In a fledgling democracy like Nepal, leaders' ideals and practices are far more important than any other elements for good governance that upholds accountability, transparency and integrity for the creation of a just and inclusive society. It is also responsible for the overall progress of the nation. Virtuous leaders imbued with democratic ideals are the wise ones. They inspire people, act confidently even in adverse situations, make a difference in people’s life for their empowerment and unlock and animate the nation’s equitable and inclusive transformations. The success of democracy rests on the ability of leaders to promote core values of compassion, humbleness and sustained communication with people for the satisfaction of their legitimate interests and stitch their faith in their authority and efficacy.
It is imperative to strengthen a balance between the state and civic institutions, popular expectation attached to the constitutional and human rights of Nepalis and their fulfilment, between the values and lessons of the nation's history and the new constitutional vision and between the legitimate identities Nepali political parties enjoy in contending for power and a common identity of national citizenship that democracy offers for all of them. It is not enough for leadership to often bask in the glory of the whirlpool of previous political agitations when Nepalis are expecting stability, justice, job and peace from them. In this sense, every successive generation of leaders has to contribute to nation-building by complying with the ethos of rajdharma, their judicious duties in various walks of life towards the ordinary public’s wellbeing and happiness.
The commitment to these general values increases their clout in the populace and spurs common sense of belonging and interactions among the leaders and citizens within a shared norm of the constitution. It habitually shapes a distinct national identity, an intense and emotional attachment of people to the state, statespersons and the statecraft. Managing the compelling vision that is crystallised into public needs, expectations, beliefs and values will be a central task for leadership to frequently recharge the battery of people to rebuild the nation’s future so far hamstrung by governmental instability and weak governance especially in matters of transitional justice, economy, social development and democratic political order and stability.
The bliss of emancipation articulated by classical Nepali treatises is relevant as it seeks to uplift people from the condition of existence through self-reflection and meditation and ability to prosper under the spell of a precarious world whirling with special interest groups all around. Now the trouble has raised its ugly head to the top of the leadership pyramid in Nepal. It can easily harm the public life if it cannot stand above sheer power and the ideology of self-maximisation to cultivate the social energy of vast centripetal forces of the society - such as family, community, public institutions and civic groups which resonate through the fountains of Nepal’s heritage.
Only the leadership imbued with civic ideals is likely to choose the best option for strengthening the state institutions, often seeking to advance public order and social justice, realising the essential aspects of public good, not inflicting the worst to disenfranchise people by illegally converting them into refugees, migrant workers, mere consumers or simple voters without enhancing their civic competence, a competence established as a lively stream to influence the course of governance action. The political and bureaucratic landscape is bespattered with a complex collage of nasty vices which only virtuous leaders can overturn through sheer political will, fortitude and public spirit without running against the passion of public lurching down by their mutual recrimination and corrosion of each other’s positive energy.
Nepali leaders of all hues need to cultivate “virtue ethics” that focuses on the inward development of public character beyond shrewdness. Seven basic virtues form the essential element in the success of political leadership, not as a person but as a team in the political system: forethought, fairness, self-control, sensitivity, considerate attitude, team spirit and courage without being overwhelmed by fans and sycophants to promote public and national interests. They contribute to building their capacity to act rationally and in accordance to their true civic spirit. Obviously, good leaders spur group preference over the personal ones and abide by constitutional and democratic principles because they defy the growth of authoritarian personality. It is turning the voters’ attachment to parties loose, flexible and mobile and overcoming herd mentality.
The intergenerational transmission of knowledge and skills for the desirable change of national life and the proper dispensation of educational institutions to train those who will bear the knowledge in the future have now become central themes of Nepali politics. This brings them a sense not to run away from the nation but directly encounter senior leaders ending the politics of clannish conformity, consensus at the top and sharing of spoils. If they are awakened from incurable amnesia, a mental condition which deprived them of leadership consciousness, it will definitely help to shape civic political culture in the nation that flourishes with the integrity of leadership to their power derived from the institutional disposition, election and public opinion.
Future perfection is one of the great leadership ideals. It is not the impulsive leaders who act without forethought, but prudent, who are proactive and transformational who can realise future ideals into their living embodiment. What evokes general optimism in future leadership is the quickening pace of self-awareness of people about the condition of life, the state of governance and the progress around them. They continuously contemplate about the nation’s future by observing, judging and reflecting on the way politics is being operated with undesirable effects on the lives of ordinary people. When people become self-aware leaders have to abandon their double life — offering hyperbolic promise and habitual divorce from it and thus generating popular distrust in them.
One can see the ongoing structural transformation in many areas - Dalit, women, minorities, bonded labourers, marginalised people, youth and migrant workers. Public intellectuals, media and civil society are galvanising the ordinary people into various forms of public action. Under its impact, the relationship between power, knowledge and leadership has been brought for the test of hereditary form of clown politics. What is still desirable and perhaps also feasible is how to manage and sustain this process so that a modicum of equilibrium between the state and social power is preserved and the civic capacities are utilised both for strengthening local self-governance and making them effective instruments of collective action.
In Nepal, a civic praxis is essential for the enhanced participation of people in every worthy initiative and spurs the consolidation of democracy, not just action, reaction and reflection on the status quo. It is a praxis that often facilitates stability in teaching, learning and practicing conduct. One way to proceed with reforms calls for a spontaneous engagement of people in the public life of the nation. The other one is restructuring the educational curriculum in social studies and humanities to include civic projects and civic lessons, introduction of participatory methodology in learning, turning the students into independent learners and making them capable of coping with the workplace demands so that the knowledge they learn is context sensitive and fulfils national requirements.
Still, another would be creating linkages of teaching with civic activities in the community, promoting cooperation by introducing group entrepreneurship and accumulating the hard lessons of life-experience. There is the core task of establishing an ongoing empowerment process of those left in the cold. It requires the catalyst of social transformation. This means creation of enabling environment through proper ecological, economic and social policies, eradication of all forms of discrimination, active protection of their rights, reasonable access to decision making, strengthening institutional support systems and legal machinery, and forging their organisations' partnership with genuine cooperatives, chambers, NGOs, civil society and community organisations engaged in progress.
Local political leadership has vital tasks to disseminate political education so as to improve cognitive dimension linked to skills of youths and welcoming them into party building and willingly offering them the space and ownership that is theirs by right and social interests. The government's investment in enhancing the stock of human capital with the cooperation of private sectors and civil society can improve the contents of programmes on education, health, and employment conditions and enable youths to participate in the knowledge economy.
A number of civil societies of Nepal, in a flux of exhilaration, seek to shape leadership ideals. They are raising the public understanding of governmental and international policies and have prepared advocacy documents, organised training and workshops, maintained internet sites, crafted curricular materials for Dalits, children, women's empowerment, etc. with a democratising effect on the broader public space. Yet many of them have created dependency psychology of people on outsiders, killed the social capital for volunteerism and appear less interested in local stake and built a sustainable base of people-centric development.
Voices are being raised in the parliament and public spheres to make Nepali leaders public service oriented, not careerist like other professions for earning money, mobility and flash and dazzle of position of authority. It can easily erode their dignity and knuckle down the obstacles of the transformation of rural Nepal. Educating young people for political and social responsibility contributes massively in the creation of social capital and enables leadership to translate the constitutional vision into reality.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)