PEOPLE MOVING Civil Society Is Dead: Long Live Civil Society


May 16, 2011, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.: 04 No.-22 May 13-2011 (Baisakh 30,2068)

The credibility that the Nepali civil society earned during the April 2006 Peoples Movement was lost the minute the parliament that was legally dissolved, was resurrected from its grave by the same politician who had sent it there. It was during the days of the armed conflict that Nepali civil society rose to defend human rights and uphold justice. It condemned and protested against atrocities and gross human rights violations whether it was committed by the state or the Maoists. This was precisely why the people rose in thousands and marched on the streets demanding lasting peace, social and economic security. If there was any consensus of the political aspects of this demand for change, it was but King Gyanendra’s inability to reign as a modern day monarch who understood the need of the time, and the necessity to assert civilian supremacy. Unfortunately while the failures of the peoples representatives the political parties and the bureaucracy over the course of the years of democratic exercise beginning the transition to multi party democracy in 1990/91, brought about by a popular movement again, were overlooked, the entire system of monarchy was symbolized as the root cause of all failures.

What was even more ironic and sad was how leaders of the so called democratic parties could so easily forget all political integrity, and any ideological standing, forget questions of morality, and sideline with a force that would in the future hold them captive in every step of the political power struggle.  

It was therefore a betrayal to the peoples mandate when civil society stalwarts quietly accepted all the changes brought about in the basic doctrine of the state without even giving the people, the real movers behind the change, the benefit of doubt to choose. Did the people of Nepal want a secular, federal republic? How was it technically acceptable for a government to be revived by a parliament that was previously dissolved by the same government? And then introduce a new constitution which is albeit interim but fundamentally different? Should not the changes in the Constitution of the country be approved by popular mandate if we were really trying to exercise inclusive representative democracy?  The question here is not of the ends but the means with which we allowed our politicians to decide what course to take for our benefit.

During the 90’s when politicians were busy swimming in corruption scandals many a civil society stalwart could be seen swaggering with the same political leaders over cocktails and foreign junkets, and being pictured proudly in the media. Did anyone try and correct that corrosive path of corrupt politics that was being danced in the name of democracy then? Did Nepali society need a violent war to awaken its soldiers of peace?

And for how long did it go on? By the time the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) was signed our colorless generals of peace had already been awarded the stars and stripes of various interest groups.

If there has been any official document that has been able to imbibe the spirit of the April 2006 Peoples Movement, it was the CPA that the late Girija Prasad Koirala and Pushpa Kamal Dahal signed on 21 November 2006. But look at what they did with it! Even worse was the silence of the same civil society stalwarts who pushed for peace, that echoes since that historic day. How many are even talking of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee? Or of impunity? The peace process was supposed to be completed within six months of the signing of the CPA. Even after already extending the deadline of the Constituent Assembly and now reaching the final minutes of this one, the peace process looks no where near completion. And there is no doubt Nepali society will quietly accept the formation of a separate armed force to protect our borders against an imaginary invasion as a part of the army integration formula being proposed, forgetting the fact that the state is already diverting an average of 17 billion rupees a year on defense and security. Didn’t we hear slogans against “militarization of society” during the days of the conflict? Civil society is dead. Those we thought were independent, colorless and stood for peace, truth and justice now only represent particular interest groups pushing party doctrines to ultimately color the constitution itself, and that too a yet unborn one. This is not to say that individuals within the larger civil society working for the common good cannot have a certain ideological and therefore political leaning. But if it is for the good of all it surely has to be universally good, and not just good for those in red, or green, or blue or yellow. 

Against such a dim backdrop of forthcoming chaos, the light of faith has however not diminished completely. Political parties, their leaders, civil society would do well to recognize and understand facts. A majority of Nepal’s current population are the youth. The youth will continue being in the majority and the generation that is now in ruling positions will have to face the music if they repeat the mistake that the last ruler did, to undermine the speed at which Nepali social psyche is changing at present. This changing demography cannot easily be brainwashed into believing political rhetoric simply because its colored.

The youth of today are informed, educated, mobile and most importantly connected to the wider world with the click of a mouse or the tap on the screen. The internet and its popular destinations such as Facebook and Twitter are shaking the grounds of even the most oppressive regimes the world over. It is the age of citizen journalism and internet activism. The medium presents the option of choice and provides a platform even to the meekest of the meek. This is where lambs become lions without having to resort to violence in the streets. It is the internet where a new breed of civil society is being borne. A breed that is distinct because of its age, its belief in individual liberty, recognition of all as equals by virtue of the virtual existence, and refusal to heel to senseless dogmas. That Nepalis online are becoming more vocal and active and will take to the streets if need be is a sign that perhaps all is not lost.

Civil society is dead, long live civil society.

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