The proclamation of the much-awaited statute in 2015 turned Nepal into a democratic republic with an orientation towards the political philosophy of socialism. As stated in the preamble of the constitution, all prominent political parties have unanimously accepted the term "socialism oriented" as a major commitment of the envisioned political system. The journey of socialism begins with the promotion of public ownership in means of production, the materialisation of socialist market economy and the conversion of Nepali society into social culture. It advocates for equal rights and opportunities for all. The achievement of the noble target for the transfer of means of production from private to public sector requires economic and political equality that is compatible with the spirit of principles of equity.
Differing ideologies Philosophy of socialism has influenced Nepalis when it comes to choosing political setup in the country. At present, global economies are pursuing systems influenced by differing ideologies. Firstly, the principle of liberalisation, privatisation and the open market economy has been widely accepted by the majority of economies including the countries with communist lineage. Post-1990, almost 200 regional trade agreements have been signed around the world with the purpose to strengthen regional capitalist systems. The European Union members, APEC, LAFTA and BRI countries are in the mainstream. Nepal is also highly influenced by these agreements and treaties. The world can be seen as gravitating back towards a regional capitalist order.
Secondly, Nepal is in a dilemma. Its foreign policy has not strongly materialised. In the federal context, the achievement of targets regarding the allocation of national resources has been impeded by disputes between various layers of governments. Major disputes are present in the unequal distribution of grants to eliminate regional disparity, ownership of resources and the jurisdiction of different tiers of governments. There are serious issues regarding the effective implementation of the fundamental features of federalism.
Thirdly, an effective materialisation of the socialist order is also affected by hostility from certain ethnicities regarding some provisions of the constitution. Fourthly, emphasis on the distribution of resources without sufficient national production is impractical. The working class is known to be the most productive segment in any society. However, in the context of Nepal, the working class is far behind regarding access to national economic resources.
The structure and characteristics of the economy are not conducive and compatible with the socialistic framework. The excessive problem of unemployment in the country has resulted in brain and muscle drain. Fifth, Nepal cannot remain isolated from evolving world trade issues between the US and China. Trade issues between these countries are bound to have a long-lasting unavoidable effect. Nepal should be able to balance differing strategic alliances without hurting national interest and sovereignty.
Sixth, the central government should sufficiently facilitate other layers of governments to reach the destination of socialism. All acts and rules need to be in line with federal laws. However, the process of enacting federal laws has not yet concluded. As a result, lower-level governments have not been able to progress further as regularisation of planning and strategising is awaiting the enaction of these laws. Prerequisites to a smooth transition to socialism are the easy and affordable access to basic needs such as education, health facilities and housing. Similarly, basic attributes such as the development of a self-reliant economy, upliftment of the working classes and eradication of hunger and poverty need to be ensured. Other agendas include the fulfilment of general issues such as guaranteeing social security to senior citizens and weaker segments of society. Several social programmes concerning services used by all citizens need to be implemented.
Examples include construction of roads, medical facilities, schools, security instalments and firefighting facilities. Building a sovereign economy requires the prioritisation of cooperatives and the encouragement of public investment. Similarly, it is necessary to stop the hegemony of international trade and open market over local production. This is the right time to announce package programmes and grants to protect and promote localised production systems, small scale agriculture and industries. Now the moment has come to promote local and national products and reduce the dependency on foreign markets. Strict progressive taxation needs to be implemented. The existing monopoly of middle agents in the agriculture value chain needs to be eliminated.
It is indeed a tricky task to push drive for socialism in Nepal because of the political setup, economic structure, and unwillingness of policymakers. Ironically, our leaders have not refrained from debating on the topic of building socialism. All this is happening while ignoring the ground reality of the country. It is difficult to revamp national economy due to high dependence on foreign aid, remittance, huge trade deficit, comprador class nd widespread corruption.
The political cadres want to see a strong economy where resources, finance and technology are grabbed by a few handful elites while the majority suffers from poverty, hunger, unemployment, migration and so on. If present policies continue, inequality will increase and there is a chance that the country's politico-economy will be increasingly dependent on and guided by external market centres. There is no alternative to reviving the weak state-led economy for the eradication of hunger, poverty and guaranteeing social justice.
Global perspective Is it possible to return to a state-owned economy in the 21st century? Would it be easy to run our economy from a global perspective where liberalisation, free-market policy and privatisation have gained upper hand? Given the current socio-economic condition and many other factors, the country is very unlikely to achieve socialism. This is the bitter truth. However, we cannot deviate from this unanimously accepted progressive economic objective. Nepal must strive to materialise the key economic slogan of socialism – ‘from each according to his ability and each according to his work’.
Left-wing factions in the country feel proud to address themselves as democratic rather than classical communists. Democrats are highly influenced by their noble objectives of socialism, nationality, and democracy. Mainstream parties have expressed their commitment to socialism without compromising democratic norms and values. Hence, in Nepal, socialism based on Marxism and Leninism has gone far behind. In our context, democratic socialism looks feasible and is also more compatible with the global trends.
(Mainali is a former secretary of Nepal government.)