Dev Raj Dahal
Leaders are remembered for their valuable contribution to society. Those with transformative aspirations usually look for ways and means to push dynamic sector of society for progress and pull the backward ones so that the gap between the two does not become a cause of conflict. Their source of greatness lies in capturing the aspirations of average citizens more than power and position they occupy. Their faithful response to societal challenges keeps them in close bond with them. The dynamic sector can, by definition, expand the productive base of economy and makes possible the fulfilment of necessary human needs vital to maintain social order. It helps reduce poverty, inequality and discrimination that crush citizens’ hope on leaders’ ability and their promise to improve human condition.
In the current world order, Nepali leaders need to oversee how the state structures, business, civil society and citizens caught in the peripheral pre-capitalist mode of production and exchange can acquire leverage to adapt to high-scale geostrategic shift. In Nepal, corporate funding of leadership has turned them less reliant on either the concerns of electorates who are expecting constructive roles to address their everyday needs and challenges of change or public institutions endowed with the authority for service delivery. As a result, the silence of decision makers on corporate scandals has become a source of jittery and increasing erosion of trust of Nepalis on the integrity and impersonality of public institutions.
Democratic counterweight of independent courts, media, civil society and a web of citizens’ groups are salient factors to discipline leaders’ spinning out constitutional spirit. Moreover, Nepal’s leadership is heavily influenced by bounded sub-culture of business, patronage and cronyism and, therefore, seems weak to transcend fractious politics. In the feebleness of legislative inquiry, the courts have to remind them of their constitutional duties. It indicated Nepali democracy at work. They lack political will to lift self to full national and cosmopolitan worldview and resolve conflict of loyalty between party and state, and fail to attain maturity, public morality and values. Meeting the great crisis of leadership and removal of institutional distrust of the public are two great challenges gripping Nepal today.
A political course often rectified by the court’s verdict naturally entrenches its political culture to legal pedantry. The rival factions of ruling political party CPN-UML’s leaders are heaping scorn on each other and seeking rationale for the party split. Yet, the fear of collateral vulnerability has prompted the middle roaders from both sides to unapologetically reconcile. The uncertain consequences of split seem to comfort the moderation to other’s reason and responsibilities. This is likely to help them renounce inflexibility and obdurateness and open the rival leaders to choice to debate on alternative policy and accountability. This will also unfold opportunity for citizens to escape from painful political maze created by leaders’ valorisation of unattainable slogans without adequacy and imagination of rich contextual, cultural and historical awareness of the nation.
The emancipatory appeal of certain groups for turning Nepal into haze concepts such as multi-national state, or state restructuring, ethnic federalism or pluri-nationalism has pushed Nepali politics on the edge of battered central authority, sovereignty and capacity to control centrifugal forces of society. It is opening the state to new narration of unbounded future. It can easily expose Nepal to the danger of what political realists call “international anarchy” which has turned its constitution and political system a contested site animus to stable life, liberty and dignity. Certain sections of society are alarmed by the risk of the decomposition of Nepali state from below. Still others fear the collapse of democracy donned by inclusive, federal, secular, democratic republic.
The central responsibility of Nepali leaders is to create a system to make the life of citizens orderly, just and peaceful. The global realm has set a new context for democracy and sustainable development entailing cooperation within and among the states, not hegemonic practices of domination. It is important to resolve life’s huge problems-- pandemic, ease climate adaptation, trade, technology, aid and governance of the common.
Democracy, like other systems, aims to control the untamed manifestation of Hobbesian human nature and upholds collective decision conceptualised into the constitutional unity either by political education, opportunity, incentives or institutional means of coercion which is not possible by individual efforts.
Power separation, checks, balances and devolution are based on dark images of human nature, nature of the state based on legitimate monopoly on violence and the absence of international Leviathan for global governance. Yet, when Nepal’s constitution, the state and polity do not bear the ownership of some politically significant forces and the regime tolerates system-subversive activities, it is hard to nourish the feeling of oneness of Nepali political community, the state. The state and citizens are glued by mutual rights, duties and obligations. Ironically, Nepal has witnessed decadal cycles of political and constitutional change resonating deleterious kiss to governmental instability. The alienated and negated political class of the nation and universal tendency of capital and civil society have often trespassed the autonomy and efficacy of constitutionalism thus posing problems of legitimacy, authority and credibility in the performance of government.
The governmental instability has reduced the capacity of the Nepali state to provide public good to the society and muster their compliance. The absence of art of balance in the age of anxiety disorder can easily generate the difficulty of moderation and impartiality in governance and cut the ethics of responsibility. The clash of centrifugal forces of Nepal has often generated social and economic imbalance of geopolitics while international financial institutions are subjecting its policy to conditionality and outside accountability. The struggle for protection by social and political forces and internationalisation of state by civil society and the market will continue to haunt Nepali leaders’ concern about the selfish side of gratitude while critical mass of society openly defend national sovereignty.
In 1974, the UN General Assembly had adopted “Economic Rights and Duties of States” allowing the state to control local market, foreign investment, regulation of MNCs, etc. thus linking politics to economics, not the autonomy of the later outside democratic control. The neoliberal elites’ revolt against the egalitarian effects of Nepali democracy accompanied reckless privatisation of many import-substituting industries which not only intensified the separation of the public and the private but also drove the workers to private contracts at national and global domain, enforced no work no pay and hire and fire of workers thus reconfiguring state-society relations.
The G-7 has recently signalled positive message. It has agreed to formulate new rules aiming to reduce the interest of MNCs to avoid taxes. The international community has invented the concept “due diligence” aiming to make business consistent with human rights and ecological justice and also aid alignment to national priorities. In this context, Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman has furnished two important points for the government leadership which are relevant for Nepal: “governments can reap political rewards for good policy if they try hard enough to explain voters what they are doing. The other is that good policy will lead to good outcomes, and in a democracy voters will reward success.”
In Nepal, this helps the leadership to balance and improve the performance of multi-level governance, utilise the positive energy of citizens and make the nation adaptable to the adverse pressure of mounting challenges including the one posed by pandemic and the surge of competing geopolitical manoeuvres of great powers.
The great multitude of Nepali leaders of various layers and professions - parents, teachers, journalists, civil society, business, politicians and governmental authorities - still judge leadership in terms of accumulation of power, wealth and personality. They hardly see leadership as a brain that unites the different parts of the body politik into the logical whole of the nation. Nepalis thus witness their failure to escape from their institutional boxes which socialised them to act separately, not reflecting mutual interests and affection symbolising the voice of entire nation so essential to resort to peaceful route to the resolution of poverty, inequality and injustice through ballot box.
Citizens bawl for justice is a demand for self-realisation of sovereignty granted to them by the constitution in a world of many competing other thoughts, values, preferences and actions. The anti-establishment social struggles of women, Dalits, youths and indigenous groups and professional sections of Nepali society critically question the institutional closure for their rise on the top of party hierarchy and polity and clamour for their increasing democratisation to resolve the tension between constitutional version of equality of opportunity and practical difficulties to realise it.
Nepalis’ incessant living through a battle for the survival of the soul of this nation is premised on a hope of new life full of opportunities. It is a hope for which they have paid heavy price to disengage from direct and structural violence unleashed by natural stimuli of Nepali politics propelled by passion, fear, greed and creed, not normative order of the constitution. Collective amnesia of leaders, their rigid perspectives and behaviour would not make them transformational in vision and nature but would allow the scope for system-subversive forces.
Nepali leadership equally needs an awareness of common ground. It does not foster an image of enemy to nonconformists, but constructive critical mass of oppositions necessary to steer the nation to shared path and overcome the combination of factors that presents what opinion makers call existential threat, not only to all the hitherto structural reforms owing to desocialisation of public on these values, short of entrepreneurship and performance deficits but also contaminating the nation. Only an enlightened and virtuous leadership, with new scales of values and goals, is capable of coordinating all social, economic and political forces of society and perform better in areas of public good. It helps them to overcome the nation’s multiple crises stemming from power struggle, prepare admin for multidisciplinary tasks for the future and act with the full knowledge of responsibility they have to bear to citizens thus upholding the bond with electorates, their trust and aspirations.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)
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