A Call for Value-Driven, Moral Leadership in Politics

Divorced from ethics, politics is reduced to mere techniques of fighting for power. That’s why Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd U.S. President (1933-1945) said, “The presidency is preeminently a place of moral leadership.”  

Moral leadership in politics is not about preaching, or the uttering of pieties, or the insistence on social conformity. Moral leadership is always value-driven. It is about doing what is right and living it, so that others can be influenced to do the same thing. This emerges from the fundamental values and aspirations of the followers—I mean the kind that will satisfy the followers’ real needs. As such, the relationship between this kind of a leader and followers is less about power and more about mutual values, shared aspirations, and real needs. In fact, such a leader takes responsibility and assumes commitment to bring about a certain kind of economic, social, and political change.  

Sometimes followers may not be conscious of their real needs. In such a situation, the first task of leadership is to bring to consciousness the followers’ sense of their own needs, values, and life purposes. But how can one make the people conscious of what lies unconscious? What would they accept as being durable and valid rather than false and transient? The answer, according to philosophers and psychologists, is conflict, because conflict produces consciousness. For example, consciousness may surface in the mind of the populace when they are faced with danger from outside, as from an invasion, or from inside, as in social breakdown, civil war, or natural catastrophes. Additionally, according to a research conducted on four nations (India, Poland, Yugoslavia, and the United States), it was discovered that consciousness could dawn on people and thus lead to change “If inefficiencies and corruption of governmental and social leadership go beyond ‘normal,’ if demands are constantly frustrated by incapacities … if all of this is compounded by a rising consciousness of discrimination and sense of justice.”  

The essence of leadership in any polity is the recognition of real needs, the uncovering and exploiting of contradictions between values and practices, the realigning of values, the reorganization of institutions where necessary, and the governance of change. The leader’s task is to induce people to be aware of their true needs, because without awareness, nothing matters—that is, people cannot be moved to purposeful action without being conscious of their own needs.  

Indeed, moral leaders could help people to see contradictions or imbalances within the system. Or they might actively arouse a sense of dissatisfaction by making followers aware of contradictions in values or inequalities in the sharing of public goods and services. Such dissatisfactions are the source of changes that moral leaders can exploit. For example, they can appeal to deeply held values, such as justice, liberty, brotherhood, equality, dignity, order, peace, security, property rights, and progress. These are much more important than talking about reducing poverty, fixing bad roads, winning elections, ensuring backward quotas, creating government jobs, building alliances with a ruling national party, securing more central funds, or the like.

Now let’s look at a few real needs, or values, to illustrate our point. Mahatma Gandhi, for example, could have succumbed to the cry of the Hindu majority of his time and left out the Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs to be part of greater India. But he chose national unity over narrowed politics. By doing so, he exemplified moral leadership. Similarly, President Roosevelt devoted so many addresses to sermon-like calls for transcending differences and behaving as one nation and one people.  

In drafting the Constitution of the United States, the founders INSERT IGNOREed three specific values in the Preamble: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” First, what does the right to Life mean? Obviously, it doesn’t just mean bare existence. Rather, it means people coming together for self-preservation, especially in times of unrest and violence. After all, the very lives of the people make the very life of a nation. Failing at this supreme value, no other thing is possible. The second core value for the Americans is the right to Liberty. This was at the heart of the early Americans’ outcry against the British Colonial power which had denied them the liberty to be a self-governing republic. The third value mentioned in their Constitution is the right to the pursuit of Happiness. This implies that leaders of a nation have a moral obligation to guarantee to all its citizens the conditions for pursuing happiness.

  Values by themselves are mere words, unless backed by government. But when they are applied by leaders and followers alike, they have the power to transform society. This has been demonstrated to be true by nations such as the United States, U.K., Germany, Japan, Israel, South Korea, Singapore, to name a few.  

Now what about Nagaland and its people? Are we value-based as a society? For that matter, are our leaders—who are supposed to know better—believe in values, such as justice, equality, dignity, order, peace, security, private property rights, unity, self-government, freedom, and progress? Or, are they only after power and wealth accumulation for themselves? If indeed our leaders are destroying all our values, but our people are too naïve to realize it, then I’m afraid we are becoming a totally confused and lost lot.  

To be able to see a transformed society, we Nagas must wake up from our current state of slumber. We must all repent from our pursuit of short-term, selfish benefits. And most importantly, we must respond to the call for value-driven, moral leadership in politics.