Nepal’s better future can be shaped by orienting all actors of society to value-frame and creating shared stake in nation building. This entails national leadership to set a balance between the sensible values of the nation's independent past and daily life of Nepalis consumed by survival imperative and between their sovereignty and a common identity that democracy offers for both. One critical challenge is how Nepali constitution emerged as a compromise document of NC, CPN-UML and CPM- Maoist Centre can imbibe the spirit of constitutionalism. The other is how the leadership can democratise decision centres to solve national problems by flair, know-how and policy. The sub-optimal progress in this area conditions the nation’s vexed future.
Still, the other challenge is how to protect Nepali leaders from each other competing for drawn out rotational power and the public’s due diligence against their seductive rule. The vital conditions such as ecological balance, social capital and economic resilience are wearing thin. In this context, only a sense of Nepalis’ loyalty to the state and interactions among them in a normative frame can shape a decent conduct away from the paranoid politics of reaction and counter-action, not worthy action of fostering entrepreneurial spirit able to reconcile freedom, justice and order and transcend leaders’ mental monoculture that stuck them in a heap of national problems.
Modern democratic rule supposes that people do not have to be responsible for what they have not done but are affected by leaders’ verbal pedantry and impulsive action. The popular sovereignty allows them to challenge them even if a sense of fear of removal from power aligns them to defend the long period of stasis exhausting the prospects of transformational change. By correctly managing the riveting vision crystallised into the constitution Nepali leaders can refresh hope of people and ease production, exchange and just distribution of public goods in the future without stultifying political life. Beyond their own passion of power lust, they have promised Nepalis a good life in the constitution and party statutes and social transformation that obliges thinking in generational terms. They are the shapers of political culture, therefore, must abjure from vengefulness that animates instinct against rationality and curative power.
A leadership in command of state power without wisdom, skill and ability can harm public life. Its habitual craze of ego-inflation cannot tap the nation’s vast natural potential and centripetal forces of the society - family, community, cultural industries, public institutions, business and civil society—averring nation building. Their timely learning from global experience and crafting apt public policies to respond to Nepalis needs and rights can shepherd the nation in the right rhythm. A leadership upholding constitutional ideals is likely to choose the best option, often seeking to advance sublime public order, realising democratic spirit and renouncing politics-business-bureaucracy racketeering for a pact of domination, not the democratisation of social and economic democratisation of political life.
The intergenerational transmission of knowledge for continuity and change of political life and apt dispensation of media and educational institutions to train those who will bear the knowledge in the future are, therefore, vital to escape from habit driven, imitative politics governed by half-conscious rule of law. What gives Nepalis a sense of optimism is the values of inclusion, proportional representation, affirmative action and social security in the body politik. It has eased the structural transformation in many areas -- Dalit, women, minorities, bonded labour, and marginalised people -- both necessary and possible. Under its impact a new kind of relationship among politics, power, law, knowledge and identity is unfolding.
What is still desirable is to manage and sustain the torch of tolerance so that a modicum of equilibrium between the state and social power is nurtured and the civic capacities of Nepalis are utilised for strengthening local self-governance in entrepreneurship, innovation, social discipline and impartial delivery of goods and services. Nepali leaders have to beat the shortfall of national self-determination by reducing external dependence on power, resources, legitimacy and geopolitics and internal drain of resources by despising grand scale stealing of public money that goes beyond public morality and integrity. The swelling budget and trade deficits, immoral and unpayable debt amassed by them for future citizens and piling of enormous vices in the nation may plug the nation’s future in desolation forcing the youth to leave the nation en masse or think about unknown alternatives.
The moribund indicators of progress mark the betrayal of their future. Rebuilding their future requires investing in a range of causes including productive activities, livelihood, education, skill, health and income. Alleviating poverty and creating job opportunities in Nepal alone can leave this condition to the footnote of history. But a leviathan shackled by leader-oriented political parties and centralised bureaucracy cannot attain these goals and uphold principles of subsidiarity as both have pyramidal centralised structures disconnected from Nepalis demos and their instant feedback. Authoritarianism and economic decline feed off each other in a vicious way abating the moral and material spring of democracy. The infinite regress of the economy marks the rise of religious sentiments and emotional moments in the nation writhing an anti-incumbent twist and turn.
The praxis of transparency and accountability is, therefore, crucial for the consolidation of democracy, not just action and reflection on the torpor of the establishment. The howl of popular frustration is brimming over the overproduction of political elites, Nepalis can ill-afford to subsidise for long while funding them through conditionalised aid can clip them into a geopolitical loop and stifle national imagination and national self-determination. A consistency exists in patriarchal Nepali leaders preaching unattainable political sermons and people’s restless behaviour unable to adjust to democratic life. One way to proceed with structural reforms calls for a sustained engagement of youths in the public life of the nation rather than compelling them to emigrate abroad in search of jobs.
The other one is reforming the social studies and humanities courses in education infusing in youth an ability to reflect on Nepali condition and bear responsibility to uplift it rather than succumb to the stimuli of a heartless global market machine. It spawns civic projects and civic lessons, introduction of participatory style in learning, turning youths into autonomous learners thus enabling them to cope with the workplace demands and building productive political life. Still, another would be creating linkages of teaching with productive activities in the community, by introducing group collaboration and amassing the hard lessons of life-experience. These are the core tasks to speed up progress and leverage national wisdom to multi-civilisation order.
The empowerment process of marginalised youths requires the institutionalisation of social transformation. It means creation of an enabling environment through proper ecological, economic and social policies, elimination of all forms of discrimination, protection of their rights, reasonable access to decision making, strengthening institutional support and legal machinery and forging state institutions' partnership with business, communities and civil society to capacitate their ability to tame rent-seeking profligacy and pilfering of public resources. Dependence of people on external agencies undermines their choice beyond the rite of rationalisation. Weak sovereignty in the nation means democratic fragility and lure of Nepalis to many poles of market power increasingly aligned with changing geopolitical patterns.
Only sovereign Nepalis can make effective legitimacy and create leaders’ authority to rule as per public and national interests. Election of leaders is vital for legitimacy but it does not guarantee their better performance unless they have the will and wisdom to pool resources to resolve the functional challenges and improve the quality of life of people. Social inclusiveness adopted by the constitution is good civic virtue but eroding material and institutional basis to meaningfully realise it cannot ignite faith, feeling and foresight about the quality of democratic life. The sharp rise of anomic and anarchic forces in Nepal is the result of growing discontentment of undelivered promises, detachment of mainstream leaders from ordinary folk and indulgence in blame shifting political culture arising out of aspiration, insatiability and envy, not fully achievement-oriented one.
These forces want to relieve the leadership for life of their duties for their ineptitude and flawed action on premature de-agrarianisaiton, de-industrialisation and financialisation of the national political economy which have combined to rip Nepali society’s delicate fabric and drained social capital upon which sound political life can be pursued. Corruption-fed, import-driven, remittance and debt dependent economies cannot offer viable options for the nation’s stable democratic life. The multi-cultural society can have enduring peace, justice and prosperity if each group of people, even the micro minority has proper voice, visibility and productive life.
If the social upheavals of various sorts continue to shoot up and institutional integrity cannot cope with them, weak Nepal cannot carry both constitutional and international duties. The peevish politics of Nepal hardly cares about the virtues of merit and novelty essential to steer law, admin, politics, economy and international relations for the nation’s stable political life. The communication revolution is improving consciousness, the stock of knowledge and skills of Nepali youths. But they are less welcomed into the national polity and willingly offered the space that is theirs by constitutional and inter-generational right. Propelling them to leave the nation for abroad to eke out their livelihood is draining the social energy, productive forces of society, the catalyst of change agents and the nation’s future though they are the sources and backbone of the national economy.
Judicious public action
The government's investment in human capital should be shored up through the cooperation of private sectors and civil society. It can improve the contents of functional education and skill to match with the new economy, health and employment conditions, enabling youths to participate in democratic political life. A number of civil societies have become breeding grounds of aspirations. It can help the co-equal people to improve the public understanding of governmental policies. Their newsletters, seminars, trainings and workshops, press news, protests against harmful policies, internet sites, curricular materials for Dalits, children, women's empowerment, trade unions, etc. can bear a democratising effect on a project scale, not engaging in the broader public space of deliberation, process refinement and judicious public action.
Many of them lack the ability to encourage critical thinking and adoption of native intellectual tradition, values of human rights and dignity which are essential to the transformation of rural Nepal. Retention and mobilization of youths for political and social responsibility can contribute enormously to the dawn of inter-group trust and translating the constitutional vision of egalitarian society through a synergy of the diverse economies into a reality. It can boost up the nation out of the morass of sterility to reasonable prosperity defined by shared rule of sane political life.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)