Civil Society in Nepal: In Search of Reality

By Bhatta, Chandra D. | Contributions to Nepalese Studies, January 2007 | Go to article overview

Civil Society in Nepal: In Search of Reality


Bhatta, Chandra D., Contributions to Nepalese Studies


Background

In recent years 'Civil Society' has become a slogan for sociologists, political scientists and policy makers both in the western and non-western world. The discourse on the modern concept of civil society in Nepal is fairly new despite age old existence of civic practices. But those civic practices of civil society based on traditional voluntarism were of different kind endowed with different responsibilities and can hardly be equated with the current notion of civil society--which is more political than social in content. That was a civil society with limited civic sphere, engaged in indigenous activities which contributed little towards citizenship building. The reason being that civic space was either pre determined or restricted by the state due to primitive political structure based on parochial thinking.

The Third Wave of democratization that swept away undemocratic regimes worldwide in fact led to the worldwide growth of civil society. In most cases the wave itself was the repercussion of worldwide civic resurrection that could not be contained within the borders of nation states. And Nepal could not remain an exception of this worldwide civic upsurge. In fact the rise of current notion of civil society after 1990s 'modest' political change in Nepal is the manifestation of this worldwide civic upsurge. This worldwide civic upsurge took place not only because of Third Wave of democratization but also because of adoption of liberal people centric (people first) policies both in politics, economics and development by the nation-states. Moreover, the UN decade of conference (1), that is, conferences/ seminars/conventions/summits that took place in 1990s under the UN banner has provided ample opportunities for the growth of modern civil society organizations (CSOs) worldwide. These world conferences and liberal policies have given generous space to NGOs to be active participant in democratization process and economic development of the nation states. And donors have channeled a large amount of money through them for this purpose. The result, by contrast, was somewhat disturbing as this has produced Hobbesin nature of civil society in Third World countries, including Nepal, who kept themselves busy vying for power and profit and added a layer of new elites in society. The high ranking retired bureaucrats, politicians and urban elites instantly usurped up civic sphere and became direct beneficiaries of this process and siphoned off large amount of donors money.

Today academic discourse on civil society as well as its application in shaping public policy has reached pinnacle. In fact, civil society realm itself has been frequently used by policy makers, donors, academics and arm chair political pundits during public policy discourse. Theoretically, there are two major strands of disciplines vis-a-vis political science and sociology where discourse on civil society is taken frequently. In political science the civil society discourse is occasioned by a re-thinking on the nature of state and dynamics of democracy and in sociology the context for the discourse is provided by social movements and the role of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in socio-economic development (Jayaram 2005:16). This paper will focus on first strands of discipline (political science) because the recent debate on civil society in Nepal is more political than sociological.

Having said this, the overarching aim of this paper is to analyse how civil society has been perceived and interpreted in Nepali context. For this, I will first discuss the rationality and importance of civil society during public policy and political discourse. My analysis will focus how Nepali civil society has contributed towards democratization process and how the idea has been resonating in Nepal. I have chosen 1990s as the benchmark for this discussion for obvious reasons. At the end, the paper will answer the nature of civil society in Nepal and provide candid suggestions to promote inclusive civil society. …

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