The efficacy of governance implies a proper ordering of rules, actors and processes which reconciles moral philosophy with the constitutional conduct and negotiates with diverse societal demands, interests and issues in optimal accord. Its cardinal virtue is the aptness in the performance of its key vectors - the state, the market, civil society and the general people - each with dissimilar functions, imperatives and mandates but operates under the shared communication, coordination and collective action to settle barriers to the achievement of public good. Governance thus reconciles the lawful exercise of public authority for the success of a decent order, an order that does not tolerate the suffering of the poor. Public authority is derived from the electoral process, competitive test or public opinion.
It is unlawful to use authority as a privilege by any powerful leader or institution like in the feudal era of Ranarchy. Its purpose is public and drawn from the legitimate political process which is open to social feedback. The advent of democracy in Nepal has aimed to empower people through various means — enlightenment, communication, property rights, respect, skill improvement and access to institutions. Democracy springs from the bottom-up while administrative power trickles from top- down. To lift up efficacy, Nepali leaders must have the ability to combine top-down, bottom-up and horizontal accountability strategies. They duly support Nepali state’s authority and enable it to perform public tasks.
Still, politics in Nepal has become discontinuous in various historical phases of the nation while administration kept its continuity and institutional memory of statecraft. Their astute balance is vital for state-society coherence. The balance between order and freedom sets the boundaries of politics and business and gives Nepali economy a new lease so far mired in the sludge of political swamp. Only then can governance cope with the challenge of polycentric and multi-level poles of power, make individuals, institutions and polity mutually accountable, each able to act upon its duties, civility and utility as per constitutional vision and rules.
Popular sovereignty embedded in constitution presumes political power as a trust of people. Its value largely rests on continuous public deliberation on their living condition and support to outcome-driven public action. Leadership, political parties, business, government and civic institutions require periodic renewal of their legitimacy while the state and people are exempted from this. They are permanent entities and sources of sovereignty, legitimacy and authority. Leaders’ authority diminishes if citizens withdraw their consent owing to the belief that they are only structural, less functional on distributional questions or wracked in bitter intra-mural political fissures thus frail to fulfill their rights.
One irony of constitution is the provision of disproportional rights relative to few duties which weakens the ability of Nepali state to execute social contract. The other is close loop conduct of top leaders disabled them from behavioural and policy-execution flaws. In such a context only public admin as a permanent body of the state is expected to give the continuity of laws, policies and institutions and work in a professional, honest and impersonal way, upholding a sense of ethics of integrity. In the emerging world, the relationship between politics and business is changing with the alteration of changing balance of power between the state and market.
The return of geopolitics has resurrected the value of the state. Innovation of democratic and humanitarian values, science and tools in no way tolerates free-ride on the labour of others and leaves the ills of Nepali politics untreated. Bottom-up learning of Nepali leadership is essential to know people’s requirements and adapt its policies. It is important to self-correct before the media fires a negative blast of headlines and frivolous lawsuits provoke acerbic public debate circulating distrust of authorities.
Modern politics has institutionalised citizenship and human rights in the constitution. These values are changing the historical evolution of the polity from representative to participatory, binary frame of class-oriented politics based on friend and foe to mass-based, shifting nature of party system from ideology-driven to catch-all type, growth- oriented model of political economy to sustainability, duty-based to rights based civil society and governance as the economisation of politics. As a result, citizens are organising alternative, anti-institutional means through populism scrambling Nepali politics, feminism, regionalism and partisan-free attachment surmounting the power bloc model of mainstream parties and even harbouring post-modern twists often pushing the boundary of constitutional governance.
Modern politics rooted in democracy cannot be clientalized, hereditary-driven, privatised, family-bound and denationalised. The selfish human gene prefers self-rule and self-governance. Nepalis are, therefore, articulating the virtue of self-determination on the basis of constitution and as per an awareness of digital civic culture. A governance that is devoid of this vision is disruptive, not fit for the good life of Nepalis. The efficacy of governance lies in buttressing the capacity of the state to generate good policies and establish effective security, discipline, administrative and autonomous justice functions. It is now measured in terms of democratic quality, human development, national integrity system, policy innovation, strategic management and media freedom. It is more than economic growth though it is important to pull up the poor above the poverty lines, giving them the life of opportunity, choice and dignity within the nation.
A growth that is broad-based, socially inclusive and ecologically sensitive widens social action of the political leadership and preference of citizens. The recent retreat of neoliberal has falsified the belief of growth mania and paternalistic planning and increased the importance of Nepali welfare state. Borrowed ideologies stoked contradictions with the egalitarian impulses of democracy, human rights, constitutionalism, justice and eco-balance. More advanced countries are now being pulled into the renationalisation of political economy and alignment of geopolitics and geo-economics for international cooperation.
Nepalis increasing demand for welfare has tempered the nostalgic affection of policy elites to neoliberal doctrine of “lean state” and fostered the pro-active role of state-bearing institutions including public admin in improving the lives of ordinary people and implementation of their increased social rights, such as right to food, education, health, work, social justice, etc. embedded in the constitution and the Service Delivery Guideline. Both the components are an integral part of nation-building. Those states have dodged the tide of economic meltdown which sustained a culture of social solidarity and balanced political order with freedom and justice.
Civic solidarity of state-bearing and non-state actors grows with the crystallisation of national consciousness and declines with the crisis of civility, a crisis that widens the emotional distance between the rich and the poor, between urban and rural areas and leaders and the mass through the sharp loss of the means of livelihood, employment, education, health care and socialisation stoking intense anguish and straining governance efficacy. In this context, twice elections of three-tier government have spurred legitimacy but also raised the soaring hope of Nepali people for effective governance beyond linguistic subterfuge.
The global health, economic and ecological crises have left a positive lesson to Nepal. The state’s rising roles in public security, rule of law, poverty alleviation, infrastructural development, connectivity and sustainable development goals have been re-legitimised. They have also become the bases of contemporary governance practices. But the fractious leadership devoid of collective vision is struggling to recover from their past failures and learning to share the experience of governance with experts and stakeholders of society. Social learning may help to change the mentality and attitude.
In this context, the law-mediated solidarity between the Nepalis and their leaders is essential to foster a culture of inclusivity, build trust in the laws, strengthen common ground across the loyalties of citizens for a shared national future and fend off the risks of international anarchy, creation of parallel strategic, economic and political initiatives and the fierce come back of geopolitics which is largely muscular, not security-enhancing. The promise of politics is promulgation of good laws benefiting the citizens, enforcement of Organised Crime Act 2013 and abolition of the impunity to prevent democracy’s erosion. In Nepal, however, the crisis of governability has constrained political leadership to achieve political stability, revamp the civic institutions, settle the vital issues, revive the feeble economy and lay the foundation of effective governance to deliver public goods to citizens.
Achievement of these measures requires the mutual adjustment of the establishment and new force in a law-based depersonalised order. The rights-oriented discourses have enlarged the expectation of former apathetic citizens. But their execution mechanism, matching resources, monitoring and evaluation are meagre. Undue obsession of leadership with power and patronage so far has forced them to offer differing solutions to Nepal’s protracted political transition. An awareness of common survival, common opportunity and common political socialisation can dispel the fizzy social fissures and associate the minority with the national vision. The management of multi-actor governance requires coordinated evolution of a shared future.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)