Nepali society is larger than Nepali state spread across the globe

CHandra Dev BHatta

FES Nepal Office

-Why Nepal is and will not be a failed state?

The wide existence of traditional (organic) civil society organisations: the fact that there may be civil society groups that are so buried away in rural hinterlands are neither recognized nor their importance realized by the international and academic community and policy circles and others but their contribution in holding the society together is great.

Nepali society is highly spiritual and the springboard of spiritualism is strongly rooted in metaphysics and sees reality of local life in interconnection. Even the hard-core communist leaders have now given up their ideas against Sanatan Dharma and regularly visit temples perform the Puja (worship) etc. The tendency to perform Dharma Yajna for peace and reconciliation project in various parts of the country is the classic examples.

Deep-rooted value and cultural richness which is dynamic and complex, but not necessarily complicated. The cultural capital is operating at the highest level, even above the religion and has become the source of social cohesion and unity. Existence of mixed-society (communities) that are built on shared values and interests [overlapping interests/values/identities] and driven by the notion of charity and voluntarism. Religious tolerance, diverse cultures and festivals work as uniting factors /inclusive religion. The social structure, which has largely been portrayed otherwise by the social scientists, is also very helpful as one helps the other in various means. Such communities are diverse not monolithic and this diversity has provided an opportunity to prosper together and also state resiliency. Same thing goes with cultural framework as well since communities participate and observe in each other’s culture. Some Muslims also celebrate Tihar and Dashain so are the Buddhists. The Chhath Festival, which used to be celebrated only in Terai is now being celebrated even in the hilly areas. Both Hindu and Buddhist celebrate each-others festival and visit temples/Stupas. The festival of colours (Holi-Fagu purnima) is another classic example that brings diverse communities together. There are many such festivals which are well accepted in Nepali society like the Christmas (as a part of culture whether one is Christian or not), whichever religious background they come from.

Pockets of homogeneous or heterogeneous communities which are interdependent with each other for their livelihood, existence.  Likewise, there is a great deal of organic connection between villages and cities (rural areas and urban centres). People who live in the cities visit their native villages regularly to celebrate festivals, cultural traditions, etc. Those who live in the urban centres and are well-off transfer money to the rural areas for various purposes from constructing temples to build roads and ashrams for old-age people. Such approaches have continued to upkeep the ancient Nepali values despite massive penetration from modernity per se factors. In many cases, such traditions were brought to the cities as well.

Nepali society is larger than Nepali state which has spread its culture in more than 132 countries around the world who deeply practice and promote Nepali cultural values.

Self-governing system of communities [not dependent to the outside world as well as to the state mechanism but dependent on local values. Communities (not necessarily the society which, to some extent, looks reductionist in approach) form the basis of soft power. Community members support each other from cradle to the grave and the culture of ‘giving’ and helping each other (through lending money, by working in the agricultural field  either through Parma or through Shramadan – voluntary work), and engage in constructing/building local facilities even without the assistance of government or donor for that reason.  In many such activities, rich people invest through capital, whereas poor-people invest through labour. The unique economic and social complementarities have provided sustainability in the absence of state institutions. Even in terms of development only the community led-approach has succeeded and are found sustainable due to ownership from the local community but not completely donor led projects. These approaches have made them self-reliant in many ways.

Lessons for SB/Peace building:

There is very little attempt on the part of external actors to improve state-society relations and restore capacity of the Nepali state for governance and serve public goals. The exogenous forces have badly divided Nepali society along various faults-lines such as ethnic, religious, and regional. Such conflicts are likely to lead towards progressive dilution of sovereignty, national identities and the state institutions. Donors can positively contribute towards state building when their actions are based on an understanding of the prevailing patterns of legitimacy which comes from various traditions. They can do harm to the state-building when these patterns of legitimacy are poorly understood or ignored. Nepal’s experience also informs that only inclusive approach can contribute towards state building and peace building processes. If the external initiative focuses on particular groups/caste/region/religion/culture – it is bound to fail and create more problems. The consequences of not understanding the shape of a political settlement can lead donors often unknowingly to do harm to state-building and this is what exactly has been happening in Nepal. Donors self-perception as a giver like the government rather than being partner in development and traditions as obstacles to modernization and development has created some sort of misunderstanding between the donors and recipient. Respecting each other can enable to contextualize state building/peace building.

The role of international community/donors:

When it comes to the point of international community, the first question that arises into the minds of many Nepali is:  whether there exist international communities that can truly help Nepal to come out of this dilemma? The answer, perhaps, is no. The international community has melted away and is divided for its own interests. This has happened primarily because of Nepal’s geostrategic locations. Geopolitical interests stand as major obstacles for the international community to have a common voice in Nepal on state building/peace building.

Nepal needs science, reason, and development and outside economic assistance. It also cannot afford to remain aloof from the universal values such as democracy, governance, and human rights but the challenge is how to strike a balance between local values and the universal vales. The spiritual values that are derived from the Vedas and Upanishads certainly do not contradict with the modern values.  One cannot also deny the fact that Nepali civilization and culture certainly has its roots in such values and its deep effects can be noticed in society toll today. Such values might have been misinterpreted with the passage of time and there are provisions to correct them rather than dismantling in wholesome.

More importantly, post-conflict context also requires feeling and emotional bond of unity among the people which can create social capital for development. Nepal’s historic experience and search for knowledge and truth suggest that mere promotion of reason and science in opposition to faith and religion cannot sustain the changes. In a society where people are metaphysical, the science and development alone cannot provide the answer which is the case of Nepal as well. No society is free from conflict but in the case of Nepal the societal conflict has been exaggerated out of proportion.  One can experience kinship and complementarities everywhere (where ever one travels). The international community/donors should engage in constructive work, job creation, infrastructure development rather than merely engaging in advocacy work.


Although Nepal has been seen from various lens – failed, failure, and the weak – based on the extant state of affairs but if we look at the dynamisms and the vibrancy that exist beyond the formal state structures are – the community level the assumption may be proved untrue. Many factors have contributed towards sustainability and one of them certainly is dharma which has formed the basis of community resiliency.

The discussion in this paper explains that none of the “isms” have benefitted poor people and the state. It’s only the golden means of spirituality that is holding Nepali society together. This also raises a question as how would Nepal’s politics be oriented when ‘isms’ have failed and ‘faith’ is sidelined.  The answer perhaps could be found in the Eastern philosophy which is largely value-based where social orders are guided by Dharma. Communitarian values based on Dharma has made Nepali society resilient. Under such a state of affairs mere adoption of universal values inconsistent with Dharma carries potential dangers of undigested coupling of the universal and the particular. Likewise, the self-producing nature of communities has equally contributed towards this end. Nepal’s case suggests that external initiatives do not necessarily improve the societal ills unless they are adequately indigenous in nature. In many cases it gives birth to fundamentalism.

Finally, there is a need to revive the normative and integrative values of society and revitalize the social energy. This does not necessarily mean that we have to defend the ossified ideas as the focus should be on the values of justice – ecological, social, gender, and inter-generational – which are also keys to the sustainable peace and state building. In the same vein, one should not go against the faith of the people but the irrationality of blind faith has to be reformed as they are inimical to the democratic political culture. The harmonious state-society relations can only be constructed through enlightened moderation. This is what Nepal is lacking.

PS: Paper presented in a seminar organized by FriEnt and FES in  Germany on 8th April, 2014 .


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