Communication scholar Herbert W. Simons postulates that movement-time politics is influenced by the requirements leaders set, the problems they face and the strategies they apply to meet the requirements and overcome the problems. A cursory look at Simons’ postulations would help explain why Nepali leaders are more entangled in partisan vicissitudes than focused in the country’s progress.
The leaders’ practical requirements are diverse. First, they are in constant need of collecting cadres and voters into an effectively organized unit. But being physically organized does not suffice unless the leadership maintains reasonable hierarchy and distribution of responsibilities among the cadres. Stratification augmented by member activism ensures sustenance of party interests.
Second, leaders are conditioned to take ambiguous stances. In case of an issue of common interest, they take one position within the party to the satisfaction of the members and benefit of the party-line, but another in the public to the hearing of their opponents and understanding of the common voters. They take yet another stance in an inter-party meeting to the benefit of their party through exerting victory over a cause or dignity on a defeat in the same cause. The most challenging of all is the need to ensure acceptance of their visions and programmes by the state. Long-established norms of the state often overrule new programmes, so leaders frequently clash with the agents of the larger structure, and feel compelled to garner strength through increase of cadres and vigorous trainings. Consequently, parties and their leaders diverge from contributing to welfare programmes.
On the surface, inter-party conflicts form the only setback for effective leadership, but leadership faces more intra-party hassles. The first has to do with maintaining a proper balance between extremist and moderate factions of cadres during decisive movements. Extremism like exerting physical force may lead to the withdrawal by the moderate supporters who could be the source of more peaceful, intellectual, and judicial inputs and who would act as mediators in negotiations. Moderation may also lead to the rebellion by militant supporters who would be decisive for retaliation and exertion of physical forces.
Another practical challenge of leadership includes the need to veil real intentions by means of the oratorical art of falsification, camouflage or hyperboles while addressing the supporters. This again clashes with the need of reliability and credibility in arguments. Besides, leaders have the pressure to adapt to multiple audiences at the same time, and the utterances meant for one group are disseminated by the mass media to other unintended audience. Leaders might still escape the mass’s criticism, but cannot bamboozle their own cadres. This situation suggests the state of discrepancy between leaders’ defined roles and actual deeds.
Political parties literally do not function with the small-is-beautiful principle. Irrespective of the degree of organizational strength and leadership merits, they are in constant urge to expand. During a time of movement against a highly resistant authority, supporters are needed in the form of a strong mass regardless of their earlier orientations and potential deviation. In elections only a numerical majority ensures authority and power to materialize the manifesto. But the number-based politics is tricky. The number may not work when manageable. After it works, it may begin to become unmanageable. It may shoot up when a party is ideologically premature, and dwindle when fully mature. Nepal’s major political leaders may have known this problem better.
There are some more aspects of leadership crises. First, the contest among leaders within the same party due to the emergence of three types of leaders during a movement: the theoreticians, agitators and propagandists. The second concerns the ideological conflict among those with high profiles, most of whom belong to such binary factions as inclusionists or exclusionists and fundamentalists or revisionists. The third includes the dominance of the “charismatic” (domineering personalities, orators) and “specifically competent” (specialists, professionals, highly educated) persons. Presence of such leaders may underestimate the mediocre but long-term supporters. The fourth aspect is the rift between the financially rich and resourceful and poor and less resourceful members.
During public appearances leaders appear complacent and confident as though they have outmaneuvered all kinds of antagonism and regression surrounding them. This is where they seem to retain the symbolic stature of being the agents of welfare and advancement. But, such appearance and stature cannot betray the reality of their obligation to thread a way through a labyrinth of demands and complaints from within and outside the party. As stated earlier, the pressure comes from both the mild and the uncompromising groups of cadres. As a result, leaders are required to maneuver at least three types of strategies of tackling challenges, which also sometimes underlie the existence of three types of leaders. Herbert Simons categorizes these as moderate, militant and intermediate strategies.
The moderate are characterized by reasoning, politeness and restraint. Leaders of such quality get angry but do not yell. Even for rebellion they would rather choose to issue pamphlets than use destructive means. Moderate leadership seeks to change attitudes as a precondition for the resolution of crises. The moderate gain entry in decision centres for their capacity to provide constructive, intellectual inputs. The militant strategy, in contrast, takes changing people’s actions as the precondition for bringing changes. Conflict resolution for the militant is the defeat of opponent voices. They become visible during violent movements, and most probably sulk away from peaceful negotiations. The intermediate approach follows the “alternation between carrot and stick.” The intermediates speak modestly in private spaces, but stridently to the masses, thereby attaining sometimes ironical and most of the times paradoxical postures. They may end up antagonizing supporters by abrupt shifts from moderation to militancy or vice versa. They may boost the morale of followers and win over the disinterested with the power of oratory in a value-laden language.
These leadership types mainly operate among two types of people: the “power-vulnerable” and the “power-invulnerable.” The first comprise the so-called highbrows like the university professors, government officials, leaders of corporate houses and retired personalities. During transitions, they are susceptible to the shifts in power centres and change their stances as guided by the will to secure their positions and possessions. The second include the people who may lack both positions and possessions, or have nothing to lose or gain even in the intensity of crises. They are able to escape dangers if they choose to, and do not refrain from retaliating if need arises.
The discussion on the rhetorical requirements, problems and strategies of leadership should suggest why Nepalese leadership has not been able to retain its representative national stature. How can leaders fully belong to the nation and devote time to the welfare of citizens so long as they are in a labyrinth of movement-time vicissitudes? We are yet to wait to be out of the era of party-building; nation-building may start when leaders have fewer reasons to be self-centred.
[Originally published in Republica, 18/2/2011)