The major political challenge of Nepal of this time is to foster a civic culture that is driven by a mix of tradition and reason, tradition for stability and reason for change to fit with the universal spirit of human rights, democracy, social justice, cooperation and peace. The common challenge of the spread of coronavirus in communities makes political cooperation urgent for health necessity across various levels of political and social actors, including international community to alleviate the suffering of people. The common hope makes cooperation a moral imperative. Politics based on hostile battle for dominance, disorientation from major national tasks, unhealthy conformity or submission to leadership without critical reflection about national human condition can only foster a spasm of irrationality inflicting every institution of the state, market and civil society even making the higher institutions of learning vulnerable to spiralling fear and desperation, not mutual aid, solidarity and cooperative action. Right to health and wellbeing of Nepalis are neither popular aspirations nor utopian. They are embedded in the Constitution of Nepal and no ideology justifies their denial to ordinary citizens. They are essential conditions for a dignified life.
Public policies Still, Nepal has yet to evolve a system in which public opinions and citizen rights become the framework of laws and public policies. It requires a fundamental shift from the ascriptive status of leaders to constitutional orientation, neoliberal to welfare state and duty-oriented performance of public administration, politics, business and voluntary sectors. The constitutional right to social inclusion means favouring the disadvantaged such as Dalits, disabled, women and weaker sections of society, not one’s own relatives, cronies, financers or special interest groups of society that stifle a sense of justice and public good to all. This means democratisation, decentralisation and civilianisation processes that generate high expectation of citizens are necessary yet insufficient means unless caring capacity of the economy based on production, distribution and just exchange guarantee sustainable livelihood and governance becomes what Buddha calls mindful, attentive and fairer. Political discourse in Nepal by media, pundits, intellectuals and the public about the values all Nepalis can embrace and cultivate their habits to follow are salient. So far Nepali politics is undergoing four interrelated processes of diverse choices in terms of orientations, values, interests and judgments: The first is atavistic alternative where many Nepali leaders across the all political spectrum still harbour the power of nostalgic nationalism, unitary state and constitutional monarchy. This praxis provides orientation to the past than the future, a past against which Nepalis revolted for a just society rooted in democracy, human rights, reason and progress, not reactive retribalisation. The imagination of modernity provided Nepali leaders a reason to fight fatalism, prejudice, oppression and arbitrary exercise of power against the will of citizens for self-governance thus preventing the robbing them of their freedom. Yet, Nepali tradition with syncretic wisdom has alluring values that socialised individuals to transcend their animal nature to attain humanity and divinity, nirvana. The attainment of this goal has been pursuit of sages and seers since ancient days and it is this vision that treated people as social beings capable of following dharma, ethical code of conduct and good life. These values are still important for social and national adjustment in an interconnected world of various levels of community and connections. The second is the glitter and glamour of the alchemy of modernity. The crude caricature of modernity in Nepal since late forties provided insight into human condition through the use of reason, science, rationality and the state and continuous improvements of its institutions, tradition, political culture and the rationality of economy through reformist measures. Yet, the process of modernisation continues to deconstruct its community and society built on inherited customs, religion, hierarchy, patriarchy and emancipation of subordinated citizens such as bonded labourers, Dalits, women and minorities giving them a choice in self-determination. Lifting Nepalis to higher values of living free from traditional fetters and fatalism, however, remains tantalising. The birth of identity politics in Nepal and its constitutionalisation through various national commissions and institutionalisation by inclusive measures and political parties’ policies continue to consume both shared national narrative and universal class consciousness and express the sadistic perversion of human nature akin to Hobbesian characterisation. It is averse to cosmopolitan worldview. Identity based on entitlements and opportunity is couched in post-modernism. It rejects both realisation of class action and national unity. This blinkered vision makes difficult to create common ground for conflict resolution. The third is the romance of class revolution by restructuring the state along secular, federal and republican line and re-engineering the society by stoking contradictions, violence and various projects, revealing the loss of capacity, sympathy and solidarity to others. The emergence of network politics marks the decline of solidarity at the level of both capital and labour. It cuts the ability of social contract to regulate both. The increasing municipalisation of rural Nepali society, migration of people from rural to urban areas and abroad, urbanisation without evolving industrial base, atomisation of family, increased divorce rate, personalisation, deagrarianisation, surge of money economy and formation of leader-oriented parties have pushed the Nepali society to natural selection and new adaptation. Its approach to critical reasoning about the operating structures of power and knowledge, however, could not improve the rationality of political actors and institutions. As Nepalis found their leaders functioning along self-enclosed game despite the articulation of flamboyant conceptions derived from social sciences and execution of hostile ideologies they feel uncomfortable to dissociate from the reasoning of social identities of voters and justify their own positions. They, therefore, contributed less to the enlightenment belief in national and cosmopolitan identity rooted in human rights and universal personality. Social movements of Nepal precisely mark an assault on political standards and political order and set a critique on the manipulation of socialism by cultic leaders, its justification by their free-floating intellectuals and corporate entanglements. The patronage base of party structures has thus betrayed both their original philosophy and the aspirations of the life-world. Fourth is sustainable progress which entails looking into the future, not past, which triggered climate crisis. Belief in progress as an understanding of the working of nature is essential to foster improvement in human condition on an enduring basis and restore intergenerational justice. An insight into the interlocking system of nature and human condition entails knowing the causes and effects of Nepali problems in advance.
Flawed remedies Obviously, disciplinary social sciences have cognitive biases and flawed remedies. They, therefore, failed to address society-wide dysfunctions, make poverty, inequality, illiteracy, disease, discrimination, alienation and distortion of market a dustbin of history and enable citizens and leaders to live beyond material living standards, foster wellbeing across entire population and maximise common good. A political system built entirely on power equation of powerful leaders, spoils of victory and negation of victims cannot muster the stake of all citizens. If policies are evaluated by their effects, neither the application of atavistic reflexes, nor modernity, not even revolutionary action bear desired results helping Nepalis realise the possibilities of politics for the dispensation of public good. The atavistic alternative can have meaning if its ancient wisdom of the role of the state, virtue of civil society and ethical economy can harmoniously function in the modern context. Obviously, the spell of neo-liberalism has been weakened while the modernity has enabled Nepalis to live longer, healthier, better educated and prosperous lives. But it has also made them vulnerable to political manipulation, business profit over people, climate change, acceleration of technology and pandemic-induced disruptions. What Nepalis are feeling today is that their struggle against power is unfinished and find leaders’ amnesia about their promises shaped by the perils of avarice with no sense of civic responsibility. The gap created between holding promise of leaders and no remarkable progress has provoked a revulsion against the politically unsettled life of Nepal. As a result, political sphere of Nepal is filled with distorted communication of partisan press. It has clogged supplying inputs for the regeneration of public sphere as vibrant and critical as possible to shape public opinion, public policy and public action to satisfy people’s longing for community, connections and fulfilment of material and moral desires.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)