention it is "Raja Ko Neeti". It is politics or statecraft. So #8 is right.
Please don't try to misinform readers. At least, bother to check a proper source and quote something proper rather than merely claiming to be doing so.
24 FEB 2011 | 10:53 AM NST
@ Chandra Gurung #12- I do not have a personal vendetta against you and am not trying to misinform readers. I admit the dictionary you consulted may not have the meaning above, if you want my reference it is the Shabda Sagar Pg. 1125. However, if you read my comment carefully the word 'Rajniti' existed before dictionaries were invented and the Sanskrit root of the word obviously refers to 'Raja ko niti', and 'Raj' as the word for 'State' is also derived from the root word for King, it is simple fact and not something to be all twisted up about....
24 FEB 2011 | 2:41 PM NST
16. raja ko niti
As time had been changed people gave differennt definition of rajniti.Now a days so called leaders call it as lok tantra because they don'want to call it democracy or prajatantra .Prajantra had been 2042.Among the big snake is king cobbera. Among the big hansa is raj hansa. Among the big elephant Gajraj.Among the bed big size bed is called King size bez Tirth madeh tirth is Raj tirth.Mitho mathi mitho food is raj khanki.So what ever big is applied to raj.Best of the best is Raj.thank you for best rajniti article
24 FEB 2011 | 2:46 PM NST
17. chandraGurung "I do not have a personal vendetta against you and am not trying to misinform readers. I admit the dictionary you consulted may not have the meaning above, if you want my reference it is the Shabda Sagar Pg. 1125. However, if you read my comment carefully the word 'Rajniti' existed before dictionaries were invented and the Sanskrit root of the word obviously refers to 'Raja ko niti', and 'Raj' as the word for 'State' is also derived from the root word for King, it is simple fact and not something to be all twisted up about"
I can't believe you wrote that in response to my article. I am assuming you are some kid going to high school.
"I do not have a personal vendetta against you and am not trying to misinform readers."
Who said anything about vendetta? Do you know the meaning of it?
"I admit the dictionary you consulted may not have the meaning above, if you want my reference it is the Shabda Sagar Pg. 1125."
Yeah. Good. But the dictionary to consult is the authoritative one. Not just eire gaire. So, go to academy's dictionary.
" if you read my comment carefully the word 'Rajniti' existed before dictionaries were invented "
What do you mean by "invented"? They are always there. Dictionary is just a list of words explaining the meaning. In one form or another, they are always there. If you have any alternative information on when dictionary was invented, please let me know.
"Sanskrit root of the word obviously refers to 'Raja ko niti',"
Well, it is not so obvious to me. Raj could refer both Raja or Rajya. There were Rajya without Raja in Vaishali and other republics thousands of years ago too.
24 FEB 2011 | 9:02 PM NST
@ChandraGurung- Please do look up vendetta in an 'authoritative' dictionary and get some anger management classes while you are at it before you go around calling someone a high school kid simply over the comments to an article and also I was not aware you wrote an article as you mentioned...."I can't believe you wrote that in response to my article. I am assuming you are some kid going to high school."
As for dictionaries always being there, you make it sound as if humans of course evolved with a dictionary in their hands and you seem to know a lot about Sanskrit and dictionaries, so look forward to reading a genuine 'article' about it from you to enlighten the rest of us...before you use your emotions, please do reflect and use your brains
24 FEB 2011 | 3:40 AM NST
Interesting read. I think the comments digress from the main theme and that is the word 'Rajniti' in its ancient form and its misuse by politicians.
@ chandragurung- Raj could refer both Raja or Rajya. There were Rajya without Raja in Vaishali and other republics thousands of years ago too -Please note that the Vaishali you refer to was the capital of the Licchavi republic of India and not Nepal. "Licchavi (also Lichchhavi, Lichavi) was an ancient kingdom in Nepal, which existed in the Kathmandu Valley from approximately 400 to 750. Centuries earlier, at the start of the Buddhist era a powerful republic known as Licchavi existed in what is today Bihar. There is no conclusive evidence of any ethnic or historic links between the two states." Kindly refrain from connecting Nepal to India in any way at all. King's kingdom, Emperor's empire and Raja's rajya, so Rajya is also connected to the king or Raja. It is history and warrants change, maybe even a new name for 'politics' in Nepal instead of 'Rajniti'.