Of the countless issues about politics and governance, one question is worth pondering – is our nation already built, or is it in the process of building? Despite the hard effort, I have found no satisfactory answer to this plausible question yet. To unravel the issue's essence, we need to understand what is involved in the concept of the nation-state and its building.
In his Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson (1983) defines a nation-state as an imagined political community where even the members of the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them or even hear of them, yet in the mind of each person lives the image of their communion. The essence of the definition is that every citizen in a political territory has a close relationship with the other citizen, albeit an imagined one. If intimacy between the citizens of a nation does not prevail nationwide, the sense of communion ceases to exist, and the feeling of belongingness weakens. According to Anderson, a nation is an imagined community where all citizens share a common culture and work in unison irrespective of race, class, and gender.
The foundations for nation-building can be different from country to country, depending on the specific context. The first and most important foundation is the patriotic spirit. Nepal has a glorious history of valour in the fight against the British forces in colonial times. We are proud of the brave fight of Balabhadra Kunwar, who drove away the foreign enemies to defend the Nalapani fort in the Anglo-Nepal war. He is praised for his military skills and is revered as a national hero. We encounter no such wars between the nations in South Asia today. It is not likely to take place between the nations beyond. But the powerful nations as neocolonial powers are invading our indigenous cultures. We have adopted foreign cultures in many spheres of life – dress, food habits, language, and many others. Simple though it looks, this indirect invasion of our cultures by the West is alarming.
In recent years, our youths are not simply adopting foreign cultures while living at home but are fleeing to the West, attracted by the Western culture. It may be called somewhat natural for the youths. Still, the same is an example of the colonised attitude of the aged parents who would like to send their children to the West in the name of the search for good education and a lucrative job opportunity. The most astonishing thing is that the children of high-level politicians have a strong desire to leave their native countries. Even more surprising thing is that those politicians often teach the commoners about patriotism. This trend is undoubtedly ironic.
If we want to build a nation in a real sense, not simply talk about it without being serious, we must have a patriotic spirit in our hearts. We should love our soil and plant things that any outside force cannot uproot under any pretext. We should make our own earth green by planting seeds of grains and vegetables, fruits and flowers, and growing elixir as an antidote to poison. We should inculcate feelings of community and belongingness into the minds of our children, who can develop patriotic sentiments and beliefs. We must internalise the fact that no nation can be built without the involvement of youths in development activities. One of the most significant foundations of a nation is thus patriotism. We must end the situation that patriotism in the mouths of many has merely become a matter of lip service.
Another significant dimension in the process of nation-building is the public interest. All citizens of a country need to work in the public interest avoiding all sorts of self-interest. This is more of a matter of culture than of law, although many countries have made laws against the works that can be done by the officials of an authority that has been authorised to decide things and implement them. In many nations, however, there are instances of the usurpation of power to decide in the self-interest of the decision maker.
In our country, we are beginning to sense that many people tend to work for their own benefit but not in the general public's interest. Wherever we go, we find people who are dissatisfied with the government's performance. But deep down in their minds, they are disappointed not so much about the national interest as they are disgruntled with no chance of personal benefit. This situation is bad for nation-building. For this, working-class people should cultivate an attitude of responsibility, foreseeing their own future as well as of their children.
The next foundation for nation-building is credible leadership with whom all the citizens of the country have high respect. The leadership is credible when they act as they say. No matter how hard they try, they cannot regain the credibility they once lost for one reason or another. In many nations, the leaders have no credibility because they have lost people's trust in them. Our country still has leaders who have fought against autocracy and sacrificed their belongings or even lives for the sake of freedom and democracy. Yet they are being criticised by their opponents, blaming one thing or the other. The reasons might be many and various, but some of them are imbued with blasphemy of one kind or the other. The media also cover their stories to denounce them rather than preserve their integrity. In this sense, our leaders are beginning to lose their credibility. This can be an embarrassing situation.
The situation is not incorrigible, however. We can easily rectify the situation if we try to keep our word in our actions. It is better to maintain one's integrity than to spend their time and energy. As the saying goes, preventing a disease is better than curing a patient infected with it.
(The author is the chairman of Molung Foundation. email@example.com)