Those of us lucky enough to be spared must try to fathom the pain and suffering of others who have had to witness and endure the inexplicable devastation, right before their eyes. Their heart and mind must be as much disquiet and rattled as the ground is into constant spasm. Even at such great odds, the hope for resurrection from the rubble and build back better has not lost on them.
The smiles playing on their face, behind the tear-laden eyes tell the tale of their grit and resilience. Nonetheless, their distress and agony are palpable, which they are coping silently. It must prick our conscience and force us all to think sensibly and act responsibly to wipe their tears and comfort their heart and mind for now.
The first dimension of the disaster is the government-media relationship, including the role the media plays. In this context, perhaps, there has to be a realization from the government, media and the public that these are certainly not times to be overly reactive and engaged in mutual recrimination only. These are times, rather, to display a collective and cooperative spirit and a sense of proportion and empathy in what we say and do. Yes, the government and its implementing agencies may have floundered initially, because of the overwhelming nature of the catastrophe. But it is gradually emerging from the initial confusion phase. The media and we all must not lose sight of this fact.
True, relentless media oversight in pointing out government inefficiency and lack of focus was in a large measure responsible for bringing about this happy behavioral turnaround in the government. The government response mechanism is now seemingly better streamlined and attuned in terms of timely delivery and proper distribution of relief materials, give and take a few minor inadvertent lapses.
However, informed media reporting and constant oversight on the government’s modus operandi is imperative as it prevents the government and its agencies from being complacent. That is why constructive criticism and right to question and information dissemination by media in a responsible way on the methods and manner of government functions have always been the hallmarks of democratic societies. There is a saying “constructive criticism and complacency” have a cat and mouse relationship. In a situation where the government tries to smother constructive criticism, complacency steps in, which eventually leads to all sorts of systemic distortions.
There is a reason for underlining this point here for the simple reason that the role of media oversight, information dissemination and constructive criticism will be immensely significant as the country is on the way to soon entering into a comprehensive post-disaster reconstruction and rehabilitation phase. Needless to say, the media must step up its efforts, to streamline and sharpen its oversight and objective reporting mechanism and reporting ability so as to preempt probable graft, misuse and corruption of the resources involved in the reconstruction and recovery projects and programs.
The reconstruction and rebuilding phase is not only about rebuilding homes, relocating people elsewhere from places considered uninhabitable, restoring damaged heritage and cultural sites, reconstructing school and hospital buildings, government offices and other infrastructures. It is, most importantly, about repairing the battered hearts and minds of those who have suffered devastating consequences from the quake; it is about rebuilding their hopes and confidence to be able to start life anew.
It is also about giving them credible reassurance and support that the government cares for them when the chips are down. Because, home is where the heart is, there is no meaning in making a home only when the heart feels ill- at ease to occupy it. The said reconstruction or rebuilding phase has, therefore, two other distinct and important dimensions- human and physical. Its human dimension pertains to providing emotional and psychological support and succor through what is called psycho-social therapy and healing process to the victims, which include children, old people, women and many more.
This is a necessary prerequisite to stitch their ruptured hearts and minds and help them rebuild their confidence. But healing the wound inflicted in the heart and mind by the quake is not easy, as it involves long and arduous process. It requires patience, human touch, and a sense of empathy and compassion. There is a song composed by Rajendra Thapa, which so aptly epitomizes the difficulty of stitching a ruptured mind. ” Pohor Saal Khusi Phatyo,Tyeslai Pani Manle Taale, Tehisaal Maya Phaatyo Tyeslaaipani Manle Taale, Yespaalita Mani Phatyo Kele Siune Kele Taalne ho”. ( Torn happiness and requited love could perhaps be stitched and repaired with the help of the heart and mind , but nothing can stitch back a torn heart and mind)
It is here the role of leadership becomes extremely important to inspire and instill confidence into the otherwise battered hearts and minds. The British Prime minister, Sir Winston Churchill, the American President , John F. Kennedy are, among others, examples of leaders who could inspire and instill confidence into their people to rally behind their leadership.
True, leadership is about feeling the nerves of its people, reaching them out and reassuring them that he/ she is always by their side in times of need and crisis, with a sense of compassion and empathy. Equally true that the worth of a leader and his ability to lead is known in times of crisis, such as the one Nepal is going through right now. Our present leadership must, therefore, be informed of this reality, It must increase its exercise in public diplomacy to further enhance its visibility among people.
What the Prime minister has been doing thus far may be commendable, but his actions needs to be more visible for the public. Because seeing is believing, he must be seen clearly in terms of how he is reaching out to the people in distress, listening to and doing his bit to mitigate their woes and problems. In other words, he must be seen and act as an effective trouble shooter. The command and control of all the post-disaster recovery and reconstruction phase must be with and under him. He has got to be on the driving seat and get others to do what needs to be done. There is a saying, “when the going gets tough, getting tough gets the going”.
The PM needs to get tough to get the things going. He and his scores of advisors must utilize this as an opportunity to prove his leadership worth, just as the same way that late BP Koirala, Ganesh Mansingh, K. P, Bhattarai, Manamohan Adhikari and Girija Babu did. Only then could the present campaign of not only rebuilding Nepal from the rubble of destruction but also “building back it better” could be accomplished. Once the human dimension gets sufficiently addressed, as above, it helps connect leadership with the country and the people to move ahead untied rendering thereby the road to recovery and rebuilding physical infrastructure much smoother and hassle-free.
(Gopal Thapa is a former Chief of Protocol)