Duties Of Citizen And State
Dev Raj Dahal
A good society cannot be created only by rights without any social duties and accountabilities. To Immanuel Kant, acting according to duty means to “obey the law” legislated by citizens or their deputies as rational beings. Government officials have well-defined duties to compulsorily perform, which creates credibility and trust in them. Citizens also have determinate duties expected to be fulfilled by means of their dharma of volunteerism, vigilant defence of public sphere and institutions that enable them to converse on critical issues and discover measure to solve them on the optimal interest of all sides.
In Nepal, civic duties embrace worldly legal, moral and practical obligations of citizens. The Constitution has entitled them with many welfare rights, which oblige the state to fulfil and engage in mutually helpful international cooperation and perform cosmopolitan duties. The modern rights have replaced Hindu-Buddhist concept of vigilant interiority, atma gyan, which is central to the character building of leaders and citizens. This concept provides them freedom to use public reason and right to rebel against unjust rule.
In democracy, duties correspond to rights where the state and citizens are bound by mutual obligations civilised by socialisation, communication and nationalisation. It transcends selfish human nature, which seeks to govern the weak by depriving their dignity, nationality and humanity. A balance between rights and duties can bring the Nepali society to the cardinal virtue of middle path and build social solidarity.
The Constitution of Nepal makes citizenship to Nepali citizens an indispensable right by virtue of their nationality. Nepali citizenship is acquired through: jus sanguine, descent, jus soli birth, domicile residence, marriage, diasporas and honorary grounds. The last three types have allowed non-territorial dimension of citizenship. There are non-territorial groups such as citizens of other countries yet tracing Nepali roots and upholding its identity and cultural affinity of oneness and wholeness while six million Nepali youths in the global labour markets exercising some form of post-national citizenship though they have limited labour rights, less dignity and fewer choices relative to those living within the nation. Guest workers are fulfilling national utility while refugee’s status is governed by “gentlemen agreement” with external leviathan. Both are excluded from political participation. The tradition of citizenship in Nepal is tied to a practice of closure along national line and linked to nationality.
Nepali Constitution deems citizen and the state sovereign entities bound by reciprocal loyalties and duties. It spells out 31 rights from the right to life, liberty, education, health, property, social security and work to food sovereignty and four duties to Nepali citizen: safeguard the nationality, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state, remain loyal to it, abide by the Constitution and law, render compulsory service needed by the state and protect and preserve public property. Good citizenship is constructed by the cultivation of civic virtues, art of association and distribution of power in decision making across the populace for local self-governance. In Nepal, the rights-based legal culture of citizenship has shifted from immutable stage to contractual ones at all levels from marriage, company, civil society, political parties, state to global governance.
Duties of Nepali citizens are less elaborative, for example, it does not refer to the duty to pay tax, caste vote during election, inform about the crime to law enforcement agency, maintain public decency, uphold the spirit of patriotism, engage in public action, maintain social harmony and peace, etc. This implies that caring public and national interests is the shared duty of Nepalis and their state. When the sovereign space of political community, the Nepali state, erodes through globalisation from above and proliferation of autonomous forces below it drains emotional bond and ignites the surge of tribalism with its scorn for the sanity of native wisdom of tolerance of diverse culture. The logic of globalisation operates under the law of economic efficiency, not democracy and, therefore, Nepal must devise an integrated political response to negotiate new challenges.
The state, based on a civic culture of citizenship, is best suited for stable democracy, no matter whether the rule is unitary or multi-level. What it needs is the government of law and free watchdogs, including judiciary able to control the abuse of institutions, laws, rights and duties and accelerate resolution and reconciliation. The legitimate monopoly on power of Nepali state is vital to enforce Constitution spawning a vault of hope for stability and progress. Citizens differ from clients and consumers. The former are tied by the impersonal bond of nationality and seek common good while the latter seek to satisfy private interests. The consolidation of Nepali state demands active and positive citizenship able to utilise democracy’s ingenious energy and invent legitimate demands to polity.
The art of agile and active citizenship with an awareness of enlightenment, rules, rights and duties and the legitimate source of state power can exert pressure on the leadership to formulate good laws and public policies beneficial to common good. Their apathy, however, weakens the community, society, polity and the state in the same way as inactive cadres enfeeble political parties or civil society’s vital energy.
A society with many rights and few duties like in Nepal creates condition of social disequilibrium affecting both social cohesion and system integration. It undercuts democracy’s material force. Stable national identity in Nepal is important for the management of its diverse caste, ethnic, linguistic, religious and geographical dispositions so that they do not harbour centrifugal inclinations or nurse irredentism vitiating geopolitical pressure. Duties of citizen provide collective national sentiment for patriotism, a sort of bridging and bonding social capital and their equal stake in the state. The duties of Nepali leaders lies in rescuing politics from parochial fear of scarcity and exclusion and restless struggle for power in the face of powerlessness of citizens by mobilising the forces of national unity.
Nepali state is fiscally and institutionally feeble to perform its entire duties without its capacity enhancement, integrity and an ability to pacify tools of violence. Unfulfilled rights erode the legitimacy of the government and polity, if not the state. Nepali state is also burdened with many international duties.
In this context, Nepali state has to formulate certain policies for the congruence of society, economy and polity and mediate between legal equality and condition of inequality of citizens. The abolition of a gap between constitutional ideal of an egalitarian society and empirical condition that defies it is vital to liberate Nepalis from their primordial identities and loyalties and construct national identity fused in popular sovereignty and state sovereignty.
Group enclosed rights foster subsidiary identity politics and cuts the concept of popular sovereignty embedded in individual and human rights what J. J. Rousseau calls “the will of all.” In Nepal, citizens are socially constituted and continuously penetrated by partisan politics, Hindu-Buddhist and other religions, glitter of modernity and soft power of powerful countries. The choices made by them are, therefore, not free from their background conditions. Democratic culture diffuses duties to many institutions to whet public spiritedness for a common background condition for all. Nepali leadership needs to coordinate them under administration, institutions, rules, rights and duties inspiring citizens to work together on the basis of cultural and historical memories of national independence.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues)