Active Citizenship In Democracy
Dev Raj Dahal
Democratic state demands attentive and free citizens. Regular dialogues on basic values, actors, norms and issues of democracy can politicise Nepali citizens and rears active citizenship that can influence public policy. In this sphere, they can shape political will and preference with co-nationals to attain national vision. Citizenship is the membership of an enclosed political community, the state, governed by legitimate monopoly on power, loyalty to which surpasses loyalty to sub-national identities. Active citizens can assume duty to community, society and the state which is crucial to gain equal security, identity and welfare benefits for good life.
The Constitution of Nepal has laid down 31 rights for citizens - freedom of speech and organisation, right to work, social justice, social security, education, health, etc. It ensures their representation and participation in governance and fortifies the belonging to the state. It has stipulated four duties - protection of national sovereignty by being loyal to the state, obedience to law, compulsory service needed by the state and safety of public property. The ability of citizens to pay taxes defines their legal and economic status which is a mark of civic duty. If citizens are around their own selfish interest, they end up tearing the web of rights and duties, taking and giving and privileges and charity and pass rational judgment on social contract. Tax-evasion, corruption, illicit capital flight and national betrayal are crimes that make democracy empty, without funds to fulfil citizens’ rights. The maker of modern Nepal, P. N. Shah said, “Bribe givers and takers are the enemies of the nation.” His universe, united by a common garland, echoes the Nepali national anthem now. Periodic renewal of citizens’ active consent through fair elections refills the civic virtues.
The boundary of Nepali state does not correspond to society which is large. Nepali citizens have moral duties to aliens as the nation is a member of many global regimes and bearer of human rights. It offers them the prospect of post-national citizenship and the resolution of antinomies between nationality and humanity. The Constitution stipulates self-perpetuating unitary idea of sovereignty. Nepalis are nationals, not reduced to determinism of provincial and local domains or vicious hatred of the ‘Other’. Their duty lies in creating a national identity out of differences of individual interests, ideologies and biological origins. It creates a shared background for the mitigation of fissures.
Constitutional awareness of Nepalis instils in them with patriotism which is vital to bridge the chasm of loyalty at multi-actor governance even to the global spheres where many citizens earn their living. Hope of progress in Nepal can return if group-differentiated citizenship does not cut the ability of the nation’s minorities to fulfil their special needs, become equal citizen, protect their cultural identity and nurse national feeling. Group-differentiated citizenship has the potential to re-tribalise the nation. It is averse to modernity couched in terms of individual and human rights and tramples its moral ethos of respecting outsiders and giving them justice like a post-Westphalian state. The Nepaliness is defined in terms of their stake in the state.
Active citizenship is a condition for a vibrant democracy. Citizenship, as a political character, is linked with the public good. Progress, aided by Nepal’s wisdom and way of life, evolved national character and dignified freedom. Democracy has granted rights to get passports to join in the global labour market, some even in unsafe jobs. But it did not build a worldwide public sphere where Nepalis can control decisions though they hugely contribute to national and global economic progress. The participation of ordinary citizens in the internal economic opportunity is waning. Monopoly, syndicate and powerful organisational leadership, less accountable to Nepalis, stymie the national productivity and rescue them for free will. Only monied classes, diaspora and globally mobile elites reap the benefits from the new economy. Globalisation has spurred internal democratic deficits because decisions do not require the “consent of Nepali people” making mockery of popular sovereignty, global ethics and universal human rights culture that marked a transition from the state of nature to civil society, constitutional rule, international law and cosmopolitan ethics. Growth of civic virtues rooted in constitutionalism can enable Nepali citizens to strategise for the future through active learning about tolerant politics and actively participate in rebuilding of the community, society and the state.
Social Learning: Social learning enables one to know that they are citizens of a state, universal humans and species beings and have parallel duties at the level of constitutional state, jus gentium (inter-state law) and cosmopolitan norms and solidarity. Nepal’s citizenship rights are rooted in both jus sanguine, hereditary and jus soli, birth origin. Democratic spirit transforms passive Nepalis into active citizens at various spheres. It equips them with cognition, skill, disposition and full maturity, jagrit manushya. Political education opens a new possibility for cooperative action across the nation’s populace of 125 caste and ethnic groups, 123 languages and 10 religions each with its own values and interests. It eggs on them to reflect seriously on their living condition, acquire wisdom and repair the ethical capital for societal cohesion.
Better ethical capital means less chance of misuse of inhuman ethnic, class, caste, gender, or tribal determinism. It greases shared norms, values and institutions that make common life of citizenship possible. Active citizenship is governed by personal integrity and responsibility about common good. Praxis of socialisation on public education, works and resolution of collision between public demands and budget deficits enable them to harness and use land, labour, capital, technology and knowledge depending on their relative benefits. Passive citizens are satisfied with their representation in politics while active ones are participants of the polity. In Nepal, increased political awareness, social inclusion, proportional representation and subsidiarity opened new domain of citizen activism. Social and economic citizenship through membership in self-chosen association, union, civil society, cooperative, movement, network and federation in development infrastructures, school management, drinking water, consumer groups, health and sanitation, irrigation, cooperatives, clubs, etc. have increased their civic competence. Nepal’s local governance has introduced public hearing in project selection and budget allocation, social audit, information and public consultation making the governance responsive.
Citizen-Driven Politics: Nepal’s constitution has reconciled popular and state sovereignty and set their authority over other actors. In this context personalisation and centralisation of authority by leadership is immoral. Leaders need to strengthen the parliament and its committees and a culture of deliberation in the parties, before taking any decision. It can set up democratic procedures. Recent national, provincial and local elections have ignited hope for citizen-driven politics keeping the spirit of democracy alive. It seeks to address the needs of citizens from public security, rule of law, health, education, production, market, voice, etc. and bring the state closer to communities. Citizens’ active participation in planning, budgeting, monitoring, evaluation and social mobilisation enables the governance actors to fulfil institutional duties and meet the needs of social justice groups. It brings the private citizens into political sphere and creates an interface between them and the state. Citizen’s Charter refers to their rights and duties, aims to improve public service delivery and fosters responsive governance. Nepal has enlarged the domain of women’s rights in many areas. The right to grant citizenship in mother’s name, effective gender budgeting, appreciation of their family work, zero tolerance to violence, 33 per cent representation of women in parliament, speaker or deputy speaker of the House, president or vice-president and chairman or vice chair of local bodies are important steps to liberate them from patriarchal culture, its discipline and rationalisation.
Supply roles of the Nepali polity enable citizens to gain access to public goods. The state receives necessary feedback to sustain democratic dynamic. The new civil society with the feeling of “we” are providing hope for citizens and spurring the need for institutional reforms. Emerging from diverse geographical, social and economic backgrounds, the youth, workers, ordinary citizens, local entrepreneurs and cooperatives are giving support to citizens’ needs. These democratic innovators aim to change Nepali politics, economy and society. Without active citizenship, Nepalis will be clientalised to families, lineage groups, friends and leaders. They cannot combat misery and fatalism by transforming passive people into active Nepali citizen. The international community can add by showing relevant experience, financial support, resources, tools and technical skills for citizenship-building beyond instrumental and empirical approach. But the local society must learn to update archaic infrastructure, apply practical standards and ensure that scarce public resources are visibly utilised to contribute to a self-regulating, adaptable and resilient democratic communities to combat natural risks and social vices rejuvenating democratic political culture and harnessing the potential of national economy.