Gambling with our future
Dasain this year was a washout, but with the rains gone it is looking brighter for the approaching festivals of Tihar, Mha Puja and Chhath.
Besides its cultural and religious significance, Tihar is also a time when gambling with cards has official sanction. And, since this year the festival coincides with preparations for elections exactly a month away, there will no doubt be a lot of candidates gambling everything on their political futures.
Impunity and the rule of the lawless is rife in this country. When murderers do not have to answer for crimes, it is a small matter that bribe-takers, swindlers, extortionists can stay in office and ply their trade.
So far, we have seen malafide nominations of relatives, cronies and influential party donors on the Proportional Representation list. The leadership of all main parties have purged popular and competent candidates, treating them as more of an enemy than opposition figures. There has been shameless gerrymandering by coalition leaders to divide up constituencies so they have a 100% chance of being elected.
We in the media are preoccupied with election arithmetic and not questioning enough how the entire system has been manipulated in violation of the Constitution. We accept it as a given.
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What could be more absurd than the sight of Nepali Congress leaders in Gorkha on a stage where the photos of the warriors who sacrificed to restore democracy in Nepal were overshadowed by hammer and sickle posters? Or a Hindu-royalist candidate campaigning under the symbol of the Unified Marxist-Leninists. If there is no ideological difference between parties, why do we need parties at all?
In any other democracy worth its salt, this would be called rigging the vote. In fact, it is like cheating at cards on Laxmi Puja.
The only flickering lights we see this Tihar will be the fresh young faces who have managed to get tickets from the parties, or are standing as rebel candidates and independents. It is likely that despite a public yearning for change and an overwhelming disillusionment with established parties and their leaders, many of them may lose because Nepal’s elections are still largely determined by vote banks, tribal loyalty to parties, and the ability of candidates to spend lavishly on feasts and booze. They are not determined by the performance track record of candidates when they had a chance.
The top leaders of all main parties have been prime ministers cumulatively 14 times since 1996. Prime Minister Deuba wants to do a double hat-trick.
Nearly 4 million young Nepalis abroad, who would mostly be anti-incumbent, cannot cast absentee ballots because the established parties have not allowed voting by mail. Electronic voting machines are not used either because they just don’t trust each other.
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It is no wonder that Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, in another candid off-the-cuff remark, boasted how his party had stuffed ballot boxes in the Constituent Assembly elections in 2008, and maybe they should try that again since his party has been too ‘decent’.
The reverence for hard cash is engrained even in this festival of lights. The first day of Yampanchak on Saturday, 22 October, is devoted to Ganesh, the elephant-headed god who removes all obstacles. Sunday is the day of the crow, the scavenger who is doing more to consume and recycle Kathmandu Valley’s garbage than the municipalities are. Dogs are gods on 24 October, and it is the turn of cows and bulls the next two days. The last day, 27 October, is sibling day when sisters and brothers venerate each other.
Tihar ends, but the festivities do not. In the Tarai, Chhath takes off with the worship of the sun as
it sets and is reflected on water bodies.
Besides gambling there is one element that is common to Diwali, Tihar and Chhath: the leitmotif of light. The light that illuminates the darkness and allows us to remove injustice, greed, envy, inequality and discrimination.
The symbolism of Tihar is great, and gives us a glimmer of hope that on 20 November the country will have the good fortune of dealing from a brand new deck of cards.
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