Nepali leaders often boast of their courage in periodic democracy movements and its restoration. But they are less triumphant in building a culture of constitutionalism embellished by a just political order where people can achieve their full freedom and maturity. As a result, politics in Nepal has increasingly become the conscious reflection of the human condition and instant hope of a life of choice and positive results. Nepali leaders locked in a perpetual rivalry with one another without accountability and their mutual recrimination have oddly socialised each other’s followers in an adversarial race thus eroding the efficacy of public order donned by the gospel of democratic values, institutions and laws.
The veneer of public order is thinning owing to their inability to transform diverse Nepalis into citizens by fulfilling their needs, rights and dignity essential to build their confidence in the polity and uphold self-esteem. One can see how rights of ordinary Nepalis have come into conflict with laws as powerful individuals and interest groups enjoy inordinate privilege and impunity, affirming the nation's old maxim: “law for the poor, immunity for rich.” The politics of difference adopted by constitution has further compromised the post-traditional solidarity based on citizenship values, not on primordial identities and shore up a just order based on the principles of constitutionalism and bright lines of cosmopolitanism.
The nation has witnessed the skewed integrity of the institutions of checks and balances of power, draining the institutions of education, health and enlightenment and an array of civil society, media, independent court and informed public operating under the imperatives of democratic duties out of their vitality. It habitually marks an abysmal letdown of leadership to guard the public and national interests thus yielding only to a flickering sense of common resolution in the dim template of a just order. It is a sign of the empty consensus on the constitutional spirit of socialism-oriented economy. The propensity of political leaders for acquisition enabled them to act in the cold logic of calculating politics not in the defense of economic equality against hierarchies which are unable to get along with the nation’s liberal democratic spirit. They are strong relative to the nation’s “autonomous” yet worn out constitution, institutions and practices. It has enabled them to seize the state power to perform basic functions including its defense of just order, security and public good and control party oligarchs and special interest groups acting as barriers to people’s access to the institutional resources of the Nepali state. Public intellectuals and sub-cultures of Nepal are, therefore, increasingly asserting a collective identity of “we” spurred by their national consciousness against the corrupting influence of egoistic power of personalised leadership on the public order. As a result, concern for national identity has become more salient now than ever before.
Growing gap between unrealised Nepalis’ potential and their condition of life exhibits that political regimes of all persuasions have often stymied the aspiration of people to realise their self-worth and nullify the system and laws that discourage them to exercise choice and realise their potential within the nation. Massive outflow of youths in the international labour market is governed more by their survival necessity, not by choice like brain drain, to meet personal, societal and national economic requirements. Nepali constitution’s inscription of justice reflects eternal and universal value. Yet, the divorce of regime from this justice doggedly flags the legendary bond of Nepalis with their land and culture and opportunity to live amicably in society, balancing individual liberty while harnessing the resonance of full citizenship.
For Nepalis, laws and institutions are perceived to be the protectors of the establishment’s interests for the aphrodisiac of power, not the general interests of ordinary people who are often engaged in an uphill battle for a creation of fair society their constitution has premised on freedom, social justice, self-determination and human rights. Ordinary Nepalis are experiencing democracy on the basis of how it functions, not on the basis of its principles, forms and structures although abidance to them communicates the values in society and shapes the civic culture. Ethical conduct of leaders and the educated public can give hope for people to live peacefully under the shared sovereignty.
What is rewarding in Nepali politics is, therefore, what leaders do in the public realm with a high appetite in politics, not what they have promised and failed to deliver. It can create a modicum of just political order for social cooperation, solidarity and peace. An irony, however, pervades politics on what leaders have personally achieved by using politics and public policies and why institutions created to serve public interests seem skewed to distribute welfare means to those at the bottom of society. In Nepal, politics expresses a hiatus between leaders’ words for better life for people and their deeds that racked them by steady anguish and desolation, falling prey to screaming opposition, populism, radicalism, reaction and feeling of nostalgia thus unable to create glue to create the stake of left out and forging bonds with society.
Critical media often disclose the results of Nepali leaders’ actions which they did not promise publicly. This disclosure separates them from people and ennobles the latter to feel, judge and act against what they loath. Obviously, leaders cannot be lawful by electoral approval only if they have the penchant to violate constitutional spirit, act rapaciously for eternal survival in institutional power, erode the raison d’ etre of state institutions and remain despoiled by inter-and intra-party fights incapable of representing the nation and people in hard times. Only a strong Nepali state can allow its public administration function, economy take up a right track, political institutions act impersonally, justice becomes speedy and culture of trust thrives.
But when democracy becomes abstract for the ordinary people, intellectual inflation of its leaders and institutions does not satisfy them as critical media expose its illusion which even mainstream media cannot bamboozle. One exciting aspect of Nepali politics lies in how leaders habitually divulge their nature in self-calculation, not virtue as the latter seeks best outcome for everyone. Alienation of people from the lure of politics and fatal attraction to partisan de-alignment, apathy, migration, cynicism or frustration confines them to the private sphere with no passion for social change. Leaders are born human. They can achieve this potentiality through fulfilling responsible roles in an unselfish way and spur a just order at various scales of governance.
But Nepali leaders encounter a disharmony in their desire, appetite, spirit and reasons and, therefore, keep constitutional conformity despite an adversarial model of national polity. It is central for them to align political life with constitutional ideas so as to become effective in the goals of statecraft, the wellbeing of people and defense of the nation. The flawed political structures infected by partisan politics cannot make the state effective in delivering public goods which the majority of people can afford. The sphere of communication, education and political consciousness is helping ordinary Nepalis to question the bases of leaders’ knowledge, policy, power and interests and expecting to see the state of order reshaping anew is just or not.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)