I cast votes without being persuaded to. I vote even when no party or party cadre asks votes from me. Participating in an election is one of the many things that define my identity as a citizen. I do not change my convictions for a single event like this. I vote for someone out of a reasonable choice, as an informed citizen.
I am a political persona, not a politician. I am rather a political commoner, not really a cadre even if I might have borne the membership of a particular party. I came from somewhere as any informed commoner does and assumed an identity and a persona in the process. I have stayed somewhere because professional life does (or should) not move like a political fugitive.
The first generation Nepalese politicians were my grandpa’s age. I virtually belong to the grandson generation in the political sphere. I, therefore, keep quiet since grandsons are not supposed to romp about when fathers have the hold to everything. By fathers I mean the current lot of leading ‘politicians’. My father is their generation – born, brought up and educated in similar atmosphere as most of them. And as the first generation has gradually evaporated, my generation stands in waiting to hold the reins. But I spare the reins for the aspiring, while I am cool in the interstice. Life taught me how to switch from radicalism to minding my own businesses.
I am a commoner. A commoner I have decided to remain though my conscience sometimes tends to betray me into becoming cheeky. Yet, I try to live midway between being too loud and too low about current political affairs. I live sans any political aspirations, sans knowledge of the rules of sportsmanship in this field. But this does not mean that I have been too naïve and nonchalant about the winds and storms of my youthful days. I lived through the 30s and 40s of the Bikram era. That’s where I come from, and that means a lot for one who was born and brought up in an educated lower-class family.
There was a time when, by seeing my manners and hearing me speak or sing, people would say I was disciplined to be a leftist or a ‘progressive’. I cannot still explain in clear terms how demeanors reflected one’s ideological orientations then, and how they do now. I am at least sure being a progressive now does not mean the same as it would when I was growing up in the community of the ‘anti-nationals’ termed thus by the then Panchas. People attach it with aggression and opportunism now. In the time of the ‘antis’, when I was growing up hearing the annals of class-struggles in Nepal and abroad, it roughly signified discipline, determination and interpersonal dignity, in addition to confidentiality, progressivism and shared accomplishments. It told of impartiality, self-respect, tireless work and selfless service. I am afraid these words sound too big and bare now when every leftist or revolutionary bears rare lines of distinction from a rightist or reactionary.
For my personal inclinations in those days, which I had largely inherited from my father and his folks, it implied composing songs, writing poems, staging plays. This was to reveal the ‘injustices’ of the society and to make people aware of the roots of backwardness and poverty. So, from the many popular lyrics of the day I would much choose to sing, to the liking of my father and his comrades, “Everyone must die one day/ We will also die/ But when we die/ We will help people hold their heads high,” than “Kanchhi O Kanchhi/ Speak something at least/ And reveal your heart.” The likes of my parents, and the likes of me who came from the likes of my parents, believed life was always on the move. Villagers who were deprived of sufficient cash and crop wanted to be afoot for an outright ‘revolution. Lads of my circle inherited the same ‘ideology’ of mobility and commitment. We thought life was meaningless if it did not understand ‘oppressors’ and ‘oppression’. We read and listened to the eulogies of heroes who fought and died for the oppressed.
I learned how to be reasonably critical and rebellious, why to avoid and even confront exploitation, and when to tell truths and lies with good intentions. We had a different way of identifying the enemy class. There were rich and poor people in the village. Not wealth but the tendency of exploitation made one a feudal lord. Not difference of ideology but the act of crushing rightful voices characterized one as an enemy. We fought for justice off and on. We lost many times because the opponent was powerful, backed by the then ruling system. If individuals could win in the grassroots, revolution would either be delayed or impossible.
One type of revolution occurred in the spring of 1990. Panchayat, the ‘foe of democracy,’ was throttled for a time. For my limited orientation to the roots and results of the movement, I thought it had vanished forever and the revolution was complete. But later they said it had not died. It had not got a mortal blow. It had only got dizzied. After a while it came afresh, baptized with a couple of democratic nomenclatures, to survive in new camps and colors. We, the one-time half-baked ‘revolutionaries’ watched this spectacle silently.
In the spring of 1990, I saw many villages rise against Panchayat knowingly or unknowingly. Farmers and woodcutters hit both the villages and the cities. My brother and a dozen of his buddies went underground after arrest warrants. My father accelerated his anti-Panchayat rituals despite the nightly surveillance by the then Panchayati Kluxers. He made use of the traditional worships to meet people and communicate ‘progressive’ thoughts through verses, songs and dramas.
The change of 1990 brought hopes if not happiness. We had thought Panchayat was a barrier to the path to prosperity and democracy would do wonders in the backward villages. But life was all the same, with the same extent of hard work required for subsistence. Participation in the movement gave some popularity to some hardliners like my brother, but the world around did not change for the farmers and woodcutters. We came back to reality of everyday, searching for work and working hard as ever. We entrusted all our hopes to the heroes who had spent years in jails ‘for people’s sake’! We thought they knew how to respect these hopes. We who had lived away from jails in the luxury of poverty and injustice were to remain in oblivion till the next election.
The years of democracy confined young people in election-time campaigns and rare party meetings if they had posts. Like many youngsters I allowed myself to be guided by personal aspirations, naturally, than the aspirations of any political party. I saw I could trace my life’s path side by side with my faiths that there should be opportunities for work and livelihood and parties in power should ensure them. If education could bring change in my family, there it was as a clear option. I pursued straight away, and years passed. I have made my contributions in the name of the system as a citizen by casting vote irrespective of whether the persons I voted for could address general expectations for equal opportunities and respect of law and order.
I have always voted for one party simply because my family invested a lot of time and faith in it. Even when I grew more liberal and logical with education and gradually avoided any ideological brainwashing, I did not try to revisit my fixity to one party for the voting. Did I have enough time to deviate from earning for my family and pursuing my higher studies? I never blame my careerism, frankly. No leaders who had initially expected me to bear their flags and banners can blame me, either. May they first see their own humps and then curse my pimples. Once the deputy mayor of my Village Development Committee, a family friend to my father, told me that I could try for a political appointment by producing a recommendation from his party. The person I voted whom my father personally knew was the Finance Minister of a coalition government then. It was not a bad advice. Probably the recommendation would work and I would end up grabbing a temporary seat somewhere. But I thought it unnecessary. I responded, “Uncle, you must recommend it to someone who cannot find a job himself. I am confident I will not have to knock at a minister’s door to earn my two meals.”
I cannot measure and name the degree of my leftist attachment. It is unlike academic qualification. I feel I grew with it. I gave it a part of my life and faiths. If one defines my position in terms of activism I come nowhere because I did not want to. Many of my contemporaries do not come either. If someone blames me of giving nothing to the party I voted except one vote, I have a consolation of having nothing from it except a little faith that it could respect common people’s aspirations for better life. Neither did my father ask for any favors despite years of working for it, nor any of my siblings. When a lot of people swarmed towards ‘the burning fire’ during the post-insurgency days, I just watched and waited to see the number of wings incinerated by the heat of the time.
Where am I then? As I said earlier, I have become a political persona than a politician, a commoner than a cadre. I believe I come somewhere between stagnation and progression and live very close with the latter. I want to keep working to develop a society where every reasonable being achieves a reasonable share of the fruits of his or her hard work. I am satisfied I have taken a right path immune from political orthodoxy. I have seen many militant cadres turn commoners when they came between their growing children and graying parents. A person without political aspirations deserves more to remain an informed commoner.
My political consciousness becomes manifest when I see some people leaving a party to join another. I call them elopers. Elopers must be as exasperating as the lice that have suddenly travelled from loincloth to the forehead. I wonder how early the hosts know the itches. On my part, if I can remain who I am in one location and do not see how my life can change in the other, I am OK where I am.
Or I am nowhere and have no place to migrate. I bear the ‘hangover’ of my early days and shun the excesses. A brainwashed cadre can accuse me of being outlawed. I welcome the accusation. I cannot separate any ideology from trying to bear goodness. Ideology does not separate me from good people.
One of my ‘intellectual’ colleagues of the old times used to say that leftists are opportunists and they keep on making and switching camps. I see some truth in this labeling. But the claim can be extended to define any ‘ideologue’ whose mission is to continue to explore a cozier, safer destination all the time. But why only blame these migrants alone since most, including intellectuals and entrepreneurs, use party logos as ladders. I still see a few people around who went near the ‘burning fire’ either because UML or NC took action for their misdemeanors or they were eluded by a vision of secure space in the new camp which, many guess, is spared for the ‘educated’.
A naïve, childish thought at this point. Politicians – communists or democrats or royalists – should do politics for justice and general well-being if they claim to be politicians. But should they do conspiracy? Do they have to pull legs? Sometime following the political changes of 2006, when staffs of many organizations including KU were agitating for ‘rights’ and ‘privileges’, one of my senior colleagues advocated the applicability of the old adage, “Everything is fair in love and war.” He meant to support the agitators’ causes. I asked him what if ‘love’ and ‘war’ were the emotions that could easily be twisted or made to boomerang. But he contended that they could still be considered fair no matter how firm or flexible. This notion of fairness aside, I believe that if a lie is made a part of conspiracy, it has to beget more lies to get validity. If truth is a part, it has to come out sooner or later as it cannot adapt to conspiracy. I believe this applies in politics at large.
The advocates of unquestioned fairness in political competition disrespect the rules of war if their advocacy itself assumes the form of confrontation. How can a fighter, in his good state of mind and dignity, linger in the lost territory bemoaning for justice? Victors do not (say need not) do justice to the vanquished. This is the universal rule of war. I do not empathize with the losers if they disrespect the war of dignity. Even a commoner, a plain human being, does not. If fighting takes the form of attacking from under a quicksand while the enemy lurks in a rocky fortress, the only pleasure of harming comes from seeing the other side sprinkled with a few droplets of mud. A commoner does not pick unholy quarrels. But once he does, he accepts the consequences.
I cannot bear many colors like the political chameleons of the day. A commoner cannot. A teacher cannot. Neutrality is fairness. A fair teacher accords respect and grace towards his profession. Though my upbringing very often demands loyalty towards certain political ideology, my being a teacher keeps me from it. I am happy about it.
One does not need a political line to do good things. It suffices to be a political persona and to keep performing a citizen’s duties. One does not need to be a militant cadre to make differences. What works is sensibility, the power to make right decisions and act upon right things. A commoner does not lack this power just by choosing to remain a commoner. The world does not go only with big names. I choose to remain a commoner.
[From Midlife Montage]