State’s rightward shift poses a risk of pushing us into the abyss of status-quo and, more worryingly, regression.
On February 20, Republica published an article under the topic “Contesting Nepal’s majoritarian interests” written by Pranab Kharel. The article succinctly observed Nepal’s socio-political dynamics and argued that the permeating majoritarian mindset sees “any change to the existing political and cultural structure (as) a threat to the unity of the country”. The subject of this statement can best be understood as the pleadings of identity politics permeating our socio-political-legal realm which is receiving little or no sympathy from the incumbent political rulers, especially Prime Minister K P Oli, the ideologically-alike culturally dominant group, the bureaucracy, and the Nepal Army, what Kharel collectively terms as “majoritarian mindset”.
The most significant argument of Kharel’s article is related to how the Nepali state is undergoing a rightward shift ideologically and politically. His contention is based on three pervading scenarios: First, Nepal’s thriving economic climate has made public jobs more favorable for the people both as a “safe alternative” as well as “unhindered access to state power”. Second, in this backdrop, there has been a dominant ruling class that has historically retained and still seeks to maintain power and the top position in the vertical socio-political structure. Third, the federal system, a product of voices for social justice and identity, has resulted into the “sizing up of the state power through bureaucracy”, in other words, more space for the safe alternative of public jobs. Thus, in a thriving economy, the sized up “safe alternative” will be sought at any cost by the dominant class, in the process of which needs of fair share of political power to all other groups will be sidelined, thus “speed(ing) up the rightward drift of the state”.
Kharel, hence, strongly suggests that social justice movements will be facing tougher times to constructively appease the public sphere since the status-quo mindset is reinforced by the state itself. Furthermore, this rightward drift shall flood not only political representation issues, as suggested by Kharel, it equally risks obscuring discourses on other dimensions of social justice. So here I attempt to resist the drift by contending the importance of some (among many) dimensions of social justice.
Economy is all vs all’s economy
There is a general trend of congested epiphany for the notion of social justice. This congestion is best characterized by claims of economic betterment as the “ultimate remedy” for all our problems, sidelining social justice as futile. Economic growth rightfully deserves an important space in development debates. But it is the seeds of social justice which ensures a tree for unbiased distribution of economic benefits among general population.
To exemplify, we could return to Kharel’s claim which keeps the present spectacle of small economic pie as one of the bases for rightward shift of state. An immediate remedial response would be the claim for economic growth which will be expected to tumble this base promoting the alarming shift. But this argument cannot be further from the truth. If the ruling group, backed up by the whole state and its institutions, is adamant to let go of its grip on the existing political power today, how can we expect the same adamancy to not play role in bulking up the same dominant group tomorrow in case of economic growth? Thus, dodging social justice snubs fair economic distribution, leaving the burden of welfare on the shoulders of economic growth alone, which is nothing more than a redundant thought.
The “economy is all” argument therefore denies “all’s economy”, and this can also be seen in the ongoing instrumentalist aspect of ‘economic development’. Oli’s craze for trains, ships and view-towers have diverted the already scarce budget towards fulfilling consumerist conceits that alarmingly shun the much more important fair distribution issue. From this perspective, one could also become suspicious of government’s impatience to include ‘national pride projects’ such as Nijghad airport in its programs despite a stay order from the Supreme Court and protest from activists over disputes on its necessity and socio-environment feasibility. MCC, BRI and World Bank grants, which incumbent political actors or certain factions seem much hospitable towards, too find themselves under the scrutiny for “all’s economy”. Thus, social justice-defying economic discourses, that had been much promoted-yet-contested after the 1990s changes, buoyed by the state’s colluding hands, has now been swelling its authority in our socio-political spheres after the promulgation of the very Constitution that was supposed to challenge it.
Multilingual education dimension
Apart from calls for equal share of economic resources and adequate political representation, another prominent aspect of social justice can be seen in the mother-tongue debate. After long streak of demands and pressure by social justice activists, the 2007 Interim Constitution finally included all languages spoken in Nepal under the definition of National Language. The constitution that followed furthermore guaranteed mother tongue- based education as a fundamental right.
But mother tongue movement should not merely be seen as a quest for identity. It relates more importantly with education. Despite the fall in illiteracy rate, foreign employment and unemployment face a towering rate. Generally, the non-practical approach of current education system is blamed. But this is not complete truth. As have recent and old researches on education shown, the difficulty a child has to face for doing well in school, or his/her dropping off from the school can most accurately be alluded to, inter-alia, the pedagogy which disregards one’s mother tongue. A child, who is born and lives in a neighborhood among alike native speakers cannot adapt oneself academically when suddenly subjected to English/Nepali medium. A remedy many propose is that of primary education based on mother-tongue, followed by gradual shift to Nepali and other third languages. So the mere establishment of schools everywhere without (revised and adequate) multilingual friendly policy and implementation doesn’t result in empowered human resource.
These are only some representative examples among many. State’s rightward shift as diagnosed by Kharel poses a risk of eschewing these complex-yet-compulsory debates, thus pushing us into the abyss of status-quo and more worryingly, regression. Voices for social justice should be raised with the end of rebalancing the scale by retaining and promoting its achievements on the heavier side.