There is a real crisis of leadership and governance across the world. From America to Greece to Venezuela to India, people are worried and angry. Even during my recent trip to America, I sensed a public cry about great leadership. I think almost all of us will agree that there is indeed a crisis. I am more concerned about India. And I want to highlight some events that happened in the month of May in different years, which underscore the importance of a leadership crisis in India. I have five such events that to make my point clear.
The first one is May 1964 when Jawaharlal Nehru Passed away. He actually ruled India for about 17 years and was so popular that he could have been elected a dictator! I know there are many top journalists and scholars who seem to think now that Nehru was bad for India. I wouldn’t even waste time laughing at them. The fact is, Nehru was a great leader. In fact, if Nehru was Prime Minister, there would have been no chance of this stupid debate about the cartoon concerning Dr Ambedkar. He had differences with the first President Rajendra Prasad and they were often bitter. But it never showed. In fact, his son-in-law Feroze Gandhi criticized him publicly in Parliament and made a Finance Minister resign because of a scam. I am sure Nehru didn’t like any of that. And I know he was a human, unlike the propaganda of some that he was God. He was humiliated during the 1962 conflict with China. But he was a leader and took it on his chin.
The other May event I want to remind you about happened in 1974. That was when India became the ‘sixth’ nuclear power when Indian scientists guided by Indira Gandhi exploded a nuclear bomb. Indira Gandhi was a true leader. A few years before that nuclear explosion, she traveled across the world to awaken the conscience of leaders to the genocide that the Pakistani army was committing in Bangladesh. She was actually humiliated by the then American President Richard Nixon in 1971. And yet, look at what this “Durga” — as described by Atal Bihari Vajpayee — did. She actually led a mission that not only liberated Bangladesh, but also ensured that the myth of Pakistani military superiority was finally destroyed. Some friends tell me that Indira Gandhi actually gave too much away to Pakistan despite a military victory because of her Leftist advisors. Who knows what the truth is? But can anyone doubt she was a leader?
The next May event I want to point out is something that touches me personally. This is about the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by a suicide bomber of LTTE. For me, this was like a personal loss because I was in school when Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister and was able to comprehend the larger world around me. For me, he was an inspiration simply because of the sincerity and passion with which he talked about a 21st century India. My ambitions to be an entrepreneur were to a large extent based on his vision about India becoming an information superpower in the 21st century. In his time, there were a lot of tired and old leaders who kept harping on status quo and about the old way of doing things. For people of my generation, Rajiv Gandhi was an absolutely amazing positive change.
The other leader I want to remember here also has to do something with May, but not with the Congress. It was in May 1999 that we discovered how Pakistan had quietly and sneakily captured strategic positions near Kargil in Kashmir. What followed was what is now famous as the Kashmir conflict. The then Prime Minister was in many places mocked at because he had led a friendship delegation to Pakistan just a few months before that. But Vajpayee proved to be a resolute leader who acted with a lot of calm and dignity during the crisis despite provocations from opponents. It was his leadership that ensured that Pakistan had to finally vacate the areas it had occupied. And of course, let us not forget how we then actually honoured our fallen soldiers, something we Indians almost always forget to do. Is there any doubt that Vajpayee was a leader with flaws? None whatsoever. And yet, no sensible Indian will deny that he has been a great leader like some of his predecessors.
Now I come to my final May event that happened in 2009. The Indian voter gave a decisive verdict to Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi. Like many Indians, I was excited that we can now have a government that propels India to its new destiny of being an economic powerhouse. I was convinced that we now have leadership that will replicate the Chinese miracle of virtually eliminating poverty in one generation. As the rupee slides uncontrollably down and inflation shoots unbearably up, it occurs to me, why should I waste your time by writing anything more? I am still waiting for that leadership.
— The writer is a Management Guru and Hony Director of IIPM Think Tank