Democratic Citizenship

Dev Raj Dahal


Democratic citizenship is a central issue of political theory and practice. Good training in citizenship rights and duties enables them to exercise valid judgment on public issues, assume social responsibilities and voluntarily participate in public affairs. Democratic citizenship is based on the values of enlightenment: reason, freedom, equality, solidarity and courage integrated to each other in a sparkling awareness about self and feeling right inside without being biased to others. It helps overcome customary and institutional fetters. Rousseau is right in putting feelings of the heart above the reasons of mind for a democratic political culture. It liberates citizens from the perils of determinism of fatalism, suffering, unfairness, domination and perpetual infantalisation of democracy, sishu loktantra. Nepali citizens, therefore, require full awareness of democratic politics, institutions and constitution to lead a life of choice, participation and dignity.
An irony pervades Nepal’s political discourse. Nepalis face disharmonies between the compelling constitutional vision and sordid practice and their shared existence and lack of enough public goods for many those left behind. So long as the antinomy of freedom and injustice remains, it does not cultivate citizenship virtues or consistency of shared insights with the global community. Hans J. Morgenthau narrates three dimensions of human life--biological, rational and spiritual. Individuals move from one scale of desire, will and passion to the next based on the plane of their education and vigilance from childhood, adulthood and old age till death as a final point fossilises them.
Mere biological life espouses the survival of the fittest. The spring of self-justifying rational dimension is hotly contested now for its inability to solve all human problems. The higher scale one moves among the spiritual and moral dimensions, the greater the role of eternal wisdom and inclusiveness where what Astavakra calls “one sees others like oneself.” The spirit of modern age of citizenship arises from the feeling of affection, attachment, mutual respect and support to each other for a satisfying role in the polity.
Education for democratic citizenship in Nepal is vital for the cultivation of democratic manner, integrity, attitude and habits. It brings democratic values to the life of each individual, family, school, political parties and public institutions and unshackles Nepalis from the aristocracy of organised power of leaders and their own audacity to frequently defy it in each election demanding reforms. A balance between will and wisdom is vital for the triumph of justice in the order of community, society, polity, the state and international relations. For this, Nepalis must acquire civic virtues and temperament beyond their social conditioning and allegiance to their families, castes, classes, peer groups, educational intuitions, professions and political parties to a duty to the Nepali state, goodwill to humanity and caring of other species upon whom they live on.
The role of Nepali media, Election Commission, civil society, educational institutions and political parties lies in training adults for democratic citizenship who do not escape the judgment of others in the life-enhancing activities and sustain thought-control or detached thinking from the web of life. The later trend does not make Nepalis future conscious and politicised which is a characteristic of democratic citizenship.
Nepal’s classical treatises find relative importance of three virtues in human beings tamo, rajo and satto guna strutting three paths of life- bhakti (service or devolution) karma (action deciding the destiny) and gyan (enlightenment). It is absurd to think of good leaders without worthy citizens able to internalise these cognitive and affective virtues and expand the public sphere. Dialogical, reflective and contextual method of learning about the condition of life and discovering true knowledge and work for the resolution of problems in Nepal have positive effects than self-deceiving rote learning.
Ancient Nepal followed justice as a basis of rule. It transcends the disciplinary cage to include ecological, social, gender and intergenerational spheres. It also cites a cosmological understanding of self and others. The tradition of collective leadership in Nepali parties, however, often faces a cacophony, tension and cracks as fractious leaders innocent of culture have failed to appeal across fractional divides and govern the group affinity through collective competence. Unaware of their sovereignty, Nepalis also desire to get support from their leaders like children from their parents. It may look selfish to outsiders but it has deep roots in Asian culture which makes difficult for leaders to acquire public spirit that can transcend both individual and inner-circle of group interests and serve general public goods. A high sense of civic competence of Nepalis is, therefore, essential to build confidence in shaping the content, course and action of democratic citizenship.
Now the decay of ideologies has surged postmodern identity politics. But it has also opened pre-political tendencies and commercial interests to flourish. This socially constructed identity of late capitalism cuts the chance for democratic citizenship of equality. What would Nepal’s future look like when language, culture and religion that fabricated its national identity are laid to rest, hotly contested or disfigured? Individual identity is defined by the self and also by others. The modern Nepali state gave them an identity of citizenship which is stable and universal. In Nepal, citizenship is required for voting, land and property purchase, job opportunity and entitlement to constitutional rights. It provides citizenship on the basis of ancestry, birth certificate, residence, marriage, etc. and intends to issue identity cards for every native by putting them into a digital system. It is important for them to pay tax, improve life condition, protect public property and extend loyalty and support when the state needs. The consolidation of democratic citizenship in Nepal is a vanguard against feudalism, tribalism and fundamentalism of all sorts as it fosters civic patriotism.
The ability of Nepali state to constitutionalise all actors of society is a must for sustainable democracy. Democracy cannot be equated with inter and intra-party politicking, divisive debate on national issues, polity, power and authority, squabbles of civil servants and unrestrictive, noisy politics for the change of regime every time or subversion of electoral mandate to fulfil personal ambition. They kill altruistic thirst and defy political stability and democratic culture based on self-determination of Nepalis. Civic virtue upholds public spiritedness, balance in giving and taking and civic engagement from public decency, respect to elders, cleaning of roads, planting trees, controlling domestic violence to defending national interests.
The identification of the character traits that constitute civic virtue has been a key concern of civic culture fit for Nepali democracy. Civility refers to cognition, attitude and behaviour Nepali leaders and citizens conform to Constitution, trust of authority and the sanity of the nation’s tradition but also keen to execute international obligations. Spiritual faith does not make Nepalis feeble nor does secular anthropocentrism make them great by causing the leaders’ personalised authority rot thus cultivating an institutional culture.
Civic disposition helps to guide on making good citizen. Its fundamental universal traits necessary for Nepal are: First, building civic confidence of Nepalis to be able to engage in civic life of multi-level governance as free and enduring genius. It enriches the robustness of democracy while lack of it creates public apathy, alienation or negation incubating parochial political culture. Second, civic disposition is the product of educational praxis where Nepalis understand their duties associated with self and the public institutions which enable them to live together under the same sovereignty linking knowledge to serve the life world.
Third, as a post-conflict state Nepalis must be educated to know non-violent ways of communication, decent ways to be open, tolerant and responsible in cooperative action to perfect a sense of humility. Civic disposition of democratic citizenship does not mean a culture of conformism and silence; they are social cancers but active engagement in the solution of society’s problems. Fourth, traits of civic disposition in Nepal involve the virtues of active citizenship that combine the qualities of civic mindedness, commitment, responsibility, critical thinking, courage, patriotism, openness, compromising on reasonable issues, compassion to the weak, honest, respect for rule of law and deference for other’s rights and dignity. Compliance to these attributes makes a general ferment of hope for democratic citizenship in Nepal which also makes a difference in the nation’s life.

(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues) 

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