Dev Raj Dahal
The definition of politics from the understanding of power of the state is changing. Modern politics is less confined to the rituals of state practices, polity, government, legislature and political parties than a struggle of citizens for freedom, welfare, organisation, recognition and social change unconstrained by primordial instincts or soulless system of mechanisation. Interpenetrations of social boundaries by ecology, state, business, communication, transportation, civil society and citizens’ groups open diversity of sites to deliberate and participate in political affairs based on matters of common concern, shared interests and opportunities thus enlarging the configuration of politics.
Rational discourse to counter the contesting hegemonic geopolitics can have pacifying influence on the politics of inter-state relations and help bridge many pressing issues for resolution though multi-national companies (MNC) are operating independently of the states obsessed with habits and profits. Similarly, control of the climate change is a political issue without national frontier. Now principle of affected is another democratic concept which allows citizens to engage in decisions affecting their common good. It enables them to seek to bridge the development gaps. Ideological solidarity has equally enlarged the context of transnational politics where learning of universal language, knowledge and tools remains the key to shape national discourse and contest local prejudices, practices, everyday political life and media culture.
For some scholars, transnational politics has become a venue to criticise the state-centric institutions by a counter discourse and reshape policy and political activism, public opinion and will formation, others find it a site to posit a critique of market hegemony for its non-creative destruction, still others consider a space to restrain great power politics seeking human security, justice and peace. Obviously, it has emerged as an alternative to state-centric geopolitics spurring grassroots globalism as a means to democratise international system.
But the increasing scale of societal transactions abroad can weaken Nepali state’s ability to fulfil its side of Faustian pact on public goods. The transnational networks of interest groups, lobby, caucus and criminal elements add risk waning the state, polity and the constitutional forces if they mobilise and politicise sub-national forces against national unity and farm fault lines. Those parts of transnational politics perform foreign policy role in global affairs and determine the distribution of power and wealth. The Nepali state, however, increasingly feels threatened by the ideological, technological and economic (ideas, goods and services) operation against its sovereignty, defend non-interference in its internal affairs and fend off the spill of anarchy.
The rise of transnational politics is the cornerstone of enlightenment that evolved international humanitarian norms, laws, organisations and social contract to abolish the return of Hobbesian insecurity caused by free riders and war lords, genocide, cybercrimes, civil war, aggression, terrorism, etc. by building mechanism for punishment essential for a legitimate order. Pursuit of common goals across national boundaries, however, requires enlightened leadership, policies and strategies to harmonise behaviour of states and non-state actors. Nepalis now question the determinism of politics in non-political and non-territorial realm and their domination, deprivation and denial of constitutional rights. The weakening of the state by the autonomous growth of powers and their participation across national boundaries is pulling sovereignty to regional and global sphere.
The paradox of Nepal is: its state is territorial while the society is non-territorial spread in over 100 countries of the world with sedimented practices. They are governed by the laws of residence with multiple forms of socialisation and identities. The conversion of politics into economic exchange and shift of law to an impressive array of rights have, however, swelled the demand of Nepalis for democratic dividend. It has offered non-resident Nepalis a leverage to influence its political and economic process and weaken the consent of governed. Likewise, Nepal’s dependence on international society for survival and development compelled it to adopt all the international development goals including the SDGs.
Nepal as a post-Westphalian state has many international obligations on human rights, democracy, gender equality, minority rights, ending social discrimination, ecological renewal, refugees, etc which are periodically reviewed and remarked and judged by the international community. They are connected with opportunities as well such as aid, trade, investment, scholarship, tourism and labour employment. Implementation of these obligations helps the wretched Nepalis to get distributive justice. But the market-driven politics has failed to keep pace with the social standards on health, education, social security and livelihood as productive economic activities shrink and politics is devoid of contextual policy substance except some relief projects which is, by no means, a semblance of sustainability.
The impact of transnational politics indicates double opening of Nepali state: internally to the nation’s diverse social forces through inclusion, representation, participation and democratisation. The struggle of Nepalis for citizenship rights is a struggle for equality, participation and opportunity to reshape the life of dignity. Democratisation of Nepali state, parliament and political parties and their ancillary organisations will further broaden the social base of deliberative politics, its legitimacy and recognition of social and cultural identities. Many funding agencies, international civil society, NGOs and functional groups have offered support to the like-minded Nepali actors to fight for their agenda and create transnational space of politics.
But they do not resemble the mandate of state as they do not have monopoly on power to make and enforce laws. Their aid to rival functional groups has bred a cacophonous political public sphere less amenable to sociability of multilevel actors and cultivation of virtuous citizens. The adoption of differentiated citizenship rights for certain part of people by Nepali Constitution is its outcome. It is a hitch in evolving national sentiment. The rising leverage of globally mobilised Nepali elites with their transnational link and residence exerts more power on decision making. It has enfeebled the demos and their ability to garner global public good.
The neo-liberalisation of Nepali political economy has forced its state to open itself externally affecting its allocative efficiency, coordination and collective action to enable its politics to catch with ecological, social, economic and technological accelerations and balance with different interests. Nepal is interacting with many national, regional and international organisations on a reciprocal basis which is reshaping its laws, policies, education and political practices. A tension exists between the atavistic impulse of its political culture and globalisation tendency of labour, gender and human rights. The effectiveness of Nepali politics in such a time depends on how it maintains the sanctity of selfish genes, state-citizens coherence and external adaptation imbued with the “duties beyond the border.”
Transnational actors are helping Nepali leaders and citizens to learn leadership skill, institutions, values, processes and policy making which is redefining the concept of citizenship, unbounding them to non-state spheres and enlarging their participatory domain. The plurality of transnational public spheres, with specialised nodes, offers scope for heterogeneous Nepali actors and movements to engage in conference diplomacy for global attention to their grievances. Citizens from various countries assemble to debate, gain something from each other and resolve their shared problems. The surge of many transnational institutions in response to the scale of collective challenges of applied statecraft too inflated the domain of Nepali politics to transnational dimension without building its constitutional outreach.
The onset of transnational civil society, as norm entrepreneurs, can be attributed to enable Nepali elites to engage in many global issues left unattended by the state and market forces. The integrated form of raw materials, transportation, communication, finance, networked production, labour market, etc. have made Nepali state and its citizens mutually dependent on others but also mutually sensitive to vulnerability as the structure of power and representation of social forces are hierarchic and uneven. The transnational politics steered by Nepali civil society seems more demagogic than policy and reason-based and appear weak to balance identity of each Nepali with national identity. As a result, its soft institutions of education, health, education, human rights, gender and other identity groups have become a hot spot of political unrest beyond the ability of constitutional organs to mitigate for they too suffer from partisan prejudice. The reason is Nepali elites of all hues have often harboured the extra-territorial and extra-constitutional route to political change and legitimised the role of outsiders breeding political instability.
Nepal is well integrated into the transnational sphere. Conflicting pulls bring insight for national and local actors to change the political conditions and rules of the game and also project its domestic demands for global attention. The rise of the global public helps weaker ones to self-determine many issues but it is not a guarantee to prevent the geopolitics of manipulation. The code of state and popular sovereignty refuse outsiders’ intrusion in national decisions pertaining to vital interests. Ironically, the return of geopolitics offers possibility of penetration through consultation with native elites, lobbying, financing projects, incentive for regime support or even issuing threat of international responsibility to protect in case of gross abuse of human rights and unfinished transitional justice.
Transnational politics has certain limits to foster mutual interests and regulate fear and incentives as it is less institutionalised. Interdependence among the actors does not cut the passion of powerful to monopolise benefits unless strict rule of governance is placed. The risk of democratic deficits in transnational politics visibly arises from the loss of power of demos to influence public policy. The current scenario presents monitoring of population movements and increased role of the state in social welfare. The capacity of powerful states to project their geopolitical power into Nepali space has made its governance vulnerable to influence and risks loss of national sovereignty in many policy areas. In a condition of global anarchy, rivalry for influence, security and maximisation of power through several connectivity projects will continue to fertilise the geopolitical manoeuvre overwhelming Nepali capacity to maintain political order, progress and peace. Only a robust institutional politics can flourish collective good of Nepalis and offset the negatives of transnational leverage politics.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)
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