Dev Raj Dahal
The virtue of Greek polis sought to promote good citizens and leaders inside the confines of city-states. The state remained a space-bounded entity and political domain for their protection. Agricultural civilisation created a basis of democracy based on status order. The industrial revolution stretched politics beyond the state, polarised society along class-based party lines, driven by materialistic, universal ideologies and a social contract to maintain freedom, order, justice and peace. Politics executed as per the spirit of ideologies, however, limits the choice of citizens and the state’s prerogatives. It demands global consistency in values, vision and solidarity for education, communication, organisation and collective action.
Now, the information-driven politics is opening itself to many frontiers flagging class, party and even polity. The neo-liberalism made politics a limb of symbolic economy while convergence of business, political and bureaucratic interests for private profit cut the spirit of community, solidarity and contractual allusion of citizenship. The state as a locus of classical politics has to expand its tasks into multiple policy frontiers - ecology, economy, education, health, family, gender, culture, community, society, the state and international relations - to keep its writ.
Quest for space
Now, politics involves not only the contest of power by political parties in the elections but also a myriad of norms, institutions and actors governing everyday life of citizens. Multi-channel media have offered each individual an analytic ability to critique power, politics, leadership and institutions and enabled them to raise the voice for visibility and recognition.
At a time when public and national interests face multiple narrations depending on the angles of interpreters and their self-location, Nepali leaders need to uphold wisdom to fully know the changing world. Every sphere of Nepali society is forging solidarity with the like-minded civic entities within and across the national frontiers - security agencies, political parties, courts, parliament, bureaucracy, journalists, workers, business, civil society, social groups, etc. for group satisfaction. The informal politics is also layered from the family to geopolitics of global institutions where the state and its institutions are members and where collaboration, negotiated position or command operates on the basis of hierarchy of power to ensure its security and evade external penetration.
Geopolitical linkage provides Nepali leaders certain leverage to solve problems of transnational nature such as pandemic, climate change, trade, communication, migration, terrorism, cooperation on natural resources, underdevelopment, etc. But geopolitical solidarity and strategic partnership of regimes often contests the sovereign political choice of citizens if it is not grounded in public and national interests. The Nepali state, after all, holds fundamental rights of citizens to national self-determination.
The policies of denationalisation and deregulation of economy and demography followed by Nepali regimes for improved prosperity hardly inspired the best in its citizens for fair system to enlarge human and natural capital. The surge of political and economic opportunity abroad have propelled Nepalis’ mobility as migrant workers, skilled personnel or even investors in less certain lands whose social costs for nation building are tall.
Nepal’s institutional failure to solve long-term problems is attributed to political leaders’ myopic vision confined to their electoral constituency, next election and undue party-minded politics breeding political instability and policy discontinuity. In this context, setting the cooperation of scientists, scholars and statespersons with long-term vision is vital to fertilise innovative ideas and opportunities. New politics is transcending the disciplinary boundaries of knowledge especially political science and ideological boundaries of left-right divide. All political parties of Nepal have become catch-all. This has turned its politics top-bottom without adequate power to below. Top elites of all political parties are homogenised by common economic interest and lack differing ideological positions.
Ordinary Nepalis, awakened by the explosion of consciousness, invoke the principles of popular sovereignty, subsidiarity, self-rule and principle of affected seeking to actively participate in major decisions of their concerns. Popular sovereignty embedded in the constitution finds consistence with national sovereignty: former makes citizens’ active bearers of rights while the later protector and promoter of those rights and an entry point for international relations. Nepali politics has to set Laxman Rekha to maintain its autonomy, rather than operate without frontiers for many reasons:
First, Nepal’s adoption of human rights and international laws oblige its state to embrace ‘personal is political’ which has blurred the boundary between the public and the private. Nepali laws have entered into the domain of individual which bar them to commit suicide and act without limit, into the family prohibiting child abuse and domestic violence and into society eliminating social discrimination including the recognition of the equality of man and woman. Similarly, associational revolution, social inclusion and proportional representation have increasingly politicised Nepalis bringing the social, gender and regional representation onto the forefront of its politics and widening its scope.
Second, the enlargement of national locus of politics in Nepal is attributed to the growth of social movements beyond formal national institutions such as political parties, parliament, political system and the state assuming post-national dimension. They are linked to global sphere and bring policy inputs for contestation, attention and adoption. One can see how democratic upsurge in one part of the world has induced regime change in Nepal in various phases of its history.
Technology, instant communication, interdependent space and awakening of actors turn this change irreversible. Transnational advocacy network of Nepali civil society, NGOs and professional organisations are engaged in high profile issues for inflaming partial action influencing Nepal’s constitutional, institutional and party politics. They seek to protect their sectarian profits by devaluing their counterparts and generate conflicts of identities and interests in society linked to fractious leaders of various parties.
Third, the sanctity of political boundaries is set loose by Nepal’s adoption of neo-liberal economic policies - denationalisation, deregulation and globalisation. One can see its effects: shrinking labour market opportunity at home and the expansion of labour market across the Gulf region, East and Southeast Asia and shift of loyalty pattern. The denationalisation of economy and demography tends to erode the boundary of politics as sovereign public sphere where Nepalis can exercise their right to self-determination in areas of politics, law and policy making.
Aside from bilateral labour contracts, Nepali workers abroad demand human rights, labour laws and humanitarian policies to improve their conditions as they stumble on problems devoid of constitutional outreach. It undermines the autonomy of Nepali state in policy making. Public policies flow from the global halls of the UN, WTO and the World Bank, not from the Nepali parliament whether it is SDGs, trade liberalisation or structural adjustment. This shows that Nepali politics is stripped off its policy making liability and moved beyond parliamentary prerogative. As a result, many concepts emerging from global regimes as a matter of necessity, not choice based on national priorities.
Fourth, Nepali state is bounded entity but its society is boundary-opened spread in over 120 nations, bearing Nepali identity but other nations’ citizens. Built on the convergence of the space, citizenship and economy, the official state-centric politics of Nepal now faces regulative deficits. The movement of human rights and growth of individualism tramples group basis of politics and collective forms of life defined by the constitution. The erosion of class basis of party politics has turned it into business-economic model of transaction. The de-ideologisation of parties has increased electoral cost, reduced cadre’s volunteerism and mounted the cost of governance which the poor can ill-afford.
The contractual citizenship is the keystone of political life. But this contract is frayed by sub-national, regional and global imperatives beyond Nepal’s lawful outreach. In this context, demand for non-residential citizenship, liberal investment policy, free ride of alien soft power agencies, etc. is affecting Nepali state-society coherence. Human rights have individualised politics and refused to acknowledge its dynamic binary code of friend and enemy seeking to convert enemy into rival or adversary through democratic means. The new humanitarian global order has devised a policy “responsibility to protect” the citizens affected by natural calamities or human-induced genocide, civil war, extreme racial discrimination, mass exodus, etc.
Erosion of ethics
Fifth, Nepal is governed more by a coalition of self-idealised heavyweights, less by the institutional culture of political parties, constitution, polity and the state. The opposition to it has emerged not from the party but from fluid forces of society. It is turning deliberative politics vulnerable to the wisdom of crowd, protests and chaos thus incubating political uncertainty. Owing to the decay of political ethics, comprador classes, bichaulias, have gathered bigger steam to act independent of the constitutional state, rule of law, human rights and popular sovereignty.
Nepali politics is further compounded by the rise of sub-political activism of the Others demanding differential treatment, not the equality of citizenship. In this context, politics of the Nepali state must find its will to integrate all the entities influencing political process and set the wheels of public good on firm ground while leadership has to find a middle path and reconciliation of irreconcilable forces rather than operate without legal frontiers. It is vital to ensure livelihood, political stability and national cohesion to protect the sanctity of politics as source of national freedom and self-determination.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)
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