Dev Raj Dahal
The careerist persons are the ones who hold their personal job improvement in greater esteem than serving institutional duties. They will do anything, even something unethical, to become successful in getting the personal end, even indulge in compromise of their integrity revealing a smug image of “A Blind Man in a Revolving Chair” depicted in Bhupi Sherchan’s poem. The widening of franchise through political struggles, change and elections in Nepal has opened the scope for political parties, interest groups, caucuses, consultants, contractors and citizens’ participation in macro-politics.
This has also amplified the clout of careerist political and clerical officials who believe that their day in public affairs is more for self-promotion than public duty. This belief and action have addicted them to passion and liberated politics and admin from all moral obligations. Careerists are possessive, egoistic and bossy in using their intellect, assume that they know the best and mobilise spin doctors around them to defend their conduct. Charlie Leadbeater & Geoff Mulgan observe “...a deeper change is underway as politics itself loses the capacity to lead and as it comes to be seen as a realm of promises that are not carried out, of systematic untruths, a world which no longer deserves deference and respect”.
In Nepal, politics is the only privileged career for which no academic talent or retreat is required. As a result, politicians keep no interest in public policy and their political power, which is disproportional to their representativeness. The mixture of their power and ignorance will continue to affect Nepal’s future. The attrition of Nepali state by career politicians, bureaucrats and bichaulias (middlemen) and their skill in manipulative roles has eased their effective control over social, economic and political affairs.
Their succour from a whole bunch of pundits, professionals and media persons by means of supplying pale jargons, impersonal theories and methods to write arcane reports has only baffled the public, not delighting them for social progress. Their promise of a radiant future thus amounts to an inversion of ideological liberation, equally idealistic in its premises and equally utopian in promises. It is not the ordinary Nepalis who upend democratic values, but careerist officials.
Literary circle often bristles with social concerns and cheer public criticism in a historical sense of what real experience actually went into the making of a political sphere. It locates self within the moral work and supports popular spirit for social change. By contrast, the regime’s usual work on imported intellectual capital registers regular failures as it does not learn from the practical experience of Nepalis. The declining faith in professionals and certified experts is not totally absurd given their “political correctness” and fawning service to special interests within the fractious leaders, not the public and fear to speak truth to power.
“It is a spirit in opposition, rather than in accommodation, that grips me,” says Edward Said, “because the romance, the interest, the challenge of intellectual life is to be found in dissent against the status quo at a time when the struggle on behalf of underrepresented and disadvantaged groups seems so unfairly weighted against them.” Nepali officials rejoice their “career” not in terms of duty to citizens’ concerns, societal or national obligations defined in their oath and code but in terms of securing professional right. For them, citizens’ empowerment is an Orwellian premise, not simply a fraud but an inversion of the truth. An acute sense of powerlessness is what many Nepalis are feeling, a feeling of getting stuck ad infinitum at the bottom of the pile and facing a dilemma between deriding them and begging them to lead.
Legislators, who boast their occupation is politics, tell that the sensitivity of ministers to their committees and the public is less keen. Whatever the signs, one would not fear the causes if the outcome does not matter. One problem may be citizens’ over expectation from politicians after the inception of democracy and ensuing frustration owing to their habitual exit from principled commitment. Inversely, if representatives are disciplined by fiat, leadership growth with a power of conviction in their minds throttles. Obviously, no recent leader presents a role model whose words are cited for every purpose, who remains the centre of the nation’s moral universe and under whose spell natives could be mobilised for nation building.
The present leaders’ fatal drive for sheer power makes Nepalis nostalgic of earlier leaders – Tank Prasad Acharya, BP Koirala, K P Bhattarai, Manamohan Adhikari, Ganesh Man Singh and Madan Bhandari and courage, dreams and visions. Their names have a therapeutic effect on Nepali Congress and leftist movement in Nepal. Now, careerism thrives in the loss of ideology, in the flaws of leaders’ conversion of politics into occupation and in their inability to make the future better than the past. When leaders become dealers they will fault the party for the nation and fail to keep a balance between the sordid greed of present and the real need of future generation.
Sadly, the democratic education starting with the schools, colleges and universities, which breathed life into civil society before political opening in the nation, is losing light and lustre. The binary education spawns contrasting socialisation and the formation of split political culture, the ruler and the ruled, devoid of critical learning and reflection. To Nepalis, education is very central to foster an inward growth of mind and spirit and know the duties of citizenship, social skills and attitudes that foil a life of smug showiness. One defect of the curricula of private schools is that they are not only de-contextualised but are also unrelated to the real, immediate civic life of Nepalis that help them to thrive emotionally and intellectually. The other is it does not reflect the needs of voiceless vital to the basic building blocks of a comprehensive understanding of how experiences shape cognitive growth.
Majority of private schools of Nepal are ever more turning into commercial houses and the diversity of this system is based on the economic model that fosters the growth of a two-class society. While the public schools are becoming too slack devoid of apt discipline, the political motive of private schools seems to strengthen the upper class to participate in knowledge economy. The values of private ones fail to be in harmony to the nation’s communitarian values. They have earned the reputation for sending graduates into service sectors than into academia or the liberal arts and constitute the elite segment of the generation, a symbol of high-tech cat-walk fixated with unbridled career hit no matter what costs.
The policies of the private educational system tend to carry on traditional class and caste disparity and prevent the upward mobility of ordinary Nepalis through the use of science, reason and education thus straining the process of social transformation. The same holds true to bureaucracy as bulk of its members is atrophied in partisan slant than an ember of professional and social merits. At the mass level, a strong sense of crisis is creeping in politics spurred by growing conflict in all the political parties, their conflicting ends and their socialisation designs echoing an essential concern for stable governance political order. This crisis surged because key leaders ward off the scrutiny of democratic institutions, such as free media, elected legislature and civic groups. The state of crisis implies a condition of anxious awareness of the future.
Nepali leaders never looked for a set of incentives to encourage the old elite to change, except a vague appeal of democracy and seek bottom-up solutions to the nation’s problems. When grassroots forces of change are allowed to cooperate with democratic forces inside the civil society, parties and polity then only will democratisation occur. New leaders have rejected the doctrine of non-interference in the autonomy of cultural, health and educational sectors that even authoritarian leaders embraced for decades. It is unclear whether the new leaders are committed to get rid of arbitrary rule, corruption and impunity when they feel psychologically at ease to adjust to patrimonial rule.
Opposition forces are worthy of positional ones thriving in the central fallacy of Nepali politics where each factions in the party calls itself democratic to oppose the other. Calls for political reforms have arisen from the dissidents and grassroots movements which are not easy to disregard as political parties’ zeal for emancipating the powerless faced a nasty standoff flanked by letting poor vegetate in the nation or migrate abroad in search for livelihood. Even policy debates reflect a crisis of ideas, moral view and broad scholarly vision away from what Bhupi’s echo of this a nation filled with shrill noises and rumours.
To be sure, freedom cannot be reduced to its social, economic and political aspects. It reaches its entirety in the exercise of freedom of conscience which is the basis of human rights. Despite persistent struggle to revive economic growth, the nation remains mired in the deepest misery. A Nepali adult looks more like an uncertain adolescent. Many of their cohorts’ fortune have been shaped by back-breaking debt, powerlessness and a lack of basic necessities in life. And their emotions oscillate between the anxious anticipation and a nearly crushing sense of crisis in their personal lives as they discover the nation’s demographic dividend unutilized in the absence of needed skills, education and shrinking labour market.
The nation’s reliance on foreign aid has increased to such an extent that the government has to share with donors’ entire policy space for progress and governance. Foreign private investment is less fervent because of the lack of economic prerequisite, political stability and rational professionalism. No one has to wait for the finale to see that it exposes the emptiness of the performances of public institutions. The accelerated process of clientalism has compressed the process of social modernisation and revived the politics of parochialism.
The soul of Nepal’s civic culture requires hints of character and compassion, civic virtue to equip leaders and citizens to the core values of citizenship, brace independent and vigorous civic bodies to vitalise the economic spirits and enhance trust and cooperation, not unbridled careerism of authority. To set the social minimum at right level, institutions of governance should be arranged in such a way that each individual and group finds satisfaction in the national disposition and contributes to the promotion of public good. Similarly, there is a need to overhaul the education and health system to suit Nepal’s current need of raising morally accountable, culturally embedded and politically democratic healthy generation governed not by hedonist instinct of utility, but higher order of ethics, integrity and responsibility.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)
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