Role Of Informed Citizens In Democracy

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It was anticipated that the democratic elections held for the federal and provincial parliament during the last November 2022 would provide some sort of political stability and certainty in the country.  Contrary to the expectations, the poll outcome did herald to further pluralise and polarise the political dispensation in the country. The political situation in Nepal is again pushed in the state of flux. Political parties and their leaders are harbouring deep suspicion and flexing their muscles to outwit and outlast their opponents. 

The quick political turn characterised by new-found bonhomie made it possible to bring the CPN- UML and CPN -Maoist Centre closer to form the new coalition government leaving Nepal Congress – the largest party in the parliament at the political abeyance.  

This demonstrates that there are neither friends nor foes in the game of politicking.  As experienced and seen in this country, the only governing norm in the Nepali politics is one’s own crash interest and self-centered motivation. Political leaders who had been closer allies and comrade –in- arms until yesterday have turned principal enemies and antagonist today whereas the foes and critics have converted themselves  into friends and partners.

Who could have imagined that Rastriya Swatantra Party would secure nearly two dozen seats in the federal parliament and its leader Rabi Lamichhane could stake claim to secure larger and important pie in the new coalition government. 

New precedence

However, the Supreme Court decision on Rabi Lamichhane’s handed the other day on citizenship issue has rocked the coalition boat and the fate of the current composition in the government is dependent on how Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) reacts to the sudden turn of the events and its aftermath. It is very difficult to say about the stability and certitude of the present political equation as it may shift and reconfigure as time unfolds to respond to the new political developments and turmoil.

Undoubtedly, the court decision has set new direction and precedence. It has created an important precedent in the citizenship debate and nationality issue. The citizenship debate has in deed acquired larger sensitivity and occupied dominant space in Nepal because of, among others, the porous border between Nepal and India. 

Moreover, it has larger implications affecting the interests of the Nepali people working overseas in different capacities. The huge population of non-resident and immigrant Nepalis are working and settled in different countries of the world. The court decision will impact larger populace who are connected to both the domestic and international world oblivious of the legal provisions governing their citizenship status. Any way the judicial interpretation has given definitiveness on the imprecision of the legal provision governing the nationality in Nepal.   

The interesting spectacle in the episode of current politics of Nepal has been theatrics and spectacles of the massive processions and rallies organised against the court decision. It is reported that the people especially nubile youths and party functionaries attend and join in the rallies and processions at slight provocations going to the extent of paralysing the law and order in the country. This shows that young people have allowed themselves to be mobilised at the beck and call of the political parties as pliant and blind cadres without consideration to the merits of the case. 

This raises an important question on the democratic competence and awareness of the citizens in Nepal. The citizens are yet to be able to discriminate right from the wrong, rational from irrational and relevant from the irrelevant. This is not a good omen for democratic development in the country.  It is a fact that the democratic competence of the citizens marked by political and social citizenship can be cultivated and enhanced only when they are socialised through critical awareness acquired through democratic education. 

Indeed uniting democratic values with the educational process of the country for active and enlightened citizenship is not a new idea. Over the centuries ago, leading thinkers from the west like John Dewey, Margaret Mead to Paulo Freire, oriental thinkers like Radhakrsihnan,  Mahatma Gandhi and Shukra Raj Shashtri in Nepal have articulated the basic hypothesis that democracy needs to be introduced from the very beginning of school education. Democratic values and lessons of active and critical citizenship  need to be practiced both in the formal, informal and non-formal set up of learning so that citizens could distinguish from right to wrong and  irrational to irrational.

Rational argument

Democracy is a way of life where problems are solved through objective and rational argument, discussion, deliberation, persuasion and transaction of views instead of dictation, coercion, violence, distrust, conflict, demagoguery tactics and intimidating design. It is said that the introducing democracy in a particular country is easier but making it lasting and sustained through institutional development is difficult. For this to occur citizens not only need to imbibe into the values and notions of democracy but practice it in their day to day life.  All democracies evolve, develop and flourish with an informed and engaged citizenry that can look into the issues critically and objectively and express their views in an objective and independent manner.

As democratic institution building is the major agenda of Nepal, it is necessary that the citizens are taught and enabled to participate in the process of democracy building through expansion of formal and informal avenues for democracy education. Democracies cannot be defended in a context where voters consider themselves as subjects, blind party functionaries and pliant cadres not as aware and critical citizens.

It would be in order to quote John Dewey, the votary of democratic education who spelt out that the devotion of democracy to education is a familiar fact. A government resting upon popular suffrage cannot be successful unless those who govern and those who are governed are educated through critical thinking and awareness.

(The author is presently associated with Policy Research Institute (PRI) as a senior research fellow.)

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