Interface Between State And Citizens
Ritu Raj Subedi
Democracy is a bottom-up process. An active citizenship makes it meaningful, dynamic and functional. It goes beyond the people’s one-day election activities. In it, the people collectively participate in the crucial social, political and economic actions which have direct bearing on their daily life and society as a whole. They engage in the reasoned deliberations on the solution to the problems facing the community. They play their constructive role in decision-making and allocation of budget to the development projects. They raise the issues of corruption, malfeasance of bureaucrats and politicians, and red tape in the government offices. In this way, the participatory democracy works and benefits the people. This also effectively overcomes deficits of representative form of democracy that has failed to live up to the promises of social justice, inclusion and economic equality.
Nepal’s new constitution has embraced the spirit of participatory democracy. It demands active participation of the people in the nation building projects though the oodles of rights risks making the nation a demanding society. It has guaranteed 31 fundamental rights to the people such as freedom of speech and association, right to food, work, social justice, education, health and so on. It has stipulated that the people should be loyal to the nation, abide by laws, provide compulsory services needed by the state and protect public property. Supernumerary rights and fewer duties of the people call for the spread of self-awareness, constitutional and civic enlightenment among the people so as to understand the national charter correctly and neutralise the strident sentiments and ambitions of some minorities.
An interface between the state organs and the citizens is the key not only to balance the lopsided attributes of national charter but also to implement and repose public faith in it. Against this backdrop, this writer describes an interactive programme wherein the public, experts, judges and government officials discussed the problems and expressed their commitment to helping each other in sorting out them. It was organised by a German political foundation at Manahari VDC of Makawanpur district last week. The ancientness of the site, scholarly thoughts of experts and enthusiasm of the locals generated a unique ambiance. It was near the Manahari River where the ancient sage Ashtavakra was born and raised. A child prodigy, Ashtavakra had challenged Rishis at the palace of King Janak and beat them in critical discourse on spiritual knowledge and the nature of soul, human existence and emancipation.
While the locals were taken aback by the fact that they are living near the bank of Manahari where Ashtavakra attained knowledge, the visiting experts invoked and connected his teachings with the civic education, which according to political scientist Dev Raj Dahal, “liberates citizens from self-tutelage, promotes the value of participatory democracy, fosters trust and volunteerism and opens the possibility for cooperative action across the nation’s heterogeneous population of 125 castes and ethnic groups, 123 languages and more than 7 religions.”
The imbizo, moderated by High Level Administrative Reforms and Monitoring Commission chair Kashi Raj Dahal, offered the right platform for the participants comprising social workers, members of local cooperatives, political parties, teachers and students to articulate their aspirations. Dahal, who is also the chair of Administrative Court, invited Chief District Officer (CDO), District Education Officer, inspector of Area Police Post and DVC secretary to listen to and address the problems of the people without delay. It was a sort of public hearing that lasted for two days. On the first day, a woman participant complained that drivers were using the road to wash their vehicles, causing damage to it and making it dirty. As soon as the interaction concluded, inspector Chitra Ghale rushed to the site to warn the drivers. The cops also seized pipes from them. The locals were assured that the east-west highway, which also links Terai with the capital, would not fall into disrepair in their locality.
However, it is the underdevelopment of the VDC that worried the locals greatly. It mirrors national malady that hits the development projects. Insufficient allocation of budget, lack of effective monitoring, corruption and negligence of political parties marred the development activities. One participant said that no project had completed more than 25 per cent of works. This is a worrisome scenario that demands urgent response from the government. Partly, in the absence of elected representatives, the development activities are taking place at a snail’s pace.
The locals emphatically brought up negative impacts of the stone crusher industries that are eating away at the surrounding ecology and fragile Shiwalik hills. “The crusher industries have turned the life topsy-turvy with the government losing millions of rupees in tax,” they said in unison. The crusher industries have extracted the stones and sand from the local rivers and hills, posing a serious health hazard to the locals. It is believed that mafias are active to plunder the resources without giving due share of profits to the locals and government. Such industries have to be set up 5-km away from the villages as per the given directives but this provision has been openly flouted and the government is at its wit’s end as how to manage them.
Nepali state has been weakened to the extent that it is faltering to implement laws and indigenous development policies and programmes. Despite having rosy provisions in the constitution, the Nepalese democracy has not deepened. A handful of rent-seeking leaders have captured it, leaving the masses high and dry. This has delinked the people from the state. To stop the erosion of state and democratic values, the people should wake up to the constitutional rights and duties. It is only with the civic education that the democratic deficit can be overcome and vibrant relations between the state and citizens can be restored as it converts the ‘people into jagrit manushya (awakened human), helps them acquire maturity and make critical judgment, build national identity and close gender and inter-generational gaps’.