Thursday, 9 December, 2021

Cultivating Democratic Culture

Cultivating Democratic Culture

Prof. Bhupa P. Dhamala

When something is too much, it becomes intolerable. The political practice in Nepal is such a thing. The political instability leaves ample ground to argue that our political actors have not been engaged in democratic practice. Neither during the Rana regime, nor under the Panchayat system, nor under the constitutional monarchy did Nepal experience political stability. Even in the republican regime, several governments have been formed and dissolved for transient causes. Among others, the main reason for these unfortunate events is the lack of a democratic attitude, which is the source of democratic behaviour. As is the attitude, so is the behavior.

Message of myths
To be overly interested or to be uninterested at all is a negative trait of political actors. To be a sincere politician with the motive of social service, they need to internalise the disinterested desire for service. As the scripture of the Shreemadbhagawat Gita says, to work with no hope for gain is the essential quality of all human beings. Although this message of the Gita may not always come true in real-life situations, this can nevertheless be the very thing that all political actors can follow if a democratic system is to sustain.

Another similar message has been conveyed in Judeo-Christian scriptures also. Possibly referring to the biblical statement, an American fiction writer Mark Twain has said in his writing, “Lead us not into temptation,” to indirectly convey a message that to fall into temptation is to disobey the command of God. In this satirical write-up, Twain hints that the material world is sinful. This message can also be applied to the political cases where each leader and cadre is expected to discard temptation if democracy is to sustain. Despite being filled with religious overtone, both of these messages are as appealing as they are compelling. High morale devoid of desire for mandatory fruit after harvest and temptation for material gain is what the political actors should avoid.

In ancient myths and legends, a certain sense of ethics had thus been established. Most of them contained moral messages that shaped the way people thought and behaved. Despite unscientific grounds, those myths and legends had the power to influence the people of the whole community. Based on binary opposition, the notion of virtue and vice, good and evil, and heaven and hell were developed from myths and legends. Most of the human behaviours were thus guided by such messages inscribed in the mythical scriptures.

Today, however, we can sense that the ancient values of morals have lost their power. It would have been a good thing if superstitions attached to them had vanished and scientific grounds had been established. In one sense this can be attributed to the scientific inventions and discoveries that have made the world more mechanical today. People have developed the perspective that rather ignores humanity that would only save the world from degeneration. To our dismay, it looks like that our mechanical civilisation is degenerating the values, not less our country, which can be seen in several cases.

To cultivate democratic attitude and behaviour, we thus need to follow high morale, the rules of ethics that had been established long ago, and still are replete with a meaningful message. No other law – whether the statute made in parliament or primitive rule imposed by the chieftain of a community – can work as effectively as does the sense of ethics. When each citizen of a country or community member has high morale and behaves ethically, that country or community develops high civilisation and culture. On the contrary, when many citizens of the country and the members of the community have no morale, that country faces decadence. When the sense of ethics ceases to work, society goes back to the verge of collapse.

Socialistic values
Another important factor that contributes to true democracy is the establishment of socialist values. Nepal’s newly promulgated constitution states that we are a federal republic heading towards socialism. But to this date, we have not precisely defined what socialism is and what it means in the Nepali context. The way leaders of political parties are quarreling for the seat of power ridicules their slogan of socialism. No one can justify the ways the powerful ones are really practicing socialism. It appears that socialism is merely attractive rhetoric, which unfortunately is far from reality. The powerful political leaders are instead practicing crony capitalism that masquerades as socialism because there is no democratic attitude in them, let alone socialist behaviour. Not surprisingly, their followers are also practicing the same. This tendency will in effect worsen the situation.

Crony capitalism that many analysts claim serves the interests of the comprador class is chiefly responsible for the growth of self-interest, the temptation for amassing wealth, and the usurpation of power to gain more. This tendency leads to nowhere but the state of cultural degeneration. Those in power have turned selfish to think of themselves first and engage even in unlawful acts to hoard more than they actually need. We have not heard any powerful political leader declare the submission of their superfluous wealth to the state for the public good. We can hear instead they are allowing their cadres to be engaged in making money by hook or crook, which should be spent in the next election to win the seats in legislative as well as executives.

Many laws of our country are made in parliament to strengthen democracy. But such laws alone cannot work unless those who make laws do not follow those rules themselves. We have seen that the stalwarts of each party try to justify what they claim without knowing they are violating the system they themselves have made. In addition to obeying the rules established by the system, every citizen of the country and the political actor, therefore, should cultivate a democratic attitude and behave accordingly if democracy is to sustain. For that to happen, they should be truly democratic in spirit and action and be responsible.

(The author is the chairman of Molung Foundation.