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Reflections on Civil Society

The Civil Society-State Interface in Nepal edited by Anand Aditya; published by Pragya Foundation and Friedrich Ebert Foundation; Price not mentioned; ISBN 978-9937-5548-6; Page 221.

The Civil Society-State Interface in Nepal

Editor: Anand Aditya

Published Date: 2011

Published by: Pragya Foundation/Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

Price: Not mentioned, Pages: 221


Civil society has been one of the highly appreciated as well as contested domains in new Nepal. It won plaudits for re-awakening the disenchanted masses against the autocratic regime ahead of April Uprising when the people's faith in the credibility of the political parties was at its lowest ebb. In the aftermath of the April movement and in run-up to the demise of CA, the civil society confronted a range of polemics for the role it played under ruptured political environment. The surge of different associations of civil forces and their actions for democratic renewal is indeed commendable but at the same time they are not free from accusations that they also carried the parochial and vested agenda to suit their interest. Amidst the debate on the pros and cons of the Nepali civil society's behavior, a new book has come to give an intellectual shape to that discussion. The Civil Society-State Interface in Nepal, under review, attempts to throw a new light on the civil society with the different point of views.

It contains nine chapters - all informative and engaging. Ananda Aditya, the editor of the collection, dwells upon the civil deficit and civil society's role in managing political crisis in his write-up From Subject to citizens: Civic transformation in a captive state. He argues that there is no such thing as an instant civil society, not a cut-and-paste process to achieve it. He sees multiple challenges facing the Nepalese civil society: 'Given the murkiness of Nepal's political environment and hydra-headed nature of the conflicts, that challenges that the work on the civil society faces - autonomy, inertia, linkaging, issue heterogeneity, building partnership, enhancing the role of media and corporate, addressing structural problems, handling the risks, internal and external accountability, transparency and capacity building.'

But, Dev Raj Dahal's article 'The enlightenment tradition of Nepal: Can the civil society grasp it?' urges the civil society actors and readers to draw inspiration from the country's rich tradition of civic knowledge and wisdom. He writes: 'In Nepal, the tradition of civility is ancient and embedded in the diversity of its life. The Vedic, Videh and the Buddhist traditions emphasize the dissolution of personal ego for greater public good to achieve enlightenment, purity of heart and mind as also symbiosis of nature and culture."

As a constant watcher of Nepal's civil society movement, Dahal is, however, not satisfied with it: "Today Nepal's civil society groups, as modern heroes of liberty, acutely lack the spiritual and moral foundation and organic connection with the nation's history of enlightenment." He asks the modern civil society groups to democratize themselves and uphold the values of a cultivated public which is citizenship-based, group-open and political.

Role of civil society in the peace process in Nepal by Anjoo Sharan Upadhyaya and Hemraj Subedee discusses the civil society role in relation to the political movements of different phases of Nepal's history. They argue that the civil society leaders managed a delicate balance between civil and political engagement with boldness and conviction. It initiated dialogue, appealed for an end to the war and to all forms of violence. "However, the road forward has many tests: much depends on the adaptability and responsiveness of the civil society along with international pressure that may ensure an appropriate end for the peace process."

As title suggests, C D Bhatta's The civil society-state interface examines the contradictory relations between the state and civil society in Nepal. According to him, the reactions between them have gone through many ups and down under the influence of domestic and international factors. He is critical of new elites working under the banner of civil society. "The proliferation of civil society organizations have now produced a surplus of elites, who tend to dominate and control both the state and society on their own terms and are merely concentrated in the urban centres.' He stresses on the civil society embedded in the national values and resources so that it can play a positive role on state-building. "The current circumstances are such where both the state and the civil society are externally dependent and one finds it difficult to expect harmonious state-civil society relations in such a situation.

There are equally other interesting pieces such as Peace politics and civil society in Nepal by Tika P Dhakal, Multi-track approaches to peace building in Nepal by Tone Bleie, Challenges of citizenship building in Nepal by Yubaraj Ghimire, Challenge to transitional justice in Nepal: The role of civil society by Julius Engel and Reflection on civil society by Sambhu Ram Simkhada. These stuffs link civil society with the peace process, citizenship building and transitional justice.

The book aims at triggering new debate on the civil society discourse. Although some lengthy chapters risk to make the readers monotonous with its crammed information, the collection is worthy of reading as it goes in depth to expatiate the concept and importance of civil society with historic and modern perspectives. It is imperative to suggest the active civil society leaders, politicians, intellectuals and other readers to go through this collection to refresh their knowledge on the subject. They will indeed benefit from the critical and theoretical insights that the book offers through its research-based and scholarly writes-up.

Source: Friday Supplement , The Rising Nepal Daily (12 April 2013)

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