Saturday, 4 December, 2021

Development In Turbulent Time

Dev Raj Dahal

Turbulent time marks a phase of transition from the stable state to messy, muddled and fragmented order where many norms, rules, institutions and practices of the past turn archaic while new ones have yet to be settled. Development processes face flux and fluidity waiting to define the texture of development. One can see deconstruction in some areas, creative destruction in others and fresh adaptation of the dynamic sectors in others. Now development is seen in long-term planetary frame. It embodies certain values of democratic participation of citizens in improving the standards of their living and finding optimal way to unlock their potentials to become free, active citizens, not only consumers of sprawling array development theories or passive recipients of government subsidy.
Amartya Sen has defined “freedom as development,” a reference that enables individuals to acquire capabilities and exercise choice and rights aiming to secure quality of life and civilised dignity. This notion discounts the conformity to development as a mere accretion and dispersion of wealth. The questions of ecology, democracy, justice and peace have thus captured its global landscape. Now cultivating their interrelationship requires a shift from the old politics of power without public purpose to ethically and ecologically embedded public policies and laws that remove citizens’ ignorance and constraining conditions to their pursuit.
In this sense, the discipline-determinist development has crippled people’s rational faculty and destroyed their freedom and adaptive innovation. Similarly, solely growth-based policy failed to spur a common cause for ecological and ethical values vital to cultural renewal, cooperation and peace. Johan Galtung defines development in terms of “unfolding of a culture; realising the code or cosmology of that culture.” Obviously, culture is a synthesis of a nation’s intellectual stream that subdues primitive passion, provides memory to function and conduct dependable lives. By contrast, de-culturation and naïve utility-bound impede the progress of common traits, social learning and spring of human action guided by reason.  
Political system provides the legal frame of development and its purpose, emancipation. In Nepal, however, a clash of countervailing pressures provides the locomotive to its politics. Leaders seek to balance them, not restore shared democratic structures to prevent the erosion of political process and ethics of responsibility that assuage people’s suffering by means of fulfilling basic needs, civic rights, political expression, adjudication of rival interests in the common ground of peace and equitable solution to climate change. Climate change, like pandemic, touches on every aspect of Nepali life. It, therefore, summons all actors of conscience to build solidarity for its control and mitigation to give impetus to circular economy.
Linear development cannot be sustainable in a nation of diverse population and geography like Nepal beset by the pandemic, poverty, inequality and uneven level of progress. The management of upward political bickering and transition to stability stifled by shifting constellation of power are vital steps to create business friendly environment. Nepal’s development faces a crisis of common values nourished by national culture and predation, no production governing its political economy. Its effects are: erosion of commitment to the social contract and the rise of self-perpetuating dynamics of leaders in a pre-modern style which undercuts the rationality of choice in the participation of sustainable development. This is why political consensus on social welfare state could not leap forward. The semblance of public sphere it created has been manipulated by market, media and power where civil society remains feeble to counterbalance.
The growing green consciousness in Nepal with association, mobilisation and collective action has profound influence on people’s lives. Native civil society groups are rising to preserve biodiversity and ecosystem before they become irreversible. Ironically, political development based on consumerist model of the rational calculation of personal interest and choice has eroded party affiliation and policy differences and fostered exclusionary politics of identity thus demonstrating the shortfall of political system to settle the critical challenge posed by the gaps of top versus the bottom of society and the heartland versus peripheries. The horizon of hope for inclusion embedded in the Constitution of Nepal requires balancing the wellbeing of citizens and repositioning of Nepali state along welfarist and order-creating production.
These are critical preconditions to grassroots-oriented, transparent and responsive self-rule based on the priority of people. The earlier political response to underdevelopment espoused false remedy- privatisation of benefit and socialisation of cost - which flipped off in producing the melody of ecology, education, health and livelihood. The post-neoliberal consensus is premised on the fact that state and non-state officials are meant to secure the life of citizens by offering public good, not only securing the profit for capital that drains social capital. Without the sturdy foundation of economic democracy in Nepal, political democracy loses its lustre.
The growth of social struggles in Nepal for justice has moved the marginal voice to the mainstream demanding from the leadership a fair system for all to escape the life of strife, selection and mere survival. Finding the mainstream theories less inclusive, the UN formulated SDGs where all sectors of society have roles in its progress. Its motto “no one is left behind” demands active citizens who can deliberate about policy, resource, local empowerment, grassroots ownership and their associational activism. The reorganisation of community at multi-scale and across various spaces thrill hopeful milieu for livelihood, regenerate local natural economy, enable politics to regulate market and reorient the state by monitoring its resource allocation.
Many community-based projects of Nepal utilise the historical practices, culture and local knowledge evolved since ages and rely on it for their livelihood and social mobility while the government’s performance in implementing action plan on climate adaptation is marred by institutional inertia, lack of adequate resources, reshuffling of officials and fuming of development partners. Foreign aid has omnipresent impact on Nepal’s development but also a paradox: donor’ conditionalities and government interest in the alignment of aid to national priority.  
The central premise of development is not only growth or modernisation designed by the crowd of planners and professional experts who are pulled by the gaze and glitter of advanced nations whose advice changes frequently. They are less engaging in a dialogue with the people considering native reality a framework condition. They thus refused to take accountability for the flawed execution of development path. Many Nepalis are switching to alternative path of development encouraging local communities to address their problems, a back to the grassroots citizens as a popular response and realisation about the interconnection of all life-species.
With the profound personal transformation in experience about the historical change, sensible thinkers are awakened about the ecological basis of life. It is seen in not only reinventing the wheels of development every time but maintaining the old architecture, culture and infrastructures. This means the new shift to development adds value to the notion of progress that factors the full array of indicators including cognitive science, artificial intelligence and accumulation of practical experience though its basic values differ from cultural and intellectual perception.
It improves the legitimacy of plans and programmess and reduces the intensity of grievance formation hence contributes to social and political stability. It can open the prospects for inclusive economic growth. Development challenges in Nepal spring from poverty, rising youth unemployment, critical deficits in vocational and professional education, health, infrastructures for the modernisation of agriculture and industry and social and regional imbalance. Nepal’s dependency arose from the official neglect to set the interrelationship between agriculture, industry and trade and level up the leverage to manage geopolitics.
Nepali economy is suffocated by a predictable decline losing its productive capacity, apathetic investment, inflation and anxious adjustment of people to the scarcity created by lockdown and market imperfection inflicted by many layers of middlemen between the producers and consumers. They have increased the cost of vital goods. The big vault in Nepal at the level of literacy, decline in maternal and child mortality, political inclusion of women, backward classes, castes and region, social security, and cooperatives, community forestry and mini enterprises cut the old belief that the nation is cursed by sati for its delayed development. It is denied by a maxim “fate does not hold milk in a holed basket,” indicating that Nepalis are not progress-resistant.
Now its development is afflicted by slow economic growth, slothful savings and drain of resources in unproductive privileges and perks to expand patronage politics, decline in the income of tourism, remittance, foreign aid and investment, not just landlocked condition. In a turbulent time the need is to free Nepali policy makers from the false remedy they and their predecessors have offered to this nation’s perils, encourage to dispose of paternalistic belief about the superiority of empirical knowledge, socialise them to think with the people, acquire inter-disciplinary intelligence and learn from their practical experience rather than maintaining intellectual and moral superiority over them and upholding detachment. This needs reframing the perspective, breaking mono-causal narration of underdevelopment and fostering of scientific and humanistic belief that civil society can foster.
A caring development demands the synergy of various cultural traditions, unleashing entrepreneurial spirit of Nepali society, ethical choice of flattening out happiness curve, realisation of rights of all citizens and adoption of technological means of efficiency, competitiveness and creative ability of the dynamic part of the nation to lift up the left out people from progress. The aim of constitutional vision of socialism then comes to transform set of ideas, beliefs and worldviews into a coherent ecological, social, economic and political programme and mobilise the commitment of communities for natural sociability and sacrifice fitting into the nation’s vital compass to navigate the future as per the rhythms of nature’s life giving stream.  

(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)