Saturday, 4 December, 2021

Standing At A Transformative Moment

Dev Raj Dahal


Nepal now stands at the critical moment of transformation, a moment in which many traditions of statecraft are crumbling under the weight of zeitgeist and the new dispensation is yet to be consolidated. The non-linear mode of transformation driven by the flow of modernism-- ideas, opinion, communication, technology and economy-- is unlocking opportunities for the able ones while fuelling anguished spirit of those facing disruptive effects. Nepal’s transformation to a new regime of secular, federal democratic republic has traversed its own self-enclosed winding path of smugness affirming certain values, laws and governing institutions.
This new course overlaps with the old political culture of patronage resembling a path to political change, not transformation, which entails structural shift modifying pre-rational beliefs, actors, political culture, institutions and rules to a rational path. As the opposition party in Nepal is co-opted into the establishment, many forms of critical voices and dissents, movements and reactions are surging from inside the right and the radical left parties, aspiring social forces in between and conflict victims seeking justice and humanity as a key to progress. The new regime’s policies can offer positive difference in the lives of Nepalis if they are adaptable to its feats and invent a complex responsive system so that the nation’s return of the investment in human, natural, financial and technological capitals is optimised and disparity of fortunes among different scales of social classes bridged. One can see centrifugal pulls in the polity and unstable equation of state-political parties’ ties. A cohesive response to the transformation of Nepali context, issues, actors and rules of the game is vital to reap economic and strategic benefits, social cohesion, political stability and effective foreign policy. It can enrich the nation’s human quality comparable to other civilised nations.
The purposive nature of transformation cannot be divorced from the resonance of the past on the present condition of Nepal. The rationality of judiciary, security, bureaucracy and politicians represents the continuity of the past. Mobilisation of their strength, knowledge and experience in this momentous time can sober leaders and sputter some of their disruptive fervours animus to Nepali state’s functional imperatives. For the establishment, electoral legitimacy is necessary but it is not sufficient to manage complex grievances of citizens without enhancing society’s productive potential now drained by private pillage and public graft and justifying popular sovereignty against their fate. Democracy expects a society of free citizens where mutual respect for dignity, freedom of choice and positive peace is ensured by institutionalised separation, devolution and democratisation of power. The execution of democratic ideals and duties embedded in Nepal’s constitution limits the fervour of self-dramatising leaders and tempers their passion to the patience of Nepalis’ civic virtues. The tension between the reason of law and the passion of politics is creating a gap between what has been taught about democratic values and the institutions and citizens’ daily experience in life. This gap is a barrier to the constitutionalisatin of powerful actors and eradication of a culture of impunity kept alive by the shadow of old political culture in the life of new generation of leaders. The political innovation in Nepal has witnessed the overcoming of left-right divide, not the top-bottom balance where the former lacks diversity and clocks the energy of inclusive transformation. As sincere task performance by the bureaucracy and local bodies is hamstrung, Nepalis’ desire for transformation only lingers setting the drift of top leaders to geopolitical polarisation. Any re-imagination of the nation’s foreign policy in a bigger horizon requires an assurance of leaders, national reconciliation and easing of neighbours’ security concerns.
The government can become the legitimate instrument of transformation if it fosters the common good, based not on market utility, but on human solidarity capable of modifying ties between leaders and citizens from domination to freedom and equality. The springs of hope flow from functions of Nepali leaders within the mandate and retain social representation and constitutional spirit. As builders of trust with citizens and bearer of public-spirit, they should eschew from egoism to enrich the circle of cronies which feudalises the public sphere through the nexus of politics, business and bureaucracy, distances Nepalis from political power and fertilises their fury against unfairness. Nepalis have moral right to demand good governance and hone the cultivation of citizenship and humanity. This is vital to make the means compatible with transformational change suitable for dignified life and enhance freedom and social mobility for all sections of the society. Progress can only be achieved in terms of the even evolution of the whole than only a few parts of all-absorbing political parties shielded by privilege. It has created uneven prospects for life-choices of diverse Nepalis and their poor stake in the polity. Those wealthy are sullied by tax laws and the poor by the fear to subsidise infertile classes. It renders the fate of public peace precarious.
Nepalis are fatigued by the imprecise, inert and vagueness of their leaders’ rhetoric and a disharmony between constitutional ideals and policy practice. So long as they are socially conditioned by primitive affinity, an impulse to serve the nation stifles. Those who are at the bottom of economic pyramid need a fillip to get away from a wretched condition and gain a state of fully conscious existence. Only enlightened ones can save democracy from its foes. Participatory democracy presupposes sturdy local self-governance institutions. Being closer to the citizens’ lives they are supposed to fulfil their rights and deliver goods aiming to realise their aspiration for freedom where intellectuals and civil society through their discourse can spread the outreach of Nepali democracy to the poor. It is intellectual treason to treat truth from leftist and rightist angles and miss the middle path that encourages an inclusive transformation of public sphere mediated by the integrity and fairness of media and the court. They are central to foster trust in society inflicted by violence.
A society that tolerates corruption, crime and social vices owing to the lack of political will cares less about the nation’s posterity in life-giving stream. Nepal’s policy is beset by the leaders’ poor culture of listening to public opinion, reflection and philosophy, shifting balance of power from politics to business and irrelevance of disciplinary insight to sustain transformation through the false notion of disembodied neo-liberal economy. It has damaged the nation’s production structures spawning a crisis of livelihood. The telling effects of pandemic coronavirus are now yet to be seen. Obviously, the signs of decline of its economy based on remittance, tourism and foreign investment and politics overtaken by geopolitics, interest groups, business and fractious leadership will skew production diversification. Only the revitalisation of the roles of national institutions-- education, health and economy-- can avert the impending crisis of scarcity. Hence, life-long learning, contextualisation, conceptualisation and cultivation of wisdom, skills and character are essential for good life and individual obligations to community, society and the state. Renewal of civic virtues can help consolidate democracy, enable it to fit the transformation and cut violence and its residues that continue to threaten order, peace and civic life of Nepali society. A life of shared values is essential for spurring feeling and action beyond the partisan wrangle and tangle. Social spirit of Nepalis can build an interface of the old charity-based with modern civil society nourished with the spirit of civic courage, attitudes and prudence. If social and political spirit of reciprocity dissipates, no amount of party activities and leadership can repair Nepali democracy from its moral dysfunction.
The sanity of tradition, as a source of stability, drives Nepali spirit. If this disappears and the constitutional ideals are contested, enormity of rights and few duties alone cannot stabilise citizens’ behaviour and spur a basis of collective action. Nepali politics is now stifled by polarisation and globalisation. The broken hearts blame both the leaders and the system. Nepali political class and intellectuals, therefore, need to set themselves free from alien trap of cultural transformation and promote positive national ideals derived from its own luminous heritage of tolerance of diversity, syncretic culture, mindful society and history of independence. Many of its development partners, however, finding democracy promotion abstract ideals have dropped the projects, ritualised them, indulged in dubious demographic politics or supported the clients for geopolitical pull and helped less in transforming tribal instincts into citizenship.
Absence of an effective civic education in the public sphere involving diversity of Nepalis marks the deficits of enlightened and active citizenship equipped with civic disposition and their orderly participation in the praxis of transformation. Citizenship is vital for building Nepali identity and marking a shift from patronage to preference and status to social contract for a common future. With demographic dividend, the youthful society of the country needs freedom from poverty, inequality, push migration and brain drain with a good management and leadership skill in solving the nation’s problems so that citizens, liberated from social conditioning, become reflective and engaged in conversation. This power of visionary leadership is to help them navigate the transformation without critical snags imposed by fractious politicians indulged into rancour sapping each other’s energy and being lost in transformation. This power is central to unify different institutions and actors into a coherent whole, alleviate livelihood crisis and remove the stress on its ecosystem by creating local hub for sustainable progress. Inclusive transformation can be attained by expanding the scope of state- bearing forces, harnessing system parameters at multi-level rule and widening economic pie for distributive justice.
When the problems are interconnected, a brand of soloed politics where each political party seeks absolute power without noticing common interest in democracy as the ethical basis of the nation’s future Nepalis esteem cannot be a remedy. If powerful manipulates the system, the best brains are drenched by survival issues. They have no interest to think for the nation.
Leaders have to revitalise the democratic counterweights so that new generation will have opportunity to learn the civilised art of transformation. Crisis situation demands wise leaders able to synthesise knowledge and experience and plan for the nation’s better future unimpeded by short-term corruption of self-interest. The role of Nepali youths as a catalyst of change is vital to mend seedbed of democracy by harnessing innovations from the grassroots and reconciliation between reason and compassion, not political rhetoric and endless squabbles for power unworthy of citizens’ aspiration. The tragic experience of history demands Nepali leaders to outline the list of priorities so that one after another task is accomplished and the nation can gain stability, endurance and progress. In a diverse society, scaling up of democratic capabilities is central to address contingencies. Adaptation of Nepali society and the state requires invention of new ideas, skills and practices in tune with the dynamic transformation underway and overcome problems created either by the beneficiaries of status quo or its foes regardless of public purpose.

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