Saturday, 24 October, 2020

Post Corona State Dynamics

Mukti Rijal


Coronavirus crisis has wrought havoc throughout the world. More than ten million people are reported having affected by corona infection. Nepal has witnessed a surge in the number of virus cases. While it poses serious challenges to our capacity, the situation underscores the need for a paradigm shift in building new perspectives on politics, economics and social system. In fact, the world community itself should take a lesson from it. The global community should go for a thorough review of the existing political institutions and economic model of development. A combined and holistic approach to review and redesign global governance and development model is the need of the day.

Collective collaboration
Despite rivalry and competition, global interconnectedness and interdependence is stronger today. This is substantiated by prevailing crisis engendered due to worldwide sweep of the coronavirus infection in so short a time. How the virus, detected in a city of the central China, Wuhan, could spread across the globe with turbo-engine velocity can provide a metaphoric evidence of the broader sweep of globalisation impacting in every aspect of our life. Anything which can be good or bad that occurs at one end affects the other shores of the world instantly. This makes it necessary to recognise this reality spawned due to globalisation and prepare for meeting any eventuality through collective collaboration and endeavour.
Amidst the push and pull of globalised world order, countries like Nepal need to be prepared to align actions with global dynamics without losing sight to strengthen one’s own system boundaries. The states whether big or small, powerful or weak should use the current crisis to revitalise and ramp up the sovereignty and territoriality of the state. It is necessary to reflect as to how globalisation and multilateralism could serve as a backstop for strengthening national sovereignty and integrity rather than pose a threat to its weakening and hollowing out. As current corona pandemic and previous global crises have shown, the governments must be effective and prepared enough to protect their citizens from the threats – be they environmental, cyber, contagious or financial in nature.
The manner with which Nepal has handled corona pandemic shows that we need to strengthen our state system without being oblivious of the fact that we are closely tied to the global system and its destiny. The corona pandemic has undoubtedly exposed the fragility of state institutions especially the piecemeal approach with which we responded to the crisis without any sense of foresight. A critical review and scrutiny of our state system, subsystems is therefore called for to ascertain the level of resilience if not relevance of the state institutions, leadership and governing ideology.
Furthermore, the crisis has established that our state system is neither effective enough to interact and play out with global system nor capable to tackle the critical challenges faced inside the country. Our state institutions are reactive not only failing to anticipate the crisis but also weak in allocation of public values and resources to face it. The state bureaucratic institutions seem to be dysfunctional, sloth and apathetic to respond to the crisis. At a time when a comprehensive and effective mobilisation of resources and logistics is required to reach out to the people, the lackadaisical and fragmented modus operandi has impeded it. Moreover, the nation’s bureaucratic organisation that should have kept itself engrossed into working out strategy to counter corona crisis and post-corona intervention seems having gone into hibernation. The political leadership is instead embroiled into in fighting exposing its rapacious lust for power
Nepal’s quest to de-concentrate and decentralise power during the recent past through federal reorganisation of state had aimed to redefine and re-establish positive relationship between Nepali citizen and state. Its major objective has been to address the asymmetries and deficit in people to people and citizen to state relations through appropriate institutional re-engineering and development. However, federal structure has seemingly failed to achieve the transformative vision to bring state and citizen closer and address the built-in institutional deficiencies. It has rather resulted in alienation of citizen from the state. When citizens feel alienated, they experience being disconnected from the mainstream political values, norms and practices.

State-citizen engagement
As state institutions are seemingly dysfunctional and irresponsive to citizens, there has been an absence of constructive state-citizen engagement and dialogue at every level. Moreover, Nepal’s federal architecture is also disproportionately biased in favour of the centralised monopoly of power. It is supportive to administrative hierarchy and patrimonial leadership. The central government has a bloated size of bureaucracy. It holds more than eighty percent of country’s revenue and gobbles up entire national income. Moreover, the central government is weighed down by decision load.
The constitution allocates separate functional jurisdictions in an attempt to divide, decentralise and wean away the decision load to the provincial and local government. But it looks like that the federal (central) government is gradually rolling back the functional authority allocated to the state (Pradesh) and local entities making a mockery of the federal reorganisation of the state. The post-corona context should not allow us to be complacent and continue with business as usual. We should be prepared to review the state system and develop ideology to make it effectively responsive to the citizen in line with the democratic benevolence and dynamics.

(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues. 

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