Nepalis are excited by the thrill, suspense and speculation of national politics, developing an awareness of themselves, their place in history and calling for universal equality that cannot be relativised by their leaders. The governance, however, remains unsettling, lacking a robust institutional means of political stability and endurance. That no government has fulfilled its full tenure is not surprising. What is surprising is the frantic public mood. It finds no anchor to sail smoothly in the journey in the development ambition of personal and national life. One trend is definite: transition politics will continue to be combustible. Ending transition requires political will of leadership, resolution of problem residues and creation of new values and institutions to mitigate the future sources of conflict.
It necessitates nullifying the justification of unconstitutional moves through a collusion of powerful leaders to perpetuate the status quo without settling the backlog of national problems and envisioning new possibilities for life, liberty and equity through inclusive transformation. This means new politics has to radically break from the old politics of privilege, impunity, corruption and shameful acts like the newly surfaced one — converting Nepalis into fake Bhutanese refugees to illegally send them to the USA for the sake of accumulating huge money from them and turning the aspirants into stateless persons.
The exchange relationship at the top leadership of mainstream parties has silenced this issue for many years as they were governed by either shared interests, not democratic values of accountability and constitutional imperatives or fear of the collapse of the coalition government of fractious political parties. But this time the organised crime has become a matter of public attention beyond speculation of top leadership’s veiled sense of systemic threat to the newly legislated regime of federal, secular democratic republic and, therefore, issued their commitment not to influence police investigation of crime and all corruption cases.
Passion for change in the past arose from counter political elites. Now it is arising from the people at the grassroots level fired by their dashed hope and disgusting situation where top leaders coalesce, collude and despise each other for all evils masking the fear of transformational aspirations they themselves evoked in the minds of ordinary Nepalis. Nepali constitution’s high regard of citizens’ rights, recognition of their primacy, the sovereign subject and love for freedom made them an ardent believer of democracy. The sovereign ground of Nepalis’ rights establishes freedom, social justice and dignity as the basis for inclusive democracy but the simultaneous expansion of kleptocracy in every spheres of national life habitually undermined this spirit.
A broad mass of Nepalis is amenable to the anti-corruption and anti-human trafficking plea of the media, newly bubbled up civil society and political parties, stirring hope for better days ahead and evoking the dormant passion whirled up ad infinitum. They have the legitimate right to oppose unjust practices that do not help in reforming their desolate condition of existence. Reforming this human condition entailed their sociability for collective action. Nepalis at the grassroots level are looking for a certain amount of private autonomy, social mobility and competitiveness for innovation and social change. The sovereign as the product of general will must be perceived by democratic leaders as legitimate.
The structure of grassroots units has been downsised and most of them municipalised without adequate urban preconditions for services. It is, therefore, essential to lift up the burden on people and set a law-governed social order which balances constitutional incentives to their wellbeing, cultivate strong local leaders and enhance the capacity of Nepalis to pay tax to increase their autonomy for self-rule. New politics equally requires moral and social responsibility of leaders to their electorates and the general populace and revitalisation the economic basis of existence of the national state which has been deprived of its capacity to articulate, made anemic and driven to passivity.
The systematic erosion of the springs of checks and balance of power has marked continuous institutional attrition and the integrity of Nepali polity. It is vital to secure rule of law against the vicious nexus of politicians, bureaucracy and business pushing the primacy of finance over the agricultural and industrial production essential for the requirements of livelihood of people and reclaim the state for the protection of weak in general and ecological and social interests in particular for they can strap up the power of democracy to reshape, defend, guard and restore its muscle in accordance with diverse national needs, aspirations and priorities of Nepalis.
The existing paternalistic political culture of top leadership contradicts the constitutional provision of popular sovereignty which is inalienable, indivisible, irreducible and indissoluble. Popular sovereignty and state sovereignty are coterminous as the latter is based on the collective self-assertion of Nepalis residing in a well secured political community - the Nepali state. The self-correcting attitude of Nepali leadership can only liberate themselves from double-talk and foster civic maturity of people whereby they can acquire education, skill, ability and courage for self-reflection and connectivity for reasonable action. Obviously, democracy emancipates people from blind deference to authority, sets a well-ordered and just society based on critical civic consciousness and optimises state, business and civil collaboration.
Escaping from the vicious governmental and political instability is a major policy challenge in Nepal. Addressing this challenge is vital as the bottom of Nepali society is seething with cynicism and distrust of politicians and has shown a tendency to switch sides from the conventional parties to new parties and participating in agitation and demonstration. The parliament itself has exhibited a sort of platform for the extension of fractious party politics which only negotiated powerful interests not on the basis of values and merit of the case but indulged in power equation, calculation and political manipulation. Restoring the public morality of politicians and functional and moral education can partly purify politics.
Likewise, capturing the economy of scale through product specialisation, mobilisation of resources, livelihood guarantee and flourishing export-driven commerce can ensure the longevity of inclusive democracy. It can possibly separate the public from the private sphere so that no one is tempted to privatise the commonwealth of the nation for personal, family, partisan or clientalistic interests. The spectrum of poverty, joblessness and international migration of Nepalis haunt the nation’s democratic and economic future while globalisation of political economy where people have no control makes them vulnerable to many forces even if there are moral forces, global public and due diligence. The world order, however, unfolds new geopolitical trends and atrophy of democratic values sparking an interlinked nature of change.
Informed by modern means of communication and social media and exposure in various parts of the world, active Nepali citizens are endowed with the power of responsibility to the state of the nation and seeking freedom without the constraints of personalised political parties. To them, freedom amounts to making choice and the choice cannot be imposed from above and outside for they continuously negotiate with those agencies. Does this mean the end of speculative, grimy politics and the beginning of spiritual and moral renewal in Nepal’s grassroots society? Perhaps yes, as people at the grassroots level are raising many demands pertaining to their production, education, health and wellbeing and end of the malaises of Nepali society rooted in domestic violence, laxity of law execution and scarcity of public goods.
Media with public interests represent the most eloquent voice of grassroots people against the politicisation of crime and criminalisation of politics. Responsible media are searing the political culture of tribal or authoritarian consensus and entering into multiple territories with the notion of equal rights of citizens, justice and reciprocal respect to each other as a foundation of rule of law. Revitalisation of the nation’s humanistic heritage and native ideals associated with the “wellbeing of all,” seeks the unity of all species in the cosmic way of life and non-separation of nationality from humanity. Nepal’s heritage did not separate politics from the dharma of spirituality, an embedded morality for duty-based behaviour.
It adhered to the ideal of nirvana, without limping to cultural relativism like the current constitution has fallen into a trap of post-modern turmoil, identity politics and occasional utterances of class, market, ethnic and territorial fundamentalism and globalism that undermines national identity and resorts to panicked response to democratisation to realise the potential to create an egalitarian society. The nation requires a suitable social condition for the progressive localism where Nepalis can live together, develop mutual relationships and freely compete in commodity production to satisfy their basic needs, freedom and dignity.
Dignified membership of the political community, the Nepali state requires ownership of private property. Without this, they cannot enjoy their autonomy as citizens capable of self-rule and regulate the disembodied capital whose global flow and flight is squeezing the domestic labour market in favour of global labour market opportunities. The selfish quest to satisfy desires, power monopoly and arbitrary action do not create sufficient basis to construct a moral and constitutional order. A sheer calculation of self-interest does not promote a sense of mutual obligation and respect to each other’s self-transformation. Nepali politicians for long engineered consensus politics without any scope for viable opposition and manipulated all public relation industries to byzantine type of power game.
But now the grassroots voice against it is visibly loud, eloquent and boisterous, forcing leaders to take the perspective of people in any initiatives. This will definitely reform the governance scene so far infected by the imbroglios of citizenship, crime, corruption, exorbitant interest rate of loan sharks, economic downhill, migration, reckless exploitation of natural resources, foreign policy issues, cost of federalism, etc. This will help untangle the Gordian knot of lazy governance struggling for survival rather than becoming pro-active to solve the problems and address the local demand for public good. Democratisation of the internal life of political parties turns them into a live institution to bring the visibility of the bottom seething with discontent, not a moribund ahistorical machine politics.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)