Civic Maturity For Participatory Democracy

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The term ‘civic maturity’ is used to describe those people who are well equipped with cognitive, affective and evaluative knowledge, skills and orientations and a democratic government that adheres to its own constitution, processes and institutional culture. The maturity of Nepalis as per the changing ecological, social, economic and technological circumstances of post-traditional world is vital to liberate them from what Immanuel Kant calls three-fold tutelage: first, socialisation of family tutelage where children are raised as minors confined to unconditional love, feverish affection, joy and playfulness, not allowing them to think, chose, judge and act according to their preference and talent and gain experience in life. They have to follow others examples. 

Second, as adults they have to live under civic tutelage of state laws where their freedom and prosperity are subject to the will of political power, not having self-esteem, capacity of intellectual creativity and ability in governing self and exercising the life choice.  The passion of adolescence now is to inquire and critically reflect on the conditions of life and seek to improve for better. The third element is life-long pious tutelage of sacred books which do not give any sense of moral choice of judgment other than to follow them faithfully.

Critical consciousness 

For him, civic maturity requires critical consciousness of enlightenment. It helps to overcome all these tutelages so that people can cultivate atma gyan (inner vigilance) to build virtues and character for self-perfection and explore life’s potential and possibility without tribal conformity to leaders and subordination to institutions without a feeling of sublime rise. In this sense, liberation from passion, habits and prejudice through the use of scientific reason is equally critical to attain an aura of rational knowledge and skills in life. Traditionally Nepalis appeared a little different to what Kant mentions as its purpose of education was to awaken people from deep snooze and cultivate them to become jagruk manushya (awakened citizen) for the preparation of janata janardan, whose opinion was sought in statecraft.

The rediscovery of its worth by the defenders of participatory democracy have stated its locus in popular sovereignty. Their thrust is to enable people to explore strategic choices to participate in advocacy, communication, writing, deliberation, organisation and decisions affecting them. In civic space, Nepalis learn the art of democratic citizenship, handle their differences and fight for the quality of life. Since old days Nepalis are taught about the invisible network of human bond to species on which their survival and prosperity rest and made them sensitive to ecological and social justice, not just anthropocentric conception of the world. Sages did not hold their self-interests in the extreme, like politicians, because they are filled by social conscience, self-discipline and habits of cordiality. 

Now, participatory knowledge of Nepalis about democratic ideals, constitutional rule, fundamental rights, duties and institutional means has become essential to consciously engage in all issues and decisions affecting them. This is the hallmark of civic maturity. It is the basis to reap democratic outcomes of common good, commonly shared by all. Nepali public institutions can grow strong if passive and alienated people are transformed into conscious and active citizens who can assume responsibility in society with substantial influence and consequence. David Brooks rightly says that civic maturity occurs when people are able to “build integrity by integrating inner ideals with automatic action.”

Civic maturity entails not only awareness, intelligence and participation in politics, law and public policy but in every day rituals of life. It occurs when individuals are given real knowledge, not abidya (false consciousness) to engage in an art of association with the community, society and the nation to achieve the goal which they cannot achieve personally. The wisdom of the art of association was well articulated by Gautam Buddha long ago for socialisation and mutual learning. He focused on community spirit for sharing, caring and becoming sensitive to others for the alleviation of anxiety spiral. Civic maturity occurs when Nepalis are engaged in regular public dialogue by which they understand the issues of common concern, strap up resources, build strategies and leap forward for good life.

Once Nepalis acquire civic maturity they can easily shift the nature of centralised, command, control and direction-oriented Nepali politics based on corporate bargaining of powerful leaders into an egalitarian and participatory direction where the voices of the marginalised, the poor, women, Dalits and minorities are levelled up. It can flourish the sphere of equality, freedom and realisation of constitutional rights, not the feudalisation of the public sphere and turning politics into a careerist opportunity for leadership growth, wealth accumulation and patronage, which only shrivels civic virtues. 

The role of organic intellectuals, educational institutions, media and civil society lies in educating Nepalis to build their civic competence to participate at multi-scale governance from Ward Assembly to a vast cyber-connected life of learning, production, marketing and delivery of goods. It can enable the people to enforce the accountability and transparency of governing institutions and monitor the suitability of public policies. The federalisation, pluralisation and localisation of the domain of political power and relatively inclusive base of politics have offered considerable opportunity for Nepalis. But their multi-versal engagements have not helped much to overcome the deficits of essential needs and empowerment measures in making choices in shared and self-rule. Human pains in labour in Nepal have not been replaced by wider application of science and technology and justice.

 Nepali state is enmeshed in a web of constitutional and humanitarian duties. This system demands conformity to the spirit of the age. But partiocracy has confiscated the power and will of the state to discharge them. The migration of about half of Nepali youths abroad for jobs hints at the weak condition of the nation’s labour market and their bigger stake in the world system. Now students are attracted by better education and job prospects abroad rather than stay languished in a decrepit system at home lacking quality and worth. Brain drain is another area where highly skilled Nepalis find at ease to become non-resident Nepalis holding high ranking passports abroad and improving life’s choices. 

Businesspersons are no exception to this trend. Another equally sobbing aspect is youth forces are joining in foreign armies including warring states of Ukraine and Russia finding no job prospects at home. These indicators point to a dismal state of the nation. The state of democracy in Nepal cannot grow if the enlightened and dynamic youths do not have a stake in it. Rather they fall short to find democratic dividends to change the condition of existence.  Opportunity for economic participation is offered more by the international community than its internal labour market. It has created a tension in the loyalty pattern of Nepalis. Economic despair does not shore up participatory opportunity at the social, political and educational levels as scientific and institutional resources which are great levellers of society are unjustly distributed. 

This shows that Nepal’s political leaders, narrowly confined to fractious party politics, has yet to set up an easy-access economic and political order where each citizen irrespective of age, gender, caste, class and regional distinctions can join in planning policies, utilise socialist gear and reap fair welfare benefits of the labour. It can help them escape from a dependency oriented model of progress that no longer is helpful to rediscover its own knowledge, experience, skill, production, needs fulfilment and resilience of nature and culture. In this sense, civic maturity is central to give precedence to community gain over individuals and control its natural resources and brain, labour and capital gain. 

If political sphere is turned exclusively into a wealth-seeking empire for leaders and interest groups both inside and outside the polity, it does not foster a civic life of freedom where Nepalis transcend their self, primitive and economic interests and identities for a national identity and blossom civil society. The latter’s democratic surge prompted political leaders to recharge their batteries to realise their dream of power. The participatory democracy expects the construction of equal citizens out of diverse Nepalis caught in layers of hierarchy of knowledge, power and wealth, opening civic space to consolidate grassroots values and initiatives and regain popular sovereignty, the heart of civic maturity.

Social inclusion

In Nepal, the provision of social inclusion has increased the group rights of some elite clusters while micro minorities, poor and marginalised are left out. Nepali state is weak to abolish fear of existential condition, protect property rights, limit kleptocratic and criminal practice, set up rule of law in the frame of justice and execute the constitution by managing grubby politics inclined to upend democratic rule. Political instability, resource constraints and institutional erosion are key obstacles to civic culture. It has prompted certain groups to veer around various impulses and determinism beyond the ability of Nepali state to optimise their multi-front polarisation in a new civic dimension.

A participatory society alone can foster a sense of civic maturity, cultivates the concern for collective problem solving and foils the tendency of heavyweights to flip over public mandate and recur the game of collusion, collision, polarisation and chaos. At a time of deepening crisis, keeping the trust of Nepalis is central to mitigate vital issues and expose political cover-ups animus to the right to know and shepherd the nation to democratic path. The participatory resources are not just the state, the market and civil society but a myriad of formal and informal, network-based virtual and visual institutions where outpouring of citizen action demands the realisation of their unrealised potentials and rights to a dignified life which only civic maturity can offer to them.

(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)

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