The state is not separated from the multitudes of society. It receives its nutrients, support, legitimacy and utility from society’s organic functions. The ensemble of state institutions responsive to societal concerns and inclined to empower the people fills the deep social fissures and curbs geopolitical manoeuvrings. It is deemed a predatory and democracy-weakening, not productive state. The role of State Affairs Committee of Nepali parliament is feebly institutionalised to oversee the causes of weakness of the apparatuses of state. The parliament seems to be only a symbol of democracy, like the courts, not a significant policy making institution. Institution building presumes the establishment and maintenance of dependable rules, procedures and structures where relevant policies are made and implemented to foster public and national interests.
The quest for legitimacy by Nepali government rests on performing higher duties and building an interface between the impersonal state apparatuses and society that address the needs, rights and demands of people. It is the basis of democratic welfare state envisioned by constitution. Yet, the mediocratisation of party leadership and unstable coalition politics have created an overload to stable governance. The networks of patrons and clients in party leadership of all hues have bred a syndicated regime, weakened the party system and posed difficulty in institutionalising and democratising party structures.
Ironically, there is poor boundary maintenance between social forces, political parties, the government, political system and the state. Party elites ramble covetously across all the state institutions turning them wilted and partisan. As a result, personalised authoritarianism existing in parties is dominating all the status apparatuses except the Nepal Army. It may be compatible with patrimonial state, a legacy of feudalism and centralised party system, not the self-reliance, impersonal, modern welfare one which naturally averts the subordination of state and society to external dependency on knowledge, policy, aid, investment and capital and labour market against historical free spirit of people for national independence.
Even the ebullient business, NGOs and civil society hardly constitute the input side of the state contributing to its capabilities. As a result, the yawning gap between traditional style of leadership and modern aspirations of Nepalis for democratic, development and peace dividends has generated tension, stress and conflict, not harnessing performance-based output legitimacy. The outcome of the by-elections of three constituencies indicates a barometer of people’s view of the three dominant parties - Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) and CPN- Maoist Centre constituted as the establishment without any sense of real alternatives of each other. The growing consciousness and maturity of Nepalis might turn the grisly veil of their exploding ego and alter the politics of free-ride liable to wane the state and the ability of society to support its apparatuses.
One can see how political classes became oversised leaving little resources to finance development from the tax and remittance of poor Nepalis and unlock entrepreneurial energy for production, trade, tourism and natural resources to beef up the state's economic base. The whole complex of the state apparatuses interacts with societal elements and it shapes collective national goals. Steering Articles of constitution as per the Directive Policies of the State is important for four reasons: bring the harmony of norms and facts, govern all the state and societal actors in the desired direction, achieve a modicum of stability, progress and social peace and keep geopolitical forces in a fair balance so that no single state is dominant to scuttle its aspiration for national self-determination, nationality, military enlistment and immigration control.
How can Nepali state assume effective and impersonal roles when all national institutions have become a recruiting base for the loyalists of top party leaders regardless of their meritocratic performance? How can it become a safety valve for the people and unite the whole nation when it is less embedded in the life-world? Whether Nepali state, seared intensely by democratic centralism of parties, not constitutionalism, parliamentarianism and decentralisation, arrest the drift away from erratic practices? The perpetuation of syndicated regime of all political parties sharing power without any semblance of legitimate opposition and checks and balances of power in legislative-executive-judiciary nexuses in no way hold the possibility to augment redistributive welfare state and keep the integrity of constitutional bodies.
Prithvi Narayan Shah, the founder of modern Nepal, underlined the need to protect social and cultural pluralism for nation building and deemed the richness of the people as power of the state. He did not reduce state power to caste, ethnic, market or rulers’ imperatives and set the guidelines as to how to defend Nepali state in a situation of precarious geopolitical position. To him, the state is constituted by the soft power consciousness and memory about Nepaliness expressed through spirituality, culture and language and hard power of security, economy, administration and institutions, not just violence-monopolising agency to cohere poly-structural societies. Even Jung Bahadur Rana respected the faith of people that associated them into groups and smartly asserted the independent identity of the nation. Yet he focused on law, bureaucracy, army and religion to build a state-society interface, though made no distinction of the private and public sphere to make Nepali state autonomous of courtiers.
The democratisation and nationalisation programme fostered by the post-Rana regime had begun the constitutional tradition of politics, yet the subordination of the state to un-institutionalised party politics has weakened its ability to control political instability. The introduction of monocratic Panchayat lent persistence to soft power and the reasons of state over the freedom of people to speak and organise. It, however, nourished the plebeians with public education, health, economy and culture without creating edifice of their participation which led its eventual downfall and the re-legitimisation of multiparty democracy. Yet, leaders' excessive optimism in neo-liberalism and market economy seeking to de-bureaucratise governance, privatise, deregulate and denationalise the national economy and globalise labour and capital markets had strangled the social role of the state and weakened its authority in society to create order and discipline.
The net results are suffocating agitations, societal revolts, multifarious conflicts and violent anti-regime warfare. It marked the retreat of the welfare state from society and later the restructuring of the state along federal, secular and republic drapes thus uncannily draining soft power and stirring tangles rather than easing Nepali people’s survival strategies. The ideal defining feature of citizens is the rights to property and freedom to choose representatives. Even a modern democratic state defends the property rights of citizens because it is a condition for their self-worth, freedom and autonomy in deciding matters of vital choice. Those dependent on others for basic necessities of life cannot make a shift from a private person to a loyal nation citizen.
In its social contract, Nepali constitution underlies ethics to balance several extremes of society in a legitimate order and reconcile individual freedom with the ability of the state to create security, stability and responsibilities to serve public good. The existence of free citizens of a constitutional state requires embracing inclusive polity, well performing government, responsible political parties rooted in the ideals of liberty, rights, equality, solidarity and justice. Nepali state, however, appears weak to arbitrate competing institutions, political parties and interest groups because it is heavily penetrated by them and thus unable to keep its autonomy in domestic affairs and hone sovereignty, acceptability and trust in foreign policy matters.
Democracy can survive only when the state has a lawful monopoly on power to subdue chaos. It can do so by harmonising the functions of security, discipline-maintaining and regulatory agencies of the administration and governance. The second is to raise revenue to self-finance and eliminate the toxic agents of the system, such as bribe, impunity, financial indiscipline and misplaced priorities away from investment of social surplus into production, exchange and circulation of economy to support the peoples wellbeing to get their loyalty to the state and finally abide by international norms, balance enlightened policy interests in the changing nature of global regimes and receive corresponding recognition.
Such a state can create rule of law and restrict leaders arbitrarily using it to weaken each other, public institutions and social classes while allowing the circulation of various generation and social classes of people into political power beyond elite strategy to stay in power permanently either by collusion, coalition or coercion. Nepali leadership of mainstream parties has possessed extraordinary cult figures but it muddles around a situation of stasis without improving the muscle of economy, education, health, infrastructures, connectivity, communication and leadership to achieve the goals set in the constitution and SDGs. Attentive people are questioning whether leaders have the moral basis to run the governance when they have neither dexterity, ability nor capacity to perform the tasks assigned in the constitution.
One serious row is seen in the Constitutional Council which appoints major constitutional posts. It has become a prisoner of indecision. The reason is it is not the government but the opposition CPN-UML which controls the majority of seats. Without sharing power and positions the government cannot move forward. As a result, the appointment of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has lingered for a long time. Most of its appointments are made on the basis of distribution of posts among the loyalists of key leaders of political parties. This patronage system has afflicted the impersonal performance of the state apparatuses and posed laxity in the enforcement of rule of law.
Nepali state’s power is convulsed with the partisanisation of its apparatuses, undying governmental instability and poor performance of its institutional apparatuses. Its ability to perform basic state functions is confiscated by non-state actors -- political parties, business, special interest groups and several collective bargaining associations and geopolitical determination of many of its policies. It thus appears weak to respond to the demands of people, local bodies, and various social classes and fulfil the human needs of the poor.
In this context, renewability and reprogrammability of party leaders, admin, security, disciplinary agencies and institutions of elite circulating, integrity and enlightenment and service delivery are important to transform their partisan and sectoral perspectives into inclusive and national ones. National stability can come only if national institutions uphold some virtues: professionalism, competency, integrity, esprit de corps and responsibility. It is possible if political leaders evolve national consensus on the constitutional rules of the game so that democracy becomes a win-win game, shoring up all conversations and boosts people’s self-esteem and dignity.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)