Building Rational Political Order

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Political order is a public good. It is defined by the governing arrangements of the state and society that underlie basic values, rules, principles and institutions to regulate the conduct of all population. Constitutional dispensation of the state outlines the balance of security, liberty, equality and livelihood of individuals with the community imperative where deviants, power brokers and free-riders are disciplined by the moral code, penal system and law enforcement. Liberty and order are interrelated: one cannot flourish without the other’s proper consideration. Citizens need law-abiding civic habits and virtues. In a large passage of life, acquiring civic enlightenment and guts helps Nepalis with a range of options to see ahead, utilise public institutions, whet confidence to overcome difficulties and mitigate them one by one to produce a rational political order.

Nepali government’s redistributive measures from the rich to the poor with affordable tax and cash transfer as incentives seek their compliance with national laws. It is an essential but not sufficient economic pie to upswing the social mobility of Nepalis. This goal can be achieved by common educational, health and job opportunities and sociability of conduct, not their split between the public and the private and reinforcing pre-existing misery and social cauldron of repressed despair. The vision, will, integrity and wisdom in Nepali leaders are deemed vital qualities to shape a healthy political order so that people are not lulled into a haze of alluring hope soon to be flirted with anomie, social struggles and disorder.

Peoples’ wellbeing

A political order cannot become healthy unless leadership promotes peoples’ wellbeing and prosperity and inspires production, exchange, distribution and investments in public goods to fairly satisfy them. Ironically, little energy has been spent to perk up productivity of the real economy — agricultural and industrial sectors ensuring sane distribution of livelihood means. Political order regulates the competing interests of diverse groups, subdues the risks of social turmoil, minimises passion of leaders to hurl indictment against each other for holding dissimilar opinions, enables adversarial groups to compromise, engages in wise debate and boosts trust-generating public institutions of society.   

One basic source of Nepal’s political instability after every political change is that each constitution is drafted on the basis of the power equation or balance of power of dominant political actors of the nation and their ensuing monopoly of the political process afterwards, not on the basic values of constitutionalism and the wisdom of sound institutional checks and balances of power. The constitution became a contested site when power balance altered, dithering ownership of it from within. The other is abysmal pretense about reformist promises articulated in the constitution and party programmes. Political change promised a good life for ordinary Nepalis but ended in a tormenting riff-raff. 

The third is an imbalance between leaders’ unbounded passion for power and the imperative to unchain those oppressed by poverty. The optimal satisfaction of the basic needs of multitudes can secure the stability of the new political order. The sprawling of social anomie and multiple sites of resistance are teaming up now against the establishment for countless reasons. The fourth is the politics of the blown-up identity division of Nepalis and creation of their inclusive national commissions. It made the constitution the document of a welter of contradictions, not a pull of a single rope of national unity able to convert diverse interests into the actionable equal rights of people for a common life nourished by a democracy of trust, transparency and accountability.

The nascent popular demands for justice and equal dignity mark a revolt against their abject condition of living created by unbridled vices of poverty, joblessness, viciousness of rent-seeking groups, pervasive factionalism, political fragmentation and a string of fraud and corruption scandals, oiling the cog of machine politics. The drain of resources has raised the cost of living and dried up its economic surplus for investment. Tax base of Nepali state is insufficient to sustain and finance its self-sufficiency to stand autonomous of interest groups and sovereign to formulate independent foreign policies, keep social discipline and rally the loyalty of people. Only remittance seems to be a source of sustenance and stabiliser of the external economic front. Out of Nepal’s vital potentials -- demographic dividends, hydropower and tourism, only the first one is harnessed despite its sobbing social and economic costs. 

Resetting the power of constitutional organs and enabling them to perform impersonally can revitalise the equilibrium of the polity and execute the rule of law in the entire society. It can free the state institutions from political patronage, stabilise its independent source of authority, counter the lurking danger of the institutionalisation of client’s power and drive sustainable progress. Policy sovereignty is a key to democracy. Yet, the establishment keeps its clout through a grip on parties, business, police, admin and a host of public institutions and influences a few media while edging to Anglosphere for its neoliberal affinity. A firm political order entails a balance in the jerky ties of neighbours to fulfill its desire of sovereignty. It foils the fallout of geopolitics, operating in democracy-free enclave and hones national interests. 

  Nepali leaders, blinkered by their own prejudice and learning gap, suffer from a siege mentality. The common feudal passion for life-long party and government leadership, instinct for a syndicated regime and demonisation of opponents deprive the vigor of its political order donned by democracy. Only the fear of common rivals and incentive of power sharing have united the establishment comprising Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and CPN – Maoist Centre. But it has uncommon faults. It has neither created harmony of interests among themselves, nor mollified the heap of grievances, not even nourished stable governance.

 Its political legitimacy derived from the fusion of bumping urban agitation and roaring rural violence and majoritarian rule has hatched crossbreed political culture strong enough to hold grip in power but weak to address public needs and defy the spirits of political discontents of the new forces engaged in offensive politics in both the parliament and the public sphere.  They spark the redolence of political life with a strongly issue-oriented tone and howl to abolish the whiff of vices of politics, business and bureaucracy. It is hard to drag them into conformity to the new political order without structural reforms.  

The ascent of political leaders with the temptation of perks and payment has monetised Nepali politics, bloated its financial and bureaucratic costs and reduced its traditional ethos of volunteerism and service orientation.  Majority of Nepalis are, therefore, vegetating under the necessity to fulfill their basic needs if not constitutional rights. The revolutionary change in the nation has a brisk start full of hope but it shuddered to revolutionise production, distribution and exchange for macroeconomic stability to salvage the nation from the crushing debris of deficits, debts, dependence and doldrums on policy matters. The awful disconnect between living conditions and democratic aspiration has turned the weaker Nepalis into the losers of the political game without any stake on unequal peace. 

Corrective and distributive justice, right to work and ownership in the means of production can enhance the material basis of liberty if realised. Livelihood guarantee is vital for Nepali constitution to create a rational political order in society accepted by all people and those outside the political establishment. Likewise, enculturation, education and political socialisation are the key subjective requirements to enable people to shape common ground, common source of judgment and live peacefully by cooperating with others on shared order. Nepali polity is slowly losing its stable equilibrium. Its constitution grants disproportional rights and few duties to citizens. It has incubated rights-based assertion and organisations and enabled aspiration-driven political parties to control all spheres of life. Balancing the language of rights with duties can shore up a rational order in society. 

Its traditional sources of political order maintained through the reasons of the state to abolish the state of nature, create a civic order, strong leadership virtues, tradition, religion, rituals, discipline and administrative regulation are eroding fast while the new traits of individualism, personal skills, abilities and leadership cult, law and social contract are not amply attuned to foster public good to stitch people to this political order and their legendary bond with the land. The sovereignty of the state to shape foreign policy is also fading. The Nepali state is heavily dependent on outside forces for power, resources and legitimacy while societal actors are competing with it and building solidarity abroad for their selfish interests, not shoring up common interests vital for the political order. Its outcome is losing leverage to leap ahead. 

Old golden mean

The old golden mean of Nepali politics, the middle path, that sought to reduce the vices of many ideologies through welfare state, civic nationalism and Nepalisation show the signs of sterility. The establishment is struggling to fend off three currents in Nepali politics -- radicalism, populism and conservatism to optimise their and other sub-systems’ differing values, interests, ideologies, identities and preferences into the constitutional system. It can manage the risk of disorder spilling into the public sphere if it puts people before partisan politics. The growth of political culture of constitutional order demands matching acculturation to the changes in the values, learning, habits and institutional adaptation, not impunity and scarcity. 

Only a shared political culture of democracy can reduce the aspect of coercion and manage the thieves of state and power brokers in Nepali society. Building public trust in the new political order entails the knack of leadership to timely respond to the waves of innovation, knowledge, science and social change. It also needs flexible adjustment of the constitution and institutions of the polity to meet the imperative of modernisation and open political processes that accept and tolerate orderly sustainable progress driven by the people’s experience of life, needs and rights and satisfy them.

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

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