Resolving The Paradox Of State Sovereignty


A sovereign state is able to determine its policies, laws and politics within its territorial jurisdiction without outside intrusion and govern the flow of people, goods and other transactions. If political relations are decided by the dominance of geopolitics, economics by global market exchange and social life by transnational values, ideologies and interests, the state loses its capacity to exercise full autonomy in its national society and sovereignty in its international life. Modern state is defined by international accords, citizens’ loyalty and certain monopoly on power to subdue the divisive forces linked with the rival global powers which undermine its autonomy, sovereignty and independent identity. 

This is why the state formation process in Nepal and the world over is driven by the centralisation of authority, control of the rival sources of power and edifice of bureaucratic, military and police conscription capable of collecting taxes and nurturing law and order in society for its security, exchange and welfare functions. It can foster a chain of command, hierarchy and order in society to exert social control and set the functionalist rationale of system maintenance. Justin Rosenberg’s “paradox of sovereignty” of state fits well with Nepal. It is caught between its historical centralised role and a measure of actual power dispersed into many institutions. It has to share power with the autonomous groups of Nepali society. 

Territorial demarcation

The other paradox is: between territorial demarcation and an amazing permeability and growing interdependence. Still the other is: between state sovereignty and liberal constitutionalism espousing popular sovereignty and a dense web of global connections, communication, solidarity and transactions suitable for international life. There is incongruity between the geographical size of Nepali state which is relatively small compared to neighbours and its big society spread in various nations of the world but preserving Nepali identity (even non-resident Nepalis aspire for double citizenship). Its soft power is de-territorialized.

 Nepal’s ancient and civilizational heritage of tolerance to social and cultural pluralism and asylum-seekers is unique yet there is a massive scale of emigration of its dynamic sectors of population now for job opportunities. Nepali leadership has to resolve these paradoxes and translate the constitutional vision of economic independence by retaining productive forces of society and creating national opportunities more attractive for Nepalis for their future. When the nation is plunged into undue external dependence on civilising influence, intellectual order, power, wealth and legitimacy Nepali state sovereignty and popular sovereignty cannot become synchronous. 

Leadership must acquire the ability to mediate the state and private interests for the general wellbeing of people.  Any comfort with the invited power can glint regime instability, open the state’s fault lines and strain the nation’s mal-adaptation to geopolitically multi-polarised global order.  Periodic democratisation process has laid a lid on the unjustifiable sadistic private passion of leadership, carved power separation and checks, set up shared rule, social and gender equality, granted local self-governance and offered the civil rights to Nepalis. But the ego-inflating passion of Nepali leaders is yet to be socialised, enabling the state to treat its people as sovereign, seek balance in the Constitutional Council and promote enlightened national interests. 

Their rights can be secured if courts, civil society, media and the public sphere with separated authorities can keep their autonomy and integrity. These countervailing bodies have to play their due democratic roles. This can give a free rein to the transformative potential of institutions attuned to welfare-nationalism and collective will of sovereignty in a condition of global anarchy.

Nepali leadership’s practice of neo-liberal capitalism has generated what Stephan Gill calls crises in the state sovereignty for it embraced “ahistorical, economistic, materialistic, me-oriented, short-termist and ecologically myopic” policy. It has caused the post-Westphalian Nepali state’s retreat from its own authority, subsidy, price control and tariffs and de-nationalised its political economy, marking the regime accountable to the finance capital. The Ncell episode lays bare the political impact of MNCs in Nepali politics. It has generated economic dip and democratic shortfall. The life of the poor Nepalis has now descended into an abyss of misery beyond the capacity of the state to fully execute social justice, social security, right to work and social protection. 

Neo-liberalism disembodied the capital from society with flashing contradictions and conflicts beyond the ability of Nepali intellectuals and civil society to offer curative measures. It laid siege to state-centric politics and the state-society unity thus corroding the material and legal bases of sovereignty. In Nepal, the diverse specialised functions of constitutional bodies and public institutions are weakened by the transgression of mainstream party politics. They are feeble to address the varied needs of Nepali society but powerful to silence the voices of people through unseen privileges of unaccountable experts, subordinated the mode of production to financial capitalism, infused violent conflict and bred institutional erosion. 

The modern state entails a division between the public and the private sphere with their distinctive powers. It can ward off the feudalisation of both and control the thieves of state seizing its resources and waning its authority and legitimacy. The sovereign state does not illicitly share power with feudal, political parties, special interests, or even alien powers except in the areas of sharing mutually beneficial common good. In Nepal, however, powerful political parties with their oligopoly of power have seized almost all the sphere of political life -- public institutions, constitutional bodies, the government, polity and the state and disabled them to perform impersonally to serve national and popular sovereignties. 

The electoral and post-election coalition of dissimilar political parties have incubated a model of politics that is uncompetitive to offer organisational, political and policy choice for Nepalis enabling them to exercise their co-legislative power, the core of popular sovereignty. The spheres of economy and media have formed their own syndicate to jostle against the state laws and people’s aspirations. As a result, both economic goods and vital information desired by them for shaping public opinion are slanted. Both succumb to the conformity of consumer culture.  Democratic sovereignty requires certain policy steps. The first is the right of Nepalis to self-determine politics, laws and development policies suitable to flourish national progress. 

The second is migration control to give Nepalis welfare benefits generated within the nation so that they do not have to leave the nation just for life and livelihood.  The third is recruitment of Nepalis in the army, police, armed police force and bureaucracy to augment national power. The fourth is connecting Nepalis to civic patriotism through education and socialisation and enhancing their ability to carry out constitutional and human rights duties. Ironically, Nepali media often report the influence of geopolitics on these areas. The open border and globalisation of political economy have made it difficult for immigration control, offer welfare benefits to Nepalis and spur national economic independence. 

On the conscription of security personnel the nation has no control. Nepalis are joining many armies -- Indian, the UK, the US, France, Russia and Ukraine. They are serving in Brunei and Singapore police while the nation is facing the shortfall of public and national security and its frontiers are vulnerable to interconnected economic crimes, human trafficking, smuggling of materials, refugees, etc.  In Nepal leadership expression of the politics of difference, dents national cohesion.  Civic nationalism conducive to democracy has yet to evolve to rise above primordial, partisan, caste, gender, regional and class considerations. This poses a challenge to democratic nation building as it does not spur the collective will of people expressed into national sovereignty.

The social formation of geopolitics is evident from Nepal’s recent history where communal forces, civil society, media, business and solidarity groups have acted in a concert for regime change and contested the security, authority, law and sovereignty of the Nepali state. The funding and philosophy defines their loyalty patterns; unglue the state-citizenship ties and the loyalty to the state. Nepal has yet to keep a balance between the doctrine of people’s rights and duties of the state and control special interests who seek to disrupt this balance through social engineering. The clash of solidaristic forces is growing with the economic dependence of many interest groups, civil society and professional bodies to different poles of global powers making Nepali government’s autonomy totally fragile, unable to complete its full tenure. 

The antinomy between economic neo-liberalism and political realism poses another paradox in Nepal as the former demands deregulation and globalization confiscating national capacity and sovereignty while the latter expects the promotion of national interests and resolution of the security dilemma. Nepal’s membership in many international regimes including the UN, the WTO has blurred the boundaries of politics and market, clientalised its brain, money and labour to global markets where the constitutional reach of Nepali democracy to international economic integration is little. 

Intellectual order

Many nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America are, therefore, defining their own cultural and intellectual order on the basis of experience of people, reclaiming popular sovereignty and the state in vital issues of governance, formulating the rules of society and escaping from domination.  They assume that standards of rationality cannot be entirely derived from the homogenised context of the Western’ categories which is inapt to the rationality of local context, remote from the stock of knowledge and experience of people and counter-productive to democracy and progress which demands local participation and ownership. 

The wholesale borrowing of intellectual, legal and ideological orders of progress and modernity without compatible historical, institutional and material preconditions and cultural aspirations of Nepalis simply reflect the distortion, not proper indigenisation essential to resolve the paradox of the sovereignty and seek a sound coherence between popular sovereignty and state sovereignty through the national constellation of territory, people and political economy and spur the bonding forces of society for social and national integration.  

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

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