Political Dialogue Efficiency
Dev Raj Dahal
Dialogue is an ancient yet universal tool of comprehensive learning and peaceful way of problem resolution. Its utility stands fresh even today as it fosters participants’ civic culture vital to nurse the feeling of citizens’ satisfaction from polity and defend its raison d etre. Dialogue differs from daily conversation about shared experience though it also transforms passive people into active citizen. Nepali politics is, however, largely party-dominated, group-based and adversarial which has a legacy of negating the Other. It infects the rise of free public sphere which is shared by non-party elites as well. As a nation of immense social diversity, political parties and interest groups, Nepal’s cheering democratic future rests on vitality of political dialogues at many spheres for education and opinion formation. It widens the party-minded frame, renews moral reflex of public sphere and enables citizens to exercise their choice. If rational reconstruction of politics shapes the agenda, issues and rules of settlement of grievances, it can furnish right understanding and justification of justice against fate.
Dialogue efficiency of Nepali parties depends on fulfilling the cause of sovereign demos, even the silent one and serve a transmission belt between citizens and polity. The equality of demos in terms of citizenship rights and duties and their membership pledge to Nepali state above their primordial affinities is vital to ward off the risks to polity being subverted by non-political force, egoism of leaders, private power, lobby, commerce or geopolitical interests. A clear line between the Nepali state and parties and their overlapping values can conciliate interests and set the efficacy of citizens in shaping opinion.
Open-ended dialogue builds an awareness of the common ground among fractious parties -Communist Party of Nepal, Nepali Congress, RPPs, Madhes-based parties and even radical ones - enabling them to foresee the effects of their policies and make shared promise to constitutional ideals. It can curtail negative reactions of the affected. Yet, if dialogue is closed, like in a club, it fails to mediate the interests of a variety of sub-system oriented actors driven by rival passion, needs, ideology and identity. It opens the grounds for centrifugal politics squeezing common ground. In Nepal, dialogue helps one to learn other’s view, think outside one’s own narrow partisan frame and moderate behaviour for mutual gain. Moderation is vital civic virtue to infuse ethics of responsibility. It provides a space for diverse interests.
Still, Nepal’s road to a democratic polity is hit by a lack of constitutional behaviour of many political leaders, irresolution of a myriad of issues, miscarriage of party reforms, weak service delivery and interest of some forces to perpetuate violence. When political parties are alienated from each other in a struggle for power, compromising party ideology and identity and refusing to come to common ground of public and national interests, politics faces rationality crisis and cannot integrate the public sphere of periphery to the core.
Constructive dialogues among the Nepali leaders enable to share each other’s experience and compromise partisan interests for public goods. It eases the execution of the Constitution, breaks deadlocks and engages the citizens in building civic nationalism, stability, prosperity and good governance. It excites impersonal performance of constitutional bodies to overcome institutional deficiencies essential to the task of governance at federal, provincial and local bodies. Dialogue informs democracy’s autonomy from party politics and stops its vulnerability to pre-political and anti-political forces. It is vital to achieve authority, stability and legitimacy of polity.
The interest of Nepali leaders to cling to executive power than legislative role has cleaved the process of transforming transactional leaders into transformational ones based on electoral legitimacy, public opinion and popular sovereignty. It is vital to transform Nepal’s pre-democratic politics of domination, patronage and clientalism into democratic and cooperative action and enable polity to coordinate the behaviour and action of leaders necessary for the creation of a legitimate political order. It is vital to bind extra-constitutional, secessionist and centrifugal forces of Nepal either through dialogue or exercise of state’s authority. Dialogue efficiency requires cognitive resources of leaders and interlocutors but their specialised knowledge must be attuned to the values of constitutionalism.
Nepal’s parliamentary structures are feeble in deliberative policy making. Top leaders create their own extra-parliamentary means for deliberation for government change and resolve conflict, not on the basis of merit but on the basis of political clout which gyrates vicious cycle of conflict. Party leverage and whip have intoxicated its committee system and restrained legislators to use their conscience. As a result, their vision is confined to constituency building. Democratisation of Nepali political parties of all hues through reasoned dialogue can contribute to break habit-driven act, incline them to create national integrity system of governance and make democracy work for the poor. Nepal’s parties serve as a link between society and polity and represent diverse interests but cannot translate this diversity into common policies that are central to the functioning of governance. They are also caught in a populist trap of promising too much during the elections beyond the capacity of Nepali state to fulfil. Many return to the old habits as the pressure of critical masses, civil society and citizens for the fulfilment of their electoral and constitutional promises are lifted.
The key challenge Nepali political parties face in dialogues are the gaps: between the ideological platforms and policy contents, the spirit of constitution and party-mindedness, democratic commitment and weak-enforcement of party laws, unstructured political participation of citizens and recoding of social boundaries beyond party system, high participation of citizens and low absorbing capacity of parties, political culture of negation, lack of harmony between individual, group-based and human rights and absence of multilevel dialogue system for grievances handling and solution of inter and intra-party conflicts.
The habit of centralised leadership in Nepal often feeds a tension with central committee members, social groups demanding regional, social, gender and inter-generational balance in power and a plea for justice for the realisation of constitutional rights of Nepalis in a world of many competing values. The rise of new elites from pre-capitalist economy has barred the stake-holding of poor and minority in governance. Social struggles and rise of caucus groups of women, Dalits, Madhesis, Aadibasis and Janajatis across the party lines are eroding the ideologies of parties. It coupled with 3 per cent threshold in election has eased the merger of parties and formation of a stable government. But it has stoked new factionalism owing to the alienation of deprived. The growth of identity politics has stymied building civic national identity. It requires the correction of dysfunctionality at the centre spurred by factionalism, traditional roles and values of leaders and inability to make intermediary local bodies efficient in fulfilling public aspiration. The dialogue, coordination of behaviour and collective action are vital tools to maintain political order and muster collective capacity to act as the voice of the nation.
Constitutional orientation of Nepali parties enables them to imbibe a shared vision and work together for the execution of mutually owned policies. A culture of listening to the legitimate grievances of cadres and ordinary citizens can increase their faith in their leaders and perform beyond “bounded rationality” of partisan bias. Constitutional rules enable their structures to be legal, make their behaviour predictable, enable peaceful chain of leadership and embrace dialogue to build better ties with rival parties. This unbinds Nepali parties from extra-constitutional, extra-parliamentary and anti-system forces of political change which is animus to internal political stability. Cadres’ engagement in various party committees puts off alienation, factionalism and split and enlarges social base. Space for oppositional loop is vital to sustain party dynamics and demarcate the line between creative opposition and blind rebellion. Politics dissolves into a state of nature if public spirit of politics loses its meaning in the life of oppressed and dialogical learning does not resolve conflict created by forces of change. Social inclusion of subsidiary identities has increased their representation in Nepali parties and polity but it has not discouraged leaders’ tendency to abuse the cultural differences of the nation for the widening of political constituency.
When Nepali leaders develop “we” feeling and subordinate their partisan lens to civic feeling of national solidarity dialogue efficiency of parties can contribute to both political and national integration. Political education to young party cadres and potential members discourage them to join militant politics and engage them in policy and ideological debates, mobilisation in various constructive campaigns, membership in mass organisations, participation in study circles, development initiatives and voting in elections. Political education is an education of citizens and leaders about freedom for the creation of a good society through self-awakening and related conduct.
Dialogue efficiency of Nepali parties lies in formulating common programmes which raises their ability to deliver public goods and builds stable ties with functional interest groups. Similarly, creative dialogues of party leaders with experts, academics, researchers and civil society increase effectiveness in the harmony of goals and means in the pursuit of common goods. This removes the gaps among them, builds confidence in the constitutional system and orients all actors to public interest through political communication, a process inclined toward reaching understanding among them beyond social determinism and conditioned reflex without reflection on Nepalis condition.
Meaningful dialogues can enhance the efficiency of Nepali political parties to adapt to changing democratic ideals, civic engagement and subsidiarity in party as there is the demand of various social classes for participation, ownership, equity, transparency and accountability in building Nepali nation. It opens citizens’ access to leadership, decisions and democratisation of their relationship with the society. Democracy fosters critical dialogues about human rights, pluralism and reflection of the dawn of peace within the frame of national identity. Inclusion of democratic principles in the inter- and intra-party life can acquire efficiency and wisdom.