Dev Raj Dahal
The gap between the legal sovereignty of Nepali state and its institutional capacity to fulfil the rights of its citizens has made national politics aspirational, not stability-driven. It is neither a safe and sound road to endure a coherent polity nor a vision youths desire. The expectation of youths attached to political institutions and public sphere motivates their engagement in politics. But the national governance is hampered by contradictory behaviour of political leaders moving beyond Hippocratic Oath of public service. They are often jostling for power and position without accountability to the future generation of citizens. The bickering, back-stabbing and trust deficits within and among the leaders of Nepal’s mainstream political parties have fractured political landscape and strained the supplies of social discipline, political coherence, sustainable progress and social peace that Nepali youths deserve.
The basic political challenges of Nepal are: the weakening of central authority of the state to keep the integrity of public institutions, cope with the spread of coronavirus, growing social violence, centre-periphery tension over power-sharing and inability of the polity to arbitrate competitive interest groups within political parties. Disorganised politics lacks the grit of sturdy public interest and social justice which are preconditions for freedom. Fulfilment of these preconditions is central to realise the potentialities of Nepali youths and cultivate their virtuous character. It is also important to dispel their lingering despair and anguish that flow from an acute awareness of dire national condition. It is preoccupying the concern of youths over their own personal development and contribution to Nepali society that makes a real difference.
In a hierarchic, largely traditional society with low performance legitimacy of polity, the policies of social inclusion, proportional representation and quota for various social groups have provided rapid entry of previously non-participant groups into politics via various civic channels. It spells the break of social pyramid and patriarchy generating social, gender and generational tensions among those in power, those aspire for power and those out of power throbbing orderly political behaviour of social, economic and political actors. These tensions are impediments to the adaptation of Nepali democracy and ruin its performance.
Democratic politics as a process of cohering large-scale public action can hardly be institutionalised if Nepali youths do not keep their unity in realising Directive Principles and Policies of the state beyond their sub-group identities and politics. In this context, transformation of childhood to youth in Nepal has often evoked self-awareness, emotional instability, skewed political attitudes and even a crisis of public identity. The new establishment has contested and abolished many old values and institutions that glued the state and citizens without properly institutionalising a new set of normative dispositions and making them functional.
Political choices for Nepali youths in joining political parties are primarily determined by family background, peer group, job prospect, appeal of media on social and national questions, personal links, leadership ambition, political rewards and economic incentives. But certain ascriptive culture of Nepali society, especially tradition of centralised leadership with a lack of term limit, cronyism and political patronage, has squeezed space for achievement-oriented youth to learn the art of politics and assume responsible position in the institutions of governance other than command receiving entity from the top brass. Urban youths are inspired to struggle for space, rights, recognition, opportunity and dignity while mass poverty in rural areas has forced rural youths to succumb to economic determinism.
They migrate en masse to the urban areas of the nation and the Gulf region, East and Southeast Asia to escape the chain of poverty and earn livelihood. They are the vital members who make valuable contribution through remittance Nepal boasts of receiving without estimating its costs for the family, society, economy, polity and the state. Attracted by the glittering allure of modernity, youths of affluent classes have option to migrate to the advanced parts of the world especially the USA, the UK, Australia and European nations. Recently some are in the loop of brain gain centre who otherwise remained a drain on society. The others participate in powerful diaspora meeting yet they hardly keep solidarity with the poor.
The stable rise of lower middle and middle class professionals, rights-based discourse, increased political consciousness through media of communication and debate on generational transformation have inspired Nepali youths to participate in politics and demand necessary institutional reforms of political structures and political culture for leadership balance. Timely reforms can ease tension between political leadership and social forces and animate peaceful social transformation in line with the demographic dividends they present. Democratisation of Nepal's traditional society can enable youths to contest the authority of dynastic, authoritarian, patrimonial and octogenarian leadership, engage in collective action to change social, economic and political order and move beyond the conventional politics “as usual” to unconventional ones - mediatisation of personality, network of solidarity, social movement, urban protest and violence.
One obvious trend is this: Nepali youths are gradually mastering experience in anti-institutional politics, acquiring maturity in perpetual contest of authority and weakening it by articulation, publication and agitation. The penchant of governance to listen to youth militancy, strike and demonstration than peaceful protest and impunity for powerful has institutionalised violence as a tool of politics of attention, negotiation and power-sharing deal. It has left Nepal’s democratic process fragile and fostered a political culture of opportunism that only a value-based youth politics can rejuvenate.
In Nepal, both the scope of government and issue of legitimacy remain critical topics in the public sphere. New electoral system has widened the voice, visibility, social inclusion, participation and representation of women, Dalits, ethnic and indigenous groups and Madhesi youths. One can, however, see destabilising effects of inter and intra-party contradictions socialising and enveloping partisan youths into instrumental politics, not democratic one. It has often provoked a burst of spluttering. The other relatively autonomous groups of youth harbour the spectre of scepticism.
This group is either engaged in civil society, express political concern and pass judgment on issues or indulge political activism aiming to revive the ethical sphere of politics. Critical mass of public had expected that this will likely to widen substantive change in the institutional base of political parties and improve the prospect for civic political culture. It, however, requires Nepali parties to build strong institutions to serve as training grounds for youth to critically learn, reflect and internalise the principles and practice democracy, develop a culture of serious debate, tolerate opposing views and make reasoned arguments on the resolution of national problems.
Aside from political education granted by party schools which provide them orientation to political conformity of party programmes, organisation and leadership, youths should be provided education on the national heritage of enlightenment so they can reflect the historical and current condition of citizens. Contextual learning is essential to engage in problem identification, public policy formulation and mobilisation of institutions and resources to solve them. Gurukuls and Ashrams of sages in the East and Academy and Lyceum in Greeks were set up to organise public events and provide apprenticeship inculcating virtues of good polity and good citizens.
Obviously, informed, constructive and non-violent participation of Nepali youths in the modernisation of parties is a sine qua non to keep democracy dynamic and resilient. Yet, a vibrant democratic process must move in line with the vision outlined by the constitution and create conducive environment for public security which can reduce the amount of violence, deal militant, free-riding, non-state armed groups and middle men operating outside the domain of constitution.
The culture of violence is anti-democratic which discourages youths’ peaceful engagement in politics. Formulation of appropriate policies to engage youths in democratic education, reconstruction, peace and justice can address their legitimate needs and grievances and increases their stake in the polity. Attainment of sustainable livelihood, employment and educational and health policies can bridge gender and social differences existing in the Nepali society and aim at creating equal level playing field for youths of various shades in the institutional life of political parties.
Similarly, politicisation of youth is essential to increase their idealism, public spirit, social service and volunteerism. This entails their engagement in multi-level committees of parties in deliberation, decision-making and implementation of policies. It enhances their leadership skill, ownership and role socialisation in various institutional structures of the nation such as local self-governance, civil society, business, media the state institutions, etc. This, however, needs an inclusive training to youth on citizenship and nation-building, social discipline and collaborative action instilling a sense of responsibility and constructive role occupancy in the Nepali society.
A broad coalition of diverse youths can only exert pressure on national leadership to provide them legitimate space, initiative and representation as well as organise orientations, exposure and exchange of experience on shared issues so that vital energy of the nation is not paralysed by depressive politics. In this context, the support of international community to Nepali youths holds importance to build linkage with the organisations of youths abroad to meet knowledge transfer and internalise learning about the changing nature of international, regional and national politics essential to adopt a strategy of peaceful change.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)
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