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Vague Civil Society advocacy in Nepal: a context of under-cared peace process

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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 bureaucrats 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 counter-insurgency actions, the Nepali Civil Society advocated for peace and peaceful settlement of the armed conflict. The intellectuals in favor of political and socio-economic changes produced a united voice to use a peaceful means to manage the conflict. This is how the Civil Society members presented themselves 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 unable 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.

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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 political leaderships not pressurized at all by the bottom strata, entered an easy atmosphere in which they did have an excessive series of dialogues with the traditional ruling and business elites. Due to their frequent contact and deepened and tightened ties with the elitists, the leaderships failed to continue their ideological communication 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.

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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 chemical 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.

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Mass Communication and Journalism Lecturer, Kathmandu

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... by Mohan Nepali on Monday, Aug 27, 2012 at 11:31:09 AM