Friday, 3 December, 2021
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OPINION

Continuous Learning Key To Statesmanship



Continuous Learning Key To Statesmanship

Dev Raj Dahal

The ability of leadership to transform from political bossism to statesmanship rests on key strategic assets: continuous and competitive learning and gaining valuable experience, skills, outlook and wisdom so that it is well positioned to accomplish its tasks of governing and creating order, justice and peace. Gaining experience means to spot memory and overcome the historical amnesia about its lessons of reimagining past patterns and anticipating future trends about the indicators of national viability and progress.

At a time of interconnected crises of climate change, pandemic, migration, cultural transformation, political economy and the gender, this helps shape predictable pathways to the nation’s future.

The informational revolution has facilitated great flow of knowledge.

The only challenge for leadership is to pick up the right ideas that are workable beyond technocratic optimisation of rule. The later fails to untangle the parts from the whole to resolve crisis one by one.

In a stressful condition like Nepal’s, deliberation with caring intellectuals, experts and the public can create a good political platform.

It can mix the narrative of crises, spawn policies and project the life-world to decision makers. Formulation of multiple perspectives on single crisis helps optimally mitigate it and offers common good for all Nepalis.

Consultative learning

Nepali leaders in old times had adopted deliberative and consultative learning mode. Kings Jayasthiti Malla is known for his statecraft while Ram Shah for the dispensation of justice. Both created educational values for learning.

King Prithvi Narayan Shah, the architect of this nation, knew the historical forces of time, utilised the power of learning from the sages, scholars and citizens, spearheaded the national unification campaign and handed down a coherent set of wise counsels to his successors on vital public policies, many of them are still relevant today. Bhimsen Thapa demonstrated his patriotism and gallantry and sacrificed self for the national cause.

First Rana prime minister Jung Bahadur had displayed perfect fit of Kautilya’s aphorism: “brave like a lion and cunning like a jackal.”

He craftily internalised the lessons of realpolitik, embraced dynastic rule, tied his purpose to national identity and stability and introduced many reforms. Engaging with the public helps to get the ground level knowledge and insights into the errors of disciplinary experts.

This is what Tanka Prasad Acharya and BP Koirala did -- the former by virtues of conviction, audacity and indigenous insights and the later by reflective learning, exposure and creative intellectualisation. Both offered perfect track, tone and reason of light to King Mahendra to animate his policies of the balance of opposites in the internal politics and diversification in the external realm.

Knowing self, one’s own potential, identity and responsibility help gain intellectual self-confidence and moderate any flirtation with individual ego. Astavakra taught King Janak to abolish personal ego for the attainment of self-illumination and Videha while prince of peace Siddhartha Gautam self-learned the way to nirvana. Both reconciled kindness in life.

The extension of ego prevents learning from others, fosters authoritarian personality and disables them to outperform in competition with others. Former US president Richard Nixon rightly says: “One common characteristic of virtually all the great leaders I have known is that they have been great readers. Reading not only enlarges and challenges the mind; it also engages and exercises the brain.”

Insights from reading habits, honesty and integrity of K. P. Bhattarai and Mana Mohan Adhikari, courage, persistence and tenacity of Ganesh Man Singh and hypnotic power, thrilling accent and flamboyance of Madan Bhandari have stirred hearts and minds of Nepalis, thus leaving undeletable marks in Nepal’s history.

The current generation of leaders, an acolyte of new hierarchy, is successful to inspire political agitation, make citizens vote with passion and enthusiasm and create followers of conformity.

A sense of individuality and materialism is getting sturdy under the impact of modernity which otherwise practiced spiritual and social duty and connection with the family, community, society and the state.

The adoption of neoliberal version of post-modernism, migration and brain drain are now defining destiny of Nepalis, not by social solidarity but by stoking malaises for leadership style, social cohesion, party building and socialisation.

If Nepali leaders are divorced from popular concerns and judgment, they will continue to face the whirlpool of protests, not beauty of compromise cherished by civic culture and mend the nation’s political life.

The ideological boundaries between socialism, nationalism, liberalism and neo-liberalism have been blurred in Nepal’s leadership culture as most of national parties have adopted policies not framed by Nepali legislature but by the halls of global institutions devoid of any sense of subsidiarity. Nepali leaders of all political stripes are stripped off of policymaking duty thus drifting back into old mindset, creating one after another political

establishment, allowing its victims and aspirants of power always destabilise. It seemed unprepared to meet critical challenges the nation and citizens are facing. In Nepal, a vast support to party leaders in the various elections has set the legitimate mandate to govern but also corresponding responsibility to manage huge expectation of citizens.

Yet, their leadership failure to keep the mandate intact with performance ability marked the downfall of government. The leaders of both Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal have faced this predicament. It is associated with the problems of unlearning of leadership and institutional mal-adaptation of political parties to new times.

Current Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has demonstrated his acceptability and elicited support from former Prime Ministers Madhav Kumar Nepal, Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai as well as former Deputy Prime Minister Upendra Yadav but he has yet to prove effectiveness in giving full shape to the coalition government and delivering good governance to the country.

One personal problem of Nepali leaders is ego protection which caused self-handicap, long-term failure in learning about the survival, will to power and address national challenges.

Former prime minister KP Sharma Oli’s obstinacy marked his miscalculation of what was cooking inside his own party and the general political platform which ultimately deprived his legitimacy in power. The second problem is the fans of opposition who often criticise the ruling parties’ ability to rule and spotlight its failures thus eroding their images and hampering the ability to govern.

High performing culture of leaders lies on keeping themselves on right lighting of learning, professional accountability to popular mandate and tasks orientation on matters of implementing constitutional vision, goals and policies, ensure the wellbeing of citizens and set the nation in positive direction.

Nepali leadership can be broadly categorised into four types: survival-oriented, adaptable, maladaptive and forward-driven. The first type of leaders is survival-oriented. They may have achieved overnight stardom.

The leaders of this type included K. I. Singh, Madan Bhandari and Prachanda, who shortly lost the flash of their charm, faced myriad of problems and failed to muster legal-rational virtues, professional skills and ability to govern.

The latter two lacked agility and drive as they sprang from oratory stuff, organisation mobilisation and the strength of the crowd which was dissolved soon. The second type of leaders is adaptable ones which emerge from hereditary trait of “natural selection” common to most of parties.

They search for their personal, group and client’s security, get engaged in partisan team work and struggle to become resilient in power by whatever means available including paternalistic approach and unprincipled politics. Most of this type of Nepali leaders is transactional. They thrive on vote-buying and rent-seeking.

The third type of leaders is maladaptive ones to the nation’s history, culture, heritage and the political system and seeks to overthrow the superstructures through deconstructive and revolutionary means like Biplav and Baidya. Nepali media, civil society and scholars openly point that the gaps in their knowledge, self-orientation to mandate and unbounded complexity of the nation’s problems.

They thus find their personal success at the cost of the nation and often muddle around ideology, not marching the nation ahead with pragmatic policies. Yet, all of Nepal’s maladaptive leaders are driven by the response to change in an evolutionary way, the rhetoric of revolution notwithstanding resembling a sort of Don Quixote.

They offer considerable opportunity for the reform process in the light of zeitgeist.

The fourth type of leaders Nepalis are expecting is collaborative, participatory, open-minded, solution-oriented and humane ones. They find a great cause for the citizens to be mobilised, connect them with each other, seek to invent new solutions to new problems and resolve transitional politics by transformational means.

Their enlightened and higher order of learning provides Nepali society an ability to build value consensus across the diverse political spectrum which is the basis of cooperative action. In the lower order of knowledge leaders gather the crowd, rivet its attention and motivate emotion against the rivals for their personal self-aggrandisement in power.

Most of Nepali leaders have emerged from the self-superiority of revolutionary cause but they all ended in the compromise of their revolutionary élan thus forcing the ordinary citizens to perpetually look for leaders who can

connect them to their national roots, culture, identity, belonging and safety.

One serious irony of Nepali leaders is to discredit the old leaders in every government change without learning from their experience but sharing the same political culture of opportunism to eulogise the mass during election and estrange self-afterwards. Too much preoccupation with formal hierarchical position has undermined their humbleness. Nixon rightly says

“The successful leader does not talk down to people. He lifts them up.”

Many research questions pertaining to leadership can be left for future inquiry: Why transition politics in Nepal has become drawn-out affairs?

Why each establishment has created more losers than winners of the political game thus putting the regime often at risk? Who have to bear the costs of leadership weakness? What are its implications for political stability in Nepal? Continuous learning by all the types of leadership in Nepal is important to gain greater amount of knowledge and wisdom to better understand the complexity of the national situation, end the transition politics, shape sound public policies, avert internal and geopolitical risks, resolve the pressing issue of distributive justice reducing the size of losers and calibrate the direction of the nation into correct path.

Collaborative approach

They need tremendous amount of collaborative approach in the style of team-building, seek a shift from “I” to “We” approach, moderate the leadership deference barriers, upgrade progress in the reflection to human condition and remain sensitive to empathy and responsibility to ordinary Nepalis. The constitutional vision of egalitarian society and corresponding sensibilities requires all-winners policies and strategies and set the parameters of political stability.

This means Nepal leaders must eschew from herd mentality, know how various sub-systems operate and how the growth of knowledge they generate can be generalised at the national scale for saving lives and alleviating stabbing cramp of suffering through empirical and pragmatic policies.

Matthew Syed says, “Progress is driven, in large part, by practices,” adding that successful leaders “naturally regard failure as an inevitable aspect of learning.” If learning declines, their grand strategies deteriorate and their conceptualisation of failures falters. Encouraging them to effectively learn can help carve out healing forte of the current morass

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