The challenges of the new millennium

Prime Minister of Nepal Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, of the Nepali Congress Party, reflects on the tasks which his new government faces

Issue 2, Volume 48, 1999

The Nepali Congress Party of Nepal, a party that strongly believes in and adheres to the principles of democratic socialism, has been mandated by the people to form the new government. In the recently concluded general elections, the third since the restoration of multiparty democracy in Nepal, the people returned the Nepali Congress to parliament with a comfortable majority.

During the elections, the Nepali Congress went to the people for their mandate with as its main electoral issues the protection of Nepal's hard-won democracy, political stability, drastic socio-economic change and all-round development of the people and nation.

The fact that the Nepali Congress has been returned to parliament with a comfortable working majority amply proves that the people, as in the past, have placed their hope, faith and trust in this, the oldest democratic institution in Nepal. The Nepali Congress is the only political party which played a crucial role in ushering in democracy twice in Nepal. Additionally, it also proves that the people, once again, have given the Nepali Congress Party the opportunity to form a single-party government so that the policies set out in the election manifesto can be put into action.

Now that the Nepali Congress is steering the helm of state affairs in Nepal, the stupendous task of fulfilling its promises has devolved upon its shoulders. The responsibilities are, to say the least, indeed stupendous. On the other hand, the means are always limited. To add to this the Government, now that it is a single-party government, has the additional responsibility for effectively responding to the inordinately high expectations among the people.

It may be pertinent to recall here that prior to the formation of this government the people witnessed a minority government and four coalition governments running the country's affairs. This unfortunate experimental phase was brought about by the fractured nature of the mandate given by the people to the political parties in the wake of the second general elections after the restoration of multiparty democracy in the country. This fractured mandate, translated in parliamentary configuration, saw one minority and four coalition governments succeeding each other in quick succession. While one coalition government after another tried to manage the competing wishes of the people with the limited resources at hand, the unfulfilled expectations of the people inexorably burgeoned. Although the snowballing of the people's unfulfilled expectations and hopes are to be an expected phenomenon in any poor yet democratic country while it is passing through an unstable phase, this majority government is now faced with the task of fulfilling them.

In other words, the challenges before the Government are, as far as translating its promises into concrete deeds is concerned, not only Herculean in nature and scope, but also fraught with many obstacles. Needless to point out, these very obstacles in the path of the Government are the offshoots of the anomalies that crept into all spheres of Nepalese life during the politically unstable period. These anomalies range from political instability to stagnant economic development with others like corruption, unemployment, environmental degradation and sporadic violent activities by some misguided insurgents.

Now the Government, perceiving all such anomalies as challenges that should and must be faced head on, has already charted out appropriate strategies to solve, or ameliorate, the problems thrown up during the time of political instability.

Foremost among them is the challenge of bringing about political stability in the country. For, in the absence of political stability, other aberrations are likely to crop up in the political firmament, thereby vitiating the new dispensation's democratic norms, practices and values. The Government has already initiated necessary steps to bring about inter-party dialogue and discussion within and outside the parliament so that a broad consensus can be reached in all affairs pertaining to national issues, such as, among others, economic development, harnessing the nation's vast water resources, local development legislation and activities, the law and order situation, the devolution of power to the local bodies and environmental degradation. More importantly, these measures are envisaged to bring about the much-needed rapport among the various political parties which in a multiparty democratic dispensation like Nepal's are the main players in the strong and healthy development of democratic norms, values and practices. For, unless there is political stability at the centre, the resultant discord and in-fighting among the political parties as they jostle for power could lead to the dissipation of the democratic institutions, values and norms. All these were paid for dearly by the sweat, tears and blood of the innumerable fighters for democracy who, despite the harsh and repressive laws imposed on them by the former administration, kept alive their struggle for over three decades.

It is heartening to note that the steps initiated by the Nepali Congress Government to bring about a congenial atmosphere to put political activities on an even keel are bearing the desired results. While people no longer gripe and worry over the current political situation, the political parties, in the wake of the people's recent mandate to the Nepali Congress Party, seem to have more or less reconciled themselves to their respective roles, forwarding some constructive suggestions, especially during the sessions of the parliament. Yet another is that the people's confidence in the ability of this Government to translate its promises into tangible results has risen considerably. Also, the stability brought about by the Government in the political sphere has percolated down to the grassroots in the form of more local development activities taking place. It is of great interest to note that the economy, which had more or less stagnated, is showing positive signs of picking up. This, in more ways than one, speaks voluminously of the Government's ability to re-inspire the industrialists' and investors' confidence in the management of the economy. What can safely be predicted is that as it comes up with more and more liberal policies in the economic sector, the economy, through the infusion of investments from home and abroad, will not only pick up but also grow in strength and volume. By doing so, other problems associated with a moribund economy and development status like unemployment, poverty and illiteracy, among others, will gradually be solved and addressed. Yet another anomaly that has been raising its ugly Hydra-like head amidst the people and in practically all spheres of national life is corruption. It is not that corruption was not there before. It was very much there - but in a more subdued and less virulent form. But just like the other anomalies mentioned above, corruption became more rampant during the time of political instability.

All this, much to the chagrin of other political leaders and people alike, began to have a negative impact on the general people who, in a democratic state, invariably look up to the leaders to set the right path and conduct for the rest to follow. With the installation of the Nepali Congress majority Government, hopefully all this will be an aberration of the past. As the prime minister, my prime concern is to eradicate corruption from the social and political life of the nation.

In order to do this, the Government has come up with a series of appropriate measures that are aimed at permeating all strata of Nepalese society. Not only have the ministers and high government officials been strictly warned that they will be persecuted under existing laws if they are found wanting in their conduct, but also measures have already been initiated to ferret out ill-gotten gains of highly placed official and personalities. Likewise moves to coordinate the activities of law and order enforcement agencies that look into anti-corruption cases, bringing them under one umbrella, are also afoot. Similarly, the commission that looks into the abuse of power and high offices has been strengthened by enacting appropriate by-laws. That these anti-corruption measures are having a telling impact on this crippling malaise can be vouchsafed by the mass media, particularly the press, as there is less and less news of corruption indulged in by high government officials and such people nowadays.

Expediting development, particularly in the social and economic spheres, has been the foremost aim of the Nepali Congress Party since its inception over five decades ago. Until, and unless, development, especially in the economic front, takes place to the desired extent, the people, the majority of whom live in rural areas amidst abject deprivation, will continue to be mired in poverty. This same malaise, poverty, has been identified as a ready breeding ground for many an anomaly like corruption, socially deviant acts and actions, and worse still, even acts against society. I am of the firm view that unless and until poverty is banished, corruption and corrupt practices will continue to take place in all walks of life.

As such, if corruption, an offshoot of poverty, is to be combated in all its nefarious ramifications, then development endeavours have to be pursued not only with determination, but also be expedited and accelerated. For this, the bureaucracy, the executing arm of the government's decisions and policies, needs to be streamlined and stabilised. Since day one, the Government has endeavoured to infuse fresh enthusiasm and drive into the more or less demoralised bureaucracy and bureaucrats by coming up with a host of initiatives, the promotion of top officials on no other basis but purely merit and competency being just one. Likewise, while the recommendations by a commission to look into the administration are being implemented, the Government is exploring other avenues to boost the bureaucracy's performance.

As an added aid to boost development works, the Government is leaving no opportunities untouched in expediting the process devolving decision making power to the local bodies so that the people can truly identify themselves with the development initiatives being launched for their benefit.

Expectations are indeed high among the people over the Nepali Congress-led Government's ability to bring about all-round development in the country so that their hopes for better amenities will be speedily fulfilled. At the same time, correcting those anomalies that surfaced during the politically unstable period so that these will be things of the past.

The Nepali Congress is the party in which the people have placed their hopes, expectations, faith and trust to lead the nation into the new millennium.

The Nepali Congress, throughout its chequered and memorable history, has always been a party that did all it could to fulfil people's expectations. The coming years will also see the Nepali Congress living up to its democratic socialist ideals.

As one of the founders of the Nepali Congress Party, I have a long cherished dream to change the face of Nepal. Within this three year' period, I wish to turn it into the gem of South Asia, where incomes of the people go up considerably, where more and more jobs are created and education is energised.

I am hopeful that I will be instrumental in changing the face of the country, a major objective of the Nepali Congress party since its inception.



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