The Sanity Of Leadership
Dev Raj Dahal
Nepal’s political site now is dotted with the spin of competing forces. Leaders have demonstrated a flash of genus for peaceful political transformation shaking up the private and public lives of citizens. But a rational inquiry unveils that the pace and scope of transformation have been unsettling for them to imagine and manage. The drama of leadership succession in political parties flits around false unity, clutter of contradictions, readjustments and breaks. This unity is based less on defending rule-based order than jockeying for power and patronage which feeds contradictions.
With the flux of ideologies, they increasingly rely on an enclosed circle of fractional muscle, not institutional base of political parties they represent or virtues of democracy. Each leadership faction, not knowing its political implication for its own party, has tacitly aligned with the factions of other parties to obstinately battle for primacy and rein in the scope and gear of governance. As a result, Nepal’s constitution, polity, multi-level governance, economic initiatives, etc. suffer from a friction between national vision, public policy and public administration. Pro-democracy brawl of diverse groups of Nepali society continues to drag on the unfinished business of politics.
The subcultures of Madhesis, Dalits, Janajatis, women to media constantly test their rights and the stunt of vote-winning electoral promises of leaders. Public participation in the institutional life of politics has turned febrile, not stabilising owing to their thin base, declining budgets for infrastructural and public works to fulfil universal needs and improve the quality of democratic prospect. Only a broad socialisation of subcultures on the constitutional ideals can furnish the precinct of leadership acceptance, rear enculturation and balance the culture of knowledge, legitimacy and power. Sane leadership represents the nation’s culture.
The consolidation of gains of social inclusion and popular sovereignty demands the stamina of its constitutional polity, a polity which can distribute authority, resources and recognition, rally the compliance of citizens and match their rights and duties along the educational, economic and technological glitter of modernity. Nepali leaders need to mobilise the nation’s entire natural and human potential to enable ordinary citizens to control the condition of their lives and sustain an abiding faith in the polity. A decent society aspires for welfare state’s care like the one newly initiated social security. Leaders need to rally ample political will to act wisely in other areas both as their duty and political utility, not resort to the bounded rationality of factional benefit away from the democratic logic of middle path to serve the public interests.
In the struggle of winners and losers, they need to renew many positive norms, values and institutions that once shaped this nation’s destiny, moral fibre, stability and unity. The sanity of leaders lies in the continuity of its positive tradition which is vital for rebuilding a robust sense of political community - the state and its democracy, which is now stitched by fickle leap of faith, not the liberating pathos of public reason. The outreach of both to masses is inert as actors of democracy are increasingly projectised. The ire of public on critical issues- price rise on essential goods, violence against women and child, corruption, delayed justice, poverty, skewed opportunity, etc. is, therefore, crushing the ability of public institutions to distribute bonus of progress. The sanity and integrity of leaders are central to zip up the governing majority of Communist Party of Nepal and drive suitable change in favour of distributive justice. In this context, only a rational approach to the solution of the nation’s evils can control disorder and arrest the withering away of state’s monopoly to discipline the defiant conduct of non-sovereign entities eroding democracy’s vital writ.
With the sanity of political wisdom, it is feasible for Nepali leaders to tap full capacity of citizens and build a civic culture of modern democracy that can energise nation-building. Nepal’s social mores on family, caste and rituals have been liberalised to step up the engine of great social and cultural transformation. Political awareness, human will and technology are extra slashing social taboos. But the positive social bonds that united the Nepalis are now untying with the pangs of family break, its atomisation, migration of youths, increased divorce rate, one parent child, street children, uncaring for aging citizens and rise of other social evils that drain social capital and subvert societal equilibrium.
Leaders’ élan needs to grasp the demographic imperative of investing in the education of children enabling future citizens truly dynamic able to innovate, adapt, compete, reconcile and rebound from nature and human-induced calamities. Good deed, life and legacy of current leaders can grace the youths to face the future. In Nepal, the charity-based associations and civil society are far too feeble to respond to many challenges with their own soft power of ideas, emotional intelligence and networks and hard power of institutions, resources and capabilities. A stable Nepal is less likely if society’s self-balancing mechanism between the state and business staggers in arranging public action and the mighty civil service unions hobble public administration infecting governance and rendering leaders no potent reason for national responsibility.
The curve of Nepal’s rich tapestry of ideas has now shifted to new layers of elites’ compromise of public interest for better perks, projects and privileges. These layers are far more complex to disentangle unless leaders in the government, opposition and rebellion achieve the best from each other through responsibility-sharing. An advance in political purpose heals social fissures and straps up common good. The ruling regime has promised to reform the constitution but appears vague on making concessions to dissenters from Madhes, Janajatis and the marginalised upfront without ample rationale. This is the way to foil the total paralysis of political power infected by factionalism and patronage which have imposed unfair burden on Nepalis most of them are facing adversity in life. They are engaged in the informal sector of political economy awaiting social security. The lingering debates on aspirational values and norms and the fragmentation of politics around personalities inflate egos of bickering elites and claim groups to continuously negotiate demands to suit their political prejudices.
Without a collective pose of leadership on basic national values and interests away from undue party-mindedness neither the governance nor opposition remains stable. Some key leadership issues are linked to geopolitical struggle for space and power, both hard and soft, which prefer loyal client in their side to twist Nepali politics to anti-constitutional direction. This can put a brake on centripetal inclination of Nepali society and erode the national virtues of honesty, discipline and pride. Now Nepali citizens are expecting from their leaders to display statesmanship to achieve the national goals, set the direction and respond to their aspirations for social cohesion based on an edifice of justice, greater economic dynamism based on inclusive benefits and ethical dignity of life. It calls for an all-inclusive reconciliation in society to break the walls of parochial politics and restore normative constitutional order. The legitimacy of leadership rests on both process of acquiring power through multi-level elections which Nepal has achieved and the outcome of governance which is blocked by vicious cycle of interest groups and inter and intra-party rows. Nepali citizens’ capacity for a reliable agency can break this cycle and revitalise this nations’ soul.
Nepalis boast continuous history of their self-rule that evolved a national culture. The self-rule, however, requires strong central authority capable of mustering loyalties of citizens and preventing undesirable penetration of external interests hitting the nation’s fault lines. Now, the changing normative values of democracy based on popular sovereignty, social inclusion and human rights require new adaptation of leaders to emerging national and international milieu and fulfil the pledges to international law, bilateral and multi-lateral accords and universal norm. Popular sovereignty and the state’s sovereignty act in concert and provide legitimacy and authority to leadership. Democratic citizens can use freedom of choice only if the state is both autonomous political community from the powerful internal predators and externally sovereign on matters of foreign policy. Only then the constitutional can mediate the ties between the state and citizens and enable the coherence in the basic values both find worth fighting for. The gaze of critical media, intellectuals and autonomous judiciary is critical to place morality and justice above legal quibble so that they do not justify the abuses of mandate and authority by leadership.
So long as the government, opposition and rebellious forces’ struggle in Nepal stays Manichean type -- each considering itself good and demonising the other while turning a blind eye on their collective failure in leading the nation to secured path of stability, prosperity and wellbeing, the nation would be oscillating from one geopolitical pole to the next and benefits of democracy would go to elites with transnational links, not the ordinary public. Leadership quality is vital now in Nepal to link politics to national space, synthesise the contesting perspective of diverse actors into an enlightened national vision, prevent the risk of cultural clash and drive the nation to enduring civil peace. It requires them to acquire the wisdom to act like statesmen capable of fulfilling the promises and acquiring zeal for social learning. It can fill them with historical insight from the changing national and international context, discourse and rules, move beyond the new status quo, populism, radicalism and communalism and acquire an ability to accomplish citizens’ craving for justice.
Nepali democracy needs transformational, not transactional leadership who buys the votes and exploits the voters. Training of leadership in systematic thinking, clear understanding of issues and problem solving skill endow ability beyond formal social position, feudal rank, party bossism, business connection and geopolitical links. The sanity of democratic leadership fosters its common identity with citizens and espouses enlightened values that can avert the commercialisation of public good and political regulation of market and set pro-active role of local institutions, to foster inclusive justice in governance optimising rival passions in the middle path. This bolsters Nepali communities’ historically defined common destiny.