Dev Raj Dahal
The democratic regime embraced by the Constitution of Nepal, 2015 promises 31 rights for citizens, including liberty, work, labour, food, education, health, equality, social justice, social protection, social security and private property. It entitles them to full citizenship and a social wage -- minimum wage, education, job and health insurance, training opportunity, vacation facility, retirement and disability benefits, etc. These are great social levellers and essential virtues to ensure the livelihood of all. The spirit of civility and peaceful art of conversation hone amicable coexistence. The promises of the peace accord and constitution are expected to diminish structural violence in social ties.
For the sustainability of democratic regime, there are a few important qualifications. First, the optimistic view is that democratic regime gives equal treatment to ecological, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights to citizens, supports their civic engagement in community and increases their life-choices to lead a life of dignity. Without private property, individual liberty and citizenship autonomy become a captive of Hobbesian traps unable to control the irrational while without clear limits on excessive accumulation of private property, an egalitarian society envisaged by the constitution cannot be satisfied. Politically conscious citizens can think about democratic virtues and duties.
The Directive Principles and Policies of Nepali state seek to balance many of these policy attributes. The only issue is how to bring them in coherence with the policies and programmes espoused by Nepali political parties of various hues and government, enable citizens to fulfil their four constitutional responsibilities, muster resources hoping for future redemption and situate the place of the nation in a larger complex world.
Second, democratic regime exists within the state’s writ. It presumes a system of rightful rules whereby mutual expectations between citizens of varied social features and identities sited in the social, economic and political pyramids are recognised. Laws based on the constitution foster a common identity of both Nepali leaders and citizens while common political socialisation can cultivate normative consensus on democracy across the nation’s diverse social formation and political spectrum and resolve the differences of their identities, ideologies and interests.
Similarly, democratic regime secures essential needs for citizens to free them from daily necessity and enable them to exercise reasonable choice without being forgetful of the causes of their actions. Nepali democracy has to reconcile the form of national life and global integration of its economy and civil society by seeking a balance between market materialism and social justice to the poor. This balance can help the weaker sections of society and secure democratic regime against its foes and also against phony leaders who infantilize democracy to continue transitional politics. In this sense, democratic regime upholds the spirit of popular aspirations and public good.
Third, democratic regime is a government of law. Its rules set up an equivalent system of rights. It is an elan vital for social liberation. These rights, rooted into popular sovereignty and common faith, are the basis of the positive laws of the nation which are applied in society irrespective of the lopsided public, private and cooperative nature of political economy. Legal positivism that draws its authority from the constitution and legislated, enacted and enforced by those in governmental power becomes less consequential if it is devoid of common democratic values and social concerns, turns susceptible to partisan politics and fails to keep standards of judges to judicial fairness, ethics, morals and integrity. Nepal needs to place a moral, ethical and institutional check on excessive lust of leadership for political power without corresponding accountability and responsiveness.
The executive leadership has the eventual benefit to take risk within the sphere of lawful political culture. The transformational leadership requires following the rule of law above their privileges as they support change, remain responsible to citizens, nurture reconciliation and esteem opposition so as to keep democratic dynamic and cultivate legitimate dissent. A deliberative, value-based problem solving, not strategic bargaining of interests by top leaders, can contribute to political stability and brew civic culture in the nation.
Fourth, human and constitutional rights derived from an optimistic view of human nature are followed by matching duties of all actors of society -- the state, polity, government, political parties, business, civil society and citizens. The corporate elites as an owner of capital, however, have a natural propensity to gain the rewards of productivity from employees. Many of them in the nation always think in terms of profits, not in terms of social donations, philanthropy or rights of citizens and fear tax increase for social spending. The government can acquire external sovereignty if its authority rests on internal tax revenue for survival and progress.
Only the Nepali state has the capacity fully to tackle major negative externalities generated by universal spell and impulse of market, sometimes using civil society, local government, community, federations of professional associations and sometimes social energy of citizen groups. The classical Nepali idea of business ethics needs to be cultured as a duty to citizens. As a post-conflict, post-quake and pandemic afflicted state, there is a need for Nepali leaders to pursue value oriented and environment sensitive economic policy based on the principles of equity, ownership, participation and sustainability.
Fifth, democratic regime largely depends on the positive role of a visible government as it represents a broad mandate of the entire population of the nation. It has the authority and legitimacy to indigenise public policies and laws aiming to rectify state weakness, system dysfunction and market distortions even bring every sphere of life into a decent, coherent, midway path. The division, diffusion, balance, check and devolution of political and administrative power are precisely planned to democratise the regime and enable civic institutions - media, civil society and a web of local institutions to become ethically robust, plural and representative and the state to coordinate and command unity of multi-level governance goals. Market monopoly, like the modern syndicate, subverts the competitive virtue of economy and democracy and increases costs for the poor Nepalis.
It is central to pin down the power of bichaulias, special interest groups both inside and outside the regime and build capability of political, administrative and managerial leadership enabling them to follow rules, procedures and carefulness, not just feudal culture in which junior officials follow the direction of seniors to curry favour for either career promotion or other material benefits. The hope of a stable democratic regime in Nepal can only be attained if the regime is able to harness these virtues and political leadership moves beyond professional career improvement to responsibility to provide public good and service in the entire geographical and social scales.
And lastly, democratic regime purports to strengthen the civic state, fosters the concept of a common national community, supported by its citizens in the spirit of ecological resilience, social cohesion and political integration. Unfettered market in Nepal has transformed youths into migrant workers and consumers, not engaged citizens, interested more in their personal economic wellbeing, than revitalisation of civic values and authorities for democratic transformation. Transformation of Nepali people into free and equal citizens is the primary goal of the democratic regime, civic bodies, educational institutions, political parties, civil society and cultural industries.
Many structural features characterise democratic regime: virtuous state, rule of law, political competition and accountability, transparency and responsiveness of leaders to citizens regarding the access to public good. Nepali state, however, appears feeble in its capacity for virtuous governance, effectiveness of performance and acceptance created by democratic procedures and staring at partisan labyrinth, not forward bound. Absence of many of these indicators in Nepal signifies a problematic condition for nation-building.
The Nepali state is also weak to stand above the dominant interest of society, maintain relative autonomy across caste, class and gender, enhance social cohesion and uphold an ability to practice a certain amount of national self-determination. Democratic regime provides rights to each Nepali to enjoy a sense of belonging to the nation and bears the right to decide crucial matters including government tax to the wealthy to subsidise livelihood, education and health of the wretched on moral grounds. It entails coping with the inadequate democracies in the internal life of political parties.
To protect Nepalis, build trust and solidarity and protect national identity by promoting the power of public opinion over the special interests, the creative role of democratic regime is vital. The transformation of pre-existing social, economic and political structures and forces competing tribal loyalties is necessary so that Nepalis become politically self-conscious, identify with the national political community, become active participants in policy formulation, articulation and surveillance and remain effective in deliberative problem solving. Democratic nation building of Nepal from its own historical roots requires utilising its richness of natural and cultural diversity, social capital and human potential and setting the free will of its citizens towards realising constitutional goals.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)
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