Shifting Choices Of Public Life

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The modern predicament of Nepalis is this: exponential growth in their political consciousness but little choice for dignified life, livelihood and liberty.  Democratic politics is a game of free choice for the people to seek the type of ecological, social, economic and political actors, policies and institutions they are comfortable with and use their efficiency to enhance their life-enhancing prospects. Informed choice is an act of deciding among several positive possibilities of life informed by normative ideals of good over the bad without constrained either by an unawareness of self or unbounded fear of authorities, or even the burden of the past. This is the reason democracy seeks to create pluralism of ideas, actors and institutions so that no one can keep monopoly or deny others access to knowledge, power and resources essential to marvel at the life of  liberty, choice, wellbeing and dignity.  No one can undermine the ability of people to judge the art of statecraft.

In politics, competitive political parties foster individual choices for Nepali voters over leadership, organisation, policies and ideologies. Nepali constitution as a social contract is precisely couched in democratic ideals and long-term interests of people and the nation by balancing rights with duties. But to garner stability it must have the ownership of all politically significant sectors of the nation and has the ability to control the reciprocal recession of leaders. A constitution which provides privileges for the powerful is less compelling for the wretched people’s desire for social justice.  The constitutional choice thus requires lawful conduct of all actors of society so that civic freedom and public order find an ideal harmony and weaker sections of people are offered social justice measures for their mobility, hope and stake beyond the glitziness of their demagogic leaders. 

Social solidarity

The welfare state of Nepal is exactly crafted to foster social solidarity and mutual responsibility of various classes of society for shared prosperity. The coordinating capacity of Nepali state is vital to enforce law in the entire society and provide distributive justice as a requirement of rational choice. The surge of power bloc politics of alliance of all parties with all in the elections and the government regardless of varied ideologies, however, limits the choice of Nepali voters in organisations, leadership and policy matters. If top Nepali leaders focus only on their selfish drives without considering the public choice for infrastructural progress and general welfare they will slowly lose bonds with the people. The animation of collective choice of diverse party leaders is obvious in power sharing and relishing unearned wealth regardless of conflicting convictions, preference and identity.

This choice is less obvious in the solution of the nation's numerous problems. The public choice flows from informed deliberation across broad sections of society. This is vital to attune leaders to address basic human needs and constitutional rights through the locomotive of progress.  Democracy prefers market incentives to alleviate the scarcity of society through efficient allocation of resources and secure the economy of peace — production, exchange and distribution. It breaks monopoly, cartel or syndicate and gives the producers and consumers reasonable choice within the frame of rule of law. Absorption of technology in product specialisation improves the living conditions of people, with diversification of choices. But the stretch of the elixir of market in non-market spheres of Nepali society including public good has seized equal outcome for all. 

In democratic system, public goods are not measured by market value and thoughtlessly commercialised. Giving the market too much liberty has a corrosive influence on the state, democracy, popular sovereignty and the real economy. Mislaid faith in market-determinism gives rise to futile fundamentalism in the same way as does social Darwinism and cultural fatalism. They do not give a choice of life for Nepalis deemed as sovereign, requiring to ramp up investment in their education and entrepreneurship for the upland of progress. As the incentive for profit drives the market it does not foster system-sensitive political culture, keep the wheels of trade in balance and spur the buying power of people relative to upward creep of debt, prices and inflation.

Many powerful elites in politics, business and bureaucracy have reaped benefits from the spoils of sadism, instability and sloppy rule of law while the poor had to face the dreary struggle for everyday survival unable to flash forward without emigrating abroad in search of a job.  In this context, certain regulation in the market is crucial so that public choice is not crushed by the burden of necessity imposed by scarcity, powerlessness or an alien paradigm of progress. They make hard choices under desperate conditions, not impulsive decisions, to be recruited in rival armies in the wars in foreign lands because of squeezing service scenarios at home. On the contrary, insensible media and leaders are infusing interests in publicity to advertise about better job prospects abroad than within the nation.

Democracy is a public philosophy and grows with the deliberate public. Both generate the ownership of public in the polity of which economy is only a sub-system. The method of achieving compromise on the rival idea of good life is vital to govern humming economic nationhood. In social life, the concept of choice does not avow empirical divisions, hierarchy, patriarchy, social control and domination but favours the creation of a level playing field for all Nepalis so that their collective social energy serves cooperative action. Nepali society is changing fast with the adoption of law, contract, technology, democracy, human rights and modernity and an aspiration for social mobility. The social life of the family has become gradually more contractual and atomised, adding more divorce rate.

Technology, economy and knowledge are propelling a shift from rural to urban migration and agriculture to industry and services and even abroad marking the move of individuals’ membership to self-chosen direction. This has effects for citizenship and party building. The domination of one unit over others hunks social mobility, fades the system, dents its integrative potential and hacks dynamism. The life of traditional civil society such as Guthi, Paropakar and countless others rooted in dharma remains as usual duty-based. They silently help out the needy without much noise. The modern ones are dissonant, rights and law-based. They suddenly change themselves as a roller-coaster. 

From the time they are born they traverse in the logic of aid oxygen and crazy party politics, face ebb and flow and now look for a right course for serving people, adding self-help and reducing local dependency. Their choice model needs to build citizen-based worthy initiatives of national unity and act as a bridge among the people, the state and the international community. Nepali economists often beat that alleviation of people’s hunger must be put before climate adaptation and resilience. In Nepal, however, climatic perturbation does not offer a better choice other than consigning people to stay in a precariat position, a reverse of what Buddha calls “right livelihood,” hard to attain even under the lofty promise of hedonist treadmill of politics.  Individuals make choices about life in an ecological context of natural resources, income and the amount of self-awareness. 

These are basic frameworks for Nepalis to make sensible choices in private and public life but not ample unless institutional opportunity is on hand for adaptation and the tied aid regime does not limit the choice for the Nepali state and people to follow policies the constitution envisages, the people benefit and match international obligations. Productive use of aid in national priorities and local self-governance can bring the economy back to its feet, uplift people from their pre-existing condition and enable them to exercise constitutional choice.  Obviously, it is not the bounded rationality of elites that matters but the concept of optimality defined by its classical wisdom. The effect of living in a nation where essential goods are imported is dependence, a curb on choice.    

Those plunging into the abyss of progress do not have a choice but are driven by necessity to migrate from their uncertainty of long-established habitat. Elite control of power, resources, institutions and laws make the bulk of Nepalis precariat. Nepal has expanded the basis of social contract with more rights but the material conditions to realise them are deeply amiss. This has made the nation’s politics aspiration-oriented, not stability-driven which is infecting various aspects of public life. The partisanisation of state institutions has weakened its capacity, autonomy and rootedness in society to act impersonally and exercise national self-determination in foreign policy.

 As a result, the state is besieged by grievances-fuelled social movements, some driven by demand to change the constitution, others the political system and still others reform the functions of political parties, media of communication and the structures of health, education, liquid trust on symbolic economy and representative institutions.  Some even prefer to change the rules of the electoral game which is more and more becoming a game of brand competition, not policy alternatives for the people to exercise their rational choice beyond the impulse of unconscious drives, convention, caste affinity, lure of money, coercion, promise of better opportunity for life. 

Constitutional choice

The growing hiatus between the promise of social transformation and the inertia of ordinary Nepalis is the reason for massive migration of capital, labour, business, brains, etc. abroad for better prospects indicating that the cavalcade of progress in Nepal lingers sedatively. A big disconnection exists between democracy that supports equality and an economy that undermines it. National leaders must deliberate on matters of optimal construction of constitutional choice and instability which may continuously deny the ordinary people to exercise their professional, constitutional and human rights. When these rights are weakly linked to production and public policies of the state, law loses its connection to politics, economics, society and morality. 

The utilisation of rational reflection to consider long-term consequences of leaders’ actions or inaction in positive areas is necessary.  Several things are vital in the coherence of constitutional vision, choices and action: disciplining the state of disorder and delegitimizing impunity in politics, business and bureaucracy, keeping rule of law, enforcing the integrity of all spheres of life and greater security, liberty, livelihood and opportunity for Nepalis. 

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

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