Monday, 6 December, 2021

The Wisdom Of Statesperson

Dev Raj Dahal


THE pragmatic goal of political leaders is to capture the power, cling to it, expand its empire and demonstrate vigour with or without any stellar performances. Politics is a life of public service and, therefore, leadership ability rests on building public trust. More than dry facts and information, leaders are socialised to assume particular kind of governing instinct, desire, disposition, emotion, feeling and attitudes that draw the loyalties of citizens. But only upholding the supremacy of passion of power over the wisdom of law leaves many societal forces to exercise free choice - discontent, distancing, disaffection and rebellion. Nepalis across the political spectrum now look for the satisfaction of some normative ideals of shared goals and means underlined in the Constitution of Nepal and expect the leaders to perform their responsibilities. It is possible when they create a political system binding to all and make politics and economy less disruptive of legitimate order.
A common polity and robust social contract can raise the stake of all Nepalis in the nation’s future. Many policy intellectuals of Nepal trained in interest-based disciplinary social sciences and corrupted by geopolitically designed conceptual fads regardless of contextual relevance have often lost their stand while encountering leaders. The later have used their expertise to justify and rationalise their behaviour and action, rational or irrational, and distorted the sanctity of political sphere as the public. The public intellectuals now see the global shifting power balance from the market to the state. They demand Nepali leaders to acquire skill in statecraft with the grit to represent its raison d’ etre, unify the society and harness peaceful civic life.
The insight into the realm of human affairs qualifies individuals for leadership while their love for wisdom and goodness enables them to act as statesperson. Nepali leaders’ utilitarian temptations to make political sphere partisan to expand patronage-based electoral constituency to ensure their political career and ignore national vision have distorted the public political culture of placing happiness and welfare of citizens above all else. Only the statespersons can turn politics public and national, break the intricate knot of contested narratives and overcome anti-political prejudices of leaders through a path of decency. The intellectual exaltation of Nepali leaders beyond the limits of their human nature and passion only revealed the fact that they are operating against their own rational faculties, conscience and intellect and lust for privilege overwhelm their courage to speak truth to powerful elites.
Aristotle is right when he says, “the ultimate source of knowing is wisdom, an understanding of why of things.” For ancient philosophers like Valmiki, Astavakra, Plato, Aristotle and Kautilya, education of leadership is central to their perfectibility in the wisdom of statecraft, creation of an ideal state and righteous working of governance pertaining to happiness and welfare of citizens. They embody truth-seeking satyo guna (virtuous deeds) and help the leaders in overcoming the struggle of opposite forces at all spheres of human life - dharma, artha, kama and mokscha - and orienting them to fulfil universal mission of enlightenment. This prompts them in adopting sharing and caring political economy. The Upanishads too say that human nature can be purified by higher level of consciousness and wisdom, not contaminated by selfish interest. In the knowledge society of today conflict begins not only from the scarcity of public good but the public perception of its mal-distribution.
Unlike leaders, the statespersons’ have big picture of the interconnection of national and global life. Their goals are to change the world for they combine the mini goals of political leaders, factional bosses of political parties and societal actors, bridge the fissures arising out of ferocious partial interests and devise suitable policies and strategies to steer the governance to collective vision of the Constitution of Nepal. The statespersons are virtuous for they possess moral quality and intellectual humility in a matter of doing the right things in the right time and are accountable for their policies and action. They are governed by the gift of political experience and wisdom, perform better than leaders or factional bosses within a given national and international situation, create a viable political system to operate vital national institutions and constitution for a legitimate public order and offer public good to satisfy the general aspirations of all Nepalis.
The change in the framework condition of Nepal - both internal and external - requires new mode of political inquiry and policy analysis as previous strategies, regimes and rules of the game have remained unsettled and outdated. The endearing flair of political wisdom and foresight, not only scientific rationality, can recover Nepali leaders from their flaws of parochial mind and action provided they enlarge their perspective to national scale beyond survival imperatives.
The ideal of scientific world is simple governed by collaboration and reasoned debate and grows with the discourse of cause-effect ties. Its findings can be optimally applied to repair this wounded planet of which the nation is a member of this community and improve Nepalis life-chances in education, health, material progress and moral sensitivities. But the circumstances of political world are complex, limitless and often fleeting with the change in issues, actors and rules of the game. It demands solidarity and collective action because their linkages cut across conventional knowledge boundaries.
In the context of global systemic crisis now Nepali leaders have to find a new leverage to enable the nation’s conducive symbiosis in the neighbourhood and global geopolitics and pursue self-amplifying strategies that can foster positive outcome. James Martin says that wisdom “comes from the synthesis of a large amount of knowledge and experience that may take much of a life time to acquire" for it involves “ judgment, reflection about beliefs and thinking about events in terms of how they might be different.” The Nepali version of wisdom, however, combines higher virtues above knowledge and good action so that leaders are capable of awakening prudence and conscience in the light of universal reason and change the gear of politics from as usual style to changing conditions of national life.
Owing to the weak exercise of political will in Nepal the site of politics is heavily saturated by pre-political tribal, non-political security, administration, justice and discipline-oriented and anti-political business actors-the later convert political clout into business and turns leadership transactional, not transformational, thus incapable of ruminating the malaises of modern Nepal. As a result, political discourse in Nepal is dominated by the language of tirade, not shared defence of public and national interests, certain common democratic values of decency across the political and social spectrum. This is precisely the reason political space in Nepal is unstable fed by natural selection of life at the elite level while the ordinary public is fated to face necessity, poverty and determinism of various sorts, not finding the means of equal distribution of freedom. The traditional concept of political leadership is often based on a plot against the rivals to dispose while the modern rationality is rooted in acting virtuously along right path together for shared burden and benefits and bonding with the community from the rule Nepali village to the global scale.
Politics is not about the merits of competing leadership quality but the search of common good, where leaders conceptualise their options and justify the ethics of political action. The successful political leaders need the electoral mandate of citizens, insight and knowledge of history, ability to learn the various aspirations, expressions and needs of citizens and skill to handle problems in concrete circumstances without rolling rivals to the extremes in bad times. Think tank and epistemic community need to furnish updated policy - relevant knowledge and insight rather than just producing facts and information and analysing trends and trajectories by crunching data sets. The rationality of wise political action rests on adequate knowledge of what actually occurs on the ground.
Failure, turning back and inertia create credibility gap before the eyes of public and various types of opponents as information revolution has enabled Nepalis to visualise a fair society based on freedom, choice and equal opportunity, deploy their associational strength in attaining it and furnish correct solution to a set of fundamental problems from pandemic, climate change, rescuing citizens in trouble, providing them livelihood means to securing economic progress. Shared patriotism, not multi-nation state, can transcend identity politics in Nepal and strengthen national identity characteristic of democratic life. It offers Nepal’s various social and cultural groups a common platform and a vision that places the nation’s diversity in fair proportion, in proper limits so that their interests, identities and ideologies are optimised in the middle path.
Shaping the nation’s better future is integral to political wisdom of leaders, their ability to utilise scientific innovations underway and utilise the nation’s strategic geography in relation to world politics, resolve the underlying causes of irrational conduct and forces that expose Nepalis’ noble vulnerability to uncertainty and unburden the future generations. Scientific and social scientific knowledge is necessary but not sufficient to contribute to wisdom if they are less integrated into the meaning and values of blissful national philosophy of life by improving all the imperfections. Knowledge grows fast but wisdom demands the perilous experience and turning leaders more considerate to public goodness of ordinary Nepalis.
The morality of social, economic and political systems and the rightful production, distribution and exchange are essential generator of political stability and overall progress for it restraints the leaders self-advancement at public cost. The wisdom of Nepali leaders, like gardeners, lies in enabling citizens to cultivate the garden of “four castes and 36 colours” by the wisdom of generations without mal-adapting to changing times. The revitalisation of ideals and insights of wisdom in the teaching of great Nepali sages and scholars and engaging leaders and citizens in public affairs are vital for inclusive and agile Nepal.

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