Nepal’s inconseqential leaders

Murari Sharma

Presidential historians have suggested that Barack Obama has already become one of the most consequential American presidents. He introduced the Affordable Healthcare Act (aka Obama care) Democrat presidents had tried for 40 years, ended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, concluded a nuclear treaty with Iran, and reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba, abandoning decades long American sanctions that had no international approval.

Obama is not one of the most successful American presidents. Yet he has shown how much a leader can accomplish in less than eight years.

Do the leaders of Nepal ever think of going down in history as someone of consequence? Maybe, they do at times of quiet contemplation. Some have left their footprints. Prithvi Narayan Shah unified Nepal. Bahadur Shah expanded it. Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah put his crown at stake to throw the Ranas out. BP Koirala brought multiparty democracy in Nepali hills and plains. Mahendra and Birendra Shah introduced and advanced economic development. Ganesh Man Singh and Girija Koirala led the people’s movements to restore the democratic rights of the Nepali people.

In the current crop of leaders also, there are many people who made great sacrifices as young men and women to remove the old political system and introduce a new one. Sushil Koirala devoted his life to democracy. KP Oli spent years in jail for his political belief. Pushpa Kamal Dahal waged an armed insurgency to introduce Maoist communism in the country. Yet why is it that the Nepali people feel that they have no leader?

The problem is, as it seems, there are only leaders of political parties in Nepal. There are no leaders of the Nepali people. Political leaders may start as a leader of the party or a ruling junta. Some graduate into being the leaders of their people; others remain leaders of their political parties only. Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru started as the Indian Congress leaders but transformed themselves into national leaders. Lee Kwan-Yew and Mahathir Mohammad began their political career as leaders of their parties and became national leaders consequently.

Do not any of our political leaders want ever to become a national leader? I am sure they all want to be. But what is preventing them? Actually, a lot of factors.

In an article published in Harvard Business Review of 15 December 2014, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman have identified 10 traits of a successful leader: Strategic vision, customer (people) focus, fearless loyalty to the goal, culture of upward communication, persuasion, goal stretching, speed, candor, and ability to inspire and motivate through action.

In a Pew Research Center Survey, 84 percent respondents thought honesty was the most essential quality of a successful leader.

Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of America, has said, “If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing.”

Now I leave it to our leaders to self-assess themselves as to what traits, given above, they have and what they do not.

We all know a sudden rush of enlightenment and impetus dawned on the Big Four to expedite the constitution writing process in the wake the massive, devastating earthquakes in April and May this year. The quake took nearly 10,000 lives, damaged nearly 7 billion dollars’ worth of private and public properties, and affected one-fourth of the 28 million Nepali people in one way or another.

But why the hurry now?

Let me start with the Big Four’s explanation. They have said the people expect the constitution completed soon and it is their obligation to bury their hatchet and get the work done quickly. No doubt, this is a compelling narrative, except that it is not true. Hit by the loss of their relatives and their homes, people expected help for recovery and relief, not a new constitution, which could wait for another couple of months.

Burying the hatchet, which had been pulled out for the last seven years, is indeed a commendable step. But this, few will believe, happened because the leaders were suddenly stricken by a sense of duty, which they seldom have been; it actually happened because the Maoists and other political parties wanted to join the government to have their hand in the huge reconstruction pie the development partners have promised in the donors conference.

In other words, the driving force behind the 16 point agreement among the major political parties is anything but political or constitution. Otherwise, why would they commit the fantastic forgery of fraudulent fiction that the draft constitution is within a matter of week or so after the tremor?

OK, I admit finding consensus on the contradictory worldviews on the constitution of different players was difficult. Kamal Thapa and his ilk want a Hindu state. Chitra Bahadur KC and his type have nothing to do with federalism. Mahant Thakur and Upendra Yadav want ethnic states. Even large chunks of the Nepali Congress and the UML do not agree with this fraud.

The sham of collecting public opinion on the draft and Pushpa Kamal Dahl’s pilgrimage to Delhi have brought new fissures or revived the old ones that were assumed covered. The idea of executive president has been revived again, because it is convenient to some parties and groups, but the support for Hindu state and fewer provinces which the majority wanted have been conveniently ignored. The guaranteed rights for food, education, treatment, employment, unemployment benefits, and pension and so on are fantasies that even the rich Scandinavian countries have not promised have found place in the draft constitution of one of the poorest countries in the world. This is what makes the draft a flagrant fraud.

If Nepal’s growth and prosperity were to be measured in terms of our leaders’ wealth and prosperity, our country would be one of the richest. Our leaders have obtained unprecedented prosperity since 1990.  If our leaders’ promise is the measure of our progress, we should be a rich country. Our leaders have promised the sky, not just now but for many decades in the past if not centuries. If they had delivered a tiny fraction of what they have promised, we would have been a middle-income country at least.

But what is happening really is this: The more our leaders are promising to make us rich and prosperous, the more they themselves are getting rich and prosperous and the people are getting poorer.

When he was seeking election for the first time, US President Barack Obama promised hope, an empty word, but delivered so many things to make American people better off in his less than 8 years in the White House, so far. Our leaders promised growth, food, health care, education, jobs, roads and drinking water for decades, but now they are promising empty hope in the new constitution.

Our leaders might have reasons to believe that the Nepali people grow in words, eat words, drink words, treat their ailment with words, work words, drive on words. What could be the reason to make them think so? Is it that Netra Chand was in Dubai when his supporters were torching vehicles in Kathmandu to enforce the strike called by him? Nepal is a paradise to be a leader.

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Voter objectivity needed to change political attitude

Murari Sharma

Many significant developments of long-term consequences have occurred in the last 15 days around the world and in Nepal, since I posted my article in the electronic media.

Let me recap. Across the world, the febrile Greek debt crisis has boiled over, culminating in a referendum that supported the anti-austerity option only to be swiftly abandoned. South Sudan continued to simmer in a brutal civil war. A court has handed death sentence to the former Egyptian president Morsi and a number of his supporters. An Islamic State supporter has killed several dozen people in a beach in Tunisia. Ukraine has continued to bleed in east and southeast. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has continued to rage in one form or another.

Similarly, in Nepal, the new constitution was hastily drafted in the midst of dissent and chaos to clear the way for an all-party-government so all parties would have their hand in the post-earthquake reconstruction purse. A bill to provide generous facilities to former political and judicial officials was presented and, due to public uproar against it, was quickly shelved. A new civil service bill was approved, prohibiting government employees having residency in developed countries. However, the victims of the major earthquakes of April and May 2015, who deserve national attention, remain willfully neglected.

What is common in these two sets of circumstances? Politically convenient priority.

Politicians almost entirely determine our public life and affect considerably our private life. They claim to work for people but seldom do that. They may profess peace and harmony in power, but they work to agitate and divide people when they are out of it to regain it. Mahatma Gandhi has said, “Action expresses priority.” Evidently, not words.

Political priorities change with personal circumstances. The leaders of Germany, the largest creditor of Greece, have conveniently forgotten that other countries had forgiven wartime debt and have relentlessly insisted that Athens pay every penny it owes to Berlin. Now they want order, because that suits them.

Similarly, South Sudanese leaders, who waged war of attrition to separate from the north citing religious and racial differences only recently, refuse to recognize the same right to identity to their minorities.

The Egyptian people fought for democracy, but the Islamic Brotherhood leaders gave Morsi as president. Morsi consolidated power in his hand. When the people rose against him, Sisi promised democracy but gave dictatorship, worse than that of Morsi. Now Sisi is unleashing more repression than Morsi ever did, all in the name of Egyptian people.

In Tunisia, the Islamic State took nearly three dozen lives in a beach, in the name of Allah, because the IS wants medieval power there at the cost of imperfect democracy.

In Ukraine, the western countries supported the Maidan uprising against an elected president and forced him to flee. Now the Russians are supporting separatists in the east and southeast against Kiev. The Ukrainian leaders and people are being used by western and Russian politicians as their pawns in their geopolitical contest.

The Israel-Palestine conflict may be in lull for a while, but it is ready for conflagration any time at the slightest trigger. They kill each other in the name of people, who want negotiation and peace between the people that share the land there.

In Nepal, the big four political parties have drafted a new constitution amidst opposition from smaller parties. The Constituent Assembly took 7 years to come up with the preliminary draft, but the leaders are giving only 15 days for the public to express their opinion. It is a sterile charade. No matter what the people say, it is a document, a compromise among the leaders of four main parties. It cannot be changed. However, this charade is being enacted to claim popular legitimacy for the statute the leaders have written to suit their interests — after bargaining which leader is going to occupy which high position after the law of the land is promulgated.

The government presented a bill proposing extravagant privileges for former political office holders in the name of people. In the teeth of popular disgust, from the same in whose name it was done, the bill has been shelved, until when the dust settles down and the leaders can approve those privileges for themselves in the name of the same people who have opposed it.

The CA also recently approved a new Civil Service Act that empowers the government to fire any public employee who has residency in western countries, not in the neighboring countries though. The leaders did it in the name of people though there was wide public opposition to this measure.

In other words, political leaders do what they want but they do it in the name of people. But their priority keeps changing based on their personal interest. They seldom care about the people and use their name to advance their personal interests. They do not bother about people until the next election cycle knocks on their doors.

At times, I wonder whether it is the fault of leaders or people who support them. Society without political leaders might be inconceivable, but society with political leaders has been fraught with conflicts and wars. Until we the people acquire the knowledge to tell right from wrong without any ideological blinkers and channel our support based on merit rather than on allegiance, we will remain pawns in the hands of unscrupulous politicians.

We often blame politicians for our owes, and rightly so. However, we need to be aware that somewhere we might also be at fault. We have let our politicians get away with murder. Voter objectivity, free of ideological and other loyalties, is critical to shape political attitude consequentially for the better and force politicians represent their voters rather than their personal interests, more than anything else.