Dev Raj Dahal
The outbreak of global pandemic COVID-19 is shaking every aspect of human life. It is creating anxiety among the citizens, leaders and nations of all divides—rich and poor, powerful and powerless and across multiple identities. It is spreading globally with the mobility of humans and materials but there is no invention of exact remedy. It is obvious that pandemic is disrupting international system built on hierarchy of power and status. This system, however, lacks the coherence in the management of open environment, closed social, economic and political systems and hate-filled geopolitics. No singular effort to cope with the pandemic, climate change, economic development, social modernisation and emotional balance is enough as the crises are systemic in nature. They transcend the boundaries defined by citizenship.
Yet, the signs of major powers turning inward in handling the crises hit a snag against any veneer of global governance. The mode of cooperation has now become concentric-self, neighbourhood and beyond in order of priority. For long greed, as a philosophy of inordinate longing for material profit and amassing of lethal weapons more than one needs, drove the business, politics and decision makers regardless of its costs for the suffering of poor, nature and culture. The spell of greed as a driving force of progress has been falsified by evidence. It has spawned the terrifying spectacle of the crises of extraordinary scale disrupting systemic goals, identities and institutions.
David Brooks says that the sin of “greed runs itself destructively rampant.” The negative effects of perverse desire for greed, arrogance and superiority in action show no sign of slowing down. They are undermining social and national integration. Effects are uneven to nations and citizens rooted in the complex web of causes of structural attributes demanding change in the system of rules, processes and institutions to address. This has offered a great deal of opportunity to collaborate among nations, modify the rules of the game and celebrate the conception of polity each nation justifies for its citizens for its binding ideals of transparency, responsiveness and accountability to enhance survival-enhancing melody.
So far only the state seems to be the solution of crises by means of enforcing lockdown of population, social isolation of citizens meant to limit viral infection, border control, improvement in health care facilities and relief to the poor for survival, not the problem as neo-liberals mistakenly denigrated it, fanned the element of greed as a tool of progress and applied its contents in society without any concern of public deliberation, consultation and feedbacks and rules of moral sentiment advocated by Adam Smith. The outcome is: woeful shortage of productive capacity of the nation even on survival needs.
Non-linear progression demands shoring up community at multi-scale from locality to global level able to break self-interested moves, discover common interests for collective action and set the cost of sustainable development at low cost as far as possible. The ideal of national community too demands the return of the state as a common life beyond private pursuit of greed, competition, efficiency and the loss of the meaning of the social and emotional that underpins its template for better future. Global solidarity is especially significant for Nepal because it is heavily dependent on international system for power -labour market, tourism, foreign investment, trade, aid, knowledge and communication and legitimacy - which has exposed its vulnerability to crisis-infected international system change.
Nepali citizens are now learning by experiencing, coping with the challenges and evolving civic virtues enriched by its heritage of public spirit to help the needy out of a civic sense of responsibility, care and discipline. What Gautam Buddha has preached for the creation of a mindful society has now become relevant for Nepal and the global community. It can alter the nature of adversarial and competitive system of justice, politics and economy driven by the discontent of enlightenment - greed, creed and grievances.
Nepal is a nation of multitudes. It is, therefore, pulling diverse citizens together to deal with the multiple crises. The harmony of Constitutional vision and social welfare state and corresponding public policies can create a fairer society which provides public good to all rather than turning citizens into either clients or consumers or workers suffering from different pressures of lives. The outsourcing of public good to private sector for long has inverted its constitutional spirit of social welfare state and yielded predatory outcome for food, health, education, job and social mobility for the underclasses.
The governing principles of Nepali society is that in times of crisis citizens often long for community and connections for they know that individualism, personal greed and cut throat competition can collectively weaken their national spirit that endured its independence. Their solidarity during great earthquake, economic blockade and pandemic is based on common values of citizenship, mutual help and social cooperation, not atomised, egoistic, apathetic and selfish persons ill-suited for self-determination and self-governing polity. An awareness of Nepalis has instilled in them a feeling that personal pursuit of good life should be consistent with the overall health of the nation.
Its constitution has, therefore, adhered to multicultural recognition to social inclusion, proportional representation and affirmative action in every sphere of public life aiming to build solidarity between majority and minority and elevate private person to dignified citizens capable of thinking, acting and influencing the condition of life. It equally creates a common background for a shared future. Cooperation has emerged at associational levels such as health workers, security, labour, journalists, lawyers, women, civil society, NGOs, business, local bodies, federations and functional groups of society engaged in socialising and promoting their maturity. Time has come to prove their standards of excellence and social entrepreneurship against the passion for greed breeding life’s tribulation. The art of working together can generate civic virtues and foster associational life vital to foster civic skills among Nepalis to climb up the economic and social ladder and weather the crises they collectively face. A collective rationality demands coordination of activities and strategies and preservation of lives.
Skewed ownership of Nepali political parties of various hues on the Constitution and partisanisation of all public institutions have contributed to their decay in authority, duties and roles. Embedding them in the ground is vital to give citizens a general sense of feeling of a national community, the state, their loyalty to it and shared Nepali identity. The tags Nepali political parties hold have nothing to do with their ideologies on which they are founded except to whip the herd instinct of masses as a vote-catching ploy. Their catch-all nature has, however, left their competing conception of good life artificial. Their dissimilar tendencies-one party resonate the state and nationalism, the other economic liberalism, the other social class, some ethnicity and some region while other seek to optimise these mini units for nation-building are rule-straining. These tendencies have multi-polarised Nepali politics turning them into personality cult which rewards only loyalists even if they undermine party organisations, policies, discipline and ideologies subverting inner party democracy.
At a time of national crisis the importance of political stability, social cohesion and national resilience demand the cultivation of integrity of leadership in their inner life and system imperatives, not the rationalisation of partisan distribution of spoils that cuts peace dividends. Michael Sandel has said, “Greed is a vice, a bad attitude, an excessive single-minded desire for gain” causing the risk of failure of polity. The sum of structural nature of the crises and functional inadequacy to solve them constitute the fragile system lacking right condition for a balance.
Nepal needs a vibrant democratic counterweight, the public sphere, which can knit diverse Nepalis into a common conversation for opinion making about crises solution. It can enliven individuals’ links with the native tradition of knowledge and trust, community, society and the state and open the perspective for secured life. Nepali state and its institutions need to rebuild self-correcting mechanism and acquire an ability to act impartially among various political convictions towards the concept of good life beyond greed which Buddha said the source of all grief. When the rule of law becomes weak special interest groups, lobby, caucus and pressure groups scramble for power, invert the noble purpose of democratic politics to their advantage and create a privileged class of elites distanced from the feeling, life and hope of ordinary citizens. Some of them have taken crisis as an opportunity to unlawfully enrich self and cronies.
The swelling power of these groups and their backdoor influence over the leadership has hobbled the capacity of Nepali polity to function as per the spirit of Constitution. Impunity has weakened the ability of law to control greed and affirm the sanctity of public life. The core fight in Nepal is thus between democratic equality and privilege. The later detests the egalitarian effect of democracy and generational mission of struggle for dignity where each Nepali consumed by grief seeks the liberation of self, not only the market, that does not provide broad array of social insurance policies to free the vulnerable from unbearable hardships imposed by the multiple consequences of pandemic.
Nepal has to assume a structural approach, one that transcends the barriers of disciplinary knowledge and confronts the intensifying systemic effects that culture of greed has bred by dichotomising public goods into the public and private including the health sectors. Scientific reason and rational knowledge are insufficient to control greed without the redemptive aid of norms, laws, justice, morality and reciprocity Nepali society has defended for long. The solution of pandemic demands a transformative leadership, one that accepts the differences of cognitive, biological, income, life style and level of wellbeing but shares the same national ship and shapes common future.
The sustainability of progress infuses new economic values and the quality of life that adopts rightful distributive policies and transparent use of national resources, imposes no burden on the future generation and moves politics beyond identity whereby each citizen sees others mutually linked and helps the other in time of crisis. Only collective efforts can help overcome their crises of climate change, pandemic, poverty, poor health, education and livelihood and dignity. Sustainable progress in Nepal can be built on the good health and education of all citizens supporting their aspiration of reasonable change in the social, economic and political institutions entailed by ecological resilience and technological innovation. In time of crisis, national leaders should look for their citizens’ altruistic virtues, social bond and national unity and cultivate their civic ideals securing social and national survival and renewal.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)
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