The Verve Of Solidarity
Dev Raj Dahal
Democracy thrives on the sovereignty of demos (citizens). Its exercise entails ample cognitive and material resources, and fine social policy. This enables them to transcend their primordial identities through a democratic awareness of solidarity, share the burden and benefits of society. The web of networks is instinctual, even spiders can lace it. But solidarity is value-laden, a value that unites the fate of many social classes of citizens to shared goals, strategies, stakes and feelings in social struggles for the creation of an ethical community. Emotional ties catalyse their synergistic action on issues of collective concerns which Nepalis have shown in the aftermath of earthquake, floods and fires consuming life and property and added substance to civic life. Collective selfishness has moral vim of patriotism expressing constitutional duties and obligations for the welfare of co-citizens. Solidarity has gained reputable form of political discourse in Nepal for its ability to convert civic rights into vital public goods and exalt frail kindness of human nature for national prosperity.
Modern Nepali society shows greater inclination to what sociologist Emile Durkheim calls “mechanical solidarity” of pre-modern social groups while modern parties, civil society, NGOs and community organisations have suffered division, factionalism and intra-mural tension. The cultural glues that once united Nepalis now suffer exhaustion. Individual leaders get greater salience than party organisation, programme and discipline. Modern democracy requires what he calls the “organic solidarity” of citizens with political parties, social movements, NGOs, civil society, federations and citizens’ grassroots action that emerges from their rational will, interdependence, job specialisation and shared benefits. Thus, in modern society, solidarity is maintained through the shared values and interest of its intrinsic parts. The role of what Antonio Gramsci calls “organic intellectuals” is vital in this process.
The Constitution promises the synergy of public, private and cooperative economy for a balanced progress of nation. It can cut the social and economic distance among the citizens and bridge the gaps across social, economic and political divides. It links citizens to national solidarity and attaches them to the life of democracy, its provisions of rights and duties and the formation of national identity.
The spirit of solidarity synchronises goals, means and behaviour of Nepali actors. It forms the core of choice and action in democratic progress. In a class-based society, solidarity forged between the labour and the capital made citizenship, economy and the state congruent to the national space and provided durable social peace. Compromise of interests between the government and the opposition and across social classes assured mutual progress. Now, the information-driven social stratification marked a new diversification. It linked all to the globalisation of the boundaries of class, party and the state opening them to transnational space for post-traditional solidarity and activism.
The new economy of knowledge and finance continues to atomise Nepali society. It has spurred green labour between the white collar and the blue collar and the need for a shared praxis with little scope for collective bargaining and leveraging. The source of capital has also become plural-land, industry, finance, technology, knowledge, etc. The white collar workers feel at ease with capital than manual workers. The birth of professional classes, as a mediating agent, has built a new structure of solidarity where even the weaker sections of society have found sympathy and political voice of equal treatment in the polity and transnational sphere for mutual adjustment.
Democracy, as a responsive rule, reduces social and economic disparity, distributes power in the polity and provides citizen civic rights, devolves power, resources and identities and even grants human rights to make legislative power as universal as possible. Duty, charity and obligations are the pathways to earn punya (virtue), address citizens’ misery, anxiety and mishap, evade their livid cauldron of anxiety and make power receptive to public opinion. The free play of market, which respects no geopolitical boundaries of Nepali state, however, is atomising citizens and reducing them into consumer, labour and voter, not citizen and human being faithful to national identity and solidarity.
Nepali experience tells that in the absence of a robust rule to break syndicate, market cannot solve the problems of scarcity of public goods and make economic life secure. The universal codes of market are incentives for profit, efficiency, competition and innovation. The state’s authority is based on hierarchy, order, discipline and patriotism. In this context, solidarity of civil society ordered around family to cosmological duty, volunteerism and legal obligation limits opportunistic bent of elites for illicit gains and inspire individual competition for social respect. Social support of peasants and workers is vital for an economy to grow. It increases the poor’s stake in the polity.
Nepal experiences a spate of aspirational politics stoked by swelling constitutional rights, such as right to work, food, education, health, social security, social justice, etc. But institutional constraints fail to fulfil them. Inequality of society based on class, income, gender and geography twists the execution of social policies. Uneven access of Nepalis to public goods and variant opportunity are spiralling criticism against the polity. The embrace of adjustment-oriented economic model, subject to neither public ownership nor democratic control of majority, has diluted local self-governance rooted in deliberative decision making for long. The new politics requires the trinity of deliberation of public policy, reflection on human condition and feedback mechanism between leaders and citizens to make shared rule a vibrant polity and attune constitutional law to their moral aspiration to work together and achieve the ideal of welfare state.
The erosion of middle path in Nepal for long marked a crisis of reformist politics and the rise of social, economic and political radicalism. So long as its polity cannot keep public goods under the public prerogative livelihood crisis, social closure, mass migration of youth and conflict will persist. Its average economic growth of about 3 per cent barely balances out population growth. Remittance contributes 28 per cent to GDP but the migration of over 6 million dynamic youth force for cash economy left the country devoid of productive forces. The birth of narrow web of corporate interest is waning political and economic competitiveness. It does not correspond to bulging demands of elites for inclusion, recognition and participation. It unveils their bent to deform social solidarity which is vital to strengthen democracy.
Nepal’s poverty level stands 30 per cent while 70 per cent of population has only about $2 daily income. Its informal society, economy and polity need the solidarity of organised sector and a balance of both rights-based approach and need-based fairness so as to improve public duty to the poor. The contributory form of social security, social assistance to elderly, conflict-victims, marginalised cluster and region, entitlements to Dalits, women and certain deprived groups, social utility based cooperatives and community-based works in Nepal offer hope to solidarity for democracy consolidation. Health, education, community forestry, small enterprises, etc. have benefitted from such social schemes. The voting rights of Nepali migrant workers, minimum wage, concessional loan to jobless youth, Dalits, returnee migrants, women, etc., however, cannot sustainably subsidise welfare state when the contribution of tax to GDP stands only 18 per cent.
This signals that the practice of social solidarity is meagre and ethical industrial, business and financial poise is frail. Rising tax-evasion, bank defaulting, capital flight, corruption, impunity of powerful elites and privatization of public wealth have stymied a sense of economic justice to the poor. As a result, the nation’s pledge to execute constitution, human rights, social charter, gender equality and labour standards remains unfinished. Its vital resources such as strategic geography, hydro-potential, demographic dividends, tourism, etc. need to be properly utilised to improve the capacity of Nepali leaders to supply ample public goods and repair infirm political order breeding anomie, not enforcement of the rule of law. The economic rationality of social progress and political freedom of Nepalis are finding voices from the critical masses outside electoral majority who express sympathy for the weak and needy.
Solidarity surpasses individual interest to become a part of endless strings of something much bigger the enlightened sphere of humanity. Nepalis’ associational ability to achieve their collective welfare must be whetted. It is a higher goal which they cannot realise individually. Proliferation of social networks in Nepal linked with associational revolution has provided social sector a base to promote active citizenship where individuals, groups and institutions together evolve collective identities, promote their social, economic and political welfare and fulfil legitimate demands. One of the malaises of Nepali democracy is a lack of internalisation of democratic contents in the inner life of public institutions, political parties and civil society. It springs from a lack of ethical character of education vital for civic and moral renewal.
The other is shifting of problems from one government to another rather than solving them. It has perpetuated inequality of life-enhancing resources. Still, the other is the breakup of public sphere, thereby cutting the ability of public action to attain democratic outcome. Nepalis can beat this grim situation by a strong social contract legitimised by election and connection of each citizen to freedom, production, order and peace. But it entails an ability to avert the vices of regional and global anomie through collaborative plan. Social solidarity shored up by social, gender and inter-generational justice can provide rewarding resilience to Nepali democracy and its endless march for the perfection of justice.