Wednesday, 19 January, 2022

Overcoming Crisis Of Politics

Dev Raj Dahal   

The crisis discourse of politics implies the general situation of the nation and inability of the polity to cope with the causes of a myriad of problems faced by citizens and the state. The partisan, technocratic, bureaucratic and business approaches to political problems bear limited utility for their unsatisfactory linear solution techniques. They also fail to muster broad-based mandate in favour of a strong national centre capable of pushing reformist agenda and mobilising centripetal forces of society. It is vital to set apt governing strategies, renew the productivity and unlock emancipatory forces of social change.
Crisis tendency of politics in Nepal has occurred as mediating institutions between the state and citizens such as political parties, civil society, professional bodies and citizens’ groups suffer fragmentation, public institutions of the state undergo trust deficits in scaling up performance indicators while the private business operates for mere survival and profit. The positivism of utilitarian politics has now become a peculiar game in which the rules and regulations are over and over again warped and challenged.

Perpetual transition
The gap between the condition of Nepali political life and the partially realised constitutional promises to evocatively improve it has often inspired social awakening and struggles to add to political dynamics. This has often left Nepali politics to muddle around in a phase of “perpetual transition” revealing inability of leaders to muster consensus on the constitution, rectify defective monopoly power of the state, fix the nature of administration and polity and secure stability, progress and social peace affirming the constitutional vision of a post-feudal egalitarian society.
As ordinary Nepalis usually find an incongruity between avowed goals of the constitution and their own life experience, they find only slight fecundity in the way leadership is engaged in short-term crisis management, not long-term solution to problems. Those frustrated citizens see regression of politics when they compare the national political development with other nations having the flow of prosperity. Nepalis often blame their byzantine leadership character for the reverse flow of progress in the nation.

Why did this happen? The single cause is Nepali leadership has displayed the unsophisticated sign of shrewd politics rooted in human nature and performed in a less stellar way to replace violence with justice.
The crisis of Nepali politics reflects itself in the tenacity of inbuilt-human nature manifested in citizens’ parochial confinement to family and friends, not national responsibility, leadership display of self-righteous ego, rage, revenge and self-promotion and feeble enforcing measures of the laws of the land for their regular socialisation, humanisation and constitutionalisation conforming civic culture. Politics in Nepal thus reflects not the nature of society which is tolerant to others.

The promise of post-feudal order of democracy through social inclusion, proportional representation and abolition of all forms of discriminations has given universal legitimacy to rule. It has lent credence to national self-determination of citizens in politics presuming to abolish patronage, cronyism, dynastic traits and external predation as they hollow out democracy’s potential for social integration and system support.
Practically, however, the game of pre-modern tribalism and cronyism, modern swing door business and profit and post-modern identity politics is setting Nepali democracy in a zero-sum game akin to the feudal order. It is generating maze-like fracas and tension between tradition and modernity and privileges and the welfare state that seeks to socialise responsibilities. Manufacturing of public opinion has added an incentive to further refeudalisation and degeneration of politics as it has manipulated the free will of Nepalis. It is thus marking the repudiation of politics and easing the corruption of political power having the spur to open many fault line conflicts beyond the ability of leaders, constitution and institutions to restrain.

Nepali leaders have to struggle to remove the vices of unreason in the conduct of political actors and set in motion social modernisation to break feudal order so that the plural and peaceful coexistence of citizens is situated in shared political community-- the state. This allows them to habitually nurture the creative pursuit of their economy, livelihood, happiness and peace.  Nepali citizens as final arbiter of politics by virtue of sovereignty embedded in them ought to find that rational self-interest of political leaders should be governed by the ethics of public good other than the lust for power. Leaders’ inability to enter into optimal compromise of interest, regular resort to the court, indulgence in threat of agitation and display of muscular power of crowd indicate only their experimental inquiry of politics, not application of enlightened wisdom in their conduct and circulation of communication and education for a unified body politik.

The decay of justice and morality has emerged as a powerful new narrative of Nepali politics. Citizens increasingly judge politics not in terms of glitzy rhetoric but in terms of the outcome based on constitutional standards. Nepali media have routinely placed negative empirical facts and figures of the nation’s development and stress negative rights of citizens highlighting the principle of utility of politics for reforms and need for social change for the benefits of ordinary folk. The intellectuals apply conceptual and theoretical canons underlying universal reasons, democracy and human rights.

In this context, Nepali constitution, no matter how it is inflicted by contradictions, is the only foundation of behaviour of leaders and citizens and a guide to the nation’s future. Any semblance of rational order purported by the constitution becomes weak if the factors such as poverty, joblessness, corruption, impunity, injustice, crime, human rights violation, pandemic, natural disruption, etc. dominate politics and constellation of actors does not adequately perform their roles. The political liberals loath violence, accumulation of unresolved problems and determination of democracy by any small unit other than citizens’ un-coerced choice. 
The advocacy of secularism in Nepal has conceived that human emancipation is possible without religion affirming that material consciousness determines human fate. It escapes spiritual dimension of the nation’s evolution, its contribution to education, fear of punishment in the next life for doing wrong and condition of the modern age which has not forsaken the notion of spirituality. This has provided Nepali leaders limitless passion and aspiration beyond the moral and ethical control of their parties, cadres and electorates and normative sanction of law or dharma.

Despite the advocacy of utopias of scientific socialism and its solution in the class, liberalism’s solution in the individualism and neo-liberalism in the free market, one can find patronage is heavily entrenched in the life of Nepali politics. It has refeudalised the public sphere animus to rational or scientific canons that are crucial to abolish fatalism, prejudice and blind faith so essential to foster a liberal and rationalist tradition of democracy. Their socialisation in early phase of their political struggle stacked them hostile to the impersonal institutions of the state and all the sources of its legitimacy, tradition, culture and history without any semblance of the stability of modern belief, attitude and institutions.

The uneasy coexistence of personalised politics with impersonal modern institutions will continue to generate contradiction between authority and legitimacy in Nepal thus stifling output performance of democracy. Hans J. Morganthau says, “The very field of politics becomes a kind of atavistic residue from a prerational period” captures its universal tendency and the gap between unsocialised instinct generating a crisis of Nepali politics and the ferocity of social media against it.

The crisis of politics in Nepal can also be adduced to its educational policy.  Education in Nepal is reduced to the learning of fads, facts and theories devoid of values and contextual and moral sensitivity and, therefore, unable to distinguish between knowledge and wisdom and right and wrong in the pursuit of private interest. This continues to undermine the promotion of non-partisan scholarship dedicated to the promotion of public and national interests. The main purpose of education has now become a goal to fit human power to utilitarian calculation of market, not democratic nation-building. It has, therefore, ignored the value of teaching of non-utilitarian subjects such as philosophy, history, culture, morality and justice which are essential for the harmonious growth of this nation.

It is thus causing the deficiency of intellectuals and leaders to overcome problems of cognitive, political and economic development. The philosophies of both the East and the West have focused on insights and wisdom of a higher kind beyond the virtues of appetite, greed and will to power. These higher laws have imparted character building as a purpose of education to educators and leaders seeking the creation of good society and polity that are both efficient and just in dispensing justice and legitimate order.

Nepali media often ask leaders to reconcile what they promised and why that promise did not happen and have begun to point that the present state of crisis of politics is the effect of its past and the causes are fuelled by some of those present leaders who were in power or aspiring to become powerful in the future. The challenge for now and in the future is how to make politics public-spirited. Its panacea lies in changing the ways, upholding honesty, integrity and duty of position and becoming self-critical of one’s own performance beyond semantic quibble and pointing the causes of crisis at different directions rather than finding those in the self.

Unpleasant standoff
The crisis of politics Nepalis are experiencing from historical times to now marks a confrontation with the reality of the nation’s public life associated with the crisis of public philosophy, public education and health, public debt, public budget, public expenditure, etc. This imbalance is setting unsustainable and unbalanced accounts over the lives of poor citizens. The national bureaucracy is shaken to its core while the party bureaucracy is partly responsible to unpleasant standoff as it, in the process of sustaining the status quo, preferred factionalism, friction and divide in the parties and lost stamina to properly perform.

The crisis of politics in Nepal can be overcome if it is liberated from pre-political parochialism, non-political business and bureaucratic domination and anti-political violence of both direct and structural in nature and places itself into the political domain of responsibility and representation of citizens thereby engaging in raising the scale of their true consciousness, laws, policies and collective action that improves their subjective and objective standards of life. It is important to create more winners of political game of democracy than losers so that they have greater stake and enthusiasm in its survival, maintenance and consolidation. It helps retreat politics from its crisis mode.

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