Monday, 6 December, 2021

Challenges Of Political Leadership

Dev Raj Dahal


Nepal certainly falls short of rational conception of politics in which citizens carefully assess the party programmes and select virtuous leaders with the realistic vision and policies that foster their public and national interests. One may not know what the future of Nepal holds in a combustible political environment but the success of its leadership lies in managing a balance between the values of the nation's past and the new vision underlined in the constitution and between the separate identities citizens contending for power and a common identity of Nepaliness that democracy offers for all of them.
The general sense of belonging to the nation and interactions among them within a shared norm of democracy shapes a distinct national identity without being prejudiced to human rights and humanitarian norms. It helps to avert the general crisis of leadership arising out of competency demand and short supply. This gap has roiled Nepali political landscape by factional fights across each political spectrum, enfeebled its economic outlook and freedom of outward manoeuvre.

Reflective citizens
In this context, it is important to prepare citizens for what Michael J. Sandel calls, “to be morally reflective human beings and effective democratic citizens, capable of deliberating about the common good” defined as “the sum of everyone’s preferences and interests” and vital to grease the scope of freedom in their everyday life. Decent living standards, dignity of work, equality of opportunity and upward social mobility in a staggering unequal condition of education, wealth and social status are vital attributes of an inclusive polity. It is connected to leadership position and responsibility which is also drafted in the constitutional vision of an egalitarian society.
What counts good leadership in Nepal is how much it can contribute to common good, not only how many votes it scores although both reflect the duality of modern legitimacy. Common good has a great appeal in heterogeneous societies like Nepal that are rearing now with ferocious disagreements and discontents between predators and producers and between takers and makers of national wealth. Managing the compelling constitutional vision crystallised into public needs, expectations, beliefs, and values will be the central task for the Nepali leadership in the future. It hones moral bond among citizens and averts turning democratic process either a stalemated machine or a game of valorised winners and denigrated losers.
So long as winners of economic and political game do not compensate the losers especially those deprived of the opportunity, they will not have any stake in the democratic process. The outcome is: deeply polarised politics. All octogenarian great leaders of Nepal, who enjoyed unbounded power without being good and deserved a rest long ago for their less than promised performance, think that they are indispensable for governance but face renewed failures to settle a wide range of issues, manage shared imperatives and attain governance goals. The salient leadership virtues essential for Nepal are vitality of vision, good insight of circumstances, reflective gaze, ability to inspire diverse forces of society, artful to mobilise institutions of the state to solve problems in the optimal satisfaction of all and wisdom to choose the right path for the nation’s resilience.
So long as Nepali leaders do not make constitutional bodies and public institutions immune from partisan influence and keep the vital bits of the welfare state sufficiently autonomous and robust to execute their authority they will be vulnerable to the fractious political parties that are fissiparous, disorganised and deinstitutionalised and prone to rift, split and great game of geopolitical actors. They will not be able to deliver a fairer system for all Nepalis and restrain an irreversible descent into authoritarianism. Nepalis, as bearer of sovereignty and co-authors of law, owe one another and bound by ethics of responsibility to help each other, need to come forward to arrest this drift of politics to money power.
Sustainable progress in Nepal rests on leadership willingness and competence to help citizens realise their abilities and worth for self-rule. A leadership in command of state power can only harm the public life if it exclusively executes the partisan passion of self-maximisation and disables the vast connecting forces of the society - such as family, community, public institutions, religions and citizenship groups. They carry the fountain of national heritage, socialisation and civic spirit. National leaders need to build the confidence of public administration and private sectors without making them political protégé while also harnessing the opportunity offered by Nepali diaspora and international community in enhancing national competence.
The essential values of Nepali democracy as defined in the constitution is sharing of a common life and earning of trust and esteem of various scale of social and political forces. A leadership upholding aspirational democratic ideals and appeals is likely to choose the best option, not governed by determinism, necessity or parochial passion, often seeking to advance legitimate public order and social peace. Nepali leadership has to realise the four essential realms of keeping future political stability: the intergenerational transmission of knowledge for continuity and change of national public life, well disposition of state institutions, political parties, communication, schools, colleges, universities and health centres to train those who will bear the knowledge in the future, maintain a balance between social representation and party fragmentation generated by its proportional election system and pursue active labour market policies.
What offers one hope in Nepal is the quickening pace of information and technology-driven modernisation that has built up cognitive pressure for accelerated structural transformation in many areas of society and raising the demands of articulate section and also those of Dalit, women, minorities, indigenous people, bonded labourers, geographically isolated and marginalised citizens seeking changing social recognitions against elite capture of public power. Under its impact a new kind of self-determined relationship between knowledge and identity has been developed. 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 maintained and the civic capacities of citizens are utilised both for strengthening local self-governance and making them effective instruments of cooperative action.
A well-conceptualised civic praxis is, therefore, necessary for the consolidation of Nepali democracy, not just action and reflection on the political establishment and status quo that only facilitates the circulation of same leaders over and over again leaving the system static and citizens on the edge of despair. It is a praxis that often facilitates consistency in teaching and learning behaviour of citizens and leaders backed by an effective network of feedback loops. One way to proceed with reforms calls for a sustained vocational education and engagement of Nepali youths in public life so that they critically learn the art of democratic politics and its style of operation in non-violent way.
The other one is restructuring the party schools with updated curriculum, social studies and humanities to include practical projects with civic lessons, introduction of participatory methodology in learning, make the students independent learners enabling them of coping with the workplace demands.
There is the core task of establishing general diffusion of intelligence throughout society as an ongoing process which can enrich public discourse relevant for indigenisation of public policy and selection of competent leadership. The empowerment process of marginalised requires the institutionalisation of social transformation which means creation of enabling environment through proper ecological, economic and social policies, elimination of all forms of discrimination, protection of their rights, reasonable access to decision making, strengthening institutional support systems and legal machinery, and forging their organisations' partnership with business, NGOs, community organisations, civil society and local change agents.

Critical knowledge
Political education in Nepal must aim at improving critical and practical knowledge and skills of youths and welcoming them into society to struggle against graft-ridden leadership. Democratic leaders willingly offer their successors legitimate space that is theirs by fundamental rights which is vital to infuse fresh blood in the polity and enable them to undertake productive initiatives unburdened by ignorance, arrogance or necessities of circumstances. The government's investment in human capital should be combined with the cooperation of private sectors and civil society by improving the standards of education, health, job and infrastructures thus enabling youths to participate in the knowledge economy.
A number of civil societies of Nepal have already been involved in increasing the public understanding of SDG policies and have prepared newsletters, organised seminars, trainings, and workshops, written press news, organised protest against harmful policies, maintained internet sites, developed curricular materials for Dalits, children, women's empowerment, trade unions, etc. with a democratising effect on the broader public space. Party cadres need education beyond indoctrination to encourage critical thinking and adoption of values of democracy, justice, peace and dignity seeking the transformation of rural Nepal. Educating youths for economic, political and social responsibility and leadership contributes massively in the creation of social capital, heal cleavages and translates the constitutional vision into a reality.

(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)