The population of South Asia is about 1.891 billion. It represents one fourth of the world's population, making it the most populous region. It has the largest concentration of poverty amid abundant resources. Youth bulge forms its demographic dividend. It can be both assets if properly socialised and supported by productive job opportunities or liabilities and threat if remained deprived of livelihood. It is a labour surplus region. But its labour market integration is expanding in the global sphere and forming regional affinity. The South Asian workers have helped to reap large remittances which are useful to reduce poverty, invest in education, health, small projects and serve as an engine of economic growth. This has promoted domestic and foreign investment in productive economic activities, released the entrepreneurial energy of its citizens and eased a transition to sustainable development. Still, one paradox persists between its ideals of freedom and equality and conditions of scarcity and basic needs deficits. Political stability of lawful communities of equal citizens requires protection of the weak from the competitive spirit of economic and political process and distribution of wisdom and intelligence in the entire region to dispel the myth of supremacy of one over the other. A vibrant South Asian bhadralok (public) has emerged out of its civilisational roots of struggle to transform biological and rational aspect of human beings into a higher stage of spirituality where everyone knows the cosmic view of life. The argumentative culture sets a broader understanding of the regional consciousness allowing one to think beyond the context of territorially bounded states. It unveils the incongruity between states and overlapping societies, expresses sane voices and acts as an interlocutor across various cultures for cooperation against the indolent official disposition. The South Asian public spurs the truth-upholding critical mass image and articulates collective interests in the language of universal values, reason and concerns. Common cultural sites do not make citizens stranger to each other. Its focus on one common biosphere has created a powerful constituency for common survival and regional empathy thus resolving the problem of ethics. Many problems of regional and global in scope exceed the capacity of individual states to resolve. The South Asian public, therefore, aggregates the needs, demands and aspirations of citizens emanating from the grassroots level, organises dialogues for policy inputs for the states and exerts pressure for distributive tasks for risk management. The bureaucratic inertia, leadership distrust and political deadlock spoil the ability of official South Asian leaders to harness the region’s potential through collaborative means and lead rule-based order and positive peace, a peace that satisfies the security, safety and basic needs and recover the moral culture of its civilisation. The thoughtful South Asian public is debating on what is just and unjust and socialising leaders to beat the state of nature, cultivate moral virtues and generate the relevance of a common regional identity. The interlinked and intergenerational problems of the region require collaborative solutions. Time is ripe for them to assess the scale of progress, spot the flaws and forge desired efforts to make the region better place for its citizens’ hope for freedom, justice and peace. The activities of South Asian public in multiple fields of philosophy, literature, culture, environment, energy, communication, art, music, films, poems, songs, gender, business, peace, etc. enrich a moral spin of the heritage and reason to enliven the culture of association, mobilization and bonding by common civilisational roots and engage in discourse beyond political frontiers. Their inquiry finds the regional problems systemic. They, therefore, seek to glue national sentiments to regional scale by purging egoistic elements. It aims to overcome the region’s marginalization from global politics and defends cooperative spirit, justice and dignity to fulfil rational expectation of citizens. It is opening the minds of decision makers to non- linear method of conflict resolution. Ignorance of systemic link infects the official leaders which the regional public seeks to bridge and bond through rituals and initiatives and prevents the backward struggle against the forces of reason and cooperation. All the nations of the region are undergoing various stages of ecological, social, economic and political transitions to knowledge-driven, right-based participatory democracy. Leaders are struggling to convert their collective interests into constitutional rights for the operation of welfare states. This, in tune with opinion, norms and values of society, is the basis of laws and the source of legitimacy and loyalty to respective states. It forms a basis for the internal cohesion of diversity, safe adaptation of states in the changing geopolitics and security from the global state of nature having implications for the region as well. The confinement of democracy to majority rule, not constitutionalism, has weakened legislature and opposition shifting the scope for extra-parliamentary discourse from left-right divide to top-bottom axis. Political parties of South Asia habituated in an adversarial politics often indulge in diverse set of paths delinking politics from the shared concern of justice for all. Their conflicting socialisation process in antiquated attachments imposes difficulty in the detribalisation of society and creation of impersonal citizens and impersonal states committed to nation and region-building. The coherence of South Asian states-citizenship ties is essential to forestall the deconstructive effects of globalisation on native knowledge, constitutions, institutions and division of labour and foster constructive effort of social security and self-rule. Globalisation has, however, also opened a global space for dialogue across multi-stakeholders. The South Asian public has aired common voice on WTO, ecocide, energy security, livelihood, migration, poverty, violence, terrorism, cybercrime, peace etc. and acted as citizens’ representative outside the national frontiers. Due to non-fulfilment of rights, unsteady nature of regimes and weak law-enforcement, citizens face risks to their life, liberty and profession from both the state and non-state armed actors. Some of them have to coexist uneasily with feudal armies, war lords, militant criminals, rebels and disloyal opposition. The states are weak to constitutionalise them into rule-conforming behaviour. Their troubled coexistence reflects the erosion of their monopoly on power to fulfil basis duties, declining outreach in society, intra-state conflicts, restless struggle of society to limit their authority, etc. breeding democracy-free zones. The ability of South Asian states to provide security and public order and reconcile with citizens’ liberty can only enable them to exercise autonomous power to debate on knowledge, law, policies and other vital issues. The security experts of the region often highlight the need for coordinated efforts to combat the viruses of post-national security threats—terrorists, mafias, cross-border crimes, human and drug trafficking, money laundering, communalism, etc. They stress the need for pro-active roles of the hard institutions of the states and soft power of cultural industries in the defence of the enforcement of rule of law. The autonomous media and intellectual power of civil society can keep citizens in a constant alert for problems, help cope with them, create equal playing field for all and dispirit the power of money to influence distributive democratic outcome. The state of plural public sphere in the region offers a scope for the legitimate expression of grievances and deliberative policy formulation to address them. Sensible media and civil society equally highlight the areas of complementarities among the regional states and create informed public opinion for the necessity of regional cooperation. The conscience of the regional public is a systemic compass that gives South Asian tips when the governments are frozen in the vicious distrust and fail to solve common problems of poverty, inequality, social discrimination, unmet needs and violence representing moral failure to stick to their electoral and constitutional promises and international obligations. Every problem formulated rationally is capable of solution in the relative satisfaction of all sides. This regional public rooted into public political culture can awaken leaders and citizens to their civic duty, bring the band of voices banished into silence and bridge the gap between the operation of political power and availability of justice, compassion and reciprocity adorned by sages. Distributive and corrective justice, the right distribution of goods of South Asian states to their citizens, even satisfying the needs of the oppressed can generate strong political will and create bigger social base for regional cooperation at various levels of society through the right course of action. Democratic states are virtuous. They do not dismiss constitutional considerations for their raison d’ etat to abolish the state of nature and protect the weak. The informed participation of the public in building social solidarity and collective action can exert influence on the decision-makers and inspire them to collaborate to shape a regional community able to revive civic identity.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues)