When intellectuals, freedom-fighters, community leaders, social welfare specialists, casual bystanders, and reputed politicians are prominently discussing and rationalizing the issues of encroached border, redesigned map, legal recourse, political negotiations, or even flexed muscles, discussion about other mundane items, although equally important for the society will seem less than interesting. But there are times when squeezed between a rock and a hard place, agnosticism can be useful and appearing innocent can be the safest mode of behavior.
Clearly, today, wherever one goes, or whichever media channel one puts on, national political scenes are filled with dogmatic discourse, conventional rhetoric, and classical rebuttals, often far from ground reality. The competing demands amongst the media, whether print or visual (not limited to only one country), and their attempt to portraying the body politics in one way or the other, have led to a redesign of the freedom of the press and expression, thereby sidelining the oath of presenting facts truthfully to the public.
Similarly, the governance practice of the body politics even in lauded democratic systems, which also does not hesitate to thrive on deceiving the public by blurring the views of the opponents and spinning its own achievements, has led many nations through dark tunnels.
Natural calamity and disasters, from time to time, divinely intervene and provide an opportunity to correct the course of anomalies. But soon after the problem is contained (without much human effort), those who have the reign of power tend to forget to draw lessons and continue with business as usual. Rather than opting for concerted and pragmatic liberal avenues and prepare for the future, the powers-to-be frequently exploit such situations and divert attention by bringing in more new issues in the gamut of confusion. Recent examples in some nations have shown how wide-ranging those diversion tactics can be. Many have taken the route of debating the question of open versus sealed borders or reinvigorating the focus on the concept of national sovereignty, which may have been victimized by one’s own tactical moves. In that lot, miraculously, all forget to address the important issues of food, health, and shelter for the citizenry-at-large.
The table of new debates will now onward seemingly revolve predominantly around nationalism versus internationalism, global versus national governance, the privacy of individuals versus state intervention, communities’ rights versus eminent domain, individual human rights versus global community rights, or power centralization versus decentralization. The Westphalia principles may be nearing redesign, if not disappearance.
Indeed, liberal behavior and thinking are often easily practiced when lifestyles are cushy. But suddenly, when fate takes an unusual and unexpected turn, conservatism becomes the norm, friends become foes, and magnanimity just vanishes in the air. This phenomenon was so obvious during and after the COVID-19 outbreak, even in places regarded as the beacons of freedom and unalienable rights.
In today’s world, expecting better behavior from others is fine only when one lives by example, and imposing one’s own rules on others makes sense only when others are also given the same latitude. Certainly, that is not what happens in realpolitik. It is the opposite. Hegemonic behavior, now, is not limited to one continent only; it is found in every cluster of regions. Certainly, one may find a few exceptions, but they are there only to confirm the prevailing norm, disproving which will be difficult. It would be interesting to see nations, for instance, prohibiting steel production during the time of war to avoid pollution, or letting floods of immigrants when their domestic employment statistics are negative. Such behaviors, however, can only be conceptualized and expected in the annals of fiction writing.
However, the truth also needs to be told. An adequate amount of moisture and the right type of soil is needed for a tree to grow to satisfy your taste and style. Else, the tree will have an unnatural growth, thus, without value. A nation behaves the same way. It also needs soil, moisture, and the right variety of seed. There would be no point, for instance, in buying a book for the bookshelf if nobody reads or in claiming religious freedom when the values and practice are far from the theological diktats.
Similarly, in political parlance, there is no point in having rights if they are selectively enjoyed, laws if they are randomly implemented and unduly interpreted, and in taking oath under the constitution when each of its provisions is violated. Certainly, this is not new in the Nepalese context. It has been common practice since the day modern Nepal was established, and which this scribe has also repeatedly alluded to in the past (in this Magazine). What is noteworthy is that the practice and pace of indulging in dogmatic discourse have not reduced, but the outcomes have continued to fall much below the average. Nepal, nonetheless, does not retain a monopoly over such behavior; it is also common practice in many nations around the world, rich and poor alike.
Therefore, it seems better to generally maintain low expectations to avoid being disappointed and hurt and continue to stay happy. But many, who genuinely believed in the promises made in the past and were expecting a sea-change in their life, maybe truly disappointed with the real outcomes. The onus of proving that their expectations are misplaced is on those who so promised!
The author can be reached at Kshitiz@juno.com