Nation-building In Old State
Dev Raj Dahal
The modern nation-building of Nepal demands a shift from pre-modern divide and rule to modern politics of cooperative action; linear growth-based economy to sustainable development; tribalism of people to a rational and resilient modern society of equal citizens; rote education to reflective learning able to address human condition through policy and productivity means; and colonially consigned buffer or semi-colonial narration of state to a site of transmission belt of great civilisations of South Asia and China. Nepali scholars, versed in the historical psychology of citizens, reject this self-inferiority and cite the struggle of people against the intrusive empire. The nation has spread the spiritual values of Shivaism and Buddhism, pagoda art and cultural heritage of tolerance. This discursive wisdom has formed the basis of statecraft. Nepali state is space-bound but its people (nation) are extrovert, extended in many nations. They sustain Nepali identity, but they are non-citizens. The recovery of state’s muscle to sustain historically resonant “unity in diversity,” multi-spheric justice and its equal status in the world can restore its dignity.
Democratic nation-building mends the bonds of Nepalis in sharing the burden of life and shores up ownership in national institutions. Modernity, democracy and human rights have fused the nation into the state to lift the spatial pivot of its history. The pre-political union of organic traits of place, language and ancestry that make up the nation is now mingled into the political nation-state defined as a union of emotion and feeling of citizens to precise sovereign space and its polity feeding equal opportunity for citizens. Nepali nation consists of free citizens with “common aspiration,” “national interest” and “prosperity” able to defend national integrity, sovereignty and state’s unity. This infuses delight in the Constitution, polity’s integrity, settlement of dissents in a democratic frame and transition of the nation from the community of scores of genetic and societal origins into a state of equal citizens.
Paradoxically, separate group rights stabilised into national commissions and their autonomous paths pose risks to the solidarity of national life. In a diverse society like Nepal national will alone can beat parochialism, ethnocentrism, territorialism and class or caste-determination of policy and construct national identity. An imperative of a robust statehood can manage sub-national aspiration, abolish privileges and clientalism from public policy and protect itself from the abuse of tribalism. The crash individualism which debases Nepal’s historicity and synthetic sources of many cultures or post-modernism which shields group recognition, affiliation and identity erase national consciousness and the virtue of constitutionalism. Democratic nation-building provides scope for law based economy aided by feedback loops between endogenous and exogenous factors of progress.
The sovereignty of Nepali state and its citizen is coterminous. They peddle national-self-determination. But the twist of national will for partisan benefit bred a spar between the national state and partisan politics evoking ego-inflation of leaders while their auxiliary bodies, moving beyond constitutional spirit and civic culture, are stoking parochial loyalty to inflate political base. Enhancing national capacity is vital to conquer globalisation’s appetite to rollback Nepali state through the commercialisation of all spheres of life-nature, security, law, family, health, education, music, art, citizenship, sports, etc. and its decay by fuelling centrifugal forces of society. These forces demand direct foreign help to local bodies to smudge national loyalty, create external dependence, flag local institutions and fritter away all the money in training, not community-driven progress. It stifles the gear of social modernisation of pre-modern solidarity and move to civic nationalism and scientific temper which are critical to harness the nation’s post-traditional traits: syncretic culture, which fuses modernity and democracy; record of national freedom which acquitted it from chauvinism and protected asylum-seekers; heritage of tolerance of diversity; and overlapping values among social classes which supplied bonding social capital for nation-building.
Nepali language satisfied communication needs even before the country was unified by Prithvi Narayan Shah. It unites Nepalis all over the world. Many rituals, poems, songs and narratives circulated in the arteries of polity to build the centre, Kathmandu and enabling citizen express one Nepaliness adoring motherland. Education and political acculturation sought to beat blind faith and social evils and imbibed views, values and interests of all sides. There are other strategies:
Crafting national identity: Nepali identity has roots as deep and ancient as the Atharva parisista, evolved from diverse experiences of the public of Himalayas, mountains and Terai, in the face of all outer physical, cultural and institutional walls. Nepal Mahatme, Dibya Upadesh, Babu Ram Acharya’s Nepal’s Cultural Tradition and Rishikesh Shaha’s Heroes and Builders of Nepal, inter alia, embody seminal works narrating Nepal’s identity. But they fall short to trace its epigenetically varied genealogy and complex roots to Himabat Khanda and how its culture survived and radiated to the world. Leadership vision and spirit of love of sages and citizens had set life condition for security, livelihood and peace. Laxmi Prasad Devkota’s article Is Nepal Small echoes strong pride and love to the nation. Now nation-building adopts many traits yet there are also darker forces haunting to subvert destiny. It is now shaped by fleeting social contract based on power equation or ideological lens of atomized leaders.
Fusion of nation into constitutional state: Nepali state is place-bound while the nation is place-surpassing yet spiritually and culturally embedded. Its power monopoly is defined by citizenship rights and duties. The nation is based on a culture of consensus ensuring the enduring survival of state. Now, Nepal faces a wide gap between the vernacular speaking, spiritually leaning rural society and the English-stressing materially-oriented urban sub-society. This gap, amplified by education, health, wealth and technology, has exposed them to varied socialisation, disposition and orientation to the nation. New communication and transportation infrastructures can integrate periphery to the geopolitical centre, Kathmandu and reduce its isolation. Diffusion of cultural memories and social and gender justice are critical for political acculturation. Its style props up norms to sustain social order. Nepali state has nationalised the family but its capacity to integrate parties, civil society, economy and media is slanted. It clogs the prospect for cultivating national loyalty. Limiting donors’ stakes of interaction with the identity groups and citizens’ clientalisation demand national affinity and social cohesion stitched by shared values.
Social Inclusion: The civic competence of Nepalis realises their voice and visibility. The right to information has made them conscious of their 31 rights, issues and source of their judgment. Attentive citizens’ letters to the editors offers neat analysis of causes, options and potential for their solution. More rights and fewer duties have turned politics aspirational offering a space for radicalism, not contributing to the moderation of society for political stability and self-governance. Self-governance is based on the affinity to space, language, culture, ancestry, history, religion and self-sustaining institutions that make up the nation. Democratic nation-building de-tribalises the society and transfers primordial loyalty to statehood. The “autonomy” of local bodies from interest groups and “capacity” supported by its own resources can spread democratic virus to their lives. But the haughty economic ambition and pre-Freudian human nature bent on tribalisation, ethnicisation and regionalisation of politics by consultants linked to geopolitical loop and their inability to imbibe civic spirit risks social cohesion and dent national will to manage natural and post-national risks.
Nation-building calls for a balance between the inputs and output functions of Nepal’s democratic institutions and building society around national virtues. It musters their loyalty to Nepali nation-state and ramps up its ability to unify diverse citizens to tread along centripetal direction. Closing the knowledge gap can transform social formation into national structure, moderate rival views about national issues and bring the nation to the middle path. Building Nepali states back better demands social cohesion, political stability, institutional consolidation, infrastructural investments and mobilisation of administration, business, civil society, citizens and international community.
Awareness about national tasks fosters socialised choice and trounces varied use of politics. Civic nationalism can accommodate other identities such as Madhesi-Nepali, Dalit-Nepali, Khas-Nepali, Janajati-Nepali, etc. avert fundamentalism’s tendency to trigger social cleavage and stoke multiculturalism dubbing patriotism as a reactionary ideology, not social solidarity. Nepal now suffers from cultural cringe, economic distortion and geopolitical manoeuvres and delayed resilient rebuilding. Democratic prospect requires enduring hope of citizens they can reconstruct national identity through re-socialisation. Nation-building calls for an interacting public sphere to mediate national issues and moderate the behaviour of actors. It improves the health of democracy and renews the society and the state to bounce back to a better condition for robust nation-building.