Friday, 3 December, 2021

Enhancing The Art Of Government

Dev Raj Dahal

AN art implies the use of creative vision and skill in practical works to be valued chiefly for its power of lure, its intrinsic worth and utility for the symbolic life of the nation. The art of government keeps politics alive filled with the joy of cooperation and conflict, protection and enforcement of constitution, rules and conduct to create a legitimate order in society in which citizens can exercise their rights and duties and engage in a pursuit of peaceful and productive lives. By definition, government is the executive arm of the state to concert large scale actions, conduct daily affairs and manage security, rule of law and effective governance so that citizens are faithful to its directives, laws, policies and decisions.
It exercises lawful authority on the state’s boundaries and protects citizens from foreign intrusion. As a guardian of law and order, government seeks to abolish vices and violence from society, prevents the self-seeking tendency of human nature owing to scarcity and fear, nature of stratified social classes where the bottom ones face domination and international society driven by geopolitics, not international law. Democratic government offers public goods and services to citizens in a coherent, equitable and effective manner. The government requires periodic renewal of its legitimacy through elections. It circulates elites of many generations and strata in specialised bureaus to keep democratic dynamic and carry out the long-term goals of the state.
The state is a sovereign entity and cannot be substituted by non-sovereign entities - civil society, business, political parties, government or the polity. They can only represent it. The art of government brings together cross-sector perspectives to improve its performance set in the constitution and achieves its mandate of public authority though civilian means. Pulling energy and drive from all levels of government in Nepal from a diverse set of jurisdictions - elected bodies, administration, security, discipline maintaining institutions, civil society, NGOs and business - is vital for moving towards governance goals. Civic bodies are the leverage of citizens to influence governance outcome. The government of Nepal Communist Party (NCP) is elected by majority, but it has to work in the interest of all citizens.
Three factors are important for the art of effective governance in Nepal: renewal of popular consent for strong political will to take correct decisions and resolve conflicts, autonomy from dominant interest groups to act in an impersonal manner and robustness of national frame to overcome institutional and leadership deficiencies. But the nation must settle its hybrid political culture breeding contradictions - parliamentary system with many with presidential temptation.
Michael Foucault has invented governmentality as the "art of government" or the rationality of the government action. He explains how governing applies the calculated means of directing citizens’ conduct and normalisation of their behaviour through the use of microphysics of power of disciplinary institutions which compares, differentiates, hierarchises, homogenises and excludes to make society orderly and functional. To him “the end of good government is the correct disposition of things—even when these things have to be invented so as to be well-governed.”
The virtues of democratic government rest on the spirit of civil liberties, creativity of opposition forces, well-functioning constitutional bodies, civil society, free press, social organisations and business and downward accountability of higher-ups. Nepalis pay taxes and votes in return for their wellbeing. The legislative power of citizens links the structure of government and political system to public life and enables them to share power while independent judiciary acts as a custodian of the constitution and defender of citizens’ rights. In Nepal, however, both face discrepancy, provoking conscientious citizens to raise voice for reforms, greater responsibilities and live up to their duties so that those at the bottom can balance the distribution of influence over the government.
Democracy is the government of laws, not of great men and, therefore, constitutional system is crafted to limit its power while checks and balances are placed to foil the rise of authoritarianism, statism and demagogic volatility. Too much statism bureaucratises the society and stifles political dynamism while too little of it triggers anarchy marking the failure of government to realise its agenda. Nepal has witnessed surge of political awareness, growth in the expansion of citizens’ rights, creation of basic multi-level authorities, laws and institutions required by the constitution and distribution of power and resources. But the Nepali leadership has yet to learn that the secret of democracy lie in the separation, balance, check and devolution of powers, not power equation of powerful political actors often erred by Nepali governments of various hues. As a result, the functioning of top political administration is infected by the fractious leaders while the bottom is leadership in waiting.
Owing to the unsettled nature of polity, institutions of checks and balances and constitutional bodies are facing continuing problems in impersonal performance. The failure of these institutions to offer leadership in response to overlapping challenges has enfeebled the government to fulfil its mandate. The chary fabric of ordinary Nepalis’ ties to their political authorities shows democratic values and processes are far from stable to facilitate constant coming together of various leaders on a win-win game and agree on public and national interests. The welfare image of Nepali state presumes reinventing the scope and usefulness of government endowing it with a pro-active role in distributive justice though neo-liberal condemnation of the government.
The parody occurs when the science of democratic government is diluted by flawed ecological, social, economic and political policies, and fractious groups monopolise its functions. Public trust declines owing to its clientalist orientation and integrity is challenged by media, civil society and citizen groups. This is precisely the reason sensible leaders of each political party of Nepal are demanding the top brasses to follow “system, statute and process’’ to avert the leader-oriented evolution of parties. Systemness is critical in Nepal where public institutions are less institutionalised unable to perform in an impartial manner. The art of government, in this sense, becomes the art of management of politics, an art of education that transforms men and women into citizens endowing them with equal opportunity, national identity and chance for social perfection.
It is crucial because politics frees human beings from the necessity to fulfil their basic needs for biological survival, to enter from private realm to public citizenship and public sphere of participation, opinion making and will formation and acquire a sense of the interconnection of human life where individuals enlightened by critical education and experience acquire maturity what Astavakra calls “think others like themselves,” a sign of humanism. The political prejudice in Nepali government has begun when struggle for power is subordinated not to the public interest but pre-political sphere of group benefits, non-political sphere of bureaucracy and business and anti-political sphere of the legitimation of violence. Each of these spheres dehumanises Nepalis inciting sensible leaders to struggle for stable constitutional mechanism and find solution of its staggering problems of poverty, inequality, unemployment, climate change, pandemic, etc.
The silent abandonment of its native dharma-based standard practices of government, public policy, local experience, law and governing ethics in favour of the advanced gospel of social science theories have created a dichotomy in Nepal between the life lived with national stock of knowledge tradition and experience and modern scientific ideas and laws about human affairs and their management practices. Obviously, acting in the traditional web of relationship of interdependent societies created by the Hindu-Buddhist religion, caste and gender specialisation in the modern times has confounded the policy makers who found something of a gap between the use of their newly borrowed knowledge and the long experience of citizens refined by their interaction with nature, culture and among their own diverse forms of life.
The great pride and hope of the nation expressed by Laxmi Prasad Devkota, Bal Krishna Sama and others, and their inversion to inferiority complex by social scientists conditioned by external regime of truth such as economists’ articulation of Nepal is poor and daily becoming poorer, sociologists treatment of backward society, political scientists non-democratic political culture, geographers landlockedness and international relations theorists intellectual backwater or buffer zone have marked a slit between poets, essayists and culturalists and social scientists. The former sees outside from insiders’ needs, knowledge and perspective while the later see the nation from outsiders’ ideology, image and perspective. Opening of mind to native human condition is vital to lay the base of ecologically and socially embedded progress that utilises universal insights without crippling native wisdom. The modern prejudice against Nepali politics is displayed in its evil aspects - violence, corruption, abuse of rights, injustice, privilege, impunity, etc.
The separation of the private from the public realm of politics was highlighted by Kautilya’s private meeting with the Chinese scholar when he lit personal lamp extinguishing the official one. To abolish the state of nature and set up firm order, he advocated four approaches for the government to follow: sama (conciliation), dana (financial incentives), danda (punishment through coercive power) and bheda (trickery). These elements were aimed to redress injustice perpetrated by the ruler over his subjects for personal glamour and status, not public welfare and protect the state from external intrusion. Kautilaya like Lord Krishna set the links between philosophy of life and its practice and sought to make politics serve statecraft.
Socrates’s bitter experience taught Plato, Aristotle and Machiavelli to favour philosophers as advisors of the government able to act selflessly in the public and national interests. The tradition of Nepal considers politics a means to perform raj dharma, higher end of freedom, justice and peace and abolish adharma- corruption, cronyism, selective justice and impunity. The intra-party rift at top leadership level in the ruling NCP has tightened the noose of government’s effectiveness despite party unity and control on all functionaries at multi-scales of authorities. The larger the rift drags on, the more it will turn ordinary Nepalis anguished. Media are hostile witness to internal strife leading to the paralysis of power, loss of efficiency and the public discontent. The art of government in Nepal can be unbeaten if it enhances the ability of ordinary citizens to control the condition of their lives.

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