It has become somewhat trite today to speak of the rapidly changing world in which we live; to talk of the scientific revolution, the environmental revolution and the upsetting political and economic changes of the world. We speak of these and we debate them. They are great fun to debate, but after all they have impact in society and social life. Understanding the problem of today's world should be our primary concern with an optimum effort in order to secure the world of tomorrow. The raising voice of people throughout the world for the maintaining of just system i.e. democracy and rule of law, is a historic phenomenon. But it has got more relevance at present, since societies have grown more harsh and chaotic. This is not a problem of any particular society or country but appearing as a common scenario for many societies in the world, regardless time and space. People who do believe in core principles of humanity; liberty, equality, dignity and co-existence are struggling restlessly for these 'common goal'.
The case is not different for Nepal. Nepali societies are just in the course of overcoming from panic - injected by the Maoist's so-called 'people's war'. Social institutions such as law, economy, religion, culture, politics, etc. were weakened and still malfunctioning. During Maoist insurgency, the law, one of the major social institutions and formal means of social control as well as change along with its enforcement agencies - bureaucracy, police, courts were damaged in the name of 'feudal regime creation' calling them as tools of suppression and not matching with their 'rule of proletariat' ideology. Informal means of controlling human conduct such as religious norms and values, morality and so on faced the same ill fate. Even though the situation was not so pleasing before that point but some rays of hope were there as democratic exercises were moving ahead.
The people's war will have multi-dimensional, long-term adverse effect and stigma in Nepali society, as war always serves the vested interest of the certain groups at the cost of others. Most of the damages caused by war are irrecoverable too. Where institutions are weak or absent, people tend to follow the text book prescriptions of rational choice theory, of rational choice theory in its dulled, straightforward, crude variety. They turn into completely and narrowly self-concerned actors, into prejudiced egomaniacs, aggressive nomads, moral illiterates, apolitical animals, lone heroes who play for profit and survival in a jungle of adversaries. Unpleasantly, it is hard reality that the different gangs and hooligan groups are making Nepali society rush. Crime is at its peak as it has got political color and impunity catalyzing it. Tyranny has become a habit. No institutions seem capable of curbing such atrocities and to serve the very motto of rule of law, equality, social justice and overall social goals.
What happens if institutions are weak or absent? Let us highlight three harmful effects which institutional emptiness produce and witnessed in Nepali society as well. Firstly, weak institutions destroy trust. While referring to the standard assumptions of game theory that describe settings of structural distrust: The players meet only once, they do not know each other, they do not share neither past experiences nor a common future, they are not allowed to communicate, and they are not embedded into meta-institutional frameworks, such as legal systems, that would permit them to develop contractual, cooperative solutions. In under-institutionalized democracies, like in Nepal, this game-theoretical presupposition of generalized distrust appears to be realistic. People do not trust anybody because they know that trusting means losing. Fading trust towards law, court, police, administration, etc are apparent in Nepali societies.
Secondly, weak institutions destroy social norms. The world of under-institutionalized democracies is also called a world of 'amoral individualism' where the public sphere has been vacated, an empty space, destroyed and abandoned. 'Grab and run' evolves into the guiding principle of political action, politics becomes synonymous with naked struggles for power and self-enrichment, and moral agents end up forming a rare exotic species on the verge of extinction. The social norms such as keeping promises, Dharma-Karma, Paropakar, Dan, Punya, have been losing their significance in society and pushed back by fraud, distrust, loot, and amoral.
Thirdly, weak institutions destroy the future. Life in an institutional vacuum is deprived of all the reliable, reassuring certainties that normally enable people to look beyond the immediate future, to save and invest, to plan, prevent, and postpone, to develop routines, to trade future against present costs, or simply, to trust and relax. Without institutions actors are stuck into the present. They are condemned to myopia. In Nepal, in the name of transition period, different so-called political groups with criminal intention are playing fatal games to terrorize people. Legal and administrative institutions seem helpless in combating such activities due to the political protection to these actors. Both criminalization of politics and politicization of crime are a great threat to the new democracy.
It's the high time to realize the gravity of social disorder and do something towards making things better without further delay. Improving the harsh social situation and restructuring of social institutions should be the primary goal of newly established Federal Democratic Republic Nepal. In the mean time, social harmony must not be forgotten. The task may be very tough than our expectation because it's a fragile process in itself. At the early set, Nepali political leaders require purifying themselves in the eyes of public, to regain public faith and enhance credibility once again. The leaders might have to pay a lot to the society for correcting their past wrongs. Their acceptance in society will be tested by the democratic norms and values they follow and act on. The task of strengthening of social institutions always depends on the public trust. Without which the social goal of maintaining the values of unselfishness, charity, generosity, benevolence, and loving kindness remain unfulfilled. And any effort to approach the question of how to construct and reconstruct democratic institutions in new democracies must take this contextual primacy of amoral action into account. The more leaders lose by acting morally the more they gain in terms of credibility. The visible costs they incur forgive them from the suspicion of hypocrisy.
What Nepali leaders from every genre of social life must understand sooner or later that no society can complete its long journey of social wellbeing without proper rearrangement of its institutions in every epoch considering the new needs. Their malfunctioning can only be mitigated through the collective effort of all stakeholders. If not less, the new institutional arrangement must consider the social reality and the balancing of interest of all, so that society might be protected from encountering potential danger in the near future. In the absence of sound institutional settings, individual rationality generates negative externalities and comes into conflict with collective rationality. This becomes true that everything is possible in poor institutional set up. At the endpoint of institutional decay, “there is nothing people will not do”. It seems very convincing when we see Nepali society and some other global scene. Actors are behaving in self-interested ways and opposing public-spirited ways. Societies are being suffered from varieties of chaos, as social institutions such as law, government; politics and market are not in their functional order.
To be optimistic, there can be seen a slim silver lining in the dark cloud of Nepali societies that they have not totally been spoilt out yet, the social bond of religious and ethnic tolerance, fraternity, spirit of brotherhood are still functional to large extent which can be revived for social wellbeing. At this stage of short Nepali democratization run, it is doubtless risky to attempt any general statements about the future socio-political forms: to assess how Nepali people, the new sovereign, will think about and define the essential characteristics of their national culture, and how they will link up their national belonging to other forms of solidarity. Growing interest in one's own culture and the search for origin have become a dominant enterprise. Promotion of multiculturalism can be a reliable tool in the quest of creating real democratic societies, to provide appropriate space for all.
# (Laxman Lamichhane is an Advocate. He is pursuing Master of Laws (LL.M.) in International Human Rights Law at Tribhuvan University and also teaches Sociology in different institutions. He can be reached at email@example.com)