– Dev Raj Dahal
The desire of human soul for aham asmi, liberty, freedom and emancipation, is an age-old and vitally attractive pursuit. It has embellished consciousness in both inner and outer spheres of life. Philosophical literatures describe the multi-dimensionality of human life and study of entire spectrum reveals how human freedom is constituted and vital for democracy, development and peace and why citizens need freedom to do what is morally just and right. Modern interpretation of life is self-defining, self-expressing and self-articulating, an end in itself, not in reference to only cognitive and affective bond with the nation, polity, parties or leadership. The history of citizens’ struggle for freedom helped overcome their subordinated status. In this sense, freedom is intrinsically linked to equality. It is used to deconstruct and reconstruct human labor, society, political parties, polity and the state to set out for promised harbor of human dignity. Freedom is a condition whereby citizens uphold the power to think, speak and act as per the use of universal reason as a sovereign subject and change the society in a desirable course.
Rights-based political culture, however, only helps organised groups of society. Nepal’s society, economy and polity are mainly informal and unorganised and, therefore, realisation of their constitutional rights is a necessity for freedom. This means informal society of Nepal must have equal access to the institutional resources of the state, private sector, civil society and international regime. Law based on public reason provides Nepali citizens to question the irrational aspects of human conduct and enable them to communicate problems in the public sphere and exercise legislative power via democratic will. The use of freedom in the life of Nepalis rests on their capacity of self-learning and reflection about the condition of life, organisation–building for solidarity and engagement in a shared public action not just in the spheres of production, consumption, exchange and distribution but also in the sphere of sustainability of nature and stable functions of life. The rational spirit of enlightenment alone is not enough if it does not harness long-term survival strategies, espouses a canon critical of the domination of life-world and awakens Nepali citizens to the integrity of its national culture. The ability of Nepali nation and citizens to compete in functional universality can enlarge the domain of freedom beyond constitutional state and animate the greater visibility of national life.
Full-scale operation of self-governance in Nepal can add to collective freedom while real separation of powers can give more autonomy to judiciary, media and civil society to protect freedom of citizens. Active citizenship based on a strong conscience helps them to become autonomous whereby intrinsic good sense disciplines blind passion of elites for the domination of non-elites through the instrumental use of reason. The concept of citizenship is based on holistic sense of membership of Nepali state and cannot be reduced to only a caste, class, gender, consumer, voter or labor dimensions that relativize the sovereignty inherent in them, compress the areas of national sentiment and limit their freedom. Active citizenship liberates them from feudalism, dynasticism, tutelage, negation and subordination and even ideological indoctrination which smacks of determinism and nauseating conformity, not the cultivation of freedom. It has splinted educated Nepalis in public debate suppressing the real birth of informed public opinion. The symbolic representation of adversarial politics in Nepal defined by a code of friend and foe where political power is utilized for more power in a vicious way has created a situation of perpetual anomie resulting from modernity’s loss of social compassion. The inclusiveness of ideology alone can reduce the prospect for binary conflict and breathe the aspirations of Nepalis for freedom. Citizenship in Nepal presumes the extension of democracy in every sphere of life. Gautam Buddha and Immanuel Kant have rightly argued that human beings cannot be reduced to other human beings’ means. Both define the concept of freedom in inner vigilance and middle path encapsulated in a moral balance between individual liberty and public duty. It is expected to revive the hope of moderates from anomaly.
In a pluralistic society like Nepal, freedom is naturally norm and law-bound, not anomic and lawless which leads to an anarchy of free wills of powerful interest groups and cuts the ability of citizens to achieve fulfilling life. For citizens of Nepal freedom is not only inherited from its history to assume present constitutional goals but also of the goal of the future society as well in response to the ever-changing social stratification and social division of labour brought by technology, self-transformation from pre-rational to rational being, Nepal’s constitutional ideal of social democracy and humanitarian obligations. The source of freedom, however, rests on an awareness of constitutional and human rights and duties and lifts the burden of scarcity. This implies that acculturation in a culture of freedom seeks a harmony with the principles of democracy which provides adequate opportunity for participation, liberation of productive forces of Nepali society and self-management of economic enterprises. This can address the problem of swollen unemployment of Nepali youths who are driven to different destinations to meet their necessity.
Lawless freedom stokes the virtue of strong which corrodes legal and institutional constraints on their behaviour, weakens the ability of Nepalis to live together in peaceful existence and satisfy existential needs of all. This is why Nepali constitution is designed to control the tyranny of majority and confiscatory form of distributional struggle of minority through a system of property rights. The Constitution supposes freedom based on the foundation of citizenship equality and protective and promotive form of social justice and positive discriminations. Both the concepts are supposed to create an egalitarian society in the public sphere, a sphere where unreasonable use of power and wealth is criticised for reforms and the power of civil society, media and constitutional bodies are utilised for the rationalisation of Nepalis’ life and public institutions. But to achieve this, the institutions of enlightenment must be public, broad-based and impartial which can be a passport for material prosperity. The immunity rights of Nepali citizens are couched in negative freedom which limits the authority of regime. A rough sense of equality rests on fulfilling existential needs of Nepali citizens and aspiration for freedom specific to democracy so that they are not dictated by what Karl Marx calls daily “necessity” for survival, “alienation” from their own products and “exploitation” by powerful elites using coercive means, policies and institutions. For Buddha and Marx, freedom requires the abolition of structural injustice and creation of an equal chance for all. Freedom erodes when leaders have conflicting ends.
Freedom espoused by Nepal’s constitution is not libertarian in nature which seeks to weaken order-creating structures, nor classical socialistic one where the state controls individual freedom and commanding height of entire political economy but of social democratic in nature-where freedom is accompanied by accountability to social justice. It is here popular sovereignty and the state sovereignty finds a judicious harmony. It is possible only in a welfare state that socialist ideas can catch on, not in a rentier or extractive state, as it does not formulate policies as per constitutional spirit. But Nepalis must have the ability to exercise their inner conscience and outer form of constitutional rights without any dictation and manipulation from others. The history of Nepal symbolises eternal struggle of Nepalis for personal and national freedom of will and recognition. Nepali constitution does not intend to totalise and homogenise entire social and cultural diversity of the nation but recognises the unity in diversity, where each requires accepting the others and supporting them in the alleviation of their suffering. It enhances the domain of freedom for the oppressed. Poor Nepalis cannot exercise freedom if their condition of labour, life, education and institutions remains untransformed and identity is based on contradiction rather than common background condition of multiple identity groups to live with shared Nepali nationality and become aware of the social and spiritual links. Democracy cannot become functional if its intrinsic parts are weak and uncoordinated to act in the general will of Nepalis. The corporate structures of the state administration, business and civil society in Nepal need integration to the spirit of national public life. Liberation of Nepalis’ potential is a key to their participation in national life and gain access to channels of appeal, attention and purposeful action which elevates upland of freedom.
Absence of preconditions for freedom creates a condition for the uncertainty of ordinary Nepali life. Modern mind is, therefore, engaged in the pursuit of vigilance, deliberation, participation and public action. The availability of positive freedom (good life) is highly correlated with sound human development index where Nepali leadership has to struggle hard to improve the better quality of life of citizens and higher level of freedom. Negative freedoms are related to non-intervention by the institutions of coercion. Nepalis can be better off if safety, wellbeing and choices are guaranteed. Socially satisfied citizens can enjoy good life-choices and generational mobility and reciprocity. Better existential condition can enhance the prospect of freedom and make life meaningful and exciting. Liberty and emancipation are not only matters of the left and the right politics in Nepal. Both should aim to address the hierarchy of human needs, rights and concerns and remove fatalism and reaction as per the constitutional spirit.
Democracy and modernity have unleashed many emancipatory ideals- rights, freedom, justice, solidarity, eco-balance and peace. They are changing the value complexes of Nepali society prompting citizens to demand an end to the utility of mindless violence in politics. This has many sided effects in Nepali society from family life, child rearing, education, health, care economy to the humanisation of multi-level governance. The constitution of Nepal aims to bridge the gap between the ideal of freedom and reality of scarcity of public goods. The political life in Nepal is, therefore, hovering around domination and contestation for the creation of a rational public order that includes the free and equal participation of Nepalis in the institutional life of the nation and experience a new lease of life.
Source: The Rising Nepal, 21 August 2018.