Dev Raj Dahal
A new form of identity politics is flashing with fire in the world, an identity defined by the dignity of race, class, colour, caste, gender, age, region and religion. The surge of multiple identifications organised around these units for self-defence, self-justification and self-projection has served as the motivational force of this sub-set politics. The malfunction of ideology-based political parties to represent the interest of multi-cultural society thus turned the wheel of human consciousness back to the ethos of both primordial units and rejection of subordinated status for being recognised as equal, free and dignified.
In this sense, civic nationalism stands as a symbol of independence and national identity above all subsidiary identities. Primordial nature of identity politics indicates the flaw of modern knowledge, norms and law to socialise human nature prompting people to struggle for the recognition of their particular identity and way of life. Emerged as a response to social engineering projects of some nations, funding opportunity in the assertion of sub-national identity and the use of post-modernity together tend to fragment national identity and its project of modernisation seeking to muster people’s loyalties to the national state.
Postmodernists and primordialists, to borrow Ayn Rand’s concept are like “libertarian hippies” who aim to subordinate all rational human associations including the state and decentre its civic nationalism for the validation of tribalism and anarchism leaving human life in an unsafe balance. Only a sentiment of constitutional patriotism can subsume all tribal loyalties and atomised individuals into a zone of common national feeling and uphold ethical and legal norms.
This surge of identity politics in Nepal is driven by a post-traditional desire for the recognition of equal prosperity and mutual recognition among groups. The animation of hidden desire is affecting the order and consistency of the state, intra-societal ties and the union of polity, economy and citizenship in a national space or even constitutional realm. Some scholars see identity politics as a socially divisive force as it has inflated the feeling of “self,” deflated the ‘Other’ and stoked self-alienation from the national political community. This is fading the Westphalian premise of state sovereignty entitled to construct social contract and citizenship equality despite unequal abilities, income and potentials.
Citizenship holds huge value to get internal opportunity and a passage to move to international relations through national passport. This is the reason classical Nepali ideal defined national identity in terms of cosmic web of life and sought to steer governance in a rational course of action which the Constitution of Nepal has found resonance in the social welfare state and construction of mutual recognition through the creation of an egalitarian society.
Nepali identity arose out of intellectual success of its own culture embedded in feeling, emotion, sentiment and consciousness and its own version of morality refined by the sanity of tradition. Its culture has survived the crusading spirit of alien mores on the capacity of its citizens and leaders, transmitted from one generation to the next by communication, religions, rituals, festivals and educational institutions and adapted to regular revision when it interacted with others. The dialogical learning practice in Nepal then and even now has made its political culture non-conformist, critical and adaptable to fit with the sanatan dharma, the spirit of the age. Laws and policies were also derived from the contextual discourse of intellectuals, wisdom of the society and synthesis of the values and principles of life, not only on the basis of pedantic logic what is now defended by leading lawyers for hefty fees without caring the anguish of innocent victims.
National identity happens to be polarising if justice system that builds the trust of all is flawed for its emptiness of public reason and morality in the same way as an apologist of narrow-minded one defends undesired vices of certain aspects of culture. Nepalis knew that self-preservation instinct thrives on the life of achievement of reasonable choice and self-esteem, not fatalism and social determinism. Dignity of individual is sacrosanct but purely individualistic ethic in determining intersubjectivity of public life limps social solidarity and collective action based on common attention areas.
Nepal’s Constitution defines popular sovereignty and the state sovereignty inviolable. Both are bound by mutual obligations, not maximising one to the extreme against the reasonable course of the other, affirming the concept of human beings as rational animal. As their ties are mediated by democracy, its self-binding ideal endows them to exercise collective choice in decision making about vital matters which helped to keep unremitting self-rule of Nepali nation. The practice of active citizenship can eradicate the national malaise of feudalism, domination and exploitation and promotes virtues, freedom and lift general welfare of all inhabitants.
The Constitution has adopted social security, social protection, quota and affirmative action to overcome poverty, deprivation and alienation of the poor and weak committing the justification to redistributive politics so that they should not face a condition of life without dignity and choice. It is central to create equal playing field while democratic elections circulates the elites in the polity to make it dynamic.
Periodic alteration of leadership is vital to bridge the gap between the ruling and opposition parties of a variety of shades. The democratic aspiration of impersonal citizenship in Nepal demands social justice based on collective good life. Since social justice embodies the concept of “social” it goes beyond avid self-interest, individual freedom and personal rights. It espouses collective emancipation. Justice too demands an improvement in the multidimensionality of life by just means. This emancipation of all Nepalis thus transcends the schizophrenic politics “we” and ”they” rooted in left-right divide, rival identities and group rights as opposed to equality of rights between the top and bottom of society.
The subordination of individual identity to primordial groups, fundamentalism or any subsidiary identity rooted in class, market, ethnicity, religion or territoriality gives freedom to people unless their interests are optimised in the middle path. So long as forces of reaction clocks social mobility of Nepalis, intellectuals rationalise the revolt of one against the other deploying symbolic, communication and material resources, partisan media justify the fussy truth and the Constitution stabilises group rights and group identity and their unions, pursuing secular socialisation through common mind, common ground and shared future.
Nepalis have an opportunity to choose among multiple versions of faith- Hinduism, Buddhism, Mundhum, Jainism, etc. and stay neutral and even set oneself free from troubled bond with them. This helps them to reconcile reason and faith in the public life without abusing one against the other but hone common policy interests. It is vital to use scientific reason to demolish narrow-mindedness and bigotry and use faith for right way to live and keep life’s normative rituals. This diversity is useful to retain cultural pluralism and social resilience.
But growing atrophy of Nepali culture now marks a concern for national awareness about how its cultural industries such as family, society, educational institutions, religion and media engaged in acculturation are rationalised and revitalised. Frailty of socialising agencies in Nepal poses a challenge for an orderly and predictable behaviour of citizens and leaders. As a result, it is now facing stress in adapting to paradigm shifts in several aspects of society, economy and the state following pressure towards universalism.
Nepali state embodies the rights, duties and international obligations to citizens. The idiom of international order defined by its duties and humanitarian laws entitle the “protection” of natives which is also included in their “negative rights.” The international responsibility to “protect” Nepalis emerges when the state does not secure its citizens from violence committed by any source. It also tolerates revolts, insurgency and right to self-determination which, in a way, weakens the state’s sovereignty.
Citizens’ identity and duty, in this sense, are cosmopolitan defined by the principles of human rights, ecological justice, human trafficking, migrant workers, refugees etc. having global dimension and requiring global solution. In this case, collective life is defensible as it helps the person to find solution. Social movements of Nepali civil society on multi-themes about existence and demands for reforms have animated vital tribune to social justice and positive freedom to participate in self-governance that balances identity politics of self, group or recognition of national identity.
Francis Fukuyama is right when he says “Identity has to be related to substantive ideas such as constitutionalism, rule of law and human equality” to avert the risk of conflicts arising out of irresolution of many national issues including transitional justice. A viable solution to any problem of identity, interest or ideology requires that the sources, both latent and manifest, that causes it needs to be known in their full dimension and the principles of golden means applied to the relative satisfaction of all sides linked to it. There is a need to rediscover its ancient wisdom of knowing inner self for character building and outer sphere for efficiency and success in the life’s struggle for the synchronisation of integrity, dignity and recognition.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues)