Dev Raj Dahal
Modern time is dotted by a moment of great transformation. Multiple crises in the world are threatening the rule-based order. Leaders, as societal catalysts, are struggling to cope with them through workable policies. The acceleration of scientific revolution-innovation, information, communication and technology is causing big disruption buffeting every aspect- nature, institutions, laws and rituals of normal life. In this wind of change only the transformational leaders, with creative imagination, understanding and experience about scientific progress, can cope with them by a specialised team of experts, reap from its benefits and free the vigorous productive forces alive in society. Their intellectual ability lies in crafting a shared vision to navigate the future, coordinate change and organise collective action.
Transformational leaders do not have the illusion of human nature. They differ from normal transactional politicians who, locked in the pyramid of status consciousness, seek only nauseating conformity and loyalty of followers through both rewards and punishments and resort to vote-buying and rent-seeking strategy as a survival imperative. In a nation like Nepal with diversity, leaders, with enlightenment beliefs and entrepreneurial zeal, can inspire citizens to constitutional goals, broaden their perspectives for national unity and animate their motivation, morale and performance.
Leadership training for greatness enables them to sail with the flow of change and prosper together with citizens, their culture and the state and become pro-active in untangling complicated problems. There are philosophers behind the success of great leaders. Sage Astavakra trained king Janak on atma gyan (inner vigilance) helping him to acquire divine quality of higher moral purpose and timeless worldly wisdom in rule. Inward training for the cultivation of good character is beneficial to self and others in need.
During Mahabharat times, Bidur invented many policy measures for the leaders to follow. Neglect of his advice triggered the War of Mahavarata. Plato envisaged the importance of a philosopher king for just governance and advised the ruler of Syracuse. His disciple Aristotle trained Alexander the Great. In India, Kautilya schooled Chandra Gupta who ruled the Indian empire while Niccolo Machiavelli tutored prince Medici of Italy. In China, Mencius was advisor of King Qi.
These leaders were men of vision, integrity and consequence. They did not divinise leaders’ personality but humanised their behaviour towards citizens. The ideal traits of leadership rest more on connecting themselves with citizens in a common public purpose than dividing, dominating or controlling them like in feudal era. Now, the reinvention of ancient art and wisdom has become relevant in Nepal for the cultivation of leadership so that they focus on vision, connectivity and ability to collaborate with citizens in weal and woe.
In a new democracy like Nepal leaders’ imperatives to rule increase in proportion to the position they occupy in the institutions aiming to fulfil citizens’ expectations for the happiness of a rational life. Leadership virtues that keep the vitality of charisma are vital to connect citizens in a fractured world, solve their problems, enable to move beyond their personality and frame a positive shadow of the future. But the charisma is transient. It needs to be replaced soon by legal-rational authority legitimised by elections, process and performance.
This is why every country sets up think tanks to provide synthetic inputs to national leaders and build their capacity for awareness, adaptation and responsiveness to any change or challenge plaguing the nation. The decline of ideological leadership in Nepal marked the rise of professional, careerist politician of bureaucratic type which led a sharp break with the solidaristic politics and entered into networking driven by passion, instinct and self-promotion without any interest in remedying challenges of national unity, stability and peace. The conversion of Nepali leaders into a catch-all type with a strong bent on expediency, not consistency with their policies, posed a drag in improving the lot of citizens.
Nepali leaders have displayed enough courage to stir the emotion of citizens and offered them programmes for a better democratic world with freedom, justice and peace. Their leadership style and rhetoric inspired Nepalis of all walks of life to synchronise their political action for regime change. But they have shown poor quality in the governance as they reflect the partisan view of their political brand and feel no need to change the political culture they are socialised into performing. Leadership in Nepali language means netritwo, the upholders of right public policies.
Ironically, Nepali leaders have abdicated the policy making duty and applied borrowed policies from abroad without indigenising them to fit the peculiarities of national situation. Its outcome is polarised development. Their vigilance about the changing context, values, issues and institutions are critical indicators for their success in mobilising resources to satisfy Nepalis’ expectations of democratic dividends. The sputtering success of Communist Party of Nepal in multi-level elections and promise of political stability, prosperity and happiness provided the nation a chance for a stable rule. But the political will for this is bitten by intra-party leadership feud and multi-hued social ferments straining the morale of public institutions to do something better.
The top leaders of opposition, Nepali Congress, alienated from each other and forlorn hope of citizens, have just completed their national awakening programmes seeking to consolidate the party by abolishing internal sabotage and leadership feud, holding timely elections of auxiliary bodies, linking with the grassroots and providing leadership opportunity for youth. The Madhesi parties, Rastriya Prajatantra Party and smaller left parties are engaged in fissiparous tendencies- unity-split-unity- while all left forces have a common strategy of unity-struggle-transformation through democratic centralism.
In Nepal, transformation has largely been delayed because of the split of critical masses, delay in translating the mandate, declining standards of education, economy, organisation and interdependence among social forces and overlap the old and new elements. The growth of enlightened leaders in the institutions of society is faster in networks and movements than the government and political parties to respond who end up performing by rote, not institutional memory.
The cascade of vices has shaken the poise of bulk of youth in politics. Some are fighting for inner party democracy, others are engaged in self-chosen civil society, federations, foundations and social movements to gain greater social legitimacy for self-governance and still others are forced to migrate abroad in search of job, brain drain or stay disaffected. The use of demographic dividends only to accumulate remittance and suppression of market competition by economic maladies have bred kleptocratic networks with impunity which cut the regulative power of the state to constitutionalise society and perform basic functions.
Democracy has opened the Nepali society to the new values and elevated citizens to a source of sovereignty where leaders can learn from their experience and become thoughtful, virtuous and reflective. Popular sovereignty helps leaders to break the usual way of seeing the world in a linear way advanced by social sciences but engage in it from all sides and know, like statesperson, the logic of transformation at all the spheres- family, community, society, political parties and state institutions. Nepal has seen a cycle of regime change without the chance to consolidate polity. The first reason is weak leadership with cultic personality. It only lulled their supporters into believing the utopia, even in a time of uncertainty and turning crisis of political order acute. Nepali leaders are less socialised in native knowledge, geography, history and culture and the zeitgeist vital for the transformation of feudal, patronage-based and clientalistic culture into civic one. This has led to the rise of strongman politics, father figure or leader-for-life, a sort of creeping authoritarianism.
The second reason is that political power is tottered by hereditary, family-friendly, patronage-based and coterie politics delinked from the reflection on history, public opinion and meritocratic virtues. As a result, the trust of citizens and party cadres on the leadership is shifting from one to another. The third reason is the operating style of Nepali parties in a personalised way without broad-based consultative practices with local party leaders, cadres and citizens. The fourth reason is politics is dominated by money where each values the other on the basis of monetary clout than the ideals of democratic life.
The capacity of Nepali leaders is beset by powerful interest groups screwing positive effects of public policies. Unlike in China where business and politics are separate spheres, Nepali leaders and businessmen are wearing both crowns strong enough to rip the social contract where citizens pay the taxes in return for security and redistribution of resources. This has inverted a balance of power between the state and the market. Transformation endures when the sanity of civic power guides the establishment and critical mass of change either acculturate citizens or assume leadership to set new state-society balance where out-dated structures, norms and practices are replaced by the new democratic rules and constraints, not stuffed by personal loyalists of leaders in all public institutions who skew the impersonal distribution of public goods.
In this context, Nepali leaders have to coordinate between the public servants and the public under a common authority, mediate between the top decision-making centre and the bottom of society for the articulation of citizens’ needs and priorities based on a common conception of justice, mindfulness to ecological, social, gender and intergenerational concerns to help each citizen gain means of purpose in life, minimisation of their personal ambition for the promotion of public goods and break the passivity of citizens through civic education instilling in them problem-solving capacity to the challenges of democratisation and acquire collaborative learning to adapt to transformation underway.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues)