Widening Boundaries Of Politics

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The edifice of modern politics is not solely confined to the state as it does not live up to its own rules. Not even political parties which too intrude their statutes as per the changing conditions of electorates. The habitat of politics has expanded beyond selfish biological nature and cunning art of rhetoric. Now, it is rationalised on the basis of the sublime public and national interests it serves. Universal consciousness, new economy, technology and ecology have enlarged the sphere of politics to a larger dimension and scale. Now, civil servants, civil society, business, citizen groups, professional and interest based links and even global forces join in and influence national political activities, put forward their demands, claim rights and lobby in the media of communication, institutions and government for the satisfaction of their interests. Politics obviously relates to power, an enabling condition to take binding decisions. But it is not only the state, political system, government and political parties serving as sites of power pyramid. Enlightenment, institutions, civil society, market forces, citizen groups, social movements, international community, etc. also compose a source of power, authority and legitimacy. They have become a visible spell of power to ensure public good, the very emblem of politics.

Accountability

Political power is based on public opinion and the general consent of people expressed through fair elections and constitutional tradition. It requires the periodic renewal of its legitimacy. It is delicate and fragile also. If people withdraw their consent in a rumble of rage, it instantly collapses like a house of cards. The use of political power by leadership requires prudence, that is, power is used in an authoritative style and justly to flourish the domain of public life. Its unjust use is often questioned by people, hotly debated in the media and civil society, contested in the courts and catches the global gaze. Political power demands accountability to public and national interests. Its unaccountable use wears the marks of calamity. If one look into the timeless insight of political power in Michel Foucault terms it is about “resistance” of people and their “anti-authority struggle” against exploitation, control and unjust domination. It opens two sides of political power: positional and oppositional. The resistance to power soars uphill when losers in the political game outnumber the winners causing its atrophy and paralysis.

Democracy has made politics a realm of public life. It is here Nepalis exercise their constitutional and human rights to argue, contest, set agenda and resolve issues and conflicts. The vigorous debate in the public sphere, about the ends and means of politics and general idea of progress help unequal people share public policy space and transform themselves into equal citizens by changing the condition of living. Politics cannot be privatised and denationalised the way it is done in authoritarian regimes. Self-rule is its democratic standards. As Nepalis find political parties’ decision making highly top-down it has opened dissent both within the parties and outside. The howls against vices of corruption, erosion of eco-balance of hills and Himalayas, gender-based violence, human trafficking, smuggling of gold and personalising public lands are hitting public debate. Cultural alignment has also pervaded the domain of politics demonstrating their inseparability. Those advocating alternative politics of justice oppose its governmentalisation or partisanisation which does not take into account the boundaries of either the state, policy or people. The contestability of power needs to be settled so that it can serve the purpose of statecraft and manage multi-scale politics in its ancient wisdom of the middle path by eradicating the injustices of many ideologies.

Post-Class Politics: The class based ideological politics sought to redistribute power and property in society to peasants and laborers. The post-class politics of Nepal encourages informalisation and migration of workers, supports premature de-industrialisation, inclusion of females in the labour market, social representation and recognition of several identities of people. The necessity of electoral alignment, power sharing of all with all has blunted the sharpness of ideological lens. The issue oriented Nepali parties such as Rastriya Swotantra Party  (RSP) and Rastriya Prajatantra Party are raising concern about the huge migration of youth, students and businesspersons abroad and conversion of Nepalis into Bhutanese refugees. This migration is not just a matter of push and pull factors or homophobia but also a matter of new politics in response to global demand and supply. The old politics has tried the coherence of the state, economy and people into national space while the new politics found divergence in all these realms and, therefore, leaders of new parties are visiting those places where Nepalis are clustered for electoral appeal and seek goodness of rule. Post-class politics tries to cope with the rise of multi-classes beyond the old identities of the covetous capital and the wage labor. Gender, climate change, migration, minorities etc. have become cross-cutting themes. Post-class politics traverses the ideological boundaries and indulges in multiple citizenships, if not the one humanity.

 Network Politics:  The information revolution has shifted the territorialised solidarity politics into network based. Social media has made each Nepali conscious of his or her condition, know job opportunities through the internet and move to tap them across the globe. Interacting nature of networks has provided them judgmental ability and exercise politics of choice outside the nation. Globalisation of political economy has homogenised Nepali mainstream parties such as NC, CPN-UML and Maoist Center, expunged the right-center-left political spectrum and made them catch-all. As a result, they have lost class-based appeal although the struggle of loan-shark victims gives a veneer of class conflict. It is, however, also connected with other money lending institutions. Rapid urbanisation, migration, increased divorce rate, etc. are turning social life increasingly atomised, autonomous, flexible and contractual, lacking the emotional solidarity of class action. People drift to social media for instant information unmediated by business or partisan prejudice although its self-accountability remains hazy. The neoliberal ethos of cut in agricultural subsidy and privatisation of most of public industries, labour market flexibility and no-work no pay adopted by Nepali governments have debased the economic base of Nepali state. It has forced political parties and economic elites to cultivate the symbolic economy, thus fraying the traditional faith in patrimonial leadership. Now Nepalis demand leadership with actual transformational vision.

 Identity politics: The Nepali constitution has defined varied forms of citizenship and their national inclusive commissions for some cluster of people to foster identity politics.  As a result, socialisation along these lines has devalued the national identity of citizenship. They negotiate with the party leaders on the basis of social identity. This has strained value-based politics. Mass tribalisation is claiming to represent social identity above partisan identity. These identity groups build networks with like-minded people across the parties, constitution and national frontiers seeking special privileges for them, thus deflating party discipline and affinity. 

The increasing clientalisation of Nepalis to global politics has a geopolitical dimension. They are spread in over 100 nations but claim Nepali identity. Many professional groups get support from global powers and act as their soft power proxies, thus fading constitutional discipline. As a result, Nepali politics has been disembodied from native society. Decision making too became unreflective of the human condition of Nepalis, nurturing national cultural values and protection of habitat. The democratic upswing is cut by a lack of reflection on the classical democratic doctrine of subsidiarity and popular sovereignty.

 Egalitarian aspirations

Emancipatory politics: Unlike the past, none of Nepali political parties uphold the ideal of emanciapotry politics of self-awakening now as they are saturated with materialism and confined with huge rights with few duties. It supports only the organised and conscious parts of society, not the mostly informal society, economy and polity. The liberation of the oppressed through their supply to the global labor market has expanded the arena of politics to global scale. Political parties, civil society, NGOs and business compete with the state for global resources and legitimacy. If Nepali parties, the wherewithal of democracy, are only partly democratic in their leadership, culture, structure and policies, the polity fails to operate in a democratic and accountable way. The cultic nature of power in Nepal does not rear democratic cognition, attitudes, values and orientations vital to foster civic culture which can pull the nation back to stability.  

 Deterritorialized politics: The social movements of Nepal, infused by egalitarian aspirations, mark a departure from party-parliament-government-polity nexus as their adherents find Nepali politics represented by business interests where the general concern to the public is sullen. The disfigurement of electoral politics by the rise of its costs, over use of unregulated money in publicity, electoral malpractices and vote-buying and selling are dire signs. It has infected the fairness of electoral politics and shifted the motive of politics from public service to career opportunity, thus turning it into a more self-referential game, not the wellbeing of all. In Nepal, the language of politics is marked more by mutual blame of each other’s leaders than mutual responsibility thus trespassing the boundaries of political decency and moral code thus unbounding politics to all over the place. Its accountability to demos is vital for functional democracy.  

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

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