In an idealised form, civil society springs from the rational faculty of human will for free conversation across a wide range of voices. They connect citizens with each other and reveal the values and context for learning, choosing and engaging in the political process. Civil society flourishes under the canon of human freedom against both necessity of nature and wretched, inertial and fragile conditions of life. The rational faculty motivates citizens to a common pursuit of critical knowledge, public policy, initiatives and activities benefiting them, even those outside the group. Environment, justice, democracy, human rights, Dalits, women and peace defenders of Nepal have flashed the charm of civil society in policy advocacy, if not in collective action.
The transition from the state of nature to civil society thus marked the start of civility and socialised coexistence of diverse citizens in common space-- the state. Yet they lacked the feeling of inner oneness to leverage their strength and keep due diligence over wrong policies of the political society driven by rajo guna and the economic society by tamo guna. Nepali polity is fated to repeat the winner’s curse if due diligence of courts and civil society fails to give new impetus to democratic life. Civil society arises out of the correct temper of human reason, courage and will whereby they shun selfish nature, seek the means needed to cultivate inner care, freedom, justice and peace and generate favourable material and moral conditions to make them inclusive and enduring.
Equitable freedom Peace occurs when Nepalis are optimally satisfied with equitable freedom against others as they would allow others against themselves and legitimise the state to regulate each other’s envy, greed and drive for power monopoly. But without a robust social contract as the state raison d’ etat no strength can protect Nepalis from the play of power politics and undue reverence to leadership hierarchy, not even the civil society’s reenergised moral power of nursing human rights. It only denotes the anarchy of free wills and loss of civility of democracy. Education of Nepali leaders who can make a difference in the life of citizens is a must to curb the vicious cycle of politics and set a balance between freedom, authority and order to aid the integrity of life.
Democracy ensures the private property rights of citizens as an incentive to abolish the state of nature, create public order and uphold constitutional supremacy as a basis of ties between citizens and the state. Civil society as an outgrowth of liberty is the basis of open, liberal civic culture. Classical Nepali civil society has flourished on the middle path between private interests that promote inequality and the provision of common good that reconciles public interests and public sphere for equality. The free will of citizens rooted in their sovereignty helps the moralisation of the state and sets the primacy of public reason, social justice and morality over laws. Genuine civil society grow out of educational praxis, the purpose of which is to create free citizens and responsible leaders uncorrupted by the veils of personal ignorance and ego, corruption and bad laws. Democratic civil society needs enlightenment of their members, a law unto self so that education becomes reflective and civic, not deterministic and fundamentalist imperilling the weak. Alleviation of fear and basic needs entails Nepali civil society to balance rights and duties and acquire an ability to discipline the dialectic of market and politics. The old delight in social duties has shaped the fermentation of Nepali civil society along the satto guna path of Niskam Karma. Now the operation of civil society calls for good governance and people’s participation in decision-making so as to create conditions for liberty, political stability and justice essential to abolish the extremes, fear, misery and malaises of society.
Are Nepalis capable of electing wise and good representatives of political parties and civil society? Are their agencies suitably enlightened to take right decisions as a power of the public? If not, how can civil society provide citizens education, liberation from constraints, sprout judgmental ability and organise collective action to make education, power and wealth accountable? The cultural heritage and demographic fact enabled Nepal to host a variegated nature of civil society performing a bewildering array of functions. They are expected to help the helpless maximise the condition in which they can develop their potentialities and express their voice. One general weakness of Nepali political parties, media and civil society is their inability to dissolve the pre-existing social order created by feudalism, caste hierarchy, patriarchy and power-oriented relations while the other is their self-dissolution into power. Still the other is a lack of interest in the surveillance of dominant actors. This is the reason citizens have not been able to realise their potential, rights and transform informal polity into a formal system of democratic rule.
This reflects an absurd use of modernity in matters of technology and ideology yet retaining old habits of mind, attitude and orientation. Nepal now faces eternal anxiety disorder where leaders fear their rivals, a fear of fomenting instability and anarchy. They are trapped inside their own partisan frame, unable to know the motive, passion and ambition of each other, lack proper communication for fear of deception, articulate their aspirations, feel superior over others, justify their deeds and viciously generate distrust, competition and conflict thus tormenting the general populace. The astrological influence on Nepali leaders is much stronger than the influence of democratic rationality and regulation.
Many social movements of Nepal harbour the pre-existing order of life, split the public sphere between “we” and “they” and nourish a kind of fundamentalism that no longer cultivates national identity of citizenship or cosmopolitan affinity. The persistence of parochialism marks the weakness of civil society in promoting the civic education to produce active citizenry. They are faulted for not transmitting rational knowledge and scientific tools for social change. The analysis of functional parts of Nepali bodypolitik much in the same way of physical science or using ideological paradigm to study political behaviour of leaders and citizens found no break from the nation’s dogmatic culture.
The new mode of political socialization, smooth role occupancy in the parties and polity and acculturation to democracy seem trivial. As a result, modern Nepali society failed to make a distinction between the public sphere where public policies are debated, formulated and circulated and the private sphere where personal life does not suffer from disorder beyond law and institutions. The patronage-based character of Nepali political parties and the absorption of associational form of civil society into their organisations are the reasons they have not been able to detribalise Nepali society vital to modern nation building. The messy character of Nepali party politics now, like the game of utilitarianism, exhibits a set of relations of power, not teleological purpose of public welfare, political virtues and educational qualifications essential for sound leadership development to uplift the nation to ecological resilience, social cohesion, economic progress and political stability. The loss of ideology of Nepali parties to critically analyse both their inner life and state of the nation drifted them to bureaucratisation thus marking a tension within their fusion, fission and functioning. The party leadership is marked by a personal brand where followers uncritically hang around in conformity, not coherent and critical plans and programmes.
The autonomous civil society’s demands for their democratisation can be justified as a duty of due diligence. The linguistic communication among leaders for decency, morality and civilised idioms is necessary for the socialisation of young leaders. The civil society of women, Dalits, indigenous, ethnic and the poor, the champions of modernism, are seeking a rupture from certain evils of society for equal social integration and system integration and even for the rationalisation of political life. Political leadership, like civil society, is socially constructed. Both need to evolve democratic leadership capable of self-assessment, representation and social change on the basis of feeling, democratic faith, reason and national need.
The impact of the money economy on Nepali politics has skewed the power of political parties and civil society for an inclusive agenda-setting for citizens mostly frozen in agrarian and rural settings, which lack civil society agencies for articulation. This has delinked many Nepali youths from their land, real economy and culture, converted them into labour and spread them into the global labour market to earn their living and send remittance to subsidise the swelling political classes of the nation. Nearly half of the nation’s youth force lives abroad working in difficult situations under foreign laws.
Social movements Despite socialist constitution, welfare state, amplified rights and liberal laws they find little scope for productive engagement in the nation. So long as the material basis of Nepali politics for production, exchange and distribution remain weak, they will be worried with their social identity, image, voice and struggles, not national identity. The social movements of citizens groups have caught civil society and policy wonks unprepared in matters of empathy, caring and collaboration and to admit that the whole nation precedes parts.
Modern technology and sprawling economic growth in urban nodes have left the resilience of nature upon which polity and society are founded tormented. Nepali civil society can possibly bind citizens for long if they balance cultural relativism, universal reason and new order of the world. They have awakened the youthful enthusiasm of Nepalis inspiring them to reflect and change the condition of their living. The time has come for them to act as bridging and bonding social capital between political parties and the state, speak in favour of ordinary Nepalis and keep due diligence so that leaders do not make popular sovereignty an arena for power competition only.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)