16 March 2014

The leader must be conscious of ‘the gathering’

Elections are about representatives. Leaders.  Candidates believe they are leaders or at least that they can be leaders.  Maybe they know everything there is to know about leaders.  Some, though, may benefit from some salient points made more than 2,500 years ago by the Enlightened One, Siddhartha Gauthama, the Buddha. This is the fifth and last of a five-part explication, first published three years ago in 'The Nation'.  

The discussion I launched on the Pagnamakkanuvattanasutta or the ‘First on the turning of the wheel,’ a couple of months ago was unfortunately interrupted by a necessity to comment on issues of national import.  The Pagnamakkanuvattanasutta, contained in the Raja Vagga (discourses referring to kings) of the Anguttara Nikaya (Numerical Discourses) details some very interesting observations by Siddhartha Gauthama, our Budun Wahanse, about the ideal attributes of the Chakravarthi or the Universal King. 

As mentioned in previous discussions on this subject, this sutta lays out five characteristics of the (successful) universal monarch and can be applied in the modern context to any ruler or indeed any leader of any institution, public, corporate or cooperative. I’ve already discussed the first four requirements i.e. the need to consider profitability, be conscious of the righteous, be tempered enough to ascertain appropriateness of action and have a sense of timing.  Today, I shall consider the last of these attributes, that of parisagngnu, i.e. taking cognizance of the gathering or the public.  

No leader, be he/she monarch or corporate head, can hope to be successful by ignoring the stakeholders.  A leader must always be conscious of the various people-segments, the problems they face both in their generality and specificity, their needs and how they can be expected to change over time. 

What are the kinds of ‘people-segments’ that a leader has to consider?  First there are those who are considered loyal and those who are not.  A leader must be aware of who he/she can trust, who he/she should be wary of and who the detractors are. 

In a democracy, leaders are elected by the people.  Thus there are those who expressed support and those who expressed preference to someone else.  A democratic leader who has to keep in mind the next election and therefore be mindful of the needs and aspirations of the core constituency, even as moves are made to win over the doubters and the virulently opposed.  In all related engagements the leader must show fidelity to the satharabrahma viharana (loving kindness, compassion, equanimity and the ability to rejoice in another’s joy), be conscious of the thrilakshanaanityaa, dukkha and anathema – and the verities of mortality (birth, decay and death).  An opponent is not won over with hatred but with compassion. 

There are other kinds of people-segment. Societies are not flat. There are distinctions along the lines of class, region, gender, age, ethnic and religious identity, political loyalties etc.  The great leader will not only be mindful of these distinctions and particularities with respect to grievance and aspiration, but will design policy in a manner that obtains the optimum outcome this side of causing social rupture.  The leader will have to make decisions for the ‘here and now’ without compromising the future of several generations down the line. 

The leader, moreover, will have to exercise both wisdom and compassion.  The emotional element of grievance, in addition to their true and verifiable dimensions, will have to be taken into account and yet, at no point should the leader be swayed by rhetoric and frill.  The truth value of claim will have to be ascertained. 

Delivering redress to grievance of all people-segments is of utmost importance and the onus is on the leader to allay apprehension of other elements that may take issue with the particularities of ‘resolution’.  The successful leader will do so with conviction and force of argument.  By the same token, the onus is on the leader to set up mechanisms of verification whose integrity is unquestioned.  Where it is found that claim has no foundation, it is up to the leader to boldly say, ‘can consider aspiration but not bound to deliver, certainly not on account of fiction and not at the expense of aggrieving others’.  

All leaders operate within a geographical reality, bounded by laws of jurisdiction.  While they need to understand that the world is larger than their ‘kingdom’ and that this larger world has to be engaged with, the leader’s first and foremost responsibility is to the ruled. 

All leaders, weak and powerful, ruling countries or other entities big and small will have to take note of the political economies pertaining to the overall of which country and/or entity is only a part.  Leaders no doubt will have to operate in contexts of power imbalance and therefore be forced to contend with arm-twisting, threats, invasions and other instruments that seek to undermine the interests of the particular political, financial or social institution/unit and the constituents therein. 

Negotiation and concession will figure in relevant solution-matrixes, but the honourable and successful leader will have a keen sense of costs.  He/she would not give that which undercuts the core of what makes ‘nation’ or ‘organization’ meaningful, will fight to protect the core values that gels individuals into a people, geographies into ‘nation’.  A ruler endowed with such qualities will always have the support of the people and will place utmost trust in that support. 

If ‘people’ are central in the manner described above, the leader should always be in conversation with them; soliciting view, encouraging criticism and recommendation, debating merits and demerits and in this and other ways stand shoulder to shoulder in nation-building and nation-protecting even as he/she stands above, articulating and implementing their will. 

The leader is a special citizen or stakeholder, but the leader is not divine.  A leader can have aides and advisors, but must also have mechanisms that are capable of filtering out the negatives that the inevitable sycophancy breeds. 

The leader must understand that in his/her being resides a nation and understand that this nation is made of people, invariably made of diversity’s richness, their joys and sorrows, hopes and aspirations, hurts and anger.  It is not an easy body to own; the humours therein are not easily balanced or governed.  The leader must be acutely aware of all the body parts within.  This, I believe is the crux pertaining to the parisagngnu considerations articulated by our Budun Wahanse.

This concludes the 5 part series on the Pagnamakkanuvattanasutta.

Sabbe Satta Bhavantu Sukhitatta. May all beings be happy.