Civil Society in Nepal
The Civil Society in any country is a top-conscious community with diverse settings, capable of debating political, socio-economic and religious-cultural issues. It represents the existing structures in the concerned country. This representation includes conflicts and differing perspectives molded by experiences derived from different settings.
No international definition exists there to specify the Civil Society. Many people in Nepal think that a few elites cooperating with the ruling class to re-strengthen their power dominance in every sector make the Civil Society. Elite journalists cum media entrepreneurs, elite legal experts and retired bureacrats are often highlighted as the Civil Society in Nepal. In the post-1990 decade, even political activists have launched themselves as the Civil Society members. Although some of them have time and again advocated progressive changes, their advocacy mainly appears a superficial intellectual luxury not well backed up by research output and cause-and-effect analysis.
By global practice, those who launch intellectual advocacy on public agenda represent the Civil Society. In reality, the Civil Society does not mean the intellectual luxury of luxurious elites. It, instead, means the intellectual force that looks after citizens’ wellbeing through public eyes. It works to enable citizens to be good thinkers and actors. Even in absence of the elected government or the parliament, it works in close collaboration with the mass media. Its purpose is to represent citizens at citizens’ level. But basically, the term Civil Society is vaguer throughout the world.
Nepal’s Civil Society does have its Nepali characteristics. It reflects the nature of the Nepali society. While the country was afflicted with a decade-long Maoist armed insurgency and the state’s counterinsurgency actions, the Nepali Civil Society advocated for peace and peaceful settlement of the armed conflict. The intellectuals in favor of political and socio-ecoonomic changes produced a united voice to use a peaceful means to manage the conflict. This is how the Civil Society members presented themsleves in crisis hours. Their advocacy was focused on adopting peaceful methods to bring peace to the nation. They supported change agenda as part of Nepal’s conflict management. Yet, they were uanble to provide any guidelines that could pave the way for transforming Nepal. In a way, the Civil Society supported changes, opposed the then autocracy and provided some input to media for public discourse while the political parties were losing their image and strength due to public discontent.
Vague advocacy of Nepali Civil Society amidst public confusions
When we saw the automatic dissolution of the Constituent Assembly (CA) on 27 May 2012, we realized that our Civil Society is a weak advocate. The Supreme Court of Nepal dissolved the elected CA as well as the Legislative Parliament. This was an utter mockery of parliamentary democracy in the world. How can the Judiciary work as the Legislature? Nepal’s Civil Society members were too superficial to look into this case. They could not sensitize the ordinary masses. Elites were against the CA and any possible constitution that could pave the written way for state restructuring. But the Civil Society members in favor of progressive changes could not communicate effectively to stimulate a series of public debates on the change agenda. Pro-change Civil Society members could not be proactive and consistent to defend the nation’s change agenda even when some top leaders of different political parties apparently acknowledged that they do not have to become responsible for a new constitution because it is the former rebels’ intention, not their own. Nepal’s Civil Society has become a vague communicator. There are certain reasons behind this argument.
One particular reason why the Civil Society has now been considered weaker in its advocacy and communication is that most of the Nepalis appeared less informed and awakened about the significance of the historically elected CA, a unique tool to draft out possibly the best constitution in the world because of its most inclusive characteristics.
As soon as the CA was elected in April 2008, an unidentified campaign of anti-CA propaganda was launched, and many knowingly and unknowingly began to follow the propagandistic tracks, less aware of why the CA was formed and what historical achievements it had to ensure.
Anti-CA propagandistic campaign was widespread in about 4,000 villages. The literates and illiterates began to believe that the CA was a burden, with no motive for a new constitution. The distrust in the spirit of CA worked to dissolve it. As an effect of this distrust, the supporters and organized members of major political parties, which had formally expressed their commitment to changes through the CA, could not pressurize their leaderships. The politidal leaderships not pressurized at all by the bottom strata, entered an easy atmosphere in which they did have an excessive series of dialogue with the traditional ruling and business elites. Due to their frequent cotact and deepened and tightened ties with the elitists, the leaderships failed to continue their ideological communcation with their foundational strata. The outcome naturally was the psychological detachment from the public spirit, including the one of the April uprising of 2006.
Interpretative passivity of Nepali intellectuals
Seeing the repeated history of political betrayal and moral poverty, most of the political workers at the bottom and middle strata either preferred to remain passive or were engaged in securing their material opportunities, worried about the destiny of their own as well that of their family members. This trend led to people’s disengagement with the political agenda-setters at the party organization levels. This applied to all the major peace process stakeholders in Nepal.
While the majority of the Nepalis were misinformed about the vital mission of the elected CA, the major peace process stakeholders, viz. the unified Communist Party of Nepal Maoist (UCPNM), the Nepali Congress (NC), the Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) and the Madhesi Front (the united forum of Terai-based regional parties with Madhesh origin) mistakenly or deliberately used the CA historically elected CA as a mere bargaining parliament heavily focused on forming, reshuffling or dissolving government. They paid scanty attention to their primarily set mission-a fundamental method to manage the 10-year Maoist armed insurgency through a republican constitution.
The Nepalis have now been puzzled over the final outcome of this political stalemate that resulted from the dissolution of the CA. We haven’t yet seen other alternative political forces that can act as true alternative forces. The current dilemma requires a chemcial mental processing to provide people a more suitable way out. At the moment, these major stakeholders often parrot "consensus’ among themselves. Each of the major four peace process stakeholders suffers from a win-lose idea, which ultimately bars the national consensus. The ultra-trumpeted "consensus’ has been understood not as a way of mutual understanding and agreement focused on addressing the common concerns of the people. It rather has been interpreted in their own partisan terms. But the peace accord signed six years ago has a clear win-win proposition: political and socio-economic transformation of Nepal. Why do they disagree on this if it facilitates a sustainable conflict transformation?
This political environmental communication noise (barriers in interpreting and understanding messages due to problems in political and socio-economic settings) has further divided them; as a result, the sense of mutual understanding is getting ever distant. Nevertheless, they have not ceased to talk to one another, especially with reference to their partisan empowerment.
The intraparty and interparty political dialogue continues, with an angle of power-sharing or controlling. While the parties have time and again spent considerable time on whose agenda to adopt or whose leadership to adopt, the Civil Society has not come up with effective public communication to overcome the existing political barriers that must be eliminated to witness any political changes in Nepal.
Because the ruling parties have already misled the Nepalis, they need inspiration and substantial input to re-activate themselves in the peace process.
Better possibilities for the Nepali Civil Society
Not to let the peace process decompose into yet another civil war or bloodshed, the Civil Society–different citizens with varieties of expertise but with an intellectual level of political consciousness–need to be proactive during the current political deadlock. If need be, the Civil Society members, without being loyal to parties, should be prepared to assume active transitional leadership in the country.
A Civil Society with vague advocacy or fragile communication physique cannot effectively serve public interests. For this reason, the Civil Society members need to plan, reinforce and intensify their public communication. Not launching a continuous series of public dialogues on the current political crisis would be a loss on the part of the ordinary masses and the Civil Society.
In the process of public communication on the dominant political crisis, it wold be the best for the Nepali Civil Society to concentrate on the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) signed between the then Maoist rebels (now known as the UCPNM) and the Seven Political Party Alliance (SPA). As the CPA contains the essential dose meant fort the overall transformation of the Nepali society, this is what the Civil Society has to use as a launching pad. The Civil Society becomes no longer the Civil Society if it aligns with any force that has its propositions incompatible with the overwhelmingly embraced change agenda.
The change agenda (chiefly, republican setup of democracy, federalism, inclusive power-sharing and welfare society) have a valid rationale, with its profound impact and worthiness for Nepal’s strategic future.
Despite the prevalence of ad hoc-ism in the Nepali political psychoogy at present, the Nepalis definitely need their long-term future. No one denies this truth, so mustn’t the Nepali Civil Society. In line with this truth, the Nepali Civil Society can practically demonstrate their rationale and timely productivity by adhering to the CPA principles of political and socio-economic transformation. These principles that originated from the mindset of the suffering masses in Nepal relate to the globally dissemianted agenda of conflict management through good governance and social justice. There is no reason why the Nepali Civil Society should hesitate to advocate change agenda directly concerned with the peace process.
The deviation of the major peace process stakeholders from the peace accord does not mean its end. Since the peace accord represents the pure realities of the Nepali society, one cannot take a mental flight off the ground. Doing things with personal motives does not match with the practical methods agreed on in the peace accord document–a record of the collectively shared and compromised spirirt indeed. The major political parties, though too untransformed to transform the Nepali society, are still presiding over Nepal. Equally true in this context is the absence of any apparent alternative force with a claim of replacing them. Any extreme method leads to spillover reactions. In this critical situation, the pro-change Civil Society members cannot shirk their moral obligations.
The best principle to deal with the current crisis is the concept of the golden mean suggested even by many ancient philosophers. The golden mean is against extremism and absolutism. It favors co-existence and mutual sharing. This is what the peace accord carries. This is what the Civil Society members can stand on for communication on the peace process agenda. They can help the major peace process stakeholdeeers refocus on the mandate of the massive April uprising (2006). The humiliation of this mandate is not in favor of peace and change. The Civil Society members need to supply substantial input to the political decision-makers. The input will be the reconsolidation of the peace accord ingredients. The Civil Society members, comparatively better equipped with their own expertise and communication ability, can interpret the peace accord ingredients.
Room to work: peace communication means change communication
The Civil Society in Nepal, like in any other country, is marked by the indentity of social change advocates. Social justice becomes the major tool of their advocacy because they are guided by their firm belief in the fact that peace results from the utilization of social justice principles. Linking social justice principles to genuine democracy, the Civil Society members need to refute disguised democracy under which blackmarketeers and smugglers over-influence the political structures, rendering them defunct from public perspectives. The political structures in Nepal have physical and legal presence but their orientation towards public interests is far vaguer, especially with regard to the accessibility and availability of essential goods and services.
The working class people feel thet state has been privatized by a few elite ruling families in the name of democracy. There is a complete lack of public transport concept amidst an uncontrollable number of vehicles. People have to pay exorbitant prices for their to and fro because of this lack. Nepal is considered one of the richest nations in water resources. Yet there is horrible scarcity of drinking water; private dealers sell low quality water, securing hundred percent margin. There are similar crises in every sector, unreported, undug or unexplained. This is where the Nepali civil society can prove their worth through their intellectual exercises. Especially, those using politics for economic white robbery have apparently misused and defamed the current transition period. They have not been identified specifically or individually; it is a trend of practice into which many political workers fall for various reasons. If the Civil Society in Nepal is psychologically prepared to become an effective (functioning) role player, they will definitely realize their social responsibility of combating the metastasis of crime carcinoma through public communication.
The peace process practically means the change process. No change, no peace. Peace is not the mere absence of war–the globe knows in general. Peace is the availability of justice for the people. Peace means a guarantee of an environment in which the voiceless, the helpless or the marginalized, including minority communities, can find their viability and identity. This is what the Nepali peace accord signed in 2006 clearly indicates. More coordinated peace communication–change communcation, to be clearer–is required in Nepal.
Those who aspire political and socio-economic transformation of their lives are voiceless. The Civil Society members most of whom belong to the middle class background; need to give a voice to them. This is how the Nepali Civil Society can reduce the degree of their vague advocacy.
What does CA dissolution mean?
The dissolution of the CA does not mean the end of everything. It can be considered a lesson; it can be attributed to various factors, the political intentions or the motives of the major political forces in the main. All of them did pay the greatest amount of time and attention to government formation or dissolution. None of them separated from this wrong process. The former Maoist rebels misled their own cadres and supporters by sticking to the wrong process of government formation and dissolution. The Maoist leadership, through it had a special responsibility of interpreting and instituionalizing change agenda, highly superficialized its role–something quite unexpected from the former rebels. Since the former rebels themselves spent the six invaluable years of the peace process in training people to tolerate all the evil tendencies against which they had militarily and ideologicaly fought for 10 years, the adolescent generation–so emotionally curious to learn–had a chance to learn almost nothing regarding the political change process, its long-term impact on the future of the coming generations, the rationale of the people’s movement, and the barriers to be removed.
What is more frustrating in this context is that the young generation was forced to believe that all parties in Nepal were given to undemocratic culture–a psychology insensitive to people’s sufferings, heavily concentrated on catering to their own personal and factional interests. The creation and widespread escalation of this belief among the majority of people is definitely not conducive to the nurturing of genuine democracy. It rather leads even future generations to the do-whatever-you-like-and-can path of thinking and behavior–a self-destructive psychological structrure. Under this emerging nuissant psychological structure, the politically, economically and socially inaccessible and vulnerable will be further victimized.
To prevent or at least minimize the victimization of people, the peace process stakeholders must take lessons from the CA dissolution. They now must make use of every hour in internalizing the change agenda by themselves and interpreting them honestly to people. To help the major peace process stakeholders do so, the Civil Society members should produce and disseminate critical and independent analysis on the causes and effects of the CA dissolution and the possible future courses of action.