Dev Raj Dahal
The innate problem of Nepali politics is the lack of fairness for the bulk of youth who often lurch down the path to protests, agitation, migration and mal-adaptation though the nation boasts of its demographic dividend. Fairness implies the fulfilment of needs and rights and distribution of equal opportunity. Out of its 29 million population about 53 per cent is economically active whose creativity, energy and productivity can vault the nation forward. There is, however, a mismatch between demographic transition, opportunity for youth and production. Democracy in Nepal has inspired a large number of youth to demand intergenerational justice seeking liberation from the paternalistic and authoritarian political culture for vigilant voice, inclusion and proportional representation in politics, access to resources and public good crucial to sustain dignified life, liberty and dignity.
The social contract, the Nepali Constitution, crafted on the basis of balance of power among political parties, has embraced many positive textures of justice and good life animating better social inclusion of many groups into governance. The multi-level elections have eased huge representation of youth from Nepal’s many social strata including women and Dalits. So does the voting pattern which has surged to over 70 per cent. Childhood rearing, life experience and shadow of opportunity for the future shape their conduct in the public sphere.
Nepali state policies seek overall participation of youth in the nation’s political, economic, social and cultural life by creating suitable condition for them to exercise their rights. For their empowerment, it aims to offer development opportunity for the quality education of children, health of the poor and women, equality of jobs opportunity and personality growth of youth, social protection for vulnerable and disabled and social security for the old. The government is struggling to heal deep generational cleavages through various initiatives fomented by divisive elites to enrich self. Yet the locus of political decision-making is dominated by few patriarchal leaders. It has stoked generational tension in politics, parties, policy making and leadership structures. When affected are less consulted by them in decisions they inflame public ire, debate, social struggle and activism for the democratization and transformation of generational ties, promotion of shared interests and perspectives for problem mitigation through collective action.
Social contract: The Constitution of Nepal as an intergenerational social contract ranks high in the global social inclusion index. It is vital to ensure every Nepali to live a decent life and achieve what Juergan Habermas calls “self-determination and self-realisation.” It aims to negotiate the interests of various generations including reconciliation of lingering war trauma owing to the non-implementation of transitional justice envisaged in peace accord, plenty peace dividends and democratic prospect of social mobility of the victims.
Yet, the contract appears weak in injecting competition and entrepreneurship, turning the weak section of society stakeholders of democracy and securing stability, security and prosperity. As a result, the balance between Nepali political parties and their youth wings remains asymmetrical in power-sharing and tension-filled over the values of justice, peace, democracy and human rights. The Constitution has provided rights and law-oriented discourse to cultivate democratic capacity of people for a robust public life, enable court to adjudicate matters of intergenerational justice and advise the government to execute its verdicts.
Proportional sharing of political space among the old and new generation of leaders is vital to resolve the tension, secure political stability through coherence in beliefs and free people from necessity in order to pursue higher aims of life. The spread of modernity has relatively freed Nepali youths from their traditional social structure and nature and helped them to opt for self-chosen associations, lifestyles and identities with growing attachment to universal values of freedom, justice, equality, peace and participatory democratic change in pursuit of their moral ideals, worldviews, national renewal and assertiveness.
Chain of rights and obligations: The realisation of wellspring of rights and duties rests on political education of people of various generations at schools, colleges, universities, political parties, media of communication and necessary financial resources. They provide the source of constitutional enlightenment and praxis. Nepal presents tremendous diversity in geography, income, religion, culture and language. There is certain progress in health, education and reduction of the scale of poverty to 19 per cent. Poverty deprives young generation of scientific and technical knowledge essential to participate in the new economy driven by globalisation, technological change and knowledge.
A large section of Nepali youth does not have ample opportunity for jobs at home and, therefore, migrate abroad to earn livelihood for their families. About 6 million youths have gone abroad at the mercy of global invisible hand and alien rule, serve in foreign armies and work in difficult jobs. In 2018 the remittance the nation obtained stood $ 8.1 billion, a robust source of national revenue. But the nation is deprived of the critical mass of change agent of society which can spur dynamics to both politics and economy.
The economic and social costs of migration abroad are huge which remains uncalculated so far. Youths are Nepal’s future. If they are sent abroad en masse, whatever the reasons, the future of the nation is governed by the past. Durable peace rests on creating a condition for all to exercise their Constitutional rights and duties in a judicious manner. It fosters intergenerational mobility which improves the status of Nepalis from subordination to freedom and choice offered by enlightenment, science, modernity and democracy.
Intergenerational transmission of benefit: Public good across the generations can serve as a bridge of unity in Nepal. But it requires a new production revolution, not neo-liberal, ahistorical, deindustrialising and money-oriented educational, economic and political system. Joseph Stiglitz favours a strong government to “ensure opportunity and social justice for all.” How can Nepali children realise their potential and foster their solidarity for cooperative action when they become adult in a condition where geography, education, health and income divide them keeping each other in emotional distance? Basic needs for all citizens are preconditions for a decent life and dignity. Intergenerational equity presumes sound public policies for the progress and reciprocity across the generations to satisfy vital needs and aspirations beyond the problems of human nature, structure of Nepali society and narration of many generations in terms of their spirit, abilities, needs, weakness and imperatives which are not predetermined by a law of nature. An active reflection on the past helps to build a better future.
Sustainability: Sustainable progress is less likely to be achieved when current generation transfers the burden of debt for future generation and spoils the natural environment beyond the limits of nature for regeneration. The government of Nepal’s debt reached US $ 4.2 billion in July 2018. Per capita debt is $ 312 which represents 30.2 per cent to GDP. The nation stagnates if the justice for future generation remains weak, burden unbearable and environmental sustainability is not negotiated by wisdom, alternative energy and technological innovation. The present generation of Nepali leaders do not have the authority to violate the rights, equity and security of future generations both born and unborn turning society in pre-civilized form where each generation negates the other.
Future-conscious education of Nepalis across all generations enables them to become rational, autonomous and sovereign. In such education new solution based on legitimacy and authority can make future perfect. A new balance is needed between competition and consensus that involve a creative thinking of leaders about Nepali youth’s role in fostering rule-based, liberal, resilient and resourceful nation committed to foster grassroots outreach for social learning through dialogue addressing people’s priorities for durable progress.
Detached from ancestors’ notion of eternal life, the immortality of soul and unable to capture the zeitgeist, old generation of Nepali leaders are only struggling to achieve what they aimed, creation of an egalitarian society out of wretched condition of many below poverty line. Nepalis now survive in the theoretical promises of the future against inveterate human nature and find the disharmony among the nation’s history, law and political culture. Each election at multi-level governance rears extra promises turning generational politics grievance driven, not realistic and highly emotional, not rational. The innocent generation continues to crib and crawl often haunted by the fear of power politics that tolerates deprivation, violence and brutality.
By harnessing the true source of the wealth of the nation, such as demographic dividend, hydropower, agriculture, industry, culture and tourism young generation’s attraction to politics can be constructively utilised. Their normative imagination and utopia of progress should be honed by cultivating their skill, specialisation and responsibility. No causes justify social vices and lack of public good for the people. There will not be prosperous future for Nepal if the state does not invest in education, health, infrastructure, technology, human development and social security. Nepali leaders need to restore justice across all the generations and gender turning their constitutional rights enforceable thus unleashing each generation’s power to realise its worth and find comfort in a humane community.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues)
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