Dev Raj Dahal
A functional, democratic constitution sets the normative standards in society and seeks to balance freedom and authority, law and politics and rights and duties of citizens, aiming to enhance the delivery of its promise. It improves the efficiency of rule and reins in democratic relapse. The constitution defining the vision of a nation for democratic rule expresses the wish of citizens. It is sustained through the practices of effective judicial review. Nepal’s constitution presumes participatory democracy. It is, however, facing a tension with economy, culture, leadership, institutions, identities and justice shaking the harmony of the state, society and citizenship.
Multi-media spheres have sprawled Nepal’s all contentious concerns over the nature of state, constitution, polity, leadership, federalism, election, judiciary, political parties, civil society, economy and political culture.
Socialisation of Nepalis and their leaders into forgotten civic ideals of the nation is crucial to reshape democratic thoughts of liberty, fine conscience and expression, possibility of self-knowledge, habits of compliance to constitutional spirit and pass judgments about leaders’ performance on the basis of citizens’ universal desire for dignity. The imperative of civic culture presumes sound ties between the welfare state and constitutional rights of citizens and reconciles popular sovereignty and state sovereignty. Both foster the self-determination of Nepalis in public affairs.
Right of self-governance is couched in popular will. It curbs the special privileges of leaders and links the polity closer to the citizens even if mauled by demand overload. Nepali leaders’ diverse perspectives on vital issues and their non-debate in the party conventions can only test the endurance of the public. Only in a negotiated frame of democracy, it is easy to create a common ground for their mitigation, control democratic excesses and foster a mature civic culture of self-responsibility.
Trappings of democracy
It incubates fractious parties, father figure leadership, winner-takes-all politics, patronage based service and flashy corruption eroding the efficacy of all public institutions, no matter how much the size of representation and inclusion is stretched in the political sphere. They have raised the stake of high office holders to stay in power by any means and justify their deeds by cobbling the support of reticent, unsocialised tots. It only leaves the trappings of democracy for the majority of Nepalis with no real stake in it.
The only lightning flash is the semblance of critical self-reflection of some leaders and cadres about their action, inaction or wrong action dawned in the party conventions as to why they waxed and waned in the federal, provincial and local elections. Such Socratic humility may relieve the legislature wracked now by bare knuckled politics bumping into each other.
In such a context, Nepali democracy can hardly serve as a safety valve, an arbitrator of competing interests of business and politics, place critical oversight and hone national cohesion. It is likely to tend constitutional habit of politics in Nepal if past patterns of extra-constitutional and extra-system changes are cured, inter- and intra-party spasms are resolved and the purpose of politics to serve public and national interests is strapped up.
The cosmological roots of Nepal are conducive to democratic vision. Its classical treatises supply universal understanding of self (human nature), not the Hobbesian who can only be disciplined by all-powerful Leviathan.
In this sense, Nepalis are cultural bearing beings in a perpetual quest for social emancipation through education. Similarly, security, protection and wellbeing, not the Weberian violence-monopolising institution, are is gaining currency with the notion of human rights. And moreover, international system is locked in the web of life, not anarchic and isolated fragments as depicted by Hedley Bull, is likely to revive the utility of Panchsheel beyond the Westphalian prop that does not support domination of the Other but find the remedies of causes in the middle path.
Nepali state now represents the synthesis of both the Eastern and Western cultures. The absorption of their normative and institutional traits in the constitution entails change in the nature of Nepali politics and political culture which will have a worthy bearing on its polity. The democratisation of franchise has helped Nepalis to recast their social bond in new ways and reform what is less democratic. But they need to be taught the notion of duties attuned to civic virtues. Democracy is a bottom-up process of self-liberation. Elected local government is a basic unit for deepening democracy. By turning all citizens the bearer of sovereignty, nationalism is linked to democracy as the rule of citizens while shared equal rights necessitated to live together in the Nepali state.
Nepali scholars continue to supply certain empirical indicators - education, income, access to information, social mobility, health, justice, market economy, civil society, rule of law and autonomy of watchdog agencies - essential for democratic politics. While others demand the promise of citizens and leaders to their historically evolved values, norms, culture and traditions deemed as ‘social capital’ essential for large-scale cooperative action. New patterns in Nepal’s participatory bent are: demand for social representation than representation through political belief, tapering of partisan attachment with the construction of leaderless caucus, lobby, social movement and network politics and proportional representation that includes social, cultural, geographic and political minorities contesting majoritarian democracy and its jurisdiction.
In this sense, to make Nepalis conscious and active is essential to strengthen the participatory base of democracy, turn leadership accountable to the constitution, nurture a culture of reconciliation and moderate the unconstitutional appetite of post-modern geopolitical activism. This is possible if the macro institutions of the state uphold the national integrity system and the grassroots infrastructures of democracy keep the standard of democratic public life thus offering better development outcomes than offered by any authoritarian regimes.
Consolidation of constitutional democracy requires reforming dreary economic basics and giving Nepalis choice in the market process, not only the unequal exchange of its labour for capital whose social costs remain austere. If the economic foundation of the nation does not rebound, the majority of youths either freeze in poverty, nurse cynicism or lack opportunity other than to land in foreign land in a life’s harsh scramble for survival. Only democratic construction of ecological, economic and political life can enforce egalitarian effects in society orienting the leaders and citizens to the vision of the constitution.
No break amounts to complicating the reversal of the cycle of constitutional change through extra-constitutional aspirations and radical appeals. It enfeebles the nation’s civic institutions, virtues and culture laid dormant underneath the society. Given Nepali parties’ various inclinations, leadership consensus on the constitution remains only at the abstract level while beneath the surface many signs of dysfunctions continue to twist the democratic process. Business incursion into politics and politicisation of bureaucracy indicate the failing of the state to reconcile the interest of elites and the mass in policy matters.
The signs of party leadership election or selection in Nepal indicate that inter- and intra-party democratisation is crucial to tie the bottom with the structure of leadership, overcome the problems of ideological deficits and organisation and policy amnesias. The realisation of all rights enshrined in the constitution, equalisation of welfare across Nepal’s diverse groups and accountability in social representation of political power can overcome democratic shortfalls and erase the legitimacy, transparency and effectiveness gap of political leaders.
Since participatory democracy represents the general interest of society and grows with the life of ordinary Nepalis, it impulsively relates their everyday practices. Nepali civil society must bear cultural memory of the nation so that citizens continue to uphold national identity, not inflamed by identity politics. In the absence of a robust civil society rooted in the sanity of its own knowledge, the functioning of self-regulating market razes the cultural memory. In this context, a democratic balance of the state, economy and civil society is an imperative for political stability in Nepal beyond the legislative, executive and judiciary nexus.
If there is no coherence between the state, economy and citizens in the national space, democratic institutions, norms, values, knowledge and experience based on the sedimentation of the nation's historical traditions fail to harness the public spirit of participatory culture. This culture is important to bridge the gap between knowledge and wisdom. Many of the emancipatory ideals of Nepal’s syncretic culture relish abolishing social evils through cultural industries and overcoming unjust arrangement of preference and prospect.
Constitutional democracy optimises diverse interests, ideologies and identities in its realm and eases peaceful conversation, conciliation and liberation of Nepalis from their constraining condition arising out of tradition of fatalism, feudal coercion and impunity. This is the way to foster national cohesion of social classes and create their stake in its bodypolitik. Political stability in Nepal requires the institutionalisation of constitutional tradition of politics, law, bureaucracy and national institutions. The social change based on fair elections, education, communication, contact with others, economy of peace and restoration of the equilibrium of society makes the circulation of new classes in political power easy.
Inequality of resources affects the quality of democracy and deprives the Nepalis of participatory resources, information, skills, tools and institutions. When the knowledge gap connects the elites more to the virtual world, accountability to the visible mass suffers. Broad-based participation of Nepalis in democracy calls for installing certain basic conditions: their impact on public policy, property rights to each, use of tax to uplift the poor and make use of the state to raise production to foster sustainable progress.
Social, cultural and political pluralism makes Nepal suitable for democratic culture. Nepalis are neither xenophobic nor intolerant to the empirical diversity except certain rhetoric of leaders and elites who thrive on divide and rule and command and control, not the art of political persuasion. The fresh explosion of class, market, gender, ethnic and territorial determination politics requires optimisation so that they cannot be instrumentalised for wild politics. Nepalis require equal citizenship, not idolised identity-craziness, which kills the spirit of civility and modernity.
Consolidation of constitutional democracy thus abhors both tribalisation of society and post-modern lack of affection to the state. As a compromise formula, it stresses building the national identity of citizens by politicising them on national values. Nepal’s history suggests that discontinuity of politics marks the failure of political classes to deliver their promises and create more winners of democratic outcome than the losers. It creates the stake of rural poor and minorities, women and Dalits and their ownership of its process and outcome and faith in constitutional governance. Width and breadth of intermediary institutions, ethically-based business practices and alignment of foreign aid to national priorities can contribute to democratic expansion and deepening, and add value to rule-abiding citizens.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)
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