Fostering Civic Nationalism
Dev Raj Dahal
The demand for liberation from unequal status to equality has been the major stirring factor of gender, class, nation and the state. The social movements of home-grown Nepali civil society sought to achieve this ideal through a symbol of civic nationalism, a symbol that helped them to voice against the legacy of ancien regime, animate citizens’ power to transform pre-political identity of nation into civic nationalism and pool the variegated societies into Nepali state. The reserves of national power remain low if Nepali civil society do not assess their own civility and attach to national ideals. The beauty of Nepali nation is that it comprises Nepali community of many biological and social origins operating under the code of national self-determination, a vital code for the retention of national integrity and freedom. Civil nationalism has surged in Nepal as a collective symbol of liberation of all citizens seeking unity in diversity. Rituals, public spheres and institutions of inclusion charged the current of national self-awakening. But it is not enough unless civil society evolves “civic culture” to cope with the vices of tribal culture, corporate culture and cyber ones - all deficient to fill the lives of Nepalis aspiring for belonging to a shared national community.
Civil society needs to cultivate civic nationalism to acquire the symbol of a stable national identity, a symbol that operates outside the realm of secular tradition of science and instils national sentiments among Nepalis enabling them to secure internal cohesion and take charge of their own destiny. Their socialisation on civic virtues of good life of citizenship and national feeling can warm hearts and minds and set them free from emotive fire. At this juncture, nature and nurture assemble - nature’s selection of fittest and nurture of civil society to the benefit of less fittest one by giving them time, service and resource. Promotion of citizenship creates common ground for the cohesion of diverse Nepalis, vital for mutual national action. But it supposes closing of gender, class and development lags and exerting national control over differing global signals which are pulling dependent Nepali civil society in various directions bedevilling collective self.
Civil society’s defence of civic nationalism can adapt “selfish genes” to world cultures. By opposing predators’ intrusion into the nation’s affairs, civil society can keep the society’s power in associations bounded by the rule of Nepali state. But dependent civil society institutions represent only a sub-culture of world system. It provides them funding, philosophy and leverage to influence national life and howl against weak Nepali state’s flaws in the global forums. Animated by abounding belief in absolute end, they cheer the fading power of Nepali state, subjection of state’s policy sovereignty to global institutions and decentring of its power downwards to provinces, municipalities and Gaon Palikas and outside to market forces. Governed by glitzy soft power of ideas, aid incentive and legitimacy, they conceal the global civilising mission of Nepali society aiming deculturation. As a result, they are caught in “clash of socialisation” of various donors and “clash of solidarity” across their diverse institutional setups, some even manifestly moving to narrow paths of communalism, ethnicity, feminism, territoriality, etc. beleaguered by the elusiveness of their own civility.
The Soul: True civil society nurture civic nationalism. They cultivate the idea of a decent nation informed by its rationalist tradition, justice and peace. As a social nursery for civility and training on leadership and citizenship, their responsive public action can fuse the society of diversity, ameliorate socially constructed absurdities and improve the quality of life. Nepal’s political society emerges from promises, law and reason while civil society can become a national bridge to humanity transcending “the selfish genes.” The metaphysical roots of Nepal’s native civil society view the world as a common heritage, the soul of collective feeling, not a sphere of domination and subversion. National solidarity can counter these ugly trends but civil society need to train citizens and leaders about the relative importance of various living institutions such as family, community, society, polity, nation-state and global regimes and create basic norms and rules of cooperation. An adaptation of Nepali civil society to changing universal spirits can evolve central insight for community, nationality and humanity and apply civic rituals to stabilise multi-level relations. But they might turn irrelevant if they keep silence on the subordination of every sphere of life to the ubiquity of politics and market imperialism. Rescuing civil society from their grip, donors and interest groups can restore their ability to reflect on national condition and orient to public and national interests.
The newly born civil society, with altruistic flair, can control the seeds of irrationality, allow Nepali citizens to choose their associations, build knowledge and skill, perform duties within their mandate of national priorities and operate in transparent, accountable and effective ways. Their engagement in the rational construction of social, economic and political order can help them to replace already ossified civil society. But they need to snuff out social, economic and political malaises and shore up democratic nationhood. Civil society run by women, Dalits and youths are struggling for the liberation of politics from patriarchal and dynastic control and seeking to acquire the integrity of public life so as to gain confidence in exercising choice offered by democracy. The root of Nepali nationalism is the national will of citizens for self-rule where the aim of civil society and democracy coincides. Democratic condition is vital for their works on inclusive nation-building. But democracy does not find resonance in homeostatic equilibrium. Nepali civil society have a critical role to play in this dynamic balance to prevent majority’s negation of the minority views and create a space for legitimate dissent in the absence of which the polity sinks into a tyranny.
Nepali nationalism is civic. It is confined to its territorial state. But Nepali identity knows no bound. This identity exalts its manifest destiny. A tuneful order is apt for balancing citizens’ interest and the imperative of a norm-based global community. Civil society needs to invent means to avert clash between individual freedom and social solidarity that is hitting Nepali political parties. The all-party consensus in Nepal emerged as an exception to nourish the oligopoly of power for long and crushed the role of civil society owing to their division marking the deficit of civic culture. Some civil society and human rights NGOs are selling the spoils of ‘People’s War’, transitional justice, domestic violence and caste prejudice in tune with some donors who think that the advent of Khas nationalism forestalls multiculturalism and multinational hope without knowing that Nepal is a nation of minority except in term of religion which is shared by non-Khas as well. Dependent civil society groomed by some donors carry the counter image of Nepali state and often submits to the law of utility for instrumental politics, not national unity.
The soul of Nepali civil society is niskam karma (altruism) which is vital to uplift one-third of citizens living in desolate life. This can provide their justification to fight for justice and nurture organic roots. This enables citizens to find habits from culture, norms and history and, therefore, stokes emotional attachment to citizenship. The pursuit of common good sets their common background and cultivation of worth of citizens. They never shut the plurality of national life through melting pot strategy which was practiced only in Kathmandu while in the periphery citizens live in concert with others and reconcile each other’s rituals. The project-driven civil society, like interest groups, however, remained silent on the execution of creative destruction and destructive creation and now facilitates migration of Nepali workers abroad instead of inculcating in them civic duties. Others are fostering the biological and communal form of nation, infecting its fledgling democracy. Only group-opened civil society nurture highest civic virtue of national consciousness.
The common interest of Nepali civil society and political parties is to serve the public and create an effervescent public sphere crucial for a shared civic culture based on subliminal sense of citizen equality. Civic nationalism forms a mediating virtue between individuality and mutuality, not indoctrination of political rituals. Enculturation of Nepalis does not mean they should be trapped in their own fairy tales, myths, maxims and stereotypes. Culture is essential to enable them to understand structural features of Nepali society and find apt role. It provides flexibility for adaptation of individuals in the democratic order. Cultural awareness of Nepali civil society is must to liberate them from ignorance of national history of civility while working for social change and enable to contextualize what is modern standard compatible to national values. They should infuse new technology which marks the stages of progress and reduces the pain of human and animal labour. Nepali language has shaped national communicative space and served as a lingua franca for integration which is vital to create a larger Nepali public for discourse and citizens’ sense of broader cosmopolitan horizon. The struggle of political parties for democracy and civil society for justice found convergence in Nepal and this convergence with weak Nepali state can create choice for citizens in civic nationalism for their civilised coexistence.