Monday, 24 January, 2022

Shifting Development Culture

Shifting Development Culture

Dev Raj Dahal


Development, like the ideals of emancipation of ancients, is rediscovering self in the ancestry of freedom, the ability of people to liberally decide the type of human condition they prefer to live in. Five intrinsic values -- surge of popular sovereignty, self-rule, subsidiarity, inclusion, ownership and participation — affirm its processes. Like democracy its sublime bent flows from the ordinary people. Both cannot be imposed from outside as such an imposition refuses to admit that people have culture and subculture that provides them consciousness of what is helpful and what is not.

Now development has submitted to progressive inquiry by a great number of social scientists and practitioners who are moving away from mono causal account of retarded development or linear determinist canon to the relationship of the state, the market and civil society. Nepalis too view development as goal of fulfilling life, a means to their elevation and a process to mediate the societal extremes. Nepali social historians for long have relied on the role of dharma what Aristotle calls “virtue ethics” as a glue to bind the society with the state. Traditionally, dharmas, Hindu, Buddhist and countless cults were culturally unbiased for their synthesis assumed syncretism. But their rituals today formed a key element in the web of power in the matrix of caste hierarchy and intra-familial elite network at the top.

Equitable distribution
The process of Sanskritisation brought together various non-Hindu, tribal and ethnic groups into a shared world-view of the state, a state responsibilised to protect people, offer them livelihood means and education to understand the holistic cycles of life. The state has become successful in penetrating, integrating and controlling the society through the ideology of Sanskritisation, Nepalisation and constitutionalisation of citizens where economy and civil society complemented. Yet, it appears weak now to empower the people to participate in a wider ecological, social, economic and political process on the basis of their active, free and useful partnership in development for an equitable distribution of benefits.

This entails debates about the shifting role of state, polity, government, economy and civil society in matters of development. The surge of old wisdom of living with nature requires reforms in the functioning of dominant institutions of society beyond anthropocentric notion of development. In a non-egalitarian society, economic progress has a non-economic dimension.

To defend the popular sovereignty, the government will have to confront rights-based social power of civil society and economic power that is global and rethink about their own knowledge. That is the reason why Gautam Buddha focused on nirvana-based education, need-based economy, mindful society, a virtuous regime, middle path of politics and Panchsheel as a foundation of international cooperation.
Left unchallenged, the globalisation of the political economy has already weakened Nepali state’s ability to set its own priorities that shape the values of society. To confront the negative effects of globalisation, Nepali leaders must provide proper education to its people about the changing world labour market, capital and technology including the costs and benefits of sharing with others.

Conceptually, development has changed its meaning from culture blind modernisation, class-blind economic growth, de-contextualised neo-liberalism to the fulfilment of human potential in the larger freedom. It is neither possible to nationalise the commanding heights nor desirable to completely socialise the economy devoid of any incentive for private profit. Creation of an incentive-based economic system and ethical business practices can hold the possibility of sustainability. What seems desirable is the use of economic democracy in each enterprise whether cooperatives, industries or farms.

Participation is the only criterion for the empowerment of Nepalis, freeing them from basic necessities and fear and also giving them the right to criticise wrong de-contextualised, development policies that yield many social contradictions beyond resolution. The industrial model, predominantly concentrated in Kathmandu and the Terai, and based on the production for an outside market, is mainly attracting resources to the modern sector of the economy and delaying a frontal attack on rural poverty rooted in agriculture. Agriculture continues to be the main source of livelihoods for a large number of people waiting to be modernised to mark a shift from subsistence to surplus.

Without levelling up Nepali society and creating opportunity for youths at home, democratisation only means mediocratisation and weary rehearsal of unfavourable life. What development programmes and projects in Nepal miss fundamentally is the ability of people to easily conceptualise their problems and visualise their perceptions necessary to shape their environment in ways that foster their self-confidence in achieving green growth, social progress and political freedom.

The development process is bound to fail if the poor, for whom development is designed and executed by external bureaucrats, technocrats and local experts, who are not used to listening to people, are not allowed to participate and express their practical suggestions. Programme organisers in rural areas, whether planners, government officials or INGOs, NGOs, civil society, consumer associations, consultants, etc. often consider themselves superior to the sovereign people they are supposed to serve.

Capturing this complexity is crucial to reflect the diverse experiences and evolve an episteme of development paradigm in Nepal that is more inclusive, cohesive and less polarising. Weak integration of diverse sections of the society and economy, more particularly, skewed public investments, still remains a problem for Nepal. This is the reason money spent on economic activities has not been able to expand the base of production sufficient to meet even the basic needs of the majority of people without uglifying nature.

The emerging rights-based social processes and the privatisation initiatives of the government tend to converge on the individual citizen’s capacities to enforce their claims against the state, on the political context of society in which development policies are to be implemented and on the social control of politics for good governance. The state of Nepal entailed the reflection of the interaction between the state and its people, especially how those subjected to politics, power and leadership can secure their sustainable progress. This point bears central significance as the power elite, the policy and the political communities continue their exploitative history of the past, and as global public action, both bilateral and multi-lateral, appear feeble in urging the recipients to utilise the aid they provide for the public welfare.

Nepal's high level of dependence on foreign aid, advice and exposure has set critical limits on its policy autonomy and, consequently, embeddedness of policy on the life-world of people in spite of new policy imperative of aid alignment to national priorities. It is exactly at this point in time that the constitution of Nepal has embraced the many-hand approach espousing the roles of NGOs, civil society, CBOs and local government in the development process. The main components of the strategy of development of Nepal can be: enforcement of effective land utilisation measures to increase agricultural productivity, initiation of a national industrialisation drive through proper channelisation of indigenous capital and utilisation of the available hydro and other resources, both natural and human; and the expansion of the national economy to benefit the Nepali society and the state.

Ironically, Nepal's declining capacity to produce commodities for local consumption needs and export combined with poor prospects to maintain world market shares of exports is unlikely to help it to improve economic conditions. In fiscal management, a great deal of reform is needed in the tax administration so that the revenue is expanded to cover essential public expenditure programmes without undermining an incentive to save, work and enhance entrepreneurship. The stability of macro-economic conditions is contingent on sound fiscal, monetary and exchange rate policies to check excessive balance of payment deficits, budget deficits, declining remittance, growing national debt, inability to aptly utilise foreign grants and loans, swelling administrative expenses and encourage a high level of savings and control inflationary pressures.

The leitmotif of development has always been its potential to mediate between the state and the society. Since economics provides a convenient tool to achieve the developmental targets it has always remained a focus of social scientists resulting in its interpretation by various hues of political lines of thinking. A situation has arisen today where not only the means of development are debated but the very targets- viz. growth versus redistribution. Nepal, without doubt finds itself in the midst of not only this seemingly intellectual conflict, but in policy prescriptions regarding analytic approaches which failed or systemic ones which have yet to evolve that combine what Aristotle calls an education of both heart and mind.

There is a critical need for a synergy among the actors- the state, the market, cooperatives, voluntary sectors and international development fraternity. An alternative development framework would be needed to balance the relationship of various sectors of the state and society and overcome the childish delight of policy makers to adopt fresh development concepts fabricated abroad regardless of their utility and relevance Nepalis are fed up with and find contrary to their historical insights, knowledge, experience and needs. Education and culture are essentially the art of civilisation and connectivity.

This requires: first, the moderation of neoliberalism to make it serve a policy framework that does not marginalise the poor. The benefits of the market can be harnessed to give a greater emphasis on the need for a social control of the economy rather than vice versa; second, as integrity, accountability and transparency, the core of good governance are on the decline, promotion of traditional ethics in both the use of resources and planning needs to be revived; third, the state has been the main actor in improving education, health, infrastructures, communication and increased mobility among the people of different social origin.

Community values
Fourth, community values that are facing decline in the face of the onslaught of the various development paradigms that have been tried, particularly the neo-liberal individualistic and the statist approaches, need to be revived so that social bonds in themselves spur democratic development. This is not to undermine the role of the state or the market, but rather the recognition of its need to synergise this diversity into national unity. Development should be designed to promote ecological resilience, social harmony and minority rights at the same time. This may require democracy to be more substantive, rather than winner-take-all.

Fifth, emphasise the role of women in society as a source of power, creativity and change. For social cohesion and gender equality, constitutional provisions and international obligations need to be followed. Since, indigenous inquiry on the various aspects of the state, the society and development is very rare, this aspect needs to be further studied, analysed, debated and synthesised. Such an exercise would provide the vital inputs for both policy makers and scholars in line with the needs of the Nepali society for acquiring maturity and the renewal of politics as both evolve with the native wisdom, culture and virtues.

(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)