Dev Raj Dahal
Future of democratic system will be marked by the management of scarce resources and growing demands of citizens for their wellbeing. During scarcity, social and economic order becomes stressful and functional prerequisites of the political system essential to realise the governance goals turns taxing. Now, Nepal’s constitution-centric polity faces terrific surface of transnational challenges-- infectious diseases, climate change, reverse flow in labour migration, decline in aid and investment, geopolitical tussle, etc. requiring international cooperation.
A stable system of political life frees its citizens from uncertainty, lawlessness and anxiety and moves the interconnected ecological, social, economic and political process towards a synergy of institutionalised policy. It has the ability to control means of violence and distribute public goods. The system concept, in this sense, is relevant at the time of shifting paradigm of politics from public-spiritedness to merciless utilitarian turn to grasp the totality of the sub-system, system and international system ties, their reciprocal interaction and certain habituation with the functions of diverse actors. To bring Nepali polity near to the personal life of each citizen, it has to foster socialisation of people into active citizens capable of making informed and effective choices between finite possibilities, build their civic competence to articulate and influence the choices about policies and laws and execute decisions through mobilising resources, institutions and actors so that the vigour of political life does not suffer from the capacity deficits of desired level of internal cohesion and adaptation to international milieu. These are the virtues of good political life and bases of the judgment about the performance of formal politics.
Before the adoption of social welfare state, Nepalis cultivated their inner life, the construction of self-awareness and endless conversation on enlightenment ideals. Now it seeks to equalise the condition of life through inclusive policies and build the productive capacity of the economy, especially in the utilisation of means of production-land, labour, capital and technology to enlarge the formal institutional spheres of political life. Contrary to this, global forces are laying stress on Nepal’s informal institutions through building linkages with new artists of politics- personalised leaders, pressure and interest groups, lobbyists, caucuses, cause groups from human rights to trade unions, professional bodies, a section of media and civil society and those engaged in social engineering by providing them ideas, incentives and media platform to ratchet up pressure for global conformity, not habits of national culture, not even compliance to national rule, regulation and discipline to navigate this troubled nation in a secured direction. This condition has embittered the country’s party politics and legislators offering them no choice other than to engage in patronage expansion, not national policy making. In the case of territorial integrity their love to this nation concerted their action and approved its new map. Nepal has yet to consolidate the spirit of constitutionalism embracing the resolution of all problems through law-based deliberative process, adjudication of courts or mediation rather than resorting to extra-constitutional and extra-parliamentary means. This is critical to limit arbitrary authority by law and regulate Nepalis’ conduct thus evolving a civic culture of democratic life imbibing systemic values and qualities of democratic oversight.
Political life is held together by social contract, civic participation, trust, ownership, enforceable rules and authority and complex mediating mechanisms between the polity and citizens. Nepali leaders have, therefore, to purge their own and citizens’ minds of prejudices, habits and unconfirmed beliefs through civic education so that it shapes common cause for political modernisation and institutionalisation, enable them to participate in collective political rituals and reduce system--deviating behaviour induced by the growth of multitude of new alternative institutions of participation beyond the classical type--state, polity, government, political parties and elections. The increasing costs of elections in the country is changing the boundaries of the public and the private sphere without increasing the system of accountability and honing the bridging political capital between the government, ruling parties, opposition and dissidents. The influence of dark money in elections has, thus, to be evaded for the growth of leadership of integrity, courage and vision. Proportional election system of Nepal is criticised on the grounds of not electing able legislators. The dismal repute of economy in the country has stifled the performance of political life. In this context, harnessing this capital is vital for it improves the capacity of the nation’s democratic institutions to reconcile the competitive virtues of market, compassionate virtue of duty-based civil society and mediate the demands of formless voices lurking intensely in the streets and jolting the emotion of deprived and aspirants of power at the same time against the public institutions deeply marred by omnipresent influence of clientelised politics.
In a way, systemic conscience is conservative. It aims to counter system-disruptive forces, seek competency of each actor’s roles and responsibilities and facilitate rituals of rule-based interaction between citizens and leaders so that the stability of democracy, justice and peace can be ensured. A systemic view of political life, like other social systems, aims to control Hobbesian interpretation of human nature and orients human beings to attain shared goals underlined in the vision and policies of Nepal’s constitution which is not possible by uncoordinated individual efforts. The dissembling of associative system properties and the imbalance in their functions weaken the polity to respond to problems, acquire concentration in action across multi-actor and attain synchronous progress of the nation. The nature of politics in Nepal is determined by leadership process and the development of factions with partisan interests, purpose and goals, not institutionally determined public interests thus slanting the logic of politics to offer power, order, security and justice system in society. The obvious reason is this: the guiding passion of Nepali politics via representational links with the polity is heavily influenced by lobby, pressure, interest and affinity groups thus deviating the authorities’ regard to their official duties. In a democratic system, like Nepal, free will of citizens is not a caste, class, gender, political party, market or regime-determined. It is embedded in their rational faculties and conscience-driven, not controlled by whip and coercion habitually practised in Nepali legislature. But the free will must be law-based. It helps to create a durable order and collective stake of all Nepalis in it and organises political life from the broad ferment of hope.
Nepal’s parliamentary polity is fragmented as the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) opts for presidential form of governance, radical left parties seek to establish People’s Republic, Nepali Congress and Madhes-based parties stick to the status quo and Rastriya Prajatantra Party status quo ante. Nepal’s constitutional promise of social welfare state requires socialising responsibilities of the state, administration, political parties, civil society, market institutions and cultural industries so that they together produce active citizens and transform diverse partisan formation into national formation for the integrity and preservation of democracy. It enables to fulfil human wants and needs through a near-perfect supply-demand balance. Ironically, pathetic democratic socialisation with inequitable political recruitment in the public institutions using the canons of cronyism, dynasty, income and ascribed criteria have hamstrung the performance of Nepali polity in a progressive course. Its politics has to maintain a balance between inclusive and meritocratic criteria in political recruitment so that dynamic sector can lead the lazybones for synchronous nature of egalitarian progress where no citizen is alienated from its benefits. This means Nepali leaders must act as gardeners to tend Char Jat, Chattis Varna, not social engineers fostering centrifugal forces of society bent on a politics of divide and rule and flag the resilience of its ecological and social system. The persistence, coherence and longevity of Nepal’s democratic system, as a way of political life, rest on the support of Nepalis, its ability to deliver better public goods and services and their satisfaction from its structures and performance. Now political system of Nepal is under pressure to perform in a transparent and responsive manner. Political communication through social media has ceased Nepalis, particularly youths, as passive spectators. Urban youths, losing patience, are evoking the right to information embedded in the constitution and seeking rationale of government action on monetary, health, education, job, relief and infrastructure matters.
Nepal’s media-driven public sphere is aggregating, articulating and communicating citizens’ interests, issues, concerns and rights beyond market laws. Myriad of NGOs, civil society, human rights groups, community organisation, federation and associations of professional groups and social movements have emerged as competing source of authority less compatible with the reasons of Nepali state. They are increasingly politicising citizens along rights-based discourse, adversarial practices of political life and conformity to global bandwagon beyond the ability of democracy to respond in an optimal manner producing positive outcomes. The two-way flow of communication demands dynamic ability of Nepali polity to adapt to separation, balance and devolution of power at multi-scale governance. Rational explanation of polity is important to garner the legitimacy that democratic system is better than any other polities for it abolishes the culture of impunity from public life and public policy and separates the impartial spheres of action of the government from undue influence of political parties.
Nepal has to manage tension at four scales—geopolitical issues, party-government ties, surge of amorphous voices of elite subgroups and marginalised sections of the society restlessly engaging in collective action and the coronavirus-hit citizens at home and abroad expecting rescue, relief and life-enhancing measures. They are revealing new political reasons of the state. It requires competence of Nepali polity to redistribute resources so that problems do not spiral up and the governance easily adapts to legitimate expectation and changes. The capacity of governance rests on attaining the constitutional goals, mustering resources, resolving the challenges, maintaining social cohesion of society and adaptability to changing global geopolitical order. Nepal’s ability to walk a tightrope by mobilising enlightened nationalism illustrates great feat in itself.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)
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