Nepali Politics: Unstable Social Cohesion and Peace

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In a democratic society, citizens are entitled to decent living where symbolic economy can also contribute. Politics abhors a vacuum. If it is not filled with optimism of economic resilience, social cohesion and peace will remain unstable.

By Prof. Dev Raj Dahal

Prof. Dev Raj Dahal

Economy is set in structure, pattern and goal of society. Its life is defined by an awareness of relationship of nature, production, exchange and use with non-economic factors. As lifeblood of society and polity, it satisfies vital human needs and alleviates the scarcity leaving no one hungry. Ecologically sound agriculture and processing of nature for industrial products add progress to real economy. Its resilience supposes an optimal balance of human interest for progress and self-creative ecosystem’s gift to supply factors of production. Just distribution of national wealth can lift one-third of poor Nepalis from crippling dignity crisis. What economic resilience means when a struggle in Nepal is pivoted between right and left, capital and labour, business and worker, urban and rural, symbolic and real economy and across the gender and social classes each lured by tribal passion incompatible with nature and the Other. Nepal’s economy is globally linked by treaties, trade, aid, investment, tourism, remittance, ecology and economic diplomacy. Its ability to govern interdependence can foil the fluctuation in each element and manage the ricochet effects to its internal resilience. The classical wisdom of Nepal views the virtue of life not only in winning as free market fans edify but in giving which is a basis of poor’s choice and a stimulus to nature’s cycle. 

Resilient economy rests on refusing to consider humans the measure of all values. Their web of life depends on plants and animals for their survival. Ecological resilience is thus vital to economic security of Nepalis. Economics as a policy science is useful to attain progress if aptly used. If it incarnates into “positivism” to deal with theoretical and methodological puzzles, its ecological amnesia will mark a divorce from both human condition and human science. The disciplinary economists are the poor judge of the power of “non-economic” determinism and bureaucratic wall. Socialised in linear-based analytic knowledge, not synthetic one, their leap into technocratic remedy of Nepal’s problems remained inept. Since most of them are partisan, they produce bias analysis of statistics of progress that confirms their private belief, not the reality of national economy. The belief system and partisan identity robbed them of their erudition, economic ethics and deprived citizens of adequate policy response for national construction and quality of life.

The climate science has unveiled the state of Earth and the need to make it hospitable to life through the use of clean energy, anti-carbon renewable and restoring climate balance, biodiversity and ecosystem. But without resolving the trade-off of short-term interest of leaders and intergenerational thinking of scientists, the hope to save environment goes self-deceptive. The Nepali stakeholders need to improve its quality so that the welfare state, like nature, becomes inclusive of all citizens. It is vital to link their personal fortune to the nation’s wealth even if they live in economic pluralism: pastoral-peasant, industrial-commercial, informational and service-oriented with their synergy and diversification potential. Nepal has dissolved the hunting economy of Rautes by stitching them to state subsidy. The moment is to spur good governance to balance demand and supply and provision and production of public good, thus, driving adaptive skills fast enough to execute National Adaptation Plan of Action and SDGs to sustain ecological health of the nation.

Unity in Diversity

In the weary trials of competing economic models, such as ego-centric market, homocentric class, regime-centric, state-centric, eco-centric and community-centric operated in Nepal only the last one amassed scientific consensus for its anti-fragile potential. Nepalis have a stake in local common. They share knowledge, experience, resources and future. It does not liberate local government from economic duty, electoral promises and constitutional vision. Nepal’s Himalayas is a pivot of ecological security for the entire South and Southeast Asian region and, thus, security of its melting glaciers from the global warming ensures the region’s future. The geophysical range has offered it choice to diversify production of crops, flowers, fruits, vegetables, high value added tea, herbs, agro-based and dairy industries, animal husbandry, etc. called care economy. Production of one region matches the other and boosts an economy of scale. Long history of self-rule, strategic frame, precious tourism, hydro resource and youth populace are extra values to its resilience.

An essential capacity of Nepali leadership rests on removing the partisan gaps in economic expectation that drive citizens to scores of brands: age, caste, class, gender, ethnicity, region, religion, gender, etc. each fighting for inclusion at the top of power caring less to the optimisation of values for each. Use of conscience by all actors is vital to make sustainability a non-negotiable issue. The business profit, driven by rational reason, has killed ecological resilience revealing what they can do when politics deregulates rule of law. But the scientific prediction helped to minimise the scale of damages by great earthquake, enable citizens to think beyond profit and take care of life-support system. Nepali society is too diverse with 126 ethnic and caste groups, 123 languages and over 8 religions. It provided community resilience as those generous citizens helped the affected ones. Syncretic culture, spiritual values and common symbols of identification provided glues for social and national integration. Local codes of communities for cooperation offered a system of self-organisation and self-regulation in crisis times. The survival imperative provided Nepalis to maintain internal coherence and external adaptation. Sustainable use of natural resources is vital to rebuild resilient communities. Climate adaptation funds must reach peasants, workers and poor people in the areas of their vulnerability to climate variability and disaster risk reduction. It can build synergies with inclusive communities working on gender, indigenous people, Dalits, workers, food security, forestation and disaster preparedness.

Nepalis had organised collective action at the level of individuals, communities and villages for economic recovery. The effects of bureaucratic inertia, elite capture of state and decoupling of national politics from everyday life had made citizens acutely conscious of how greatly they are dependent on one another in times of disaster. Their immediate help for the victims signified a well-functioning society. Hidden social capital of citizens and shared pain evoked emotional moment for their solidarity. Likewise, a strong feeling of civic duty triumphed over self-interest engaging them in serving and giving. Media communicated this ordeal to global community for its altruistic support. Communities of all hues acted like members of a single Nepali nation-state, which had been enfeebled by politics of parochialism, factional struggle and wrenching political transition. Nepali values have obliged the wealthy to engage in charity, nature conservation and social development so that economy can contribute to building mindful society. Not long ago it boasted “Green Forest, Nepal’s Wealth” and enjoyed a status of food surplus nation. Now, in a food deficit condition strategies of resilience entail scarcity management through: effective response to natural and human made disaster, urgent investment in greening the jobs to curtail future damages, make economy self-organising and protect institutions and enterprises from the perils of crisis. An adherence of its ethics to engineering code of infrastructure building can rebound Nepalis to normal life and bridge economic expectation gap among varied actors. 

The traits of resilience entail systemic lens. But its foundation rests on fulfilling the basic needs and aspirations of every generation of Nepali citizens. Education on ecology has liberating potential. A balance in non-vocational mission of education, such as cultivation of youth in active Nepali citizenship and vocational mission of fulfilling livelihood is critical to inspire ecological conservation. Cultural industries have awakened citizens to their social, economic and political rights without imparting equal knowledge about duties. This is not a therapy of conflict of ecological resilience and economic growth. Economic resilience can be gained by revitalizing Nepali community’s protective strategies for nature’s renewal, justice to the poor and taxing the wealthy, not applying the shock therapy of “dismal science.” Fairer society is more resilient than unfair one. It needs a basic shift from the linear model of progress that is resource intensive, per capita, GNP, GDP, globalisation and materialism based to the one to fight against poverty, unemployment and climate change.

Culture inherited from ancestors has shaped Nepal’s ecological adaptation. Leadership’s ability to think in dynamic terms and organise disaster preparedness enable them to execute a rebuilding programme through civil society and efforts of National Reconstruction Authority, execute the Constitution and deliver essential goods. The welfare state is more resilient in solving the crisis of scarcity by means of a balance of public, private and cooperative economies with co-decision of everyone. Only stability-driven investment in Nepal can enable to address scarcity and attain security, wellbeing and dignity. Youth should be retained within the nation through a lure of national reconstruction and green jobs. They can improve livelihood and lift ailing economy. 

Egalitarian society is more resilient than the hierarchic ones because it balances individual freedom with community needs. In Nepal, continuity of old economic culture bred vices, not virtues of care economy. Equitable justice to citizens inspires them to fight against economic fragility. Nepal’s constitution has included many elements of economic resilience but without a shift in basic values of economic behaviour, this goal remains alluring. When problems of Nepal are interrelated, leaders must find unity of idea across the common problems and use experience to solve them. In a democratic society, citizens are entitled to decent living where symbolic economy can also contribute. Politics abhors a vacuum. If it is not filled with optimism of economic resilience, social cohesion and peace will remain unstable.

*Professor Dahal is Political Scientist

Source: The Rising Nepal