Dev Raj Dahal
Democratic polity emerges from the general society to the state where political parties mediate the link between the two by the politicisation of society and socialisation of the state and synergising policy positions among the formal and informal institutions evolved to sustain the division of labour to address complex societal needs. The self-rationality of leaders rests on two-way communication and accountability of political parties and citizens. Media of communication, as enthusiastic watchdogs of democracy, can play constructive roles in the aggregation and articulation of public interests for demand management of politics by exerting pressure on the government to offer generalised prosperity of all Nepalis. Socialisation of the state is important to orient the institutions of representation, security, justice, education, administration and regulation for adequate supply management of public good to enhance moral progress away from the predetermined agenda of career enhancement of actors of governance.
Shifting power balance
A neat balance of supply and demand stabilises public trust in the polity and helps manage politics of enduring fluidity of oppositions—conservative, reformist and radical ones and non-conformist elements of critical mass of Nepali society posing difficulty to spur generalised support to the rule. Broad-based public support is vital to achieve homeostasis, stability of democracy, avert the dysfunctional exercise of political power creating volatility of Nepali politics for long and set right political orientation of leadership for inclusive social transformation. The digital transformation of economy has added an impetus to this. But it has instrumental value. It runs wild disrupting work pattern and shifting power balance from the Nepali state to business world. But it has unfolding enormous opportunity for circular economy and the real prospects for sustainable progress if it is optimally utilised by the nation and retain the correspondence between expectation of Nepalis and their leaders’ desired performance and their political culture and structures where the different positions they occupy. This can address the complex needs of society. Partisan and parochial ties of leaders, not impersonal ones, can easily stoke social and political cleavages causing democratic atrophy. The current pandemic, economic downhill and simmering social struggles for justice demand both wise direction of leadership and clear public policies to address them. The leadership needs to stem the aspirational political orientations of Nepal’s constitution, varied forms of dissidents and civil society for a rational coherence.
In Nepal, self-accountability among the leadership is deeply plagued by perpetual errors of ideological ambiguity, power tussle, factionalism, cronyism and clientalism that distort public purpose of governance. These traits provide electorates and party cadres an incentive to oscillate from one pole of party to the next lacking robust partisan attachment for the institutionalisation of party system in Nepal. This tendency opportunistically evades accountability for a shared political culture that fosters the collective identity of Nepalis. The demand of many social classes for social representation, not political one, has incubated subsidiary identity politics which is reshaping today’s polarised society and eroding the basis of progressive politics of compassion to the tormented underclass. The economic motive of postmodernism is adding fuel to this tendency and corroding ideological basis of social solidarity. The framing of a progressive politics of future entails widespread civic education, public action and major social and political reforms targeted to democratise political parties, their leaders and turning them program-based, not personalised. An accountable and transparent decision-making structures in Nepal’s political parties does create a trustful public and expunge their layers of weariness where one group is nostalgic of the past, the other is disappointment of the current leaders’ performance while still others dream revolutionary transformation of society finding no middle path to bind its gentle spell upon them for democratic stability.
A common democratic frame set by the constitution needs a symbiosis of values, norms, institutions, procedures and compliance of leaders and citizens across the nation’s social and political spectrum. Nepal’s current policy dilemma between party discipline and freedom of conscience, between party statute and popular sovereignty and between competing ideologies and constitutionalism in no way create a haven for a stable governance capable of offering equal opportunities for citizens to experience life to the fullest extent possible. In this sense, the interface between the conscience of leadership and context-sensitivity of policymakers to human conditions is vital for a rational construction of citizenship. It is critical to elevate their equal status and cope with the tension between inner vigilance about constitutional liberty, power of entrenched political elites and manifest unequal social and economic condition creating an obstacle to unchain the vision of egalitarian society embedded in the constitution.
The buoyant optimism of Nepalis that restoration of multiparty democracy with its characteristic features of inclusive, secular, federal democratic republic can fulfil their aspirations and helps realize their dignity by overcoming poverty, necessity and determinism has been consumed by government instability and parasitic growth of special interest groups called bichaulias that feed on the poor’s life of scarcity and converts citizens into labour driven more by economic needs than informed, active and rational political participation in politics and everyday life that is required for building civic culture. Poverty consumes the physical and psychic energies of Nepalis to collaborate with others and scuttle their choice in the exercise of civil liberties. The conceptual creation of institutional and moral checks in the polity is designed to control the wild manifestation of human nature and its impulse for natural selection. Practically, however, one finds their balance in the mass migration of citizens to urban areas and insecure jobs abroad despite constitutional commitment to socialism, social security, social protection, rights to work, education, health, etc. so vital to the rhythm of dignified life.
A large part of Nepal’s youthful society seems crestfallen by suffocating opportunity to catch the flow of life. It is screaming for economic and political emancipation through creative engagement in production revolution which is the foundation of Nepal’s stable democracy in the future. Their personal anxiety disorder such as desperation, odious cynicism, hostile stare, brain drain or migration can only add pressure on them, postpone the nation’s struggle for modernization and block its path forward even if those earn better and settled in advanced countries to enjoy outer charms. A stable democracy in Nepal demands the return of wellbeing so that like non-political beings, citizens are not coerced or succumbed to harsh choice. In this context, building civic competence citizens is important for democracy consolidation because they can speak out of conscience and assume responsibility, judgment and collaboration as key multiplier of successful life. Neither skill oriented, nor scientific not even social scientific education of Nepal has fostered citizens’ appetite for real life of democracy and hone skill and ability for problem solving. They have only moderated the certain amount of sordid fatalism, prejudice and myth that dominated politics for long, not widespread wellness Nepalis aspired to keep their inner souls intact.
Noted political scientist Ronald Inglehart argues that the birth of post-materialist values of democracy has “emphasized self-expression and quality of life over economic and physical security.” In Nepal, power elites’ natural feeling for material progress devoid of democratic values has fostered tax-evasion, corruption and rent-seeking propensity for personal gain while losing public-spiritedness, the basic foundation of functional democracy. Unlimited flow of money in politics, impunity for political class and privileges has been gravitating powerful classes in politics acculturated in democratic practice or not. Nepal needs a wider range of ideas that are debated for public policies related to the nation’s rejuvenation. The technique for leadership management requires vision, skills and talents and incessant outpouring of feedback from intellectual community so that politics does not move beyond the natural stimuli of the political, becomes vulnerable to non-political and anti-political forces and fails to adapt to society’s changing values, public opinion and culture. This means continuous scholarly conceptualization and contextualization of change in the basic values of democracy, human rights and justice presupposes them to synthesize the experience and knowledge of many sub-cultures formed in mini public spheres and transform them into a broad-based national political culture. Political leaders have to discover what all Nepalis owe each other and bind them into a common political community, the state, where the writ of democracy is grounded. The costs Nepalis have paid for peace has become colossal. The time has come for leaders to exercise national self-determination and harness the huge natural, human and cultural wealth for democratic nation-building.
It is absurd to probe Nepali politics in terms of formalism of doctrines, symbols, constitution and institutions only. The modern life of democracy entails competition, increasing citizens’ participation in the general life of the nation and declining partisan lens so that distribution of democratic dividends reaches all.
Arthur Brooks rightly says, “True competition is the secret to a free society that respects differences, ensures the right to dissent, and creates the conditions for progress through learning. Unfortunately, the competition of ideas is currently under threat.”
Leaders of political parties in Nepal are currently facing a shortage of useful ideas to reflect, plan better, mobilise citizens and resolve the nation’s myriad of problems. Their contemporary zeitgeist is a feeling of status anxiety which forced the left forces to adapt to conservatives and conservatives to the left forces producing a hybrid political culture. It is not sure whether this trend will be able to break the unending cycle of decadal change of regime, frequent alteration of government and replacement of the constitution one after another that governs their lives. As a public philosophy democracy calls for the public administration and leadership yield fair and better performance outcome so that each Nepali is linked to national memory and consciousness and defends democracy’s growth and consolidation with equal zeal, equal weight and equal stake.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues)
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