Friday, 31 May, 2024

The Inquiring Citizens

Inquiring citizens are often innovative for they seek to know the secret of nature and credible reason of every practical action. Reason is a common sense compass that guides them and leaders to freedom, furnishes solution of the problems and helps satisfy their passion, needs and desires for the general welfare. It is the suitable reasons that justify the actual political practice and settles the conflict among individuals, groups and nations for good life.  Inquiring citizens are often embedded in the method of knowing the real life situation. They move beyond personal belief system to knowledge affirming that humans are rational capable of describing, explaining, predicting and setting causal relationship among ideas and issues. This helps assess the duty of leaders, public authorities and institutions.

The diffusion of scientific and information revolution inspired Nepalis to leap to the centre of political inquiry and reshape the nature of polity and progress along participatory turn. Democratic awareness has enabled them to know that political power is derived from their consent. Therefore, their engagement in a dialogue on ecological, social, economic and political processes is vital to define the context, devise rules and rituals to inform policy and decision makers and make leaders responsive. Adoption of civic ideals by Nepali Constitution has sought the rationality of leaders’ authority at the forefront of citizens’ quest for a right rule beyond the modern scientific civilisation spurred by what Ayn Rand calls “compartmentalised minds.”
In no way inquiring Nepalis chase the standard of professional rationality which deems the uneducated people irrational inept to know disciplinary, technocratic and bureaucratic jargons and thus amenable to their domination, not freedom and emancipation. Their innate belief in linear disciplinary, ideological and empirical divisions for cultural transformation has crippled many of nation’s connecting knowledge, values and institutions. Nepali social scientists and technocrats trained in empirical and analytic methods and political leaders in materialist ideologies have thus evolved a penchant to raise problems, not resolve them which entails historical wisdom, contextual insight and synthetic ability.
Nepalis habitually contest the validity of borrowed brains, their misdiagnosis of national problems and look for reasons

in their own indigenously evolved concepts refined by experience of life. This is helpful for outsiders to come out of their disciplinary mind and learn with citizens struggling for free will, recognition, dignity, identity and equity. Only their social learning can enable them to resolve the nation’s lingering problems associated with peace, transitional justice, border, geopolitics, poverty, inequality, epidemic disease, ecology, etc. beyond sound bites. 
Nepalis inquire their public officials --leaders and authorities -- on the basis of their daily experience, stock of cognitive and comparative knowledge or technical information derived from talks with the erudite public. With capacity to think and feel they challenge top leaders’ belief that citizens are infant, ignorant and less educated mass, not probing ones. The growth of reason is based on common sense canon of Nepalis acquired from trial and error, cause-effect and evidence-based facts, not bad fits or ignorance. In a democracy, a balance between citizens’ training on their rights and the level of inquiry is vital to test their leaders about their promises and defy the murky practices in politics Nepalis have gained soft skills, a sense of curiosity to inquire their leaders, get feedback and negotiate each other’s views thus enlivening civic culture of reflection. The invention of democratic polity in Nepal is designed to spread intellect, contain conflict and concert the activities of various forces for the thrill of peaceful lives.
Inquiring Nepalis hold social skill to engage in an active pursuit of truth, give reasons and keep alert on what is happening around them and why without subordinating their free will to tribal, provincial, official or partisan conformity. Nepal has witnessed the noisy show of various groups to get attention - women, Dalits, Janajatis, Madhesis, Tharus, Muslims, Khas-Aryas and Chepangs - for their inclusion, representation, recognition and narration. Those with civic awareness are neither lulled by their leaders’ flashy speeches, scholarly rationalisation nor media manipulation. In a search for good life they exercise practical knowledge, make a distinction between what are possible and what is not and hone the reason in defence of good cause. On something deep, Nepalis became emotional, for example, on blockade, border intrusion, killing of 12 Nepalis in Iraq or more recently Nirmala Pant, etc. Their daily cry against ugly corruption, violence against women, human trafficking and poor performance of local bodies marks a lively sense.

Those spirited to inquire about the core of politics often debate with the leaders and seek right response grounded in values, laws, interests, rights and identities. Methods are generally regarded as tools to answer unresolved intellectual puzzles, questions and problems. Negative rights of Nepalis provide them autonomy to struggle for fulfilling lives.  They have the right to question the inadequacy of means to an end. Experts-driven society habitually offers various perspectives and highlights the benefits of obtaining the end in optimal way.
The way by which Nepalis assert, ascertain and bargain their ties with the political leaders and authorities is the heart of vibrant political life. This process is constantly guided by their instinct, experience, needs and rights. As they find no satisfaction, they opt for other leaders and provide the reason in doing so. Learning and exposure of Nepalis to new ideas and technology have fertilised their curiosity about political affairs beyond the ability of leaders to satisfy. This gap exhausts its democratic vitality requiring leaders to seek a fresh impetus for inquiry.
Politics is a vital decision making sphere. Nepalis, therefore, ask the reason, transparency and accountability of leaders’ every action. It is also an arena of bundle of promises which is the basis of their social mobilisation, legitimacy and authority. In Nepal, citizens’ critical inquiry is now centred on the performance of their political leaders, institutions and processes. They are judged by normative and constitutional standards. Inquiring Nepalis also analyse problems and issues in matters of public good in various mini public spheres, political parties, civil society and media but often mired in a lack of clarity. Owing to their open mind, their usual letters to the editors offer biting critique, problem analysis and fair solutions based on diverse perspectives. This way they can acquire political perfection and contribute to the quality of democratic life.
Modern means of communication have made Nepalis critical while their social movements for the realisation of unrealised legitimate concerns are questioning the utility of adversarial politics and its institutions — polity, political parties, civil society, federations, associations and professional organisations set up in high moral and political grounds. Nepalis judge the question of politics from its ability to deliver the promises, resolve problems of society and settle the question of values - ecological ethics, democracy, human rights, social justice, cooperation and peace. Institutional trust is vital to fulfil electoral and constitutional promises without leaving any Nepalis on the rim of anguish. The scientific inquiry about the causes of failure is less a matter of concern for them. It is the job of intellectuals.
Nepali political leaders need to constantly reflect on public mood and synthesise various views, opinions and outlooks of the nation’s pluralistic society and translate their demands into public policy. Ordinary Nepalis know experts focused on particular discipline are incapable of solving their practical problems of complex nature and bear no stake-holding and accountability to citizens. It is important to understand issues from the contemporary democratic and human rights perspective so that quality of human existence is enlarged. Party schools of Nepal are poor designers of blending contextual and scientific pedagogy like donor-driven syllabus, not sufficiently indigenised the former creates indoctrinated cadres lacking courage to ask questions to leader while the latter eternally infant looking for other’s advice and cover up truth thus enslaving both.
Politics without public good is like a drama without content and enjoyment. The practice of thinking, willing, judging and acting minds of citizens, like Buddha and Socrates suggest, is a key to their progress.  It sets epistemological and methodological foundation of freedom and hones several perspectives to resolve the problems of order, freedom, justice, cooperation and peace. Nepali historians, culturists and educationists criticise the missionary position in devising national curriculum with no relevance to address local needs but only produce mobile labour for global market and keep the flow of brain drain.

Educational institutions of Nepal are thus in the forefront of media criticism for their de-contextualised teaching and research and their declining relevance for policy making, social change or even any value for the global community. The diminishing return from educational investments for the poor parents thus offers no creative opportunity for reconciliation between the brain gain and intellectual alienation from their backward society. The nation suffers when intellectual degeneration occurs disabling them to use their brahma (intellect) while the hired ones serve foreign interests of no relevance to natives.  
Nepali planners as protégé of politicians often rail against the social construction of knowledge and like rebels impose only what they have imported, useful or not, stirring up controversies and corruption of truth thereby blocking ordinary public’s will of inquiry. The application of what Clifford Greetz calls “experience-distant concept” obscures common aim of experts and citizens and breaks human solidarity in critical political inquiry. Imposition of technical and ideological standardisation on native culture, spirituality and norms seeking to transform indigenous society into modernity flags national heritage of knowledge and wisdom.
Science can abolish prejudice while technology can turn life comfortable. Simone Weil argues, “Technology destroys some dependencies but always creates new ones, which may be fiercer because they are harder to understand than the old.”  Native intellectuals versed in modern intellectual tradition need to safeguard their native history, culture, education, norms, wisdom and values without being fearful of seen old-fashioned and prefer to nourish their ethical and moral standard.  Only inquiring Nepalis can arrest the fading civic virtues and make political power accountable to its source - citizens.

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