Dev Raj Dahal
The dawn of democracy opened a transformational moment for Nepalis, igniting huge public expectations and bonus of promises. Each dawn signified the muscle of society to assert and articulate to the regime. Nepalis feverishly waited for a new policy platform, democratic dividend from an impersonal state and inclusive economic progress. But each time political parties have needled a lock between the state and society thus exposing the vigour of both in a shaky balance while top leaders built a nonstop desire to change the government. Obsessed more with governmental power, many leaders trained in nanny, withering, corroding and subverting Nepali state bear poor ownership in it. Still, some parade state structuring, others multinationalisation, still other market-driven, self-determination, rebellion, etc. without any intention to strengthen the constitutional vision of welfare state and local self-rule.
Only a robust state can manage popular sovereignty within an enclosed space, grant civic rights to constrain the government to act with normative vision and create public order. Democracy deepening without consolidating Nepali state is beyond the capacity of State Affairs and Good Governance Committee of parliament. It cannot fulfil all the constitutional rights and promises of leaders to citizens without its capacity and embedded outreach. Prithvi Narayan Shah stated that the strength of the state is the empowerment of citizens. He sought their trust to govern through the wheels of public integrity and raj dharma, justice beyond legal logic and law.
Building Nepali state from the bottom up entails a coherent strategic vision on managing the politics of heartland, strategic areas, buffer zones and frontier spaces so that its ability to create security, authority, regulation, communication, taxing of economic activities and problem solving capacity remain robust. Popular sovereignty means Nepali citizens have to take more responsibility and pull each other. The state autonomy depends on improving its fiscal basis and sovereignty rests on rescuing sclerotic status dependent on external burdens of debt, aid, trade deficits, labour market, advice and decline of real economy. It is compounded by inner vices.
Effective law enforcement and broad-based incentives for citizens’ loyalty are central to mobilise state-bearing centripetal forces of society, neutralise, isolate or control anti-state force. It is vital for political stabilisation, institutionalisation and sustainable progress so far exposed to the game of free riders who enjoy the fruits of state without adding to its stamina either through value gift, critical policy, representation of citizens in governing institutions or their wellbeing so that they live together within a common bound of freedom, worldview, discipline and justice.
State-consolidation first expects Nepali leaders to perform raj dharma, moral duty in the realm of security, rule of law, collection of tax and wellbeing of citizens and boost its inner vigour. Not in all areas of public good, public-private partnership can work. For example, security, rule of law, protection of weak, foreign policy, etc. cannot be outsourced. Nepali state has to take the lead on righteous course. The next step is to keep checks, separation and devolution of power of polity and overcome fragmentary politics straining the implementation of Constitution.
The third step is to resolve the problems of governance especially in balancing input and output function of the polity through productive economic policy to dynamise agriculture, industry, energy potential, human resource development and tap technology bubble. It is vital to keep demand-supply equilibrium. Fourth step is to set fairly good political consensus across social and political spectrum on the mode of statecraft and resolution of conflict of various types-parliamentary, extra-constitutional and revolutionary ones. It is essential to fill the void of authority in society left by the pusillanimous leaders and the growth of vicious elements where the cost of inaction of erodes government’s credibility.
Consolidation of basic state structures and its outreach in society improves government’s leverage and access of diverse Nepalis into its institutional resources. It helps to monopolise coercive power and utilise the profit of discursive, cooperative, bargaining and conflicting basis of powers. The state consolidation devoid of soft power of national values, culture and achievement of history is hard. Nourishing them enables Nepalis to freely think, act and coexist in genuine democratic progress of participatory institutions and norms beyond politics-business-bureaucracy labyrinth addicted to oblivious of the integrity of scientific accounting and wise adjudication.
Today, owing to rising political awareness of Nepalis they believe that poverty and impotence cannot be ascribed to their fate but to structural, institutional and policy traits where reinventing the rule are the only remedy. The incubation of this awareness is the cardinal virtues of active citizenship and an accelerator of positive change. It empowers Nepali polity to generate huge potential for social, economic and political integration and braces the legitimate mechanisms of public security so that business friendly investment occurs in the nation and political parties and civil society work as mediating agencies on behalf of ordinary Nepalis essential for shared concern to ecological renewal, social development and a broader axis of national unity.
Democracy consolidation in a plural society like Nepal requires a mechanism to cope with the problem of political minorities, address the cross-cutting cleavages and maintain a balance between the demand of identity of organised groups into differentiated rights and micro minorities and the need for a broader national identity of Nepaliness. Excessive right-based constitutional pact in disproportion to duties in the face of the erosion of constitutional bodies and public administration and lack of suitable policy innovations have unleashed associational revolutions when the need is to build the state autonomy, strengthen its capacity and trust and provide opportunities for all the poor, marginalised and minorities for bolstering their stake in the Nepali state. It can strengthen a number of channels of civic engagement, resolve various differences, build the spirit of community and steer the rule in right direction in compatible with the ecological web of life.
Nepali political parties have proved their ability to organise and mobilise political awareness and movements. But they seemed weak in performing the requisite functions and maintain a balance between party building and enlisting citizens’ ordered engagement in politics. The surge of special interest groups within the parties has bred intense factionalism where each group competes for position, power and policy influence and inserts contradictions among the entrenched ones.
The boiling of social movements of Guthis, cultural groups, peasants, women, civil society, ecologists, conflict victims, etc. marks the rise of new social milieus. Now, parties are facing anomic forms of political discourse, protests, revolts and negative projection of big leaders in the media. Big personality politics has stifled the fellow-feeling with cadres and a sense of equality while imposition of will without consultation with the committee members has bred fears of each other. This is why politics in Nepal is paralysed by factional leaders clogging each other’s gear, conditioning followers to passive acceptance like a dull machine and promising an impossible utopia thus degenerating the efficacy of national leaders to perform in an accountable and transparent way.
A sense of volunteerism in the Nepali parties will flourish when top leaders do not succumb to de-idelogisation and fabulous materialism in their existence. The hierarchy and diversity of political parties - left, catch-all, mass and single purpose parties, etc. and their differing mode of political education has set political dynamics. But they appear weak in keeping party discipline, flat chain of leadership and wrestle the tension with their own auxiliary bodies struggling for the access to party committees. Professional organisations, women, Dalits, Janajatis, aadibasis, etc. have built less ideological and more interest-based solidarity to negotiate with power-holders while others have linked to media and social groups to protect and promote their values and interests.
Nepali trade unions, for example, transcend the labour-capital code and maintain solidarity with social and political forces within and across the nation. The challenge before Nepali polity is how to transform varied social formation into democratic culture and evolve a system to change clientalist parties into a programme-based one able to cultivate public and national interests. It is vital to generate a condition to collectively rescue Nepali state from the swamp of bustling global geopolitics. Management of dissents of many types is another condition for the cultivation of civic political culture in the nation.
Post-bureaucratic state needs many mediating agencies between the economic and political societies and between family and the state for daily public communication, participation of citizens, coordination of action and bonding them. In Nepal civil society have to do a number of tasks: protection of public from the attack and agitational politics of forces, monitoring of authorities, providing information for early warning of scuffle, advocacy of public interests, setting agenda, socialisation for a culture of accountability, community building and encouraging civic engagement in the promotion of human rights, democracy, progress and peace.
Despite multi-function of Nepali civil society there is a lack of boundaries among the state, market and civil society elites cemented by perk of privileges. It has muddled their priorities and actions. The source of funding to their survival, maintenance and activities are not dissimilar. So do their shifting nature of collusion and collision. Their duplication of works and converging interests rather than specialisation of social and political functions have bonded them in the projects and undercut their stamina to serve as emancipatory force of Nepali society. They, therefore, appear feeble to strengthen the democratic process necessary to strengthen each other’s roles and responsibilities, beef up an inclusive sense of belonging to Nepali state at the national and international levels and accepting its coordinating role.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues)
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