Deficient Culture of Political Inquiry

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Thus, rational political inquiry provides politics the legitimacy needed to make it the heart of raj dharma- the duty of public figures to govern.

By Professor Dev Raj Dahal*

Prof. Dev Raj Dahal

An irony grips the heart of Nepali politics. Political liberalisation has allowed its citizens to develop a critical sense of political inquiry about public issues prompting them to demand that leaders address their needs for safety, wellbeing and dignity. But eternal political flux has ripped their will and ability to attain them. The promise of Nepali politics is, therefore, oscillating between the aspiration of pre-political, non-political, political and anti-political actors and their varied symbolic identifications with patriotism, prosperity, political stability, socialism, multi-nationalism, revolution, class, feminism, liberalism, good governance, etc. Democracy demands all-inclusive symbols beyond linguistic performance, not the one which suffocates each other actor’s zeal and infects them with undying dementia. An adequate conception of politics entails the creation of a virtuous space for all Nepali citizens to experience good life.

Public duty

Politics, as an end, supposes the discharge of public duties. The dharma (institutional duties) of politics is to serve citizens and help them realise their potential guna (virtue) and self-worth. In this sphere, Nepali citizens are motivated to pursue their marga (destiny), question their leaders’ accountability and remind them of their promises apt to the zeitgeist. Thus, rational political inquiry provides politics the legitimacy needed to make it the heart of raj dharma- the duty of public figures to govern. Politics, as a public vocation, is also a process of executing the raj (state) niti (policy) underlined in Nepal’s Constitution. Political sphere is shared equally by every member of Nepali state, regardless of their social and biological distinctions. It is not a manipulative career. And, to the extent that it is so, it is only those selfish leaders who make it a dirty game. When their size rises, politics cannot move from patronage to performance. In Nepal, malfunction of politics is characterised by personalisation of leadership, partial fulfilment of citizens’ rights, vicious poverty and governance instability.

If politics only serves the leaders’ interest and reveals apathy to ordinary citizens, it fails to become a matter of public utility. To use the public trust for private interest is just as serious a crime against the public as any seizure of public property for personal gain. The pre-politics rooted in the surge of tribalism serves only group interest of family and relatives. Non-political is confined to private sphere of profit akin to business though it is permeating all national institutions of the nation. Anti-politics is anti-political which is played violently depriving the ordinary citizens of the benefits of the state. Politics intends to magnify the share of public goods in a participatory, inclusive and transparent way. Anti-politics, by contrast, is individualist, exclusive and opaque. Anti-political trends have become infectious in Nepal with the perseverance of violent groups, impunity, insecurity and non-impartial functions of public institutions. It is not curious to find many powerful Nepali leaders vying to remain “above” the Constitution and concealing their deeds in privileges. When this is the purushwartha (matter of pride), they all rush towards, they diminish the very reason of politics – to satisfy liberties and needs of citizens. In Nepal, political inquiry is thus moving towards the core of discourse entailing a public oversight on their behaviour.

Conscious Nepalis often voice their concerns on being reduced to mere spectators in politics and pin hope for improving the growing deficits in public order, rule of law and social justice brought about by the strong affinity of leaders to their aphno manchhe – cronies and clients – and weak ties with them. When political affairs are reduced to narrow web, citizens have right to contest their policies and authority. The lure of many leaders to primordial ties skews the distribution of public goods to common citizens. It slants the benefits of the relevant public policy stimulating citizens to invoke their negative rights to know. The utility of political inquiry is not an end in itself. It is a means to exert influences on their leaders. Under democratic power structures, leaders are not supposed to solely satisfy their own self-will above the idea of a higher law – sanatan dharma where political power evokes a call for public service. Political inquiry, thus, aims to bring politics under the rule of law, asking their leaders about what went wrong with their ideologies and utopias.

The right to seek answers from leaders makes citizens capable of knowing the realities of political power, the rationality of its disposition and the varying degrees of complexity in their ties with leaders. If citizens play no role in politics, except as a spectator, if they do not ceaselessly engage in the inquiry about what their leaders are doing and why, in no way does it enrich the quality of civic life. Political inquiry helps citizens attach their worldviews, skills and resources to a broad process of learning and action as the practice of everyday life. It conquers their powerlessness. At the policy level, ordinary citizens need to be attracted to a deliberative process of politics to invoke leaders for an explanation of what they have done to improve their life. Democratic politics enlarges the policy domain and exonerates economics of short term self-interest or private social interactions of clients cutting the capacity of citizens to influence policy. 

But eternal political flux has ripped their (Nepali citizens’) will and ability to attain them.

An inquiring public is an ideal of democratic citizenship living in a state who engages in public action for solving the societal problems. They are activated in political relations by their rational self-interest generated by the existing social order. They thus subject their opinions to political inquiry and validation. In Nepal, political inquiry is firmly rooted in a dynamic context of the state where citizens can claim, empower and realise their rights. The cognitive construction of politics, after all, is a good sign in the founding of a civil society to transform the subject status of the Nepalis into thinking and acting citizens. 

Nepalis hold huge value to politics assuming that it frees them for associational thought, feeling, reflection and action. For an alluring virtue of political life to manifest, a renewal of faith in politics is a must. It is the political power that wears the cloak of legitimacy and private interests are subordinated for common good. The ignorance of citizens fortifies the influence of superfluous elite – the thalus. Members of this class are the patrician bearers of social power who do not assume any responsibility for rational progress, modernity and social stability, as did the old thalu class. The power of this class is disproportional to its functional relevance for society. The thalu prefers authority and order and contests innovation and creativity, just like the old ones. But unlike the old, it is devoid of any moral duty. Its politics is awfully alienated from the everyday lives, hopes and needs of citizens because the modern thalu is less enmeshed in Nepal’s historical, cultural and institutional values. Its effects are: growth of poverty, inequality, dependency, alienation and rebellion in Nepal. 

Political inquiry intensifies the politicisation of civic action. Politicised citizens lower the costs of cooperation and open two-way flow of information for the return of democratic stability. An inquiring public is not locked in a certain party’s ideological trap or cheap fun that instils only seductive consciousness. The seed of civic gift that is untested in Nepal, however, is that citizens are not probing the utility of public statement of their leaders. Problem solving turns easy for leaders if they are exposed to collective action organised around common focus of attention. It can mediate the gap between facts of their life and normative ideals forging a new political consensus in the golden mean of social democracy. The economic society seems emotionally neutral to public interests. But most of the citizens’ grievances are directed to the members of political society – the state, government, political parties and local leaders – demanding them to execute the social contract they signed vindicating the rationality of policy utility–the classical dharma of politics, a dharma that corrects the orientation of governance on the consent of the governed.

Spirit

The spirit of political inquiry sets a condition in which feedback between citizens and leaders becomes rational inducing them to engage in a deep reflection about their common symbolic affinity and expectation for reciprocity. It demands political discourses in Nepal to move beyond defending one’s own personal, partisan, professional or disciplinary interests. A terribly partisan politics tears the individuality of citizens and erodes the freedom of thought supposed to flourish in the domain of plurality of life. When Nepali citizens fall prey to the discipline of organised power seeking conformity, they submit to the absurdity of politics. Mediation of power, knowledge and interest by other societal forces is vital to create politics “political” and foil the devaluation of leaders.

The government constantly requires the generation of new ideas about effective learning, linking knowledge to power and establishing a political culture of inquiry about the harmony between political philosophy and practice. It seeks sensible reforms in: human rights code of conduct, enforcement of transparency and accountability, an effective implementation of political parties’ act, an end to the culture of impunity for the powerful and enforcing constitutional behaviour of all actors. Instilling an ethics of accountability to serve public and national interests by national actors can bring politics back to the commanding height. To make justice accessible to the weak, the court has to be above political power. Its autonomy, objectivity and integrity must be enhanced if the costs of justice are to be minimised.

*Professor Dev Raj Dahal is a Political Scientist

Source: The Rising Nepal