Civil Society & Political Parties
Dev Raj Dahal
Political party is a part of society, not whole like polity and the state. It claims the right to defend certain ideas and interest, represents citizens and fractionalises the society to expand its vote base. Party has emerged in opposition to despotism and politicised citizens to fight for democracy. As an agent of social change, the shared dharma of political party and civil society is to modernise the general society and work for its reform and renewal to make democracy a way of life. Conscious of freedom and autonomy Nepalis can articulate their voice for a fulfilling destiny.
Genuine civil societies stand above partisan prejudice for worthy initiatives and build bridges across various empirical social, economic and political divides. But if they emerge from the incubus of parties and geopolitical forces, they stoke social and political cleavages, incarcerate the public sphere and indulge in instrumental actions. For average Nepalis, it increases the cost of politics and stifles the birth of civility and national will. Acute party-mindedness of leaders has turned Nepali parliament feeble to advance public interests. Several verdicts of the Supreme Court against their actions stand as a hostile witness. The names of Nepali parties do not match with their ideologies. Leaders’ impulse for durability in power made many compromises and less faithful to their own parties’ vision. The rationality of civil society rooted in altruistic human essence seeks to improve leaders’ utilitarian instinct.
Genuine civil societies offer democratic impulse to families, communities, societies, political parties, business and bureaucracy for cooperation. They champion satto guna based on enlightenment ethos - freedom, justice, solidarity, ecological ethics and peace. The instinct of political party is rajo guna, a craze for power calculation and animus dominandi, instinct for domination. The virtues of civil society propel them to perform niskam karma (selfless service) while parties are the domain of partisan selfishness. Their fierce competition with rivals for a control of rule, authority and legitimacy flags the purpose of political power what Alexander Solzhenitsyn says, “A call to service.” Civil societies bear cultural and cosmological values while political parties shape tools of power. Their domain of action is confined to the state’s realm. Political parties are indulged in ideological indoctrination what Karl Marx calls “false consciousness,” partisan attachment and political mobilisation forking paths for the left and the right but a common lust for power. They turn wild when power shift in coalition swings the perception of each other. Only leaders of democratic parties maintain a balance between their drive for power, sense of personality and upholding of conscience to act in response to vox populi.
The fundamental questions in building interface between the two are: How can Nepali civil society and political parties mediate the polity and social classes to remove the evils that divide them in sharing constitutional goals? Can both work for participatory culture aiming to eliminate all forms of biases and privileges from public life and public policy and open up possibility for Nepalis to become cultural and creative citizens? Is Nepali society capable of sustaining its history and tradition of tolerance when civic education, interest articulation and communication performed by parties and civil society nourish pre-political style based on biological and social differentiation? When citizens face authoritarian decision-making from family to the halls of power? How can civil society-political party interface contribute to the canon of a just constitutional order which can bring the redeeming power of politics to settle contesting issues? Can Nepali leaders achieve good governance when they have to operate under pre-modern polity devoid of real power separation, autonomy, capacity to implement the constitution and functional specialisation of roles? Ordinary Nepalis’ support for transparency, however, is opening actors and institutions to vital reason and inquiry.
Nepal’s major political parties – Communist Party of Nepal, Nepali Congress, Federal Socialist Forum, Nepal and Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal, dozens of smaller parties and myriad of civil society operate in multiple directions. Some of them lack constitutional will as they are liberated from the ethical norms of politics. Synergy of party-civil society interface is not enough unless they stand on the reason of state, shape a shared view on democracy, human rights and justice and coordinate their policies for a common future. The stability of Nepali polity rests on institutional equilibrium of power and moral strength of its leaders. Nepali people are citizens of Nepali state, not polity, government and political parties, which entitles them with equal constitutional and human rights.
Constant engagement of both in educating citizens about civic knowledge, life-skills and wealth-creation helps them to realise their potential and perform public duties. An elevation of human condition calls for opportunity in building this nation and bridging the fundamentalist gaps that drown the voice of reason infecting political polarisation. Nepali citizens’ claim of state sovereignty can help political parties to contextualise policies and laws and set a common ground for the resolution of symbolic, cultural and distributive conflicts symbolising regression of human values. Habit of oiling legal tradition of politics can stop interventionist mismanagement of statecraft by means of several strategies:
First, civil society as an epithet of reason and feeling and capable of achieving self-awareness, must instil historical awareness among party leaders of Nepal to transmit the authority of polity in society, respond to changing aspirations of citizens and curb the affinity of politics to personal, family, territorial and privileged interests. Social inclusion can fortify the social base of politics and clog extra-constitutional engagement, extra-parliamentary formation of caucus politics, identity-crazy forces, interest and pressure groups, lobby networks and anti-institutional social movements engaged in a vicious battle for micro-narratives and privileges, not real social transformation.
Second, civil society of Nepal needs to widen the old binary frame of friend and enemy politics for a modern politics of mutual action based on constitutional spirit. This cuts the conditioning of politics by caste, class, ethnic, gender, territorial and ideological factors. It subverts democracy’s optimal values of national integration opening an avenue for protest politics. Leaders’ forage on deliberation, discipline and feedback in the party committees can simply rear personality cult rising from authority distinction than performance and dilutes inner-party democracy.
Third, the historical crisis in Nepal’s reformist politics reflects the flaws of parties to uphold a middle path, act as a mediating agency of society and infuse reforms in each generation of citizens for the rational idiom of political life. Civil societies have to assume duty to limit them to the structure of public law, democratise their ties with their auxiliary bodies and citizens and fortify inter-party dialogue for broad-based consensus on issues of public goods. It revitalises the hopes of moderates in politics.
Fourth, political parties and civil society need to collaborate on justice. It is related to the vision of Nepal’s constitution and global humanitarian obligations to the poor. Both need to revive old solidarity with the marginalised. Nepal’s parties are poorly institutionalised in terms of subsidiarity, autonomy and complexity of functions. Top leaders loath creative ideas and inconsistent in organisational direction but deftly bargain for power with factions. Civil society need to introduce code-based values to make them sensitive to human rights.
Fifth, modern legitimacy stems from the elections of multi-level governance. Nepali leaders need to link the top with the bottom of society to cope with what Aristotle calls “mean state between self-indulgent and being insensible.” Coherence between the initial ideals of parties and the justification of current path ease them to keep historical identity and settle fissiparous inclinations. Their natural formation can free both from borrowed life, open debate in the public sphere about the duty of public power and institutions of modernity and embolden leaders to execute the constitution opening path to political stability, prosperity and happy life. The removal of vacuum in security can expedite democracy, development and peace processes. The civic culture imagines a qualitative change in the cognition, values and attitudes of Nepali leaders to inspire a stake of Nepalis in the constitution.
Sixth, decision-making sphere of Nepal entails rational politics to open up leaders’ mind to social learning of the changing nature of citizens’ rights in order to inspire their orderly civic participation and initiate social and economic reforms. Deeper institutional transformation leaps from alternative vision and leadership provided by grassroots organisations, local bodies and civil society. A real democratisation of Nepal’s political parties, however, requires arresting the collective diversion underway from constitutional goals and behaviour and synergising all the connective forces and resources of social capital for a rational construction of future order. Federations of many civil society groups are moderating the hierarchical system of production, appropriation and control through intermediary associations- free cooperatives, small enterprises, self-help and economic institutions as they do not disregard nature and labour’s pain.
But the key propellers of modernity such as education, economy, health, technology, institutions and leadership are not yet fully rationalised in Nepal to achieve the integrity of rule of law. In this context, the civil society-party interface requires getting rid of their own self-ironies and enforcing democratic accountability attached to the public expectation of their duties. Protection of the integrity of Nepali politics from pre-rational actors entails the state to create a just public order above power tussle.
Democracy is a national system where the state, economy and citizenship find constellation. It is opened to its citizens but maintains certain closure as democracy demands self-rule, immigration control and nationality. Nepali civil society and political parties must acquire ability for self-control and add to the rejuvenation of polity and society. This liberates their tendency to indulge in pre-modern adversarial practices that creates a society of winners and losers. Modern politics of collective action demands Nepali leaders to overcome inner deficiencies, attain the outer constitutional and universal goals of SDGs and enabling the nation to secure public goods, progress and peace.