Dev Raj Dahal
Human survival has now dominated global development discourse in theory, policy and practice. It is a must to pursue other aims of life. Now, ecological renewal, freedom, justice and peace have emerged as a design for humane order. James Martin wisely argues that human survival “as species depends on respecting nature, with its living, self-creative, self-maintaining ecosystem of extraordinary complexity’’ and keeping balanced diet. This presumes the consistency in the structure, rules and procedures defined by the Constitution of Nepal.
The integrated view of human life and careful conduct espouse each source of knowledge -scientific, rational, emotional and spiritual - for knowing the imperatives of life. Unawareness of a common web, humans have rocked the spaceship Earth imperilling their own long-term survival and the existence of other species- plants, animals and microorganism. The pursuit of exclusive self-interest and commercial profit reduce their existential ties with the nature and its endurance. Today concerned scientists of Nepal are, thus, constantly warning of climate change and its distressing costs for nature. The code that governs Nepali leaders’ choice and action thus needs to embrace ethics and universal morality justifying needs of citizens at a much higher scale than only basic needs.
Nepal’s old wisdom sought a higher order of conscious life expressed in compassion for the weak through enlightened education. Awareness of human beings’ cosmic web of life liberates their struggle from the natural selection of life and excels selfish human nature for the promotion of larger public good so that individuals find harmony with associational life. Exclusive selfishness ingrained in animus dominandi, dominance of others for self-enrichment and inflicts an obstacle to social, economic and political integration. Socialised cooperation, not the primitive animal—eats-animal is the core social spirit to bear the burden and benefit of survival and adaptation. The lower order of hedonistic pursuit implies the material pursuit of glitzy life like modern Nepali elites’ craze divorced from old patriotism.
Human, like state’ survival, demands a fair combination of both individual free will and collective desire to discover a value system to keep optimal unity at multi-level rule. Modern civilisation driven by technology requires the insights of sciences, social sciences and humanities to transcend the violence generated by disciplinary confines. Climate change, international trade, money, investments, technology transfer and foreign aid are no longer the prerogatives of particular discipline and national laws. International acceptability, mutual negotiation and obligations are critical genus for external adaptation including mutual adjustment of all nations to the Earth’s thermostat. The problem of climate change is global in scope which exceeds Nepal’s capacity to cope with without collaborating with regional and global partners.
The rising ecological damage of greater Himalayan region especially melting of ice cap, falling water tables and loss of biodiversity mainly traditional food items add woes to Nepalis. They are facing the dearth of agricultural resources. Its rapid deforestation and saturated soil is causing decline in food production. Scarcity of water for irrigation, underutilisation of clean energy and lack of adequate fertiliser to animate the fertility of land and unmet needs for bulk of Nepalis reduce their life-enhancing opportunity. Agricultural sector which supplied food stuff and labour to cities contributes only 24 per cent to GDP. A shortfall in the livelihood means can affect the social cohesion of Nepali society, create food dependency and retain unequal exchange.
Nepal has to prepare itself to engage in contextual knowledge building, policy areas and activities for managing the risks of the depletion of renewable and non-renewable resources and engage in disaster preparedness, such as earth quakes, floods and landslides to evade the scale of death. To achieve the SDGs as a game changer of Nepal’s progress and its ascent to developing country status rest on fulfilling citizens’ livelihood rights included in its Constitution such as freedom, equality, clean environment, education, job, labour, health, food, habitat, social justice, social security and many sectoral rights for children, elderly, women, Dalits and the poor.
The life of the poor becomes miserable in an unregulated muscular market and unethical business practices imbalanced by civil society and the state. Nepali leaders need to find a synergy of the state, market, civil society and international community and creative law against appropriation. Under the Right to Food and Food Sovereignty Act the government has to expedite in setting up Food Council at various levels of rule to ensure citizens’ rights to food, food security and food sovereignty and keep quality control. Nepal has gained in certain areas: poverty has fallen to 17 per cent, life expectancy of average Nepalis rose to 70 years, infant mortality and maternal mortality have declined, education and health sectors quite improved, cooperatives and small enterprises grew and economic growth registered 6.5 per cent.
Still, there are vulnerable sections of society demanding welfare state support- street children, those girls returned from trafficking, conflict victims and displaced, orphans, micro minorities such as Badis, Chepangs, Rautes, Mushahars, etc. to improve their conditions relative to better off sections of society. Informal sector workers too need the coverage of social security for a life of dignity.
With a daily per capita income of about $3, Nepalis of diverse citizenship with unequal access to the institutional resources are struggling for inclusive progress. Its economic surplus is mostly appropriated by powerful elites who do not invest in productive sectors to keep real economy of production, exchange and circulation in balance with nature’s renewal. The glitter of modernity has captivated its elites to symbolic economy driven by misplaced priority to financial capitalism, luxury items, palatial buildings, super markets, etc. whose structures select only the powerful players. As a result, Nepal imports food grains, vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, milk products, improved seeds, fertiliser, fuels, medicines, cloths, educational materials, and industrial products for infrastructure development.
Nepal has to bridge many persisting gaps: between distributive vision of social democratic state and control of the means of production by a few elites, between weak political institutions and pressing survival needs of citizens, skewed structure of policy and decision-making and imperative of participatory access of citizens, and attrition of the service delivery and popular demands for better access to public good. Endogenous progress based on technology adaptation can retain social surplus at the bottom of society and spur investment in real economy set on the bedrock of agriculture, animal husbandry, herbal medicine and forest products and their forward linkages with local enterprises, cooperatives and trade. This helps change power relations.
Nepal’s preventing diplomacy rests on how it can insulate itself from global geopolitical infection distorting national priorities. Its promotive strategy depends on how it can utilise its relative strength in hydropower, demographic dividend, brain gain, tourism potential, cultural and religious clout and strategic geography and enable the state and citizens to ensure inseparable survival imperatives exercising their lawful rights and duties, optimising choices between resource production and justiciable claim for distribution and maximising expected return from its foreign policy.
The visualisation of Nepalis’ destiny and survival, progress, happiness and peace depends on conquering dire material necessity, fatalism and determinism that screw their freedom. Smooth flow of capital, skill, knowledge and information from urban to rural areas can dynamise economy and prevent its massive brain drain and labour migration to 127 countries aiming to reap remittances for family survival and national progress. Judicious use of applied science can transform its impoverished regions and citizens while robustness of democratic institutions and rule can prevent the domination of comprador classes that thrive on poor’s lives. Hard choices must be made by all those national leaders who desire cohesive democratic development that addresses sub-cultural cleavages and do not shift crushing burden on the poor, worker, future generations and nature.
Humane order cannot be built when dire economic insecurity, unstable politics and social division persist. The gain of essential human needs and self-sufficiency in food are the imperative of the Constitution of Nepal and the government. Nepal has to intensify its sustainable agriculture by enriching ecological base by utilising comparative advantages. The sustainable future through circular economy, application of apt technology and utilisation of its natural, human and cultural potentials can scale up life opportunity across geographic regions and classes of Nepalis. National survival, like personal one, is attributed to the harnessing of its history, culture, language and institutional memories making all the rituals relevant for its members across many strata and generations that helps to realise Nepalis’ genus for enduring survival fitness and overall wellbeing.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues)
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