Constructing National Identity
Dev Raj Dahal
Nepali identity is defined by Nepali citizens’ sense of Nepaliness, their self-esteem in its sacred zone of national sentiment, Nepal Mandala, adoration of culture and intellectual heritage and emotional self-respect by defending its raison d’ etre. The Nepali sages and statespersons had edified people of diverse biological and social origins on national awareness. Now, citizens with legal equality claim fairness in outcome and enjoy rights as a basis of social justice. An awful conversion of citizens into a mindless crowd stripes them of historical consciousness and makes them an object of manipulation. It kills the fertility of creative vigor of Nepali society. The constitutional and human rights offer Nepalis life-enhancing prospect and an ability to overcome daily necessity for survival or control by non-sovereign agents. Gaining knowledge about duties hones trust in the national social contract and greases the wheel of cultural memory, a focus of national identity. Citizens’ loyalty to the state’s heritage of national unification can provide common national purpose and free Nepali society from the fretters of contesting local narratives. Democratic citizenship demands knowledge about life’s interlinked spheres and multiple belongings which affect them- local community of social origin, national community of the nationality of the state, inter-state international community and the community of human race for ordering of non-competing loyalty to various institutions and values and cooperation on the resolution of shared problems. Sub-nationals’ loyalty to the state is vital to balance the plurality of life-forms, hierarchical reduce social disparity and unify Nepali society along global creditworthiness.
Social inclusion, proportional representation and redistributive justice for weak in Nepal have framed a shared national narrative to beat the irrational fear of elites’ social hegemony or fear of domination of alien powers. Nepalis found Nirvana in a state of balance. Nepal has an enduring identity which no invading power could erase. The memories of struggle for free will now haunt the de-historicised identity of dependent nation. A shift from bearer of sovereignty to geopolitical determinism, achieved to ascribed buffer status and national demos to group-based ethos, in no way provides democratic license to leaders to cut the nation’s roots of distinctive national identity by dissolving all its sources. The native glues of Sanskritisation (enculturation), Nepalisation of language, cultural integration, communication and democratic requirement of civic nationalism need to surpass the ego urge of cause groups, sub-cultures, anti-state forces and partisan politics so that they cannot clap either melting smaller identities or their absorption.
Citizenship identity is an objet d’art of modernity which stands for social progress and political integration. As an inclusive concept it rests on mutual recognition of many identities listing nationality in shared membership of the state. It separates them from non-citizens who are not entitled to rights to governance. National culture, conscription, immigration control and policy and law-making are allied with exclusive citizenship rights. But Nepali leaders appear timid to exercise authority on these aspects and ameliorate moral imperfection of politics. Beyond cultural relativism, Nepali nation’s openness to world cultures, languages and knowledge enriched its synthetic values. The ability of the state grows in ratio to civic action and citizens’ demand for its responsiveness to pull economy out of stagnation and politics out of policy deficits. Other institutions can secure the state’s efficacy in attaining national goals and entitling citizens to a dignified life.
Habitus of Modern Identity: Modern national identity rooted in patriotism is de-triabalising and forward-looking. It defines the rules of national, regional and global engagements and obligations. The universality of human nature entails cosmopolitan agencies of socialisation on both practical means to address pre-social needs of citizens and ethical principles for post-national imperative for cooperation enabling them to transcend trans-cultural differences. Nepal’s quest for oneness of human identity involved its sages to search for a higher order of wisdom beyond spatial and deterministic form of geopolitics. It enabled to overcome atomistic character of the state of nature and helped Nepalis to become cosmopolitan citizens. But national identity remains torn in Nepal if roads to power are opened only through non-sovereign entities including political parties and social affiliation, than national affiliation of citizenship. Nepali identity is now facing volley of challenges:
One challenge emerges from the adoption of dreams of rival universal, ecocidal ideologies by Nepal’s main parties in the past to homogenise Nepali culture. This marked a failure with their declining utility now. It has curled the ability of law to nationalise the conflicting desires of various actors. The rebirth of identity politics of all sorts is filling the ideological vacuum. The projects of bureaucratic modernity and cultural craze of late capitalism, post-modernity now in operation through civil society, NGOs and INGOs, keep on deconstructing Nepal’s spiritual roots of liberation of citizens from their suffering and cosmic way of life which can be a locus of sustainable progress. Now citizenship is tied to national identity framed in post-conventional secularism. It is spurring the tension between popular sovereignty and politics of comfort. Democratic polity of Nepal deems that it is not a wealth to be mined by powerful elites whose cost is to be borne by the poor. Popular sovereignty presumes that only the consenting will of all Nepalis can be the source of authority and legitimacy of leaders.
Post-modernists are tasked to deconstruct the Constitutional welfare state that cares Nepali citizens by procreating tribal identity of Nepalis like in pre-unification days and expanding a narrow circle of empathy, not building national citizenship. Modern Nepali identity seeks a break with the deadly mixture of economic misery, national ignorance, erosion of democratic values and institutions and rush for identity-based Constitutional rights, each screwing the hope for national identity. Only a functioning polity can liberate Nepalis from the flip side of perpetual trial in partisan politics, trickle-down progress and pre-cultural rationality which bar diverse Nepalis from evolving “we” view out of common culture, religious sites, icons, arts, music, poems and the spirit of national heroes and builders.
The other challenge leaps from the neo-liberals’ veneration of greed-peddling entertainment in the mass migration of Nepali youth, the nation’s future and harvest remittance but also wreak their cultural memory. Careless selling of public industries liberated the nation from the burden of production, trade and progress depriving a stunning number of youth from economic security and democratic engagement within the nation. Nepal’s public policy has only expanded the power of private wealth over democracy and outsourced the functions of welfare state -- health, education, communication, economy, etc to profit-making actors. This has sapped the power of Nepali public sphere to shape opinion and mediation of externally -imposed policies without consulting Nepalis owing to the void of a cohesive national center to care public and national interests. The spectacle of private media diversion has drained the capacity of public-interest media to supply critical information to knit Nepalis together in a public dialogue on vital issues. A fetid conformity of party-based, donor-financed and business-driven media and self-advertising social media are only shifting democratic values to crass consumerism consuming the endearing appellation of Nepalis for a secure motherhood.
Still, the other challenges surface from radicals who devoid of faith in the Constitution seek the transformation of Nepali state, culture, caste, gender and feudalism to capitalism each fuelling to subvert national unity. It has complicated the process of political socialisation of Nepalis into a common civic culture. Leaders must be faithful to their authority to represent and protect public interests against interest groups who peddle their influence beyond the wider system of governance and less supportive of common good. The principles of constitutionalism can rectify this. Building a common Nepali identity demands sustained political acculturation for the coherence and integrity of collective national life in a world of strong competitors.
Grassroots’ Collaboration: Democratic structures, by nature, are welfare oriented. Intra and inter-societal consensus for social cooperation and peace in Nepali society can alleviate open riling up of hatred based on ethnicity, communal divide and geographical diversity and display solidarity in national identity. Engaged citizenship can revive the key public institutions as they can offer them a sense of community and shared humanity. Nepalis can exercise transformative option on the ballots, reclaim their democratic rights to participate in governance and execute generational mission of progress. A tangible better life, a life absolved from tangled web of entrenched corporatism can improve distorting prism through higher order knowledge unclouded by soulless utilitarian calculus revealing strong resonance in Nepal. Election of local bodies has provided an opportunity for leaders for long-term investment in support of public service. Democratic polity requires creating optimal conditions for all actors to cooperate on shared interests. The grassroots political formation from anti-domestic violence, existential threat, climate justice to empowerment of weak should waste no time in clinching inter-sectional format on vital issues faced by them and organise collective action.