Politics Of Social Movements
Dev Raj Dahal
Social, economic and political institutions set the context, norms and incentives for individuals and group behaviour, and enable them to organise action. They also define rules of the game for inclusion and exclusion. The peaceful revolt of the excluded for social justice creates a ground for producing a new reality and marking a transition from personalised politics. For them, the enemy is the past and the solution lies in impersonal aspiration of a collective identity “social,” a concept in which shared language is found for feeling, thinking and action. Democratic structures offer them a chance to negotiate unequal power relationship to improve their condition. The modern social movements arose as citizens found the structures of union, political parties and parliament too bureaucratic, rigid and hierarchic largely numb to their needs, rights and aspirations.
In Nepal, the scream of protests of a multitude of social forces - women, Dalits, Aadibasis, minorities, human rights groups, federations, etc. seek shared goals of entitlements, resource and recognition beyond the politics of left-right divide. The values of modernity and democratic awakening have offered an impetus for a choice of life and rational change of Nepali society, revealing the justification of justice over law. Nepal’s Constitution has integrated participation, social inclusion and proportional representation as normative frame to widen the scope of citizenship. Their political mobilisation has animated rights beyond the bound of formal institutions. It has revitalised the public sphere of civil society and its capacity to activate participatory democracy. Citizens’ struggles for change emerged outside the electoral politics, political leadership and rule.
The spring of Nepal’s social movements against the unjust use of political power, blind faith and deprivation was stoked by critical masses of citizens. They were motivated by a sense of civic duty to improve the quality of life beyond rights-oriented action. The values of liberation, just rule, justice, peace and eco-balance were grounded in the nation’s classical treatises as they justified public action against unjust order. Newer forces of world system have sponsored sectoral rights, infinite exploitation of nature and poor for short-term profit and misused the nation’s empirical diversity, not harnessed its resilience. They have also incubated counter elites to instrumentalise Nepali state’s cultural diversity for endless regime change for the false harmony of atomised life. This has flagged Nepali society’s ability to converse beyond positivism, state’s ability to deliver public security and goods and its elites’ ability to conceptualise policy devoid of alien guide.
The previous vibrant social movements with salvation potential have now become projectised by aid regime rendering them unfree. Their inability to organise solidaristic action has incised both legitimacy and rationality. Transformational leadership, with resolute human spirit, can rescue them from attrition and rekindle seamless web of Nepali society. In Nepal, most of social struggles for change ended in a compromise without unbolting an open moment for native vision but setting a lot of normative values - popular sovereignty, social inclusion, principle of affected and grasp of their contractual rights. Their texture of life rests on unity of action and care for the posterity.
The information revolution is confronting Nepali elites’ political culture. It has problematised national tradition, culture and the state. Globalisation of social movements has flattened the development, democracy and human rights context beyond the state’s bound entailing rethinking on meaning, structure, agency and political power. Most of Nepal’s youth migrate abroad for jobs and cope with the changing labour market condition and laws governing the nature of works. Labour as a spirit of life and politics as a means of collective action can aid each other. The ownership of sources of wealth is governed by political decisions. Creation of a just labour market within Nepal ensures its vaunted opulence while squeezing it compromises the nation’s future. The breeding of multi-classes across both the capital and labour broadened bi-nary code of politics but did not change its transactional political culture. The new citizenship rights can legitimise new form of collective action to change this. Democratic ethos embodied in Nepal’s social movements has captured the spirit of solidarity across multi-actor and multi-space and parallel socialisation, mobilisation, networking and leadership, asserting the decolonisation of common humanity driven by non-lineal social change.
Rejecting dependent development, Nepali citizens defend subidiarity through the pull of local and global solidarity to reform power for re-distributive justice, reduction of poverty and social inequality ending gender and other discriminations. They have politicised them and adopted universal values for the rationalisation of constitution, institutions and practices. But they need reflective knowledge to defy the commodification of social life by media, traditionalisation of work and reduce the risk of being abused against weak Nepali state. Equalisation of actual life condition despite unequal abilities entails the execution of social welfare state. A systemic link exists between the crisis faced by the Nepal’s economy and citizens’ rights for decent jobs, dignity, social protection, education and health. Realisation of their humanity to normative end-freedom is possible if their movements can build the capacity of state and find term to an emotional aspect of citizenship, responding to systemic risks.
Nepali citizens’ ties with the vital life processes, politics, the state and world system are shifting. Politics expanded the scope of labour, work and public sphere and brought the policy issues to the front of governance. Nepali politics cannot address the problems of its multi-classes unless devoid of common interest orientation. Access of citizens in policy making can overcome their self-alienation and justify strategic action built on social contract, mutual adjustment and even subsidy, housing, health care and education for the weak in exchange for their loyalty to the state and their vote in elections. A shift from symbolic to real economy helps Nepalis to reclaim the state to control social vices through the virtue of its welfare benefits.
The steam of many social struggles of Nepal evaporated. Their leaders were ended in a self-parody, virtual oligarch, projectised and rendered partisan. Nepali state’s retreat from the welfare invited the influence of trans-national forces aligned with local economic interests. But they failed to stand above partisan interest and address grassroots movement of people’s representatives for greater influence of local struggles into institutional power for a people-oriented progress. Organic re-links of social struggles can synergise their will and responsibilise them. But they have to include three dimensions - a public, national and care economic ones and their steady politicization.
Politics is a decision making system. Access of Nepali citizens to this system is central to resolve existential problem. The centrality of co-determination of national politics, law and policy through social dialogues is the key to emancipate Nepalis from self-alienation, fear and dearth of basic needs. Social movement actors can advance welfare politics so that its welfare state finds symbiosis in social democracy. Nepal’s social movements have fruitfully forged solidarity across the national borders and achieved reasonable progress in rights, legislation, cultural identify, politicisation of members but they also face social division, inertia, knowledge cringe and lack of inner democracy. Now struggle in Nepal is pivoted on how Nepalis can exercise their sovereignty and stabilise the state along federal-provincial-local axis to address class, caste, gender, ethnic and regional disparity.
Nepali leaders are daily encountering social struggles, some even fed by drivers of geopolitical conflicts. Their unity of action can re-energise the power of citizenship to shape fair society, emotional fulfilment and care economy. Nepalis’ vision of change rests on their civic competence in bottom-up democracy, dignified life and organic solidarity with its supporters. Inter-connection with world system demonstrates that Nepali citizens’ social struggles have to follow the mobility of capital, not just the state and reshape polity according to their priorities. Inter- and intra-movement unity can contribute to substantial reforms in the redistribution of resources, activate citizenship and engage in evoking their power to communicate those interests to public sphere for debate and collective action but they must abide by the functional requirements of Nepali state’s stability.
Ragini Upadhyay Grela is a well-known Nepali artist. A graduate in fine arts from Lucknow College of Arts, India in 1982, Upadhyay won a British...