Aspiration for a strong national identity confers the leaders an uplifting idea to utilise national capability for the greater good of the people and marshal the resources for soft power projection in the world. Nepali constitutional aspiration of the creation of an egalitarian society, a society of equal citizenship out of a mosaic of huge variety, seeks to pull off progress under its distinct natural, spiritual, cultural and political identity. The constitution assures to guard against historical caste, colour and gender discriminations for the creation of an inclusive, free and democratic nation awarding 31 rights and four duties. The gap between rights and duties has, however, made Nepali politics aspirational.
Nepalis have begun to build organisations, raise multi-voice affirming these rights and hoist claim for national self-determination redeeming its traditional virtues of asserting national will with characteristic vigour to subsume local narratives. The constitution forbids untouchability and caste-based prejudice. It opens an avenue for change. The preconditions for the social modernization of the nation, such as education, economy, organisation, technology and leadership to erase this prejudice are, however, largely shabby and thus the fulfilment of all these rights is beyond the capacity of Nepali state. As a result, the unwritten code of politics governs the life of the wretched.
Politics without a reflective sense of popular sovereignty, accountability and apt policy unbounds its jurisdiction and cannot elevate the competitive ability of natives to escape the global geopolitical tension between democracy and meritocracy. Now they now appeal to conscience and emotion to vault the nation forward. Nepalis have survived the onslaught of a chain of ugly events: wars, massacres, suffering and political flux. Now they aspire for the full realisation of ecological, social, gender and intergenerational justice which is buffeted now by polarised party politics lacking their leaders the requisite wisdom of statesperson to muster national consensus on core national values and issues to manoeuvre the nation in turbulent times.
Injustice is embedded in the patterns of inclusion, participation, ownership, representation, media and policy attention, interpretation and recognition of people of their legitimate dignity. Only the transformation and restructuring of these realms and democratisation of decision-making can prevent political power lurching beneath the shine of reactive politics in the midst of proliferating perspectives. These perspectives need to be suitably indigenised to serve Nepalis’ interests, ignite consciousness and shape their worldview asserting the nation's intellectual roots and historical and cultural memories.
The feeling of oneness can overcome the unevenness of the existential condition of the people. Civic national identity cannot prosper without critical consciousness, education and socialisation and its cultivation to engage people and leaders into cooperation and resolve the predicaments of national life. Ironically, the domination of Nepali parties in every sphere of life has weakened the state to foster a sentiment of socialibility among people faithful to the state, foster the bond of loyalty, duty and discipline and transcend their political culture to favour in-group and overlook out-group thus abjuring basic norms of democracy for social inclusion and equal dignity, the soul of Nepali nation.
An aspiring nation appeals to its members to be feeling guilty of self-indulgence, egotism and the domination of the weak and nourish attitude to get hold of civic dispensation. The closure of native knowledge and wisdom and the wholesale infusion of alien values, institutions, laws and policies without contextual relevance are obstacles to the real operation of self-determining welfare state and moral basis of its non-aligned foreign policy the nation has astutely pursued until recently. The rage of poets, essayists, artists, historians, comedians, independent journalists and spiritual gurus now express the pride of the nation in the resonance of culture, language and civic nationalism.
The imagination of this aspiring Nepali nation cannot be animated without retaining the workers, students, businessmen and talented people within the state and giving them proper opportunities in nation building. The transformation of social science into bureaucratic rationality and the frozen academic life of scholars devoid of any affinity to the ordinary people can hardly contribute to the nation’s productivity rise, the lifeblood of the nation. They can only unleash and rationalise conflict between domestic pressure for the aspiration of a just nation and international market imperative without breeding, mediating and nurturing the institutions of enlightenment.
An aspiring nation cannot remain suffocating to the effects of consumer economy valuing the power of money only deflating popular will and constitutional features of democratic state to shape suitable redistributive laws and policies and protect the nation, nationality, culture and people from predatory forces. Obviously, as global economic integration of this nation has outpaced democratic politics. The only escape route left for Nepalis is to migrate to the global labour market for livelihood and contribute to nation-building.
The process of law making is, however, managerial to set up an order, not aspirational, driven by a concept of actionable justice for all. The struggle for human rights, transitional justice and common good, therefore, remain largely unfinished in the nation. Leaders’ recovery proposals do not seem realistic, informed by its knowledge, tradition, history of freedom and spirituality. As a result, the political culture of this ancient nation now faces the emptiness of modernity except in the sphere of consciousness of the world which has stoked several dissident voices seeking to galvanise the whole population for a fresh elixir of real democratic life. Success of this goal requires institutional integrity, surplus economy and people-oriented politics and admin less buffeted by a political culture of patronage and syndicated regime which can balance demand and supply.
The nation’s current agony is extractive politics. As a result, import of food items is higher than exports despite its tremendous natural and human potential for economic independence. Nepal has set the liberal ideas of socialism, freedom and autonomy of citizens but they are relative to the education, wealth and access to political agencies. The control of every sphere of national life by leader-oriented fractious political parties has enfeebled the Nepali state’s power to act impartially and perform basic functions.
Similarly, Nepali parties have harbored a political culture of submissive deference of cadres to leaders, not cultivated a critical spirit essential for inner-party democracy. A sense of child-like dependency of cadres on leaders, worshipping them as father-figures and hatred of dissident voices within parties have beefed up the feeling of conformity, not aspiring for equality of citizenship, equal worth and equal dignity for a rewarding life where they can exercise a sense of moral choice. When partiocracy pervades entire national life, empowerment of those either outside party politics or at the rock bottom of society enduring silent deprivation and establishment of rule of law becomes a Herculean task.
When most political parties have lost their just cause when they were founded and become expedient what is left for the people is the raw ambition of their leaders for power by whatever means available. As a result, Nepal had witnessed in the last elections the growing fragility of party loyalty. Continuous polarisation of politics has clogged the national will for worthy initiatives and set the leadership imperative for survival orientation, not pro-active. The soul of Nepali nation and its historical identity founded by Prithvi Narayan Shah by ending foraging order on the spring of spiritualism, mercantilism, pluralism, culture and active defense remain alive if people are awakened to the sacrifice of their ancestors and leaders are not oblivious to their oath and duty to fulfil the aspirations of people as motivational spur.
Historical and cultural memory can enable them to take pride in national identity and abjure personal ego, greed, grievance and borrowed creed. Obviously, the burning aspiration of Nepalis for democracy does not mean a deconstruction of its heritage of freedom, compassion, toleration of diversity and reciprocity, not founded on cultural relativism or ethnocentrism. It is the trajectory of Nepalis’ maturity that respected nature, cultural diversity and asylum-seekers. The duty of educated persons to spread education to the ordinary folk can enable rational social change, find the meaning of living and condition of existence and acquire knowledge about the zeitgeist.
The public purpose of education and health designed to bind all Nepalis in common national sentiment is now torn by their increasing commercialisation thus separating the world of ordinary public from the privileged groups and generating emotional distance between two classes. A robust national identity entails both sides to know how their progress is linked to each other. An aspiring nation defining itself in terms of collective achievement fulfils the basic needs of people, brings all under rule of law, socialises them in civic nationalism and engages them in productive participation in nation building. It hones a sense of solidarity for cooperative action.
Teamwork for nation building is essential to release the nation from chronic apocalyptic anxiety of ordinary people fanned by media and independent intellectuals. It is the time for leaders to self-reflect where they have strayed and morally contaminated and reform themselves. Public culture of solidarity and reciprocity, not dancing in tune of powerful leaders, who are induced in status, power and wealth competition, can bring all institutions, rules and culture under civic spirit. Human will and skill can surmount people’s vulnerability, despair and desolation. It is central to set the national life of Nepalis for equal support to national identity. Solution of Nepal’s malaises requires breaking down big issues into small parts, renewing national energy to sincerely remain humane and pull the nation back on its feet.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)