Thursday, 8 June, 2023

Civic Edifice Of National Identity

Dev Raj Dahal


Civic edifice is the mark of civilisation. It is nourished by Vidya, the philosophy of educational realisation. But education is not neutral of ideology, dominant interest of society and political power. It gives consciousness enabling educators, leaders, pundits and citizens to transmit national culture to younger generation without deflating their talent for creativity and innovation. Their vigilance about the sense of free life rooted in national culture helps “to get what they need and avoid what is dangerous” says Ayn Rand. It enables them to exercise daily choices, take right decisions, adapt to the changing values of democracy and development and engage in public life of society as responsible citizens.
Civic edifice, based on a multidisciplinary knowledge, presumes life-long learning about the self-discovery of one’s own ability to adapt to changing scope of politics, law, citizenship rights and duties to each other and all living species upon whom spurs human survival and material progress. It is an edifice that links classrooms to cosmos of various dimensions of life seeking their eternal rationalisation above selfish human nature. Nepal’s Constitution identifies sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, self-determination, nationalism, dignity, protection of public interest, border security, and economic prosperity as non-negotiating core national interests whose abuse is punishable by law. Yet, the weak Nepali state cannot enforce them either by education, or incentives or coercion which is a causative factor for the decline of cultural standards of democratic order.  In an interdependent world robust national identity entails due respect to and collaboration with other states to solve common problems and reap shared benefits.
Nepal’s cherished tradition of intellectual history and civility of people and its environment helped even in their politicisation by which various mini-identities of societies, such as age groups, caste, class, gender, ethnicity, religion and region have widened their perspectives at a national scale. It cultivated them into Nepali citizens fit to liberate self from the game of the survival of fittest and enjoy equal freedom, justice, dignity and self-rule. In Nepal, spirited civic education by civil society, political parties and election commission can absolve politics from the culture of violence, corruption and impunity and bring anti-system, anti-constitutional, dissident and rebellion forces into a common background condition to foster a politics of compromise.
National consciousness about Nepali language, syncretic culture, architecture, rich national symbols and history of self-rule are the souls of the nation. They are widely shared by Nepalis above their tribal conformism. Reconciliation of Hindu-Buddhist philosophy with other sects produced spiritual synthesis useful to craft the order of Nepali society. They provide tolerant values, beliefs, ideas and social practices which helped diverse citizens live in the same political space. Nepal’s tolerance to social and cultural pluralism and multiple identifications of individuals to various groups, communities, societies and the nation make up the Nepali state.
How can political equality of Nepalis minimise the negative costs of their social and economic inequality fixed in caste, gender, educational and income status and build civic edifice? Political sphere is autonomous of the interest groups. Every Nepali is entitled to share this sphere equally aiming to democratise other spheres of public life and public policy, cultivate civic virtues and contest every laws and policies that sacrifice them to others’ goals and converts them into an eager robot.
Inequality in access to daily necessities of life makes citizens weaker and tears their attachment with the Nepali state—the very base of constitutional patriotism which makes personal sacrifice of citizens in national cause and resists the temptation of any outsiders’ policy to weaken national identity. Nepali leaders’ rejection of old “buffer status” and current denial of “two plus one” concept of neighbours’ diplomacy mark their strong attachment to sovereign equality of states in the world map. Its adoption of a welfare state is aimed at reducing internal discriminations among social classes and creating an egalitarian society.  A vibrant democracy in Nepal requires not only political equality but also critical and rational thinking about the condition of life of society, economy and polity. It demands civic competence whereby Nepalis feel that they can shape decisions of the public institutions and government and foster national resilience.
The sense of national identity holds Nepalis’ unity in diversity. It builds their solidarity and confidence to participate, represent, vote and involve in public activities that affect their identity and choice. Inculcation of reason, faith and feeling in Nepalis is central to the future of its democracy. The edifice of civic learning differs from four other types — one that instrumentalises youths for confrontational politics and evacuates their rational mind, the other that emphasises on rote learning of social science theories for disciplinary minds and bodies without properly indigenising them, the other that indoctrinates them turning them into an ignorant mob lacking the ability to decide for themselves and survive on the advice and direction of others and that anesthetises the people into avidya (misconception and incorrect knowledge), rather than empowering them through true consciousness, courage, skill and moral guidance. 
`Why is civic education necessary? Nepali Constitution and Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which the nation is a party declare people as sovereign—as a source of political power. Nepali people means all citizens, not just elites, leaders and sub-national groups only though they are more efficacious in bargaining for power, privilege and position and often sucked into folly of intransigence and personalised authoritarianism. Nepalis can exercise their rights only when they are equipped with adequate knowledge, skills, virtues and institutions and adopt corresponding constitutional behaviour essential for social discipline and progress.
Secondly, democracy offers Nepalis a chance to make vital choices on policy matters which too require adequate preconditions, free flow of information and a balance between the world of public politics and that of personal morality arising out of conscious conviction. Public deliberation on these matters and upholding integrity at all levels can enable Nepalis to make a distinction between moral judgment which is a private view and political judgment which concerns a national society and their sustained quest for public good. Third, a new regime of governance beyond government has emerged and participation in it is vital to make them accountable to citizens’ needs, rights and legitimate interests and foster intellectual and cultural life for nation building.
In a country of minorities like Nepal where only the Hindu-Buddhist religion makes it a majority, political electoral majority is only one aspect of legitimacy. What is vital is inclusive policy uplifting to all. Much of the ills of Nepal now come from the rationalisation of politics without inquiring whether it serves the public interest or private one. It flows from two other sources Nepali political parties are now facing: one is discontent among federal, provincial and local bodies over the scale of authority, finance and admin and the other is unresolved contradiction between governing institutions’ ability to deliver public goods and electoral and constitutional promises which triggered social movements of aspirants for the fulfilment of their unrealised needs, rights and interests. Getting the Nepali government work at least on vital policy areas is central to bridge the gap between constitutional bodies and political demands of variegated parties and reconcile politics and morality to peacefully resolve national problems.
The great civic edifice of Nepali society is its tolerance to social and cultural beliefs, worldviews and practices that provides Nepalis poise to their faiths, conscience and convictions. This virtue is conducive to foster democratic debate, opinion formation, practical action and habits of compliance. Modern politics is deliberative and subjected to popular feedback to awaken leaders to their promises. To make politics public Nepali adult from all strata of population should be given knowledge about constitution, institutions, politics, policy and virtuous leadership. Only then, politics can foster peace through every one’s stake in it, prevent cultural wreckage and hone inter-generational justice cultivating duty even for unborn generation.  

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