Dev Raj Dahal
Every society is divided by a class of few leaders and great mass of supporters. As a universal phenomenon, leadership emerges from the social, economic and political conditions, electoral process and institutions of society such as family, tribe, community, political parties and the nation-state. Their ties to these units underlie the scale of vision and responsibility. Since their institutional boundaries are porous, leaders’ action can be judged from their ability to fulfil people’s needs, rights and concerns. Emerged from the chrysalis of new values of freedom, justice and dignity of people, the new political leadership of Nepal has achieved success in launching revolutions but appeared weak in governance.
Like medical doctors, they need to diagnose the changing condition, organise resources and offer policy prescriptions. Their quality rests on how well they manage legitimate demands of people, solve their problems and tread the nation along constitutional path. The antinomy between what Nepali leaders have promised to achieve “happy people, prosperous Nepal, good governance and political stability“ under normative ethics and rival utilitarian paths they have chosen to attain these goals set them in litmus test.
One may frankly inform leadership virtues in terms of transactional and transformational fervour. The bond of transactional leaders to their followers is like business. It is based on exchange-vote buying and rent-seeking, not embedded in the social interest of the nation. Nepal’s elections have shown the predominance of these Janus-faced demagogues. In a transitional politics like Nepal’s where constitution, values, institutions and procedures of governance are not properly stabilised such a leadership, often plagued by their own uncertainties, cannot address the changing aspirations of Nepali citizens. They have allowed national institutions deteriorate rendering many of them partisan unable to perform optimally and neutrally. Institutional erosion has caused volatility of Nepali political system whose robustness is vital for the citizens to realise their rights, duties, choice and action and affirm the life of dignity. The goodness of Nepali leaders’ virtues does not transpire when national education is reduced to “facts” devoid of values of public morality.
The relationship nourishing, not the task-oriented, nature of most of transactional Nepali leaders have turned the human rights struggle of people unfinished. Their views are insular, self-seeking and sub-culture oriented. Critical masses of civil society often question their authority and legitimacy and cast doubt on their sullen ability to match deeds and actions. Nepal’s electoral trends show that electorates have always defeated the incumbent leaders indicating the need for changing policy contents, political leadership and party structures though they are resilient to bounce back in the centre of politics through networks, organisation control and geopolitical leverage. As a result, Nepali citizens judge their leaders in terms of output performance than only on the basis of glitzy promises. Nepal does not lack the root of wisdom. Leaders need to fortify stable links with the people to learn how to gain wisdom, freedom and dignity.
The transformational leadership is goal-oriented, rationalist in attitude, enlightened and adaptable to both liberal eloquence of the Age and changing aspiration of Nepali people catalysed by democratic revolution. They create a climate of opinion to justify their future roles rather than either discrediting history or harking back on its nostalgia. Their attachment with the people provides a hope even for the poor to engage in transformational project and improve life-choices. In Nepal, one can see transformation in the context, language of discourse, actors, issues and rules of the game but the creation of a just human community promised in the constitution remains alluring. Most of Nepali political leaders are boxed in their own partial frame unable to read other’s motives and intentions and seem weak to inspire the opponents for collective action to help Nepalis relish democratic dividends.
Nepali leaders can be placed in the scale of statesmanship, political leadership and bossism. The statesman is a visionary and thinks ahead of his time. He makes his constituency the entire Nepali state and learns from historical insights and scientific trends to reconcile his own ambition with national interests. Statesman’s perspective is long-term perfection of generation and his action matches with the experience of people. He judges how best public and national interests can be served. One can cite the examples of Nepal’s heroes and builders who defended national sovereignty bequeathing great deeds to posterity.
Political leaders’ vision is rooted in periodic elections and an exigency to flex party’s muscle. They are ahistorical, reactive and thrive on seductive ideological rhetoric and short-term planning. They work with consultants on deterministic theory of progress which is contrary to pluralistic Nepali society’s stability. The cultic honouring of top leadership with 120 kilos of garland during field visit marks the denial of constitutional spirit of popular sovereignty and the start of creeping authoritarianism. The political bosses do not hold any vision, represent only the faction of a political party or electoral constituency, survival-oriented and suffer from historical amnesia. In a word, they are timid on pursuing national initiatives and torn between lust for personal power and institutional imbalance.
Leaders who use national sentiment only for the purpose of personal rise collapse easily when their policies hit the ground realities. The nation’s nonstop political instability explains this. Nepali nationalism presupposes national awareness of history, culture and needs of people which are a source of political stability. But an awareness of only political party, social units and particular territory twists social cohesion and external adaptation.
The ideological teeter-totter of the left and the right being projected in Nepal is a fatal sign given the nation’s strategic geography where so many experimental projects of foreign countries are executed. Nepal’s neighbours, haunted by the security dilemma, are closely watching with unease their costs as they see their links with local forces, persons, groups and institutions bristling with the revisionist interpretation of national history. For years, the nation’s foreign policy became prisoner of internal wrangling and lost an art of balance in the age of anger. A divorce from the historically defined policy of golden mean can easily unravel the tangled aspirations of otherwise united Nepali people into centrifugal pulls risking the fragile social order and peace inciting other countries to limit its policy choices.
Nepal does not have sound think tanks to supply to the leaders knowledge, policy inputs and strategies to take right decisions on vital issues. As a result, national policy often deviated from the constitutional spirit and public opinion. Many of them are disciplinary-bound and consultancy-based, not policy-oriented, with contextual knowledge and feeling of human heart and conscience to those working under adverse condition. The political parties’ catch-all tendency has made Nepali leaders schizophrenic. They are torn between socialization of political life in the partisan framework and role occupancy to foster national interests, between sacrifice in justice-oriented stir in the past and current intoxication with power and between opposing ideologies and leaders’ coherence in a regime of power-sharing. Evidently, Nepali leaders’ political life is personal, empirical and partisan, not impersonal, national and analytical which are desired to transform themselves from bosses, political leaders to statesmanship and apply wisdom to statecraft. A value-sharing civic culture of leadership can form a common background condition to glue the enormity of gaps between public interest and public policy.
The utility of politics is decided by social interest. Statesman embodies the will of the nation and defends the constitutional doctrine that they have a responsibility to protect and advance the interest of the whole nation and people, not just the fragmented parties and uncompetitive polity. Leadership selection is about the representation and determination of policy for national development but wisdom is essential for the inspiration of people which comes from the synthesis of knowledge, morality and experience in governance. Enlightened leaders in command of authority can seek compliance to their policies, inspire skeptics and opponents, bear duty and keenly confront the implication of their choices for public welfare.