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Looking at Political Issues from Democratic Socialist Perspective

Organised by Centre for Consolidation of Democracy (CCD)

24 December 2010

Ritu Raj Subedi
Associate Editor
The Rising Nepal

Social democracy is emerging as a consensus ideology among the Nepalese political parties. Capitalism could never come out of its boom-bust cycle while the classical form of communism has lost its relevance. The former lacked social justice and equitable distribution of national income and latter suffers from democratic deficit. In that sense, social democracy could be an ideal path. It is free from the shortcomings of both. And the Nepalese parties - either left or democrat- have their ideological root in social democracy that has cherished goals of justice, freedom, equality and solidarity.

Nepali Congress, the oldest democratic party, has officially assumed socialism though it has deviated from it in crucial mode. The Communist Parties of Nepal - big and small- have fought for democracy for several times although non-Left forces questioned their democratic credential time to time. If they constantly engage on political debate, they can churn out common socio-political programmes based on broader framework of social democracy as the nation is passing through rapid political transformations.

With the view of advancing political engagement, Central for Consolidation of Democracy (CCD) in collaboration with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Nepal, invited leader-cum intellectuals representing the three major parties - UCPN-Maoist, NC and CPN-UML at a seminar 'Debate on Contemporary Political Issues: Democratic Socialist Perspective,' in Lalitpur on December 24. The meet offered a rare opportunity for the participants to listen the viewpoints of the different speakers on the same theme. UCPN-Maoist leader Devendra Poudel 'Sunil', CPN-UML's Dr. Bijaya Kumar Poudel and NC's Dr. Yagya Adhikari presented their working papers. Despite their hostile position in the national politics, they tried to apply socialist approach in defining the political change and process in the country.

Inaugural Session

CCD chairman and vice-chairman of National Planning Commission Dr. Jagadish Chandra Pokharel said that the seminar aimed at building common agenda during transition.

"We want that all sides emerge winner in post conflict society. For this, consensus and collaboration is only path that we should follow," said Dr. Pokharel.

He said that many nations had witnessed economic progress after emerging from conflict but Nepal could not do so. "We should identify as to why we failed to seize economic opportunity."

Dev Raj Dahal, head of FES-Nepal, said that where there was massive poverty; democracy remained weak and where the middle class was weak, instability continued to surface.

"In Nepal, the concerns of a huge segment of population have not been addressed. This class is in-between," said Dahal, who is also a political scientist.

He called for ensuring inter-generational, social and gender justices but the nation is lacking the governance system to deliver justice to them.

Highlighting the principles of FES, he noted that it is a German political foundation that promotes freedom, social justice, solidarity and peace.

Drawing the differences among democratic socialism, liberalism and conservative ideology, he said that social democracy stresses on social justice, liberalism on freedom and conservative focused on system.

Professor Dr. Lok Raj Baral said that democracy alone was not enough.

"There must be social justice. However, governance system and order are more important for successfully executing the social and economic programmers," he added.

Dr. Baral said that the political leaders should develop culture of consensus and work for social justice.

CCD vice-chairman Dr. Yagya Adhikari said that the democratic socialism could be the common path of three major parties.

Stating that NC deviated from socialism under the whim of globalization and market economy, Dr. Adhikari said that if the leftist forces gave up their dogmatic views of the past, an excellent opportunity had come before them to guide the nation towards democratic socialism.

CCD director Sumit Sharma said that there was the need to define socialism through political, social and economic aspects.

Stressing on consensus to bring about radical changes in the country, he urged the left forces to pursue democratic socialism.

First Session

Professor Baral chaired the first session.

UCPN-Maoist politburo member Devendra Poudel 'Sunil,' presenting his working paper 'Political Change in Nepal and Selection of Social Justice,' tried to sum up the political changes spanning from 1950 to the overthrowing of monarchy in 2008.

Sunil interpreted the political developments from the Maoist perspective, which the participants, mostly NC sympathizers, found difficult to reconcile.

Nonetheless, the idea of socialism, democracy and social justice offered a meeting point between the speaker and the participants.

The Maoist leader said basically, there are two types of socialisms - evolutionary and scientific.

"Non-Marxists have generally adopted evolutionary socialism while the Marxists assumed scientific or revolutionary socialism. In order to ensure social justice, the nature of state should minimum be socialist-oriented," he added.

"In our context," he said, "social justice meant to end the economic, social, religious, cultural, linguistic, caste-based, gender-based and region-based oppressions."

Sunil said that goods and services could be distributed fairly in the society if the rule of law and pro-people concepts of social justice were implemented. "This will also bring an end to social and economic inequalities, and establish cordial and collaborative relations in the society."

He said that during transition 'justice' had been confined to money and discrimination between dalit and non-dalit had not come over.

The Maoist leader noted that although the political parties had differences over the form of governance in the new statute, they could come together to empower people, whose control on and surveillance of the state was essential to make the state accountable to the people.

Social Democracy, a gradual process

Commenting his paper, sociologist Dr. Chaitanya Mishra said that it stressed on realising the concept of social justice along with constitution and peace building processes.

"It is necessary to link social justice with the political transformation that the country is passing through," said Dr. Mishra.

He, however, offered his own insights on the country's left and social democratic movement instead of making elaborative comments on Sunil's dissertation.

Dishing out his thought-provoking views, he said that the left movement has swept the nation and one must be left if s/he fights for the cause of social justice. "One can't be social democratic until s/he becomes a left."

"Social democracy," he defines," is a way of carrying out class struggle within the system."

He said that social democracy could not be established overnight through revolution.
"It is a gradual process and may take even two or three generations for it to take root in the society."

Stating that ultra-nationalism would be detrimental to the small nation like Nepal characterized by multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic groups, the democratic republic that the nation had been ushered in had given the birth to citizen.

Dr. Mishra pinned his hope on new generation, which he said, was self-motivated and self-reliant, which had capacity to sustain the capitalistic production relation.

"It enjoys longevity of life, is well informed and well-equipped."

He said that the Nepalese were coming out of agriculture and shifting towards the city.

Dr. Mishra said that Nepal had witnessed the rise of capitalism whose mode of production was revolutionary and better than feudalism. "It holds potential to ensure social justice."

He said that an unprecedented opportunity had come before the nation for economic growth as it was under pressure from the two big neighbours with their rising prosperity.

Comments from the floor

Some participants criticized Sunil saying his paper undermined the glorious history of Nepal. They also expressed their reservation over the Maoists' paradoxical position: on one hand, they recognize multi-party democracy but on the other, they refused to mention pluralism in the new statute.

"Many of us have faulty approach to see the Nepalese history. They look down the acts of Prithvi Narayan Shah, unifier of Nepal. The similar figures in Europe and elsewhere are greatly honoured," Peshal Niraula said and added that unification meant the expansion of territory.

Stating that the political leaders needed to revisit history, Niraula urged all to respect the icons of Nepalese history. He also argued to change the mindset to evaluate Jung Bahadur and Mahendra.

Bishwo Hari Koirala said that Sunil's Poudel undermined the role of NC in 1950 revolution.

A student noted that the Maoists did not recognize pluralism although they accepted multiparty democracy.

Lal Babu Yadav said that the state had legitimate rights on collecting taxes but some non-state elements had also raised taxes on their own.

Stating that democracy should be based on ideology, not on biology, he noted that there was tendency of giving up the integrity of the state and adopting the regionalism.

He also suggested for framing a short and smart statute based on consensus as its deadline is coming closer.

Bharat Raj Poudel said that Sunil's paper lacked clarity on achieving social justice.

He also accused the Maoist leader of deflating Hindu religion.

"Hindu barnashram system, which calls for happiness of all, has not come to an end," he added.

Mrigendra Karki said that the seminar kept mum on how to deliver justice to dalits, madhesis and women. "It is concentrated to a limited people of Kathmandu. The organizer needs to devise a methodology to ensure justice for the disadvantaged groups."

Babu Ram Shrestha said that the final destination of democratic socialism and social democracy was the same, and the experts should find common ground so that both streams of ideology operated side by side.

Ananda Santoshi Rai asked as to how social democracy could be applied in the Nepalese context.

One participant contradicted with the view of Mishra that one could not be social democrat without being a left.

He also collided with Mishra idea that Nepalese youths had become stronger.

"The youths have been deprived of opportunities provided by the state and are weak," he claimed.

Yuva Raj Pandey said that the Maoists were trying to carve out federalism based on ethnicity, which he said would generate conflict instead of harmony.

Lawyer Dinesh Tripathy said that without loktantra and press freedom, social democracy could not function.

He was of the view that the market dynamism and selective intervention of the state needed to be recognized.

Replies to the Queries

In his response, Sunil said that Hindu barnashram (caste-based) system meted out injustice to dalits, women and Madhesis.

The idea of prerogative has been adopted to bring the backward communities into the mainstream of development.

"There should be equal distribution of faculties provided by the state," he added.

He called for respecting the views of each other. "If we put the nation and the people at the centre, every problem could be solved. The political parties can find common points on building school, road, and hospital," he added.

He also pointed out the need to be free from individualism and consumerism.

Mishra reiterated that the youth generation had become strong. "Their departure to foreign land in search of job is a rational response to rising capitalism."

He also invoked dialecticism of Marx to interpret the different stages of social and political developments.

"Every thing has its beginning and end. Like other things, capitalism will also perish one day."

Second Session

CCD vice-chairman Dr. Yagya Adhikari and UML leader Dr. Bijay Kumar Poudel presented their working papers in the second session of the seminar chaired by CCD executive member Ganesh Adhikari.

TU professor Dr. Upendra Koirala and economist Dr. Narayan Narasingha Khatri commented on their papers respectively.

Dr. Adhrikari's paper entitled 'The Debate on Constitution Building and Relevance of Social Democracy' offers a conceptual framework to social democracy and highlight the balance role of state and market to realise the elements of social democracy - justice, freedom, equality and solidarity.

He dwelt on social democracy movement at length and calls to see it in relativity of time and social context.

According to him, onslaught of globalization has added new challenges to the concept of social democracy, which he defines 'as a philosophy of positive revolt' that aims at rooting out massive inequality, bondage and deprivations.

Loktantra, respect of diversity and equal participation of the people, vibrant and active state, equal and just distribution of property and power, and restructuring the traditional state, decentralization and social security are the major constituents of social democracy, writes Dr. Adhikari.

In his concluding statement, he stressed on diverting capital into rural areas, modernizing agriculture, making development project village oriented, lessening the pressure of population, setting up labour-intensive industries in rural areas, protecting national industries, motivating the foreign investors for social responsibility, generating employment and skill for the marginalized people, and restructuring the state for poverty alleviation to maintain coordination and cooperation between globalization and social democracy.

"There is the need of launching a meaningful debate on social democracy in order to frame a loktantrik statute and democratize the state, government and the society," he noted.

He lashed out at the politicians saying that they have indulged in power politics and failed to spare time to engage in ideological debate on socialism and democracy.

Commenting on his paper, Dr. Koirala said that the paper had shown that intellectuals should be above any ism.

He said that the writer portrayed the contemporary political situation with pessimistic note.

"It is a fusion of Marxism and democratic socialism. It attempts to solve the socio-economic problems by combining parliamentary system with the elements of Marxism but failed to highlight the positive sides of communist revolutions of the past," he added.

Dr. Koirala said that it would have been better if he had candidly mentioned as to why the NC-led government privatized the public enterprises that were running on profit.

He said that the paper could have been finer provided it outlined the nature of government and federalism in the new statute.

"Nonetheless, it offers space for finding a common ideological ground among the three major parties - NC, UML and the Maoist," he added.

Dr. Poudel, in his paper 'CPN-UML's Views in the Context of Current Political Deadlock,' makes an anatomy of capitalism and holds strong conviction that socialism is inevitable.

Analyzing the nature of capitalism, he said, "The collectivization of production and privatization of distribution are the essence as well as inherent contradiction of capitalism. The privatization of profits and socialization of the cost is the basis of capitalism for its survival."

The blind yet endless pursuit of capitalism for more and more profit has led to excessive depletion of natural resources, he said. He pleaded to restore collective ownership of people on the means and resources of production to check ecological degradation and existential crisis of human beings.

He claimed that the current stalemate had arisen owing to two reasons: The vast gap between the ambition and ground reality of non-Maoist forces, and the failure of the Maoists to abide by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

"The NC and UNL did not take much lesson from the past's dirty game of politics even after the entering into the republican se-up. The parties' decision to go for majority system from the consensus was the main factor behind the current impasse. During the transition, it is only through consensus system that loktantra could be consolidated and stability gained," said Poudel.

He said that there was the need of forging minimum consensus among the three major parties for durable peace and statute writing.

The NC's status quoist attitude and the Maoists' anarchist activities are the root causes of the present stalemate, claimed the UML leader.

"However, this deadlock is of temporary nature. Democracy and socialism are in the blood of the Nepalese people. They want to see the political parties coming closer. The parties have no any other alternative but to follow the path of consensus to end impasse and conclude the peace process."

Commenting on the paper, Dr. Narayan Narsingh Khatri said that although the paper was of normative kind, it wonderfully depicted the characteristic of capitalism.

Dr. Khatri agreed with the writer that human society always favoured equality and that profits of capitalists should be also socialized.

The state should act as a referee and generate self-employment for the needy people, he said

"There should be proper distribution means of production. At the same time, the government should promote private sector for the growth of their entrepreneurships," he added.

Dr. Khatri put emphasis on the political culture of consensus to realise social justice.

Comments from the Floor

Many of the participants questioned the neutral stance of the UML, which they said, was the crux of the political deadlock arisen from the failure of parliament to choose the new prime minister.

Dr. Govinda Tumbahamphe asked the ways to address the problems of ethnic people.

He said that UML's neutralism created the PM-lessness for long period instead of solving the trade-off.

Pradeep Sharma said the Maoists broke the consensus politics.

Bishnu Hari Nepal opined that democracy meant a system in which majority ruled and the minority sit in opposition.

"There could not be forced consensus, which the UML is calling for," he added.

Kanta Rijal said she expected that the seminar would focus on democratic socialism from the Nepalese perspective and chalk out modality that suited the country but sadly, this was not the agenda of the programme.

Bhawak Raj Neupane said that many tenets of Marxism did not apply to Nepal, so, there was the need to identity the problems and try to solve them through the context-based knowledge.

Dr. Mrigendra Karki noted that the paper was normative and failed to touch the ground reality.
Peshal Niraula said that democratic socialism needed to be interpreted based on the country's socio-ethnic characteristics.

Jeeb Raj Kharel argued that the Maoist anarchism and the UML's double standard led to the present crisis.

In their response, the paper presenters said that the programme was purely ideological debate on the matter and, therefore, it was nothing to do with the programmes of social democracy.

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