Dev Raj Dahal
Political renewal is a process of renovation of the purpose, rule and praxis of politics that makes it resilient to any kind of unrest, instability and transition of the nation detonated by internal change or alteration of the vital circumstances of international politics. Inability of politics to uphold correctness of vision and adapt to changing ecological, social, economic and political conditions where it is located causes its decay, infection and loss of public trust, not development.
It is thus essential to regularly conduct macroanalytic, historical and comparative studies of politics to restore its old virtues of freedom, justice, dignity, hope, service and wisdom. Learning helps coordinate various aspects of lives, overcome social alienation and manage a state of stasis and breakdown which removes citizens’ stake in politics and harbours pre-political tribal and anti-political violent tendencies.
Renewal of regulatory power of politics over invisible forces is key to recapturing its discipline-maintaining domain and foil the reduction of politics to utility maximisation -profit and career enhancement but bolster its vigour to foster order and positive rights of citizens to heal the wound caused by scarcity, conflicts and crises afflicting posterity.
Likewise, the lack of autonomy of politics from multi-cellular societal forces invites various impulses - capture by interest groups, subversion of radical forces, status quo ante of conservatives and destabilisation by opportunists ones - thus keeping politics off balance and deterministic animus to a culture of human rights.
First, reformist renewal seeks to incrementally repair the non-performing parts of the polity or its replacement by better ones so that the cost for maintaining political life is not onerous. This malaise arises when institutions are well placed but leaders who occupy the key positions are less sobered by experience than weak and corrupt and lack skill, will and authority to respond to the pressure of Nepali public for their needs satisfaction and rights realisation for they are the source of sovereignty. The ruling Nepal Communist Party often debates about the change in government and top leadership in the party by new elections. This super-structural change can hardly make a dent in its political culture and balance the concepts of freedom and social justice as leaders require competency and ethics to handle redistributive economy.
Nepali voters have shown a stable tendency to defeat the incumbent party many times but political leaders have shown agility to come to power either through organisational control, skill in political management, bargaining, agitation or geopolitical clout. Such a tendency undermines electoral legitimacy, ability of politics to renew itself with fresh mandate, leadership, values and insights and breed authoritarian political culture, not entrepreneurship one able to perform administrative, management, productive and distributive functions. Wealth, after all, springs from human creativity.
Second, structural renewal sets the rules of behaviour and seeks the transformation of public sphere by rapid socialisation, mobilisation, institutionalisation and collective action. It prevents gyration of political decay in certain vital constitutional and legal institutions including judicial system. It seeks renewed role of Nepali political society composed by various parties and their auxiliary bodies, parliament, polity, inter-governmental agencies and electoral system. The proportional election is largely flawed for its cronyism, cost of elections increased and many criminal and corrupt elements got elected by deceiving the public and even some are in jail now.
Similarly, only an improved political culture where the institutions of enlightenment such as Nepali think tanks, universities, media and research institutes can play critical roles by supplying critical feedback to the public and leaders in power and renew the life of Nepali politics. In Nepal, press is only filling the vacuum of public sphere left by court, public politics and civil society. Autonomy of watchdog agencies including judiciary, CIAA, Auditor-General, media and civil society and civic bodies such as federations of Gaon Palika, Nagar Palika, irrigation, community forestry, etc. can act as counterweight to political decay and arbitrariness of rule, renew the rule of law and value-based politics from below not conditioned reflect of the centre.
Nepal’s experience with self-rule and shared rule has yet to be truly the government for the people. The dynamics of factional politics of the headquarters of all political parties and bureaucratisation of party structures indicate the lack of vigour of error-correcting regenerative process of politics to redress critical injustices at social, gender and intergenerational levels. It is stirring up distributional struggles.
In Nepal, political decision making involves hard choices about blending of reformist and structural lens and setting the competing priorities over public good. The level of education, health, infrastructures and modernisation of society definitely contribute to the renewal of democratic politics and stabilise polity through the enforcement of constitution. But in no way it is a promise of stability. Nepali party system is fragmented along patrimonial lines lacking consensus on party statutes, discipline and agreed rules of the game. This shows that leadership is centralised and personalised with transactional passion for clientalism even if national polity is federalised and decentralised thus straining the process of governance. The social democratic deficits faced by NCP and NC are caused by a lack of innovative co-evolutionary path of social contract and its impersonal ruling of political life.
In a society of social, cultural, economic and political diversity like Nepal the prospect of finding common ground is important for any worthy initiative. But this common ground must be rooted in common values and citizenship. Renewal of Nepali politics demands leaders’ respect to citizens’ democratic self-determination as a sustainable life-choice, use of media for political conversation, revitalisation of democratic elements of governance especially accountability to the weak, increase constitutional and public policy knowledge, broaden decision framework and build community consciousness for a connect with citizens on competing account of political life. These elements keep constant feedbacks from protests, hunger strikes, awareness campaign, petition etc. to leaders and a sense of belonging of citizens to the nation.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)
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