Humanity now stands at a dangerous moment of history. This moment is testing the efficacy of leaders in containing and coping with the effects of global climate change exerting stress on ecosystem and outbreak of pandemic coronavirus surmounting sovereign boundaries. In a world structured by a web of interconnections, these issues are arousing international security concerns and posing existential threat to human and species survival. It is unveiling no blast of scientific insight for exact medicine and spiritual and political wisdom to cope with them. It is revealing an adrift of global geopolitics even causing the paralysis of military, economic and political power to reshape a just global order. In any society leaders occupy the centre of attention for their power of providing direction, promising a better life for citizens and a sense of motivation to overcome insidious disconnect of transports and transactions underway now. National leaders symbolise the age-old notion of inspiration and representation of citizens in the structure of the polity and offer a common cause to mobilise their collective energy for coping crisis. Successful leaders are capable of mediating the opposing forces of society in the process of realising their personal self-worth through the formulation of suitable public policy. It is vital to make difference in their lives and construct national identity. In times of national crisis afflicted by interconnected nature of natural disaster, economic adversity and pandemic citizens’ support for leaders’ strategy for nationwide lockdown and social isolation is essential to control the fertilisation and spread of coronavirus. It is also vital for the unity of segmented subcultures and an awareness and wit to move beyond rationalist conception of politics. It helps to save them from abyss and justify the quarantine. The cardinal virtues for good leadership are: ability to motivate citizens for their initiatives, assume public-spirited role, play by its art and authenticity of public opinion and acquire experience through gifted skills and competence for innovative adaptation. The recent global outbreak of COVID-19 has falsified the neo-liberal belief that free market takes care of public goods including health care, medical supplies, virus testing kits, face masks, medicines and nutritious foods. The supply of public goods on the basis of economic model distances the poor Nepalis from its benefits. The elite private hospitals manifest its logic: they shut the hospital gates for virus infected patients though they enjoy exemption of state taxes and other subsidies. The only hope lies in the state-run health care system and community efforts in maintaining care and social conscience. Impassioned Nepalis cry for the state’s mindful roles in their rescue from quarantine in foreign land, medical treatment, relief, safety and livelihood means for the wretched. This relieves them from the anxiety disorder. Nepali health workers are demanding safety tools to save themselves while attending patients. Leaders are supposed to whet the appetite for empathy, remove the existential stress and painful social seclusion of citizens until the risk of virus infection wanes. The execution of heath planning, opening of quarantine centres, virus testing labs in various hospitals and import of necessary medical equipment have generated great hope. Transparency in the procurement of necessary health tools can build trust in leaders. This pandemic marks a shift in balance from the market to the state and demands shift across the social identity sort of leadership to national identity, mobilise human and non-human resources figuring out where the nation’s public and national interests lie and deflate and mitigate its spreading effects by taking into account the concerns of victims and losers in the time of uncertain, solitary and pathetic life. The tragedy of Nepali leaders begins with the personalisation of power, corrosion of trust on public institutions and weak authority of the state for their excessive reliance on private, non-state actors, civil society, NGOs and corporate behemoths for long as many of them eschewed from their ethical duties. The latter are even monitored for their indulgence in the price rise and hoarding of critical supplies against the laws of the land while the former on parochial politics that barely helps in promoting civility. Trustworthy leaders alone can create social capital necessary for an interface between the state and its citizens in crisis mitigation. Nepalis often judge their leaders on the basis of their accountability and transparency in crisis-responsive initiatives and duty to future generation. Democratic leaders are solidaristic, transparent and accountable to the citizens in terms of fulfilling their electoral promises, constitutional rights and humanitarian obligations and move beyond “us” versus “them” distinctions that polarise society and weaken national energy to tide over any crisis which is systemic nature. Multi-scale cooperation and sharing of insight can hone creative response. The duty of leaders in time of crisis is to ease the delivery of relief, humanitarian aid and public good, steer citizens in a positive direction and maintain communication with citizens. Virtuous leaders are habitually reflective whose civic ideals lie in pro-active spirit of pragmatism, moral code and complex feedback with them so that Nepali polity can sustain its checks and balances and averts the risks of inefficiency and abuse of authority and consequently corrodes public trust in leaders’ security, economic, political and health initiatives. They need to accept the values of integrity and reciprocity and respect the difference of society. In no way leadership is a matter of passive status and mere combination of certain unique traits to influence others. Democratic leaders thrive in working together with citizens and active in demonstrating political will for discharging vital duties, even to serve fringe voices. Leadership’s core function is to provide niti (policy) to promote general public welfare. This pulls the stake of all Nepalis into multi-layered polity. The national vision is a big idea derived from the tradition of statecraft, Constitution and the zeitgeist. Leaders must have durdristi (far-sight), capacity to perceive the future shape of things, avert impending risks and maintain corresponding level of coordination. Nepali leaders have to broaden their partisan frame of mind to acquire national traits. Some leaders are innovative, responsive and crisis coping who utilise the national strength to reap opportunities of new kind, others are impulsive who suffer from historical amnesia, crisis-averse, crazy and do not learn either from history or other countries, others are crisis-neutral interested only in the maintenance of status quo and still others wait for opportunity to fish in the troubled waters. As a social influence process Nepali leaders need to elicit the voluntary participation of cadres and citizens to accomplish Directive Principles and Policies underlined in the Constitution and build an awareness of citizens about the importance of social isolation as virus-preventive remedy. To become effective, they need to muster continuous support, loyalty and trust of citizens. Democratic practice of leadership has an effect on the creation of civic political culture as it promotes desirable cognition, beliefs, attitudes and values in society. Virtuous leaders foster the harmonious development of community, organisation, society and the nation, acquire skills and capacity to foster the democratisation providing opportunity for the social mobility of citizens. They help break the tradition of patronage politics and give Nepalis a sense of equality and fellow feelings in worthy initiatives. In a diverse nation like Nepal crafting a rational perspective above the affinity of political tribe, sound relationship with genuine civil society, stronger public orientation and the civic education for active citizenship capable of influencing policy and decisions is necessary. The Nepali Constitution has underlined the citizens’ rights to work, information, health, education and the creation of a socialism-oriented egalitarian and open society based on ecological, social, gender and intergenerational justice. As political parties of Nepal are important institutions for socialisation, mobilisation, mediation of policy and instruments of collective action they require transformational leadership able to motivate citizens to pursue the collective good benefiting all and keeping their interests above personal search for status, power and position. Transactional ones are based on interpersonal transaction between leaders, cadres and voters and act more as administrator who often creates an aura of significance for self and keep citizens in certain distance like aristocratic ones. This transformational leadership often tries to revitalise the organisational life of the nation by means of initiating changes as per the changing times and manage their undesirable effects. Any long-term vision of national leadership in Nepal has to capture the process of breaking the cycle of poverty, boosting socially inclusive economic growth, improving social justice and achieving general wellbeing of Nepalis. Virtuous leaders are nestled in certain dispositions, character traits, moral code, public interest motivation and self-discipline. They have an interest in risk taking and crisis managing skills to settle myriad of social and political dynamics in the nation, not by scientific detachment for producing truth which is the job of media persons and scholars but constructive engagement in society for the promotion of security and safety, freedom, justice and peace. Such leadership bears morally responsive, honest and dependable character, not utility-maximising and thirsty for fulfilling primitive passion for power, money and status. In a crisis time Nepali leaders have to provide rational perspective on issues at stake, diagnose the vices of society to keep control, mobilise their cadres in building public awareness about the symptoms of pandemic, preventive and remedial measures, enforcement of behavioural guidelines, manage expectation and build social solidarity with those in need to overcome general feeling of helplessness and vulnerability. Acting judiciously can turn their image virtuous, human and statespersons like.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)