Given the political vulnerability and conflicts in Nepal along with the weak performance of its underdeveloped economy, the country could soon become a failed state.
Such a tragedy is unlikely to have the global impact of a similar outcome in Afghanistan during the 1990s. Nonetheless, Nepal is a land link between China and India that could be a regional powder keg.
To halt its political collapse, outside parties are moved to support various groups in Nepal depending on whether they support democratic ideals or human rights.
While human rights and democracy have universal acceptance and support, the ways in which they are perceived and promoted do not bode well for the future of Nepal.
For example, insistence on Nepal being a multiparty democracy suggests that voting rights and political participation are the final aim of the struggle. But democracy alone cannot and does not guarantee peace or prosperity. Indeed, democracy can become a hollow vessel that allows populist politicians to usurp the freedom and wealth of citizens.
This is evident in India where the claims of democracy allowed the political leadership to impose misguided policies that kept too many of its citizens too poor for too long.
The problem with India’s democracy is that it has become a tool to apportion power rather than to guarantee individual liberty, so that the interests of citizens come last.
This same essential problem confronts Nepal where opposing factions, whether Maoist or “democratic” or royalist, are all competing over who will wield power.
In other words, all seek to be rulers over the people rather than to be the servants of the people. Under these conditions, democracy may involve the shifting of political power between parties rather than increasing the freedoms of the Nepalese people.
The real question is not whether the Maoists are “cruel” or if the king acts as a despot, as expressed in the facile remarks made recently by US senator Patrick Leahy.
Instead, the complaint should be that there is no political voice for promoting the welfare of each and every Nepalese citizen. Individual rights and freedom should be at the heart of Nepal’s struggle.
Unfortunately, one set of political interests is vying against others to acquire state power to use in service of the ends that it deems best for others.
Despite pretensions of creating or promoting a broad sense of community, populist democracy allows the interests of special groups to dominate the wider community.
Granting rights and freedoms on the basis of some collective identity has done considerable harm to communities. This is because “group rights” divide communities into distinct, separate political classes that invite conflict since the interests of some groups are promoted over others.
Countries suffering most from communal violence and sectarianism are those that have granted rights to minorities that tend to be resented as recipients of preferential treatments.
When rights reflect collective or social identity, there will be “negative-sum” policy outcomes whereby some groups benefit at the expense of others.
Granting social or group rights imposes obligations in that other groups of individuals must give up some of their rights to act for their own ends. Basing freedoms and rights on special traits or granted to certain groups of citizens is the principal cause of the powerlessness of individuals.
Replacing individual initiative with political imperatives allows a relentless expansion of restrictions and bureaucracy that contributes to a process of dehumanisation.
While collectivised rights invite conflict and require coercion, assigning and enforcing rights of individuals encourages them to coordinate and cooperate. Those that would support preserving the dignity of humans should vigorously support individual rights through the rule of law.
Hiding behind the slogan of “power to the people” has allowed some individuals or parties to gain power to rule over the rest of the population. A better goal to guide politics in Nepal and elsewhere is to promote freedom for the people, for all individuals.
By Christopher Lingle