Kathmandu, March 10, 2017: Of late, the country has seen a few new parties—most recently the Sajha Party—claiming to provide an alternative to the moribund mainstream political parties, and to deliver clean politics and development. It remains to be seen how successful these parties will be in their mission, but given the widespread public disenchantment with the old parties, some of the new parties have received the benefit of doubt from the public.
Shashwat Acharya spoke with Rabindra Mishra, former head of the BBC Nepali Service, coordinator of the Sajha Party and a well-known philanthropist, about the philosophy, goals and roadmap of his party and how it will be different from other parties.
How do you justify forming a new party, given that there is already a surfeit of political parties in Nepal?
I agree that there are more than enough political parties in Nepal. But what has been clear from their history is that they cannot lead the country to the path of development. They can bring about political changes, but they cannot institutionalise those changes. The whole idea of our party is to fill that vacuum and to intervene nationally so as to lead Nepal towards development and prosperity.
But every party makes a similar claim. How can you be sure that even the new parties will fail?
There are already some obvious indications, from which we can safely assume that the new parties will exist, but they will not rule. And without ruling, you cannot change the country. While some new parties have started practising the old ways of politics, others lack the political maturity and the ability to expand nationally.
You’re already assuming that your party can rule the country?
It might sound very ambitious, but that’s exactly what we’re aiming for. And we don’t have the luxury of failing or even doing okay. Too many attempts, especially after Janandolan I of 1990, have failed. If we also fail, it will discourage many youths from joining politics.
Define the core principles of your party.
We have identified our values, which we call our four pillars. They are system, transparency, integrity and meritocracy. What we realised is that the country’s democracy has only been for showing to the public and to the international community. Here, politicians’ opinions prevail over the system, instead of the other way around.
In a democracy, if political parties are not transparent about where they are getting money from, how can they be expected to be free from corruption? In recent decades, there has been an erosion of integrity and honesty in Nepali society.
People without integrity always find a way to circumvent rules and do things as they please. And finally, without people with ability in the right position, no country in the world can develop. These four values are entirely different from what the current political parties embody.
Our approach is different from that of other parties; while they have a top-down approach, we are adopting a bottom-up approach. We have made appeals on our Facebook page. We are appealing to people in the villages to form political cells.
The power of social media cannot be underestimated even in the context of Nepal. People from Jajarkot, Taplejung, Okhaldhunga, Sarlahi, etc are responding positively to our outreach efforts. Our messages are also being disseminated through mainstream media. For example, Nepal’s radio network is extensive, reaching even the remotest part of the country.
How do you attract supporters and overcome the Nepali public’s cynicism that politics is a dirty game?
Sajha Party has already overcome that cynicism to some extent and lots of people have expressed their support to us. There are many well-intentioned, skilled and honest Nepalis who want to work towards a prosperous Nepal. We are providing a platform of cultured politics, which will gradually defeat the cynicism.
As a seasoned journalist, you have been well aware of the country’s problems for years. What took you so long to get into politics?
For many years, I have been writing about the need for Nepalis with some experience and exposure to get involved in politics. Since my return from London about eight years ago, I have been deeply and happily involved in philanthropic work.
But living here makes one realise how much politics has taken a toll on our personal lives, our society and our country. And while my charitable activities gave me a sense of satisfaction, I realised they were not enough to bring about drastic, national-level changes, and I strongly felt the need to get into politics.
The four pillars of your party are fine, but they do not constitute a political philosophy. Doesn’t a political party need to define itself in clear political terms?
Anyone with a heart will always be on the left of the political spectrum. Our ideology is participatory democracy and liberal welfare economy. Welfarism is at the heart of the Sajha Party. If we cannot address the concerns of the underprivileged and simply let the market run its natural course, the gulf between the rich and the poor will widen.
At the same time, we need national capital to develop the country, for which local industries have to be promoted and businesses encouraged. But we have to ensure that they are properly regulated and that the benefits trickle down to the needy. Our party will follow a model prevalent in the Scandinavian countries, which focus on growth and well as equitable distribution of wealth.
Let’s talk about contemporary politics. What’s your view on the new constitution?
Is there any constitution in the world that is not opposed by a certain section of society? Sajha Party’s position is to follow the constitution. Our country’s problem is that every time a constitution is written, there are attempts to violate it by the use of force. That won’t facilitate the institutionalisation of democracy and the rule of law.
Do you think the constitution requires an amendment?
We are not in Parliament at the moment. But there is huge dissatisfaction with the constitution among a significant section of the population. If an amendment is required, it has to be done through Parliament, not through the use of force.
What about the content of the amendment bill, particularly the most contentious one on changing federal delineation? Are you for or against it?
I think if your intentions are good, the number and the demarcation of provinces do not matter. How federal provinces are carved is not as important as the intentions of the politicians.
International players seem to have considerable interest and influence in Nepal. Has your party formulated a foreign policy?
Not only on foreign policy but also on many other issues of national importance, we have to come up with policy papers. We are yet to work on those papers. Our current focus is on building the party’s foundation and extending its reach nationally.
Still, don’t you have a preliminary idea of the kind of foreign policy Nepal should pursue?
Because of Nepal’s geo-political location, we will have to practise the diplomacy of goodwill rather than the diplomacy of vested interest. There is no point trying to play clever with our big neighbours. That regional and other powers have an interest and influence in Nepal has to be taken into account. But we have to keep in mind that when we keep our windows open, thieves are likely to enter.
What about thieves who break into your house even when the windows are closed?
That is possible. But in the case of Nepal, the problem is more with our politicians, who haven’t been able to handle foreign policy well. It is their behaviour that has invited foreign intervention and manipulation. Have our politicians behaved with self-respect, dignity and integrity? We have a difficult geo-political location, but if we know how to win the confidence of our two large and fast-growing neighbours, we will benefit as well.
It’s in the interest of neither India nor China to keep Nepal too unstable. No country likes too much instability in its neighbourhood.
How about some instability?
There is a theory that keeping a country slightly unstable will make it easier for bigger powers to maintain a hold on it. But I do not subscribe to this theory. International politics used to operate in a different way during the Cold War. But now even China and India are cooperating for mutual economic development.
I do not think keeping a small country like Nepal unstable would serve the interest of either India or China. It is our politicians who abuse nationalism and curse the neighbours to further their vested interests.