The discourse on the nexus between leaders, intellectuals and political parties often takes an interesting form. The nexus is tricky. In Nepal, the three are embedded with one another so tenaciously that isolating one from the other is almost impossible. Moreover, people often switch roles and make any differentiation difficult. This is to say, it is challenging to isolate independent intellectuals from politicians or vice versa. Even civil society leaders, writers, artists, journalists and civil servants fare better in the art (and frequency) of camp-switching.
Not all leaders are intellectuals. Nor are all intellectuals good leaders. Leaders are supposed to lead people. Intellectuals are supposed to lead opinions. This is why political parties provide reservations for intellectuals. In the same way, intellectuals trust leaders as their representatives regardless of how educated and knowledgeable the latter are. But ironically, intellectuals mostly consider leaders less sophisticated and thoughtful. Leaders regard intellectuals less useful than ordinary cadres.
Intellectuals claim and command less fame. The reason is they rarely come out to sow hope to the general mass at a time of real crisis. They seem relatively less prompt at sacrificing personal dignity and family compulsions during critical times. Leaders command immediate trust because they can be quick enough to share common fate and sentiments of the mass. Leaders live with the mass no matter how many times they make and break promises. The mass do not notice intellectuals as they do not make prompt promises and excuses. Neither can intellectuals mobilize a mass to the extent of making swift changes. During fast political developments, intellectuals remain in the background. They may choose to speak from a decent forum or expect to be respectfully invited to the protests, while the mass needs a torchbearer to hit/heat the street. Leaders, who rise from the mass and know the culture of the street, show unique potential to mix. Foolhardiness required of a critical moment comes out of frontline activists. Intellect is a rare need of the battlefield.
Parties are believed to lack independently-thinking intellectuals; crude decisions and acts of party leaders are ascribed to the lack of maturity in serious planning. However, it is a tricky notion that one can be in a party and remain independent at the same time. Independent thinkers either do not join parties, or quit them when ‘non-intellectuals’ begin to be dominant. Besides, intellectuals are believed to be in a danger of going into oblivion since parties ‘do not make use of them.’ We very often hear complaints that parties do not use the potential of intellectuals in the process of nation building. But, will intellectuals really go into oblivion if parties do not contain them? Do they need recognition and platform within parties if they wish to help transform the society?
And, who are our intellectuals? If we take university professors as intellectuals, as we often do, they can hardly be seen independent from politics. In the backdrop of most of our universities’ near-stagnation amidst political bickering, the role of professors as constructive/productive forces comes under question. How far does the new generation of aspiring youths see their gurus as potential agents of change while the institutions that have given them recognition are not prospering? One would easily attribute this lack of progress to political parties and their cadres. But who are the cadres, save the professors, staffs and students?
Parties need support of intellectuals – if not for constructive contributions, certainly for credibility. But some people change stances according to political convenience because parties do not necessarily apply strict filtering and indoctrination so far as showing or winning majority becomes a crucial ‘democratic’ need. In one sense, parties are as much the victims of betrayal by camp-switchers as Nepal is by parties themselves. But this is not a good excuse for pushing the country into instability. Parties have greater responsibilities than individuals.
Common voters are not necessarily rigid party cadres. They are used by one or the other parties during elections, and practically go into isolation after the tempo of election subsides. The educated and ‘the famous’ are equally flexible. They may change after election when a party hogs the limelight. But the former become less of a choice for their limited potentials after the election. The latter command higher precedence with their potential to fit in alternatives. This is why some ‘intellectuals’ do not hesitate to swipe their intellectual mastercard to buy party slogans and win congenial posts.
In Nepal, people usually declare themselves as intellectuals in connection with their geopolitical location. The people who claim this identity are the urbanites – the educated, the well-to-do, the smart, the careful, the wise, to use their own terms. To speak from their own point of view, they are those who know how to live decently. Or, they are those who know when to make hay. They are those who would possibly vacation in the safety of their homes during critical days while youths in thousands swarm onto the streets from the capital’s vicinities. For them, life just goes on in the shelter of their jobs and businesses. When parties were clamouring against the monarchy before April 2006, these intellectuals were disturbed. They might have wished that the king would teach everyone to keep quiet or stop becoming adamant. Many of them rejoiced when the then King Gyanendra ousted Sher Bahadur Deuba. They welcomed the Feb 1 takeover. With this strategy, they managed to survive the Ranarchy and Shahrchy, and have the potential to outlive present instability and future federalism. The art of camp-switching allows them this sustainability. Actual intellectuals, who lead opinions in the real sense, are lost in the labyrinth created by these self-declared wiseacres.
In reality, intellectuals and politicians should complement one another provided they function independently. Wisdom and knowledge do not need political accreditation. Nepal needs the dominance of volunteer intellectuals and intellectual politicians. Nepalis have almost lost faith on those who either promote or escape uncertainties.
[Published in Republica on 3 Oct. 2010]