Saturday, 4 December, 2021

Morality, Politics And Power

Dev Raj Dahal

THE will to power is a central driving force of politics. Power is vital to whet the will to human existence without duress and engage in creative works relevant to oneself and the society. But the relapse of will into evil act contradicting ethics flouts its driving force and vitalises the rebellion of citizens against their fate. The peril of modern politics finds its heritage in “ends justify the means.” Democracy opens a hope to clean its deepest prejudice by turning means relative to ends. The former shapes the political culture which lasts many generations. Politicians are, therefore, judged by their compliance to the due process of law and laws of morality. Political ethics requires them to divorce self from the special interest groups of society inclined to bend the rule of law, flatten moral code and the democratic ideal of self-rule.
Nepali Constitution has, thus, adopted popular sovereignty of all and delimited individuals’ undue lust for power. The ethics of democratic politics is a great leveller of society. It provides lifesaving public service. Sacrifice of public service for private interest marks the corruption of public power and an atrophy of public trust. Therefore, constant moral reflection and insight of constitutional ideals by those in power are vital to ensure good governance. Political morality in Nepal demands politicians pursue a moral vision embedded in the nation’s constitution and serve the nation and citizens with great patriotic zeal mobilising their resources, sentiment, feeling and emotion for overall national progress. Only then they can consider Nepalis ends in themselves and leave a fortune to the posterity.
The question of morality in politics has now moved from academic and spiritual discourse to public sphere of everyday life. Attentive Nepalis, therefore, often judge the behaviour of social, political and economic actors, institutions, law and policy on the basis of public morality, public good and concern for the wellbeing of all as highest civic virtues. In a culturally, geographically, racially and religiously diverse nation like Nepal, the views of one group may not lure the other. Validity in the use of knowledge, law and practice requires certain shared ground and ethical and moral values vital to create and maintain political order, steer the society and the state and resolve problems.
In Nepal, regular training on ethics of public life are offered to civil servants, police, army, journalists, public authorities, civil society, NGOs, community organisations, etc. socialising them to enhance a sense of their moral self-worth, responsibility and public integrity beyond the rationality of selfishness. This is a moral necessary for politicians as well so that they do not indulge in muscular politics, privatise public wealth and compromise their lofty promise and duty impervious to constitutional spirit. As they are the role model of Nepali society and dominate all the decision making nodes, their ethical life is central to the progress of the general society and the nation. Politics is a domain where history, science and society meet: history often reinforces moral values and enables Nepali leaders to learn from the lesson of the success or failure of their predecessors.
Science as a sedimentation of history nourishes reason to eliminate blind faith, create fairer society of equal opportunity, move Nepalis from rote learning to critical knowledge and propel the society towards a rational path. The faith in science to open new avenues is valid but its ability to solve political problem is in grave doubt. Without the insight of historical wisdom, politics becomes fickle at the hands of politicians who control and use scientific tools for a fierce fight for power regardless of any moral concern. The crisis of Nepali democracy is its frail resilience. Solution requires prudent policy and political wisdom.
Nepal’s party laws allow politicians freedom to socialise, mobilise and organise political life and activities as per the spirit of Nepali Constitution. But their inability to follow the laws made by them in practical life hit a snag in the promotion of a civic culture, a culture essential for democracy deepening, converting sovereign citizens’ legitimate interests into actionable and justiciable rights, public policies and laws and creating legitimate public order acceptable to all politically and socially significant forces. The reformist politics of golden mean in Nepal is still facing up its own failures

for its adherents have reduced politics to a power struggle for personal gain regardless of moral worth and suffered from the lack of inner checks in party’s web of life. It failed to abolish the irrationality of extremes between impunity and despair to be mediated by the constitutional vision of an egalitarian society.
Ideally, politicians’ scope is limited to their mandate and constitutional space. Owing to unchanging human nature the main current of Nepali politics is mired in habit-driven mode. As a result, corruption of power has often crossed this space and disposed many Nepali politicians to amend the constitution, not adapting to constitutional behaviour. The liberal regard to democratic counterweights - opposition, checks on power, institutional separation, devolution of authority and resources, justice, a free press, autonomous judiciary, civil society and positive rights of the state- essential to shun the brunt of evil human nature, violence-monopolising state and anarchical international system to inflict vices on national politics. So long as Nepali political parties cannot deepen democracy in their inner life leader-oriented group’s struggle will keep on flagging each other’s vitality in party functions, cut rule to impotence and strain the path of political stability, economic progress, social cohesion and positive peace.
This exactly demands education of Nepali politicians on constitutional spirit, party discipline, public service orientation and depersonalised roles in building modern party, democracy and the nation. Nepali parties also need schooling on inter-party democracy based on universal principles of ecological ethics, sustainable development, morality, justice, human rights and changing global relations so that they collaborate on shared public and national interests, exercise collective choice on matters of public policies and resolve conflict on the basis of law of public reason. Nepal is gradually turning into media-saturated society. Its great number of citizens is vulnerable to smart ad on consumerism, individualism and self-indulgence losing sight of being a rational animal to exercise right choice. A new business ethics is needed to mark a shift from unregulated free market messages to constitutional vision of welfare state so as not to reduce Nepalis struggle for democracy to a footnote of economic history. The value of multi-disciplinary intelligence, research, publication and dissemination of knowledge is essential to enable Nepalis to know what is good and what is bad in economic doctrines that suit what Paul Kruger calls “political prejudices.” Without proper civic knowledge to shape moral behaviour of Nepalis they will be driven by tribal affinity, desire and emotion and fail to choose moral leaders to govern them. The root of this amorality lies in a lack of reason and long-term idea.
Democratic politicians are often inspired by the liberal ideals which are framed to remove personal and social vices to shape an honest conduct and improve the foundations of societal standards and the basic morality of public life. The classical ideal of education was to create good polity and virtuous citizens focusing on the integrity and decency of leaders as well. Nepal’s many social and political movements have expanded the domain of awareness and rights and enabled citizens to engage in amazing conversations with the politicians and authorities thus mutually educating both in the process. This is a positive sign to turn them responsive to each others’ concerns. Lawful politics in Nepal entails reducing violence, developing inclusive character and balancing means with the end of politics-promotion of freedom from poverty, inequality and indignity. Politics thus helps to beat a sense of powerless of citizens and builds their civic fitness. The public policy is attached to politicians’ life. Politician without any role in public policy making is vacuous and rhetorical who may entertain, inflame the passion of listeners, float revolting, infuse fake gossip and inject false political consciousness. At the end, it deforms the very leitmotif of politics to peddle politically informed and active Nepalis.
Public interests are deliberated in the public sphere as a microcosm of parliament where citizens have a right to engage and influence its outcome. But Nepali media’s exaltation of politicians has created a credibility gap in politics between their capacity and popular aspirations without any resting point. Distortion of politics in Nepal has contributed to mistrust among politicians and with citizens beyond recognition of boundaries whether it is lawful politics, business or unlawful proxy geopolitics. This is why Nepalis often judge professional life of politicians by using the canon of public morality. The professional side of politics is more important because it affects the entire life of the nation. The personal side is reserved for private ethics. In Nepal, both are hard to separate from each other. Both are embodied in their act. Any legacy Nepali politicians are leaving for their posterity is that politics failed to move beyond primitive residues of lust for power, unaffected by failure and sharp criticism. Only a rational harmony with community of political interests can bring them together for collective action. Popular will has to prevail over politics. Measure to improve political norms in Nepal at fast pace is essential to link morality to political life.

(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues)