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Mar 4, 2012

Why the worst get on the top and what to do about it

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." -Lord Acton
The arrest of lawmaker Shyam Sundar Gupta for his alleged involvement in masterminding a kidnapping shocked even the most complacent of the Nepalese as it set a new record in the lowest moral standards for a Nepalese politician. In his influential book “The Road to Serfdom”, economist and political philosopher F.A. Hayek dedicated a chapter explaining why it's usually the worst people that get on the top in politics. Written about Western democracies more than half a century ago, the hypothesis he proposed rings eerily true in Nepali politics. Constitution Assembly, as it turns out, is full of the type of people that parents and textbooks warn children from becoming. And guess what, these worst people are now in charge of drafting the new constitution, the supreme law that will guide every other law of the country. 

The adventures of our lawmakers range from  that of a delinquency to cold blooded heinous acts of crimes. Electricity theft, misuse of diplomatic passports, bribery, murder, serial murder, kidnapping you name the crime and you get a lawmaker with proficiency in it. 10 of them have already been convicted of their crimes. Rest of the lawmakers and rulers who haven't been directly involved in criminal acts too have their moral character in doubt. This dark scenario doesn't provide much hope for the aspirations of 30 million Nepalese commoners and the situation is getting bleaker with political ideologies that stress increased role of state in citizens' lives being dominant in the constitution assembly.

Why does this happen?

Unlike in the marketplace where one progresses by building quality products and building your consumers' trust with his/her service and integrity, in politics the person to progress is the one who can manipulate people the most, put their moral standards into highest risk and use other maneuvers to get their way. Constitution Assembly of Nepal is one such example but it is not limited to Nepal only. Looking for a successful politician who doesn't lie or manipulate people is very likely to be the longest search in the history of mankind. Corruption and immorality are neither endemic to Nepalese politics or  any Third World country for that matter nor are they new in the history of mankind.

Any society that sees government or government action as an answer to majority of its problems, is very likely to find the most corrupt leaders. Leaders who are unscrupulous and uninhibited. From Mao in China who killed more than 60 million of his people, the cruel Rana Prime Minister Chandra Sumsher in Nepal, Pol Pot in Cambodia, Kim Jong Il in North Korea and Hitler are testaments to the thought that the more people rely on governments to solve their problems the more they are likely to end up with most corrupt and evil leaders. The difference between the constitution making process of 1990 and 2006 illustrates this clearly. In 1990s, we relied on the experts to create a constitution whereas currently we are relying on the politicians to create a constitution. No wonder, we are drafting one of the costliest  and most time consuming constitutions in the world. Since the CA polls, we have had four prime ministers: one is well-known for his lack of integrity, another is well-known for suffering devastating loss in the elections and yet managing to be the Prime Minister, another got slapped for his active role in hampering the constitution making process and the final one is getting popular for his double standards and cheap promises. 

One of the major achievements of 2006 uprising was that it brought crucial issues like equal identity and representation of ethnic groups, discrimination of 'lower' caste people as well Madhesi people have been brought upfront in the political discourse but once again, the political approach towards problem solving has resulted in worst ones from each of these groups have been able to gain power in the names of their ethnicities or their belongingness to a group whereas the condition of the common people remains as dire as ever.

Ability to manipulate people, make moral compromises, lack of integrity, tendency to go with the flow (in other words whatever fulfills their self-interest), double standards, cheap promises, mediocre performances are the common traits that we find among the our politicians that have risen to the top of the political ladders. So, when we are praying for a benevolent dictator or asking the government to solve our problems, it would be a wise step to bear in mind the tendency of the worst of the politicians to get to the top.

Who shall we elect next?

The initial euphoria of Nepalese for electing new political parties in the CA polls symbolized our vengeance against the wrong doing of the hitherto dominant political parties. Though taken aback by the performance of new political forces being not a bit different from that of the ones we were frustrated of and our hopes of 'New Nepal' been dashed, the romanticism of finding yet another new political force hasn't yet vanished. The question that's bedazzling us seems to be: Who shall we elect next? Are there any political forces left that we can try out? But if there is any lesson, our courtship with democracy has taught us, then it's that relying on politics to solve our economic problems is not the smartest way to go about. A paradigm shift in our thinking is imperative if we really want things to change for better. Having more faith on people's abilities to solve their own problems and not asking the government to do it could be one of the areas we need to explore in shifting our paradigms. Limiting the government to its core functions is a necessary step towards reclaiming our morality and sovereignty though politicians, public intellectuals with grandiose dreams and crony capitalists will suggest us otherwise. Giving up the lofty illusions that government and donor agencies are the panacea to our backwardness is a another bitter pill of medicine we Nepalese need to swallow. The only way any government can help pave the path to prosperity is, ironically getting out of the way of general public and letting them works for their own prosperity. We need to realize this.

Evidences around the world suggest it's with the people's own efforts and endeavors not by governments by which  prosperity is achieved. Though, every political and economic debates\ of Nepal tends to  brush off this fact saying Nepal is different or Nepalese are different, it's time that we realize Nepal is not an exception at all. It is either that or having a new definition for our race: A Nepalese is someone who learns nothing from human nature, economics or experience and repeats the same mistakes over and over again to keep a small section of the population in power and wealthy at the cost of millions who are languishing in poverty at a time when the whole world is bathing in prosperity."

-Surath Giri