Dev Raj Dahal
Responsibility is the institutional dharma (duty) of any actor to perform properly and achieve the assigned goals. The social dynamism often generates inequality where institutions of responsibility must be effective to minimise suffering of citizens so that perception of exploitation or deprivation does not breed hostility and conflict. Democratic leaders assume responsibility for the success or failure of their administration and carry out constitutional vision. Only then democracy polity can produce a favourable result for all and encourage toleration and moderation. National leaders, with ability to make democracy party-free, think in dynamic terms, respond to changing aspirations of electorates, improve their competence to eradicate social vices, put a brake on political confrontation and apply impartial procedures to reconcile conflicting interests, ideas and identities.
If the rationalistic practice of democracy in Nepal is subverted by tribalism, populism, radicalism and party-minded confrontation that no longer emphasise rational deliberation, national problems will overtake their solutions. It is the ethical responsibility of leaders to settle political questions and provide public good which is publicly owned and shared. It bounds citizens to the Nepali nation. But the notion of popular sovereignty requires personal responsibility of each citizen. Constitutional faith endows well-coordinated distribution of responsibility and averts the possibility of inter-personal and inter-institutional conflict.
The last two decades have witnessed major institutional and legal changes in the style of governance of Nepal by the gush of civic politics fostering globalisation from below and changing the state-centric concept of international relations. Nepali leaders have found the limits of their own body politik and could not entirely rely on the model of the past where the state is fully responsible to fulfil the legitimate interests of its citizens. The surge of a multitude of new actors such as political parties, NGOs, civil society, diversity of associations, federations, unions, INGOs, Multinational Corporations (MNCs) and business community have begun to represent as open organisations based on the framework of freedom and shared policy space with the government on issues of governance.
Of all these, the business world is very powerful in terms of decision clout. Recently, this sector is focusing on corporate social responsibility as a reliable legal framework so that it becomes enforceable. Due diligence is another area to monitor the behaviour of the state, business, non-state and MNCs seeking to keep a balanced solution. INGOs and international civil society have emerged as social partners to overcome the institutional deficiency of the state to carry out both constitutional duties and comply with international obligations so that social cohesion at home and solidarity across many spheres can be maintained to promote sustainable development goals and cultivate substantive conception of good life.
There is a lack of balance in both distribution in the decision making power and sharing of responsibility to adapt Nepali democracy to evolving geopolitical circumstances. The nation had organised even Nepal Development Forum to engage international community in its development, governance and peace and regularly participated in the national framework condition and country cooperation framework to mutually define the sharing of responsibilities with the donors on major areas of development. Ironically, they attribute the failures of policy initiatives only to the state.
Nepali democracy as a distributive regime has brought pluralistic approach to responsibility distribution away from power centralisation in the state, polity or the government common in an authoritarian regime. It separates, balances, devolves, sets checks, legitimises opposition, entrenches positive and negative rights of citizens and even human rights to democratise political power and neutralise its intoxicating potential so that it serves the public interests. It has introduced the ideas of good governance, adaptation to climate change, social justice, women empowerment, civil society and peace as a part of several institutional activities. But the division of labour varies in their relative capacity to assume responsibilities and properly discharge them as per their relative strength and constitutional mandate.
The decay of elite standards has, however, continuously deteriorated the performance of many public institutions of governance and the progressive evolution of Nepali society towards the attainment of non-negotiable values of freedom and basic needs. As a result, distribution of power, authority and resources to central, provincial and the local bodies in Nepal faces uncomfortable strain. Now the adversarial display of crowd power in Nepal by the newly splintered two factions of the incumbent Nepal Communist Party marks the surge of instrumental politics to displace one by the other, not public deliberation for rational consensus, contesting programmes and policy alternatives for citizens, as bases of democratic politics.
Multipolarisation of Nepali politics skews the evolution of a pluralistic democratic order where critical voices is treated as constructive force to be protected, not enemy to be eliminated which kills democratic dynamic. Legitimate opposition helps the transformation of political power into rational direction and lent support to get out of the vicious impasse the nation is confronting at the moment. The civic power of the public is symbolised by various rational associations, institutions of enlightenment and political parties of Nepal. They represent social diversity and complexity and, therefore, need to live up to what they preach to build their positive image when they occupy governmental power and abide by the constitutional rules they have collectively prepared and promulgated.
As Nepali regime is less institutionalised in matters of the responsibilities of its specialised institutions -- legislation, execution, adjudication, circulation, voice, mediation, regulation, transparency, education, cultural production and service delivery -- one can see critical gaps in integrity, authority, legitimacy and responsibility performance. The violation of Laxman Rekha has inbred political instability, unfavourable business environment and multi-versal social struggles of variety of sub-systemic forces not linked with political parties and their ancillary bodies but seeking to vibrate democracy from the below. Some are linked to global social struggles to acquire movement effectiveness.
Organisational opening of Nepali political parties can offer public space for political dialogue and democratisation of their roles and responsibilities. It fertilizes new perspectives and efficacy to deal with the challenges. One can see the larger scale of external risks induced by pandemic, climate change, terrorism, violence, war, migration, poverty, inequality, deprivation, etc. bearing geopolitical dimensions. They all demands international cooperation and solidarity. This is precisely the reason the UN has defined the responsibilities of various actors of governance in the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals promising no one is left behind.
In Nepal the drivers of political change seem less experienced in the art of governance and provide adequate provision and production of public good so that citizens remain satisfied with the leadership. Ubiquity of the influence of partisan politics in Nepali public institutions has bred recurring sources of stress in them and, as a result, they seem unable to coordinate responsibilities with respect to constitutional goals. The Election Commission and the Supreme Court are recent examples. Administrative demoralisation is the result of corrosive influence of partisan attitude posing problems for them to concert initiative and safe adaptation to an intensely polarised politics. Nepali politics needs morality to choose the right course because it is critical to shape the value patterns of democracy and, therefore, citizens cannot be individualised, exonerated from their own human nature and the dynamic relationship with other species that ensures their sustainable survival, livelihood and progress.
The shift of centralised rule to polycentric governance has entailed sharing of responsibilities among various centres of power of which the state, market, civil society and international regimes are the dominant ones. Their coordinated and collective responsibilities are important for the synergy of outcome and justifiable for the sharing of each other’s knowledge, skills, resources, strength and other comparative advantages. Too many responsibilities without ample state capacity, however, become the burden. For example, Nepali Constitution has granted 31 rights to citizens which are burdensome for the weak state lacking adequate material and institutional resources to fulfil them.
Similarly, the market-driven globalisation as a solution of problems has confiscated the capacity of Nepali state, created imbalance at the ecological, social and political levels and produced a mass of losers devoid of systemic responsibility. Political discontents of extra - constitutional forces, intra-party oppositional forces, social groups engaged in social movements and marginalised communities present challenges as they all are engaged in distributional struggle for power, resources and recognition of identities. Therefore, Nepalis have increasingly demanded democratic representation, social justice, dignity of work and fairness in the internationalisation of economy as they find the erosion of the institutional capacity of Nepali state for governance without the support of other stakeholders.
Democracy entails responsibility to the poor, deprived and suffering citizens whose basic constitutional and human rights to security, livelihood, education, health care and political opportunities are well protected. The remedial responsibility requires the flow of adequate resources and opportunity to them. The collective responsibility lies with the government as it has broad-based national mandate and obliged to implement constitution.
One responsibility is of course political. This is an area of promise, policy, law, decision making, representation and legitimacy. Therefore, political will to alleviate the condition of Nepalis is the primary responsibility of the state, polity and the government. The state has also apportioned the responsibility to business through the effective allocation of public good and resources and overcome the problems of scarcity while mandated civil society to perform niskam karma, selfless service to the needy upholding satto guna pious virtue.
Media, intellectuals and civil society can regularly monitor the state and the business sectors about the morality of conduct so that they do not deviate from the responsibility to serve citizens. The responsibility of not to do harm the society rests on their ethical conduct - not market monopoly, syndicate, rent seeking, hoarding, supply of non-standards goods and exploitation of citizens by charging exorbitant price which the poor can ill-afford. Many Nepali business persons still maintain the spirit of shuva lav, ethical business practices, public interest responsibility and spend part of their profit to social development.
Rule of law
The diversity of multiple sites of political power in Nepal imposes difficulty to strengthen the integrity of rule of law. The mechanism of holding norm-breakers accountable is well placed but poor enforcement has left them ineffective in holding them morally responsible for the results of their action and hence political power enjoys privilege and impunity. The decentred agencies are weak to enforce their remedial moral accountability to citizens’ concerns. Circle of democracy in Nepal thus requires common desire, corresponding socialisation and coordination, needs satisfaction and elimination of violence in the public sphere. In this context, protective responsibilities to the vulnerable and promotive responsibilities to the dynamic sectors and remedial responsibility of both are essential to promote social solidarity and social cohesion as shared sense of responsibility to common good by all governance actors.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)
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