What is the prime nature of political dynamics in Nepal? What are the underlying interests and strategies of various actors? Which interests are useful for political consensus and execution of peace accord and Constitution of Nepal? And which devices are appropriate for sustainable peace? Nepal’s prime political dynamics is shaped by the triple-strategy of political polarisation, power-sharing and competition by the components of political establishment and those outside it aspiring to come to power, complex collage of factional and generational fights in the mainstream parties, the twirl of new geopolitics and smouldering resistance against it where attentive public is seeking to tune with the sounding bell of non-alignment.
The persistence of transitional politics is irrational because it belongs to pre-democratic period of Nepal’s history and is incompatible with the modern aspiration for human rights, democracy and justice. What distinguishes civil coexistence from the state of nature is the growth of norms, education, culture and civilisation. They nurture more cooperation in the hope of sharing mutual interests and avert the floating of uncanny political mood. When national political society, regional order and global systems face contestation, it is by no means easy to convert vicious political dynamics spiralling into the irresolution of problems into virtuous cycles of durable settlement in the nation enabling diverse Nepalis to live under the same political sovereignty, subdue anarchy, satisfy essential needs and build social cohesion and legitimate public order.
These interests are inseparably bound to the drain of conflict out of its vitality and steer politics to the exigency of a peaceable milieu articulated by the constitution. Conflicts are very much like human diseases. Their mitigation is implicit in the use of reason through a chain of diagnosis, analysis, foresight and prescription of remedy. Political conflicts, then, can be solved prudently and with finality, once the right modus operandi is applied like the use of right medicine. Nepali leaders need to synthesise the diversity in methods which use conflict either as a bargaining leverage for power, create choice for subsidiary identity projection, power monopoly, or impunity, etc. and averse to optimal solution based on common ground.
Populists do not favour the optimisation of partisan interest. Those driven by primitive ego, arrogance, error of judgment and greed only stoke a fear of each other and provide less incentive for the people to seize the fading ecological, social, economic and political framework condition. Populist politics, like re-distributional one, is emotional in tone, equalising in appeal and gainful for the dispossessed. But there are constitutional constraints against excessive taxation of the wealthy to create a redistributive regime. Democracy provides property rights to individuals. It is the source of their freedom and dignity.
The signing of peace accord in Nepal has limited direct conflict but its causes and residues remain as the prospect of transitional justice lingers. The ideal bases of conflict mitigation are: leaders are obliged to think they mean the same thing by the same vocabulary and terms underlining the peace accord and constitution, they need to deem themselves sensibly accountable to their promises, stumble on no new cause to deviate from freedom, truth, justice, tranquillity, etc. they have mutually agreed to attain durable settlement encouraging the economy of peace — provision, production and exchange of goods to add social wealth for livelihood. Fair trade dejects the upswing of predation, bribery, fraud and smuggling.
Escalation of distrust among the top leaders only destroys the connectors of society and the public order, an order that creates spaces for all Nepalis to coexist, engage in productive exchange of ideas, goods and services, communicate to build understanding and cooperation and organise collective action for the resolution of meta problems. Violent conflicts of various scales in Nepal have punished the civility of its society and imposed costs for the poor caught in hierarchy, structural injustice and wretched survival. Huge exodus of Nepali youth en masse to global labour markets stirs up a semblance of hope to escape this condition. But this leaves sobbing social and economic costs for the self and family members thus depriving the nation of youthful zeal to democratise politics, spur the stellar performance of the circular economy and accelerate social modernisation.
Nepal’s classical treatises prefer the art of peace in an inter-subjective frame beyond disciplinary boxes and cross-spherical insight, not reductionist pothole as it requires lifting the leaders, scholars and people to full perspective. When peace is at stake, the rationalist conception of politics based on leaders’ self–interest does not match with the needs of the majority of Nepalis because power is pitted against power for survival, monopoly, domination and identity differentiation, not national unity and connecting Nepalis on the basis of sociability and human values. In such a political match, the democratic choice for Nepali leaders is to combine the particular interest of each political actor for power with the general interests of society for truth, justice and reconciliation.
Corruption of particular interest dents the cardinal ethos of politics to discover common ground and achieve common good. In this context, the attentive public has to offer realistic views for Nepali leaders enabling them to mediate various approaches for the transformation of structural injustice and reap cooperative outcomes. Transformation of multi-causality of conflict in Nepal — direct, structural, perceptual and latent -- requires the constellation of multi-step and multi-track approaches. Elevation of conversation across each track about the issues and moderation of their expectations are vital for confidence building. Nepal needs several worthy initiatives to radiate a ripple of hope for people to improve their lot beyond the toxic political culture of conformism and feeling of revenge.
First, conflict resolution requires peaceful transformation of the conflict causes so that its future sources are addressed now and society bounds back to normal life of what Buddha said do-no-harm which is favourable for the economy of peace. Peace researchers can highlight the elements of social causation in the public sphere for informed debate for the minimisation of polarisation that paralyses political action. Second, conflict resolution requires the realisation of basic human needs. Basic needs are a non-negotiable issue; therefore, it is the responsibility of democratic government to realise them while other actors of society such as political parties, market institutions and civil society can add contribution to this. Nepal’s conflicts basically arose out of a crisis in reformist politics to steer to the constitutional path and realise its policies under the spirit of constitutionalism.
Third, conflict resolution becomes easy if Nepali leaders choose political association according to constitutional affinities thereby reassuring the priority over the reasons of state, rather than exclusive partisan lust, threat of insurgency, crowd demonstration, etc. to perpetuate the status quo. The state is a political community and, therefore, restoration of its raison d’etre facilitates the activation of the political process in normal path. Fourth, conflict resolution needs to accompany periodic reform of party politics and administration. Timely reform of governing institutions to fit with the zeitgeist makes conflict unnecessary. Governance reform must embody an element of trust building between civil and military relations so that national security and democracy can go together and transitional justice does not face the dilemma of justice versus peace.
This is important to establish the authority of the state institutions in society to enforce constitutional rules and manage the nation’s delicate geopolitics which is risking the polarisation of Nepali parties, media, civil society and the general public into multiple directions. Fifth, sustainable political order can be built only under a framework of social justice. Extension of social justice corresponds with the expansion of peace throughout the society. Public order is public good. Leaders in the government and multihued opposition have special responsibility to establish a balance between order and justice so that diverse Nepalis begin to cooperate out of their instinct, out of their interest, out of public morality and out of necessity and enable them to coexist and attain co-efficiency.
Peace and order do not primarily depend on legal acumen but on the harmony between the state and society mediated by the wisdom of intermediary institutions capable of addressing the complex needs, rights and aspirations of Nepalis. Cultural industries can generate a widespread sense of responsibility among political actors to settle the problematic condition now and ease civil co-existence. Peace is the Spirit of the Age. It entails the contextual sensitivity and conscience of leaders. It has friends within and outside the national borders.
In this context, the role of civil and political societies lies in containing conflict and deliberately expanding the space for sustainable development and just peace. An exercise towards this goal can provide opportunities for collective learning about peaceful means of communication, deliberation and cooperative action thus keeping the transactional utility of rational model of politics in defensive and resorting to behavioural science for public policy.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)