Thursday, 28 October, 2021

Critical Citizenry Vital For Democracy

Prof. Bhupa P. Dhamala

With the development of modern states, the functions of governments and political parties have drastically changed. This has become more urgent in democracies where governments are formed on the basis of periodical elections through the competition of multiple parties. Once a party wins majority seats in the House, it forms the government and implements its policies and programmes. The state affairs operate with the consent of the general people abiding by the rules of law.
In order for this to happen, the citizens should be independent critical thinkers and the state mechanisms should be neutral. It is in this sense that people prefer democracy to autocracy, needless to reiterate the famous saying of Abraham Lincoln’s concept of democracy as the “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. If these essential conditions are violated, democracy hangs overhead. This article aims to stress the urgent need for developing independent citizenry and neutral state mechanism for democracies to prosper in the world in general and Nepal in particular.

White Spectacles
The scientists are by far the most omniscient viewers with microscopic as well as macroscopic vision. The astronomers, for instance, can see the universe to a far extent. Thanks to Galileo who invented telescope to view the universe that people would otherwise have been quite ignorant of. Yet, looking at things and events from diverse perspectives is a common global phenomenon. As diverse as the perspectives are, they are quite limited also. Because of the diversity and limitation we cannot simultaneously see right and left, back and forth, far and wide. This is but natural.
Much like the natural scientists, social science researchers in the academia also seek to be as impartial as possible in their research. While so doing they wear fair spectacles and probe into the matter no matter what ideology they belong to or what creed they stick to. They have been grossly engaged in extensive studies to find answers to the most plausible questions about the world and our existence. The social science scholars thus practice to see things fairly independently.
The governments of the nations encourage the academicians to conduct independent research with adequate funding. Besides, the business houses and other institutions also involve independent scholars to carry out relevant research. They expect true answers from the study with fair attitudes towards an issue in question. Their findings have already contributed to the change for betterment to a large extent.
But the situation is rather different in Nepal. The political parties and their leaders are heavily ideologically loaded. So are their practices. Each party has formed what they call trade union which in reality behaves like a political organisation. It is unfortunate that there are as many professional organisations as are the political parties. Because they wear coloured eyeglasses, they cannot see things just as they are. This makes them blindfolded to independently see things as they really exist or events as they really take place. The state mechanism has thus fallen into the chasm of partisan politics. It is degenerating limb by limb.
Just as there are trade unions of the political nature in government institutions, so too there are professional organisations of non-government professionals – doctors, engineers, lawyers and what not. No sect of society is free from political ideology and its intervention. In a way our situation has developed in such a way that no citizen can live without an organisation. It is not a welcoming practice to make all citizens imprisoned by one ideology or the other by hook or crook though this is what exactly is happening in our case.
The Nepali academia fares no better. Teachers’ associations as well as students’ organisations are constituted by the corresponding political parties to serve their political ends. Being inclined to a particular political party and sticking to the ideology it wants to propagate, we tend to wear the coloured eyeglasses which hinder us to see things as they really exist. It is more than surprising that we admit we are malpracticing but we never dare to correct it, the main reason perhaps being we are tempted to get the positions of power by appeasing those who have authorities to appoint. This is bitterly unfortunate that we teachers who are expected to teach others to be independent critical thinkers are engulfed into the quagmire of biased outlook.

Ways Forward
First and foremost, the academic institutions should be free of partisan politics. One might argue a university can never escape politics. This is true but not absolutely true. We should clearly distinguish between state politics and party politics. As a knowledge building institution, universities should impart education to promote neutrality, impartiality, integrity, and professionalism. The teachers’ associations and students’ unions can continue to exist but they should not be allowed to participate in partisan political activities. Likewise, recruitment systems should be implemented on purely merit basis, not on the basis of whether or not one belongs to a political organisation.
Likewise, all state mechanisms should be made neutral by appointing the experts in related fields to the positions of power including the ministers and the officials of constitutional bodies. They should work to promote only the constitutional provisions established on the foundation of national consensus. The state is common to all citizens but the party is a community house for only those who belong to the community of a particular ideology. If we appoint a person belonging to a party for the public post, it is very likely that they can work in the interest of their party but not in the general interest of the nation and its people.
The partisan politics should thus be immediately stopped in all state affairs lest an official might wear the coloured glass of an ideology. A political actor can wear coloured glass but the rest of citizenry should be independent and wear white spectacles if we want to really make the situation better.

(Professor of English, TU (retd.), the author is the chairman of Molung Foundation.