Integrity In; Charisma out

Not too long ago, there was a time when charisma was the door to mainstream politics. It opened possibilities and opportunities for many leaders not just in our own local context, but around the world as well. While some were able to capitalize on their charisma as a stepping stone, they in time proved to have had other qualities than just charisma alone; others unfortunately demonstrated that charisma was all they had. Indeed, strategist spent enormous time and resources shaping and creating a public image of political leaders, with the hope to grasp and entrap the public imagination. Perhaps it is one of the reasons why perception itself has become politics.

In a world where information has progressed rapidly and where news is reduced to sound bytes, one would expect the value of charisma to have sharply increased in a world which no longer seems to have time for itself. And yet this has not been the case. People who a few years ago were uninterested and indifferent to the social and political conditions are now being slowly being reawakened and are rediscovering the natural desire for a better life. The people no longer wish to be confined in the role as receivers, but rather aspire to be participants in the making and establishment of a new conscious reality of life. The people are demanding active participation and genuine ownership over their future. 

In this sense, people realize the urgent need to look beyond just the charismatic aura and public image of their political leaders; they are craving for leaders who have values to lead them in building a just society that will enrich the quality of their lives. Yet overcoming the public image has been a dilemma because of the constant interplay between the personal and the public lives of people holding public positions. The fluid relationship and nature of the private and professional sphere of life is compounded by a media that is constantly creating and reiterating an established perception which is founded more on form, rather than content. Edward L Flom expresses this dilemma eloquently in the statement, “One of the hardest tasks of leadership is understanding that you are not what you are, but what you’re perceived to be by others.”

In last week’s The Morung Express weekly poll, 77% of the people identified Integrity as the quality that they most seek in a politician, while Charisma had absolutely no finders at all. The poll results are quite contrary to the usual practice of people voting either along party lines or on the basis of a charismatic personality. While one acknowledges that majority of the participants in the weekly poll are young adults, it does however underline an increasing conflictual reality in which the newer generation of Nagas are emphasizing on content rather than form, on results rather than promises made; and on the integrity of a leader rather than on charisma.   

It will be interesting to observe how the upcoming Nagaland state assembly elections will unfold and whether public opinion will be persuaded enough to stand its ground in electing individuals of integrity. Irrespective of the outcome, the underlying message of the poll indicates that there are sections of the public who are growing in consciousness and are determined to hold their leaders to democratic values of governance. The public is no longer willing to be just a passive receiver, but is determined to assume a more constructive role in the building of a society. The message is self-evident; political leaders, who have for too long only depended on their public image and name, must dig deep into themselves and rediscover qualities that will enable them to be leaders with integrity.