Where is Enjolras? We, in India, need him badly

Written by: Shubham Ghosh
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"A great leader's courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position."
John Maxwell on Leadership

Mob in India

Slamming the establishment is something we all cherish to do, but when it comes repeatedly from a person like Azim Premji, then we must understand that there is something seriously wrong. The IT czar recently expressed deep concern about the state of India's economy at an analysts' meet where he said: "We are working without a leader as a country."

Last October, the Wipro chairman had warned that the government suffers from a total lack of decision-making and that is something which could cost the country dear. Premiji's words were not without a basis for the recent predictions made by international bodies like the United Nations and World Bank said India's growth in the 2012-13 fiscal would be slowed down considerably, thanks to its uncertain policies, inflation and other financial woes.

It is not Premiji alone who has aired the caution but other entrepreneurs of the country as well. India, often projected as a potential world power, is witnessing a terrible low first time in many years. But it is not that the problems are confined to the financial sector, only.

Close observation will reveal that, as a country, India has been witnessing chaotic conditions in various walks of life. A sort of 'organised anarchy' is increasingly creeping into the Indian way of life, affecting everything, big and sundry.

Terrorists striking the country at will (although the intensity has lessened after the 26/11, but that doesn't ensure that we are safe), trains are jumping tracks, Maoists ruling the roost in several zones of the country, newborns are dying in hospital without a pause, fake currency-notes affecting the economy, infiltration continuing unchecked through porous borders, social crimes shooting up, civic amenities crumbling with each passing day, rivers are being poisoned, proposals of setting up nuclear plants near human settlements are being made, grains are being allowed to rot while a large section of the population is living in starvation, agriculture being pushed to the brink and farmer suicides persist - the list continues to go on and on, but we see very few realistic measures been taken to catch the bull by its horn.

When we, as helpless citizens, turn our head to the Parliament, the 'temple of democracy' where the country's present and future are supposed to be chalked out by noble and knowledgeable public representatives, to see if they are working to address those endless number of pressing issues in everyday life, some even threatening, in a comprehensive manner, we are left in a state of deep shock. We see the respected houses are being converted into a tamasha where the guardians of the nation indulge in petty acts of mud-slinging and brawl.

Where are our leaders then? India is currently witnessing a phase of leaderlessness it has perhaps not seen in the last 65 years. Great leadership is bound to leave an impact on even ordinary citizens but can we remember even one soul influencing us in some way today? Atal Bihari Vajpayee was perhaps the last leader Indians felt proud about. After his exit, it has been a dark phase. Shahrukh Khan or Sachin Tendulkar can be role models at best and it will be too much for Anna Hazare to emerge into a national hero. We indeed need an Enjolras of the Les Miserables fame today to fight for the lost ideals.

But why such a vacuum has suddenly surfaced that people like Hazare has to take up the baton? We yet have a prime minister in Manmohan Singh, a person known for his erudition and integrity, but yet history will remember him as the worst PM India have ever had.

A number of reasons explain why we are bereft of leaders, particularly in today's times. A bitter but right way of explanation, in my opinion, comes from an unconventional quarter and it is none other but Australian cricketer Greg Chappel. He says the Indian system of functioning lacks leaders because here, one's decision is always taken by another. From our childhood days, it is our parents, school teachers and other seniors who 'help' us in taking our decisions, something which hinders the advent of mature thoughts and capacity for introspection.

"Indians do not learn to accept responsibility", is a common observation made by various foreigners. May be years of colonial subjugation might have still left us weak and unable to look into the eyes of the problems by ourselves. This invariably leads us to averting decision-making and hence the frequent cases of policy paralysis in our establishment. Why on earth do a prime minister has to look to his party president for executing any decision? He is no illiterate greenhorn and knows the country better than anybody else? Then why such inaction and helplessness? May be sycophancy paralyses even the best of brains.

A team of technocrats and not genuine leaders, too, have aggravated the problem. Today's netas and politicians struggle to emerge as potential leaders for they are cut off from the reality by far. This was not the case earlier when leaders emerged from among the masses and knew their pulses. This problem is a creation of our all-encompassing 'number-game' politics. Winning the elections to get past the post is such a priority that many real problems get overlooked. And these technocrats and 'career politicians', who though know the manipulation to win elections, are clueless about the post-election responsibilities and invariably hit the wall. Say for instance, mediocre policy-making in a key sector like human resources has badly hit the responsibility of talent management. Lack of able hands is pushing the country to the brink.

Another reason is the degenerating bureaucracy, once hailed as the 'steel frame'. It was a boon that India had once inherited from the British but lack of viable reforms has left it in a corroded state. The Indian bureaucracy, today, like the country's politics, has been seriously paralysed and needs a total overhauling.

Red-tapism and evil nexus between unscrupulous businessmen and politicians and a new empowered section who profit from an unregulated neo-liberal economy (read the endless scams) are other curses of the Indian state. Contrary to a generalised popular view that Indian economy was liberalised in 1991, we must understand that it was not a complete liberalisation and the state yet maintains its grip on certain segments. The quasi-liberalised economy with a partial state control has left us with a hotch-potch situation where firm policy-making is a key requirement. We are ignoring that key issue, only at our own peril. But it is not that there is no way. Several good think-tanks are working around the country today round-the-clock to come up with good policy principles chalked out by bright and experienced minds. But are the leaders interested to listen?

The Opposition is equally in a shambles. In fact, the entire 'political infrastructure' of the country, is in an advanced state of decay and can not deliver anything fruitful.

The non-political section of the society of the country, too, can not overlook its share of responsibility for the mess. The aam janata is engrossed in voracious consumerism with little care for the country's well-being. How can we ignore the field of politics, an integral part of our social well-being, saying it is for the goondas and yet expect that our polity comes clean? Just ceremoniously casting the ballot does not end our responsibility to a democracy. We, the citizens, are leaving our own system at the mercy of crooks and inefficient hands.

The media, too, is not innocent. Just banking on sensationalism does not justify it as the fourth pillar of the democracy. There are issues, apparently more dull ones, which require urgent attention, for the sake of the country's future. Glamour and saleability can't be the only determinants of journalism.

Student politics, which has traditionally served as a means for the arrival of many great leaders, has also failed miserably in the recent years. The bright, careerist youth has avoided the path of politics, and the Leftist brand of political ideology, generally a favourite for the anti-establishment voice, has faded into oblivion. In today's India, the once ideological powerhouses have turned into fashionable talk houses of little use.

Shooting politicians or calling in the army (even this politically-isolated institution has been hit by murky politics) might be frustrated calls aired by the angry citizens but those are no realistic solutions. Whatever the system is, we need to have a credible leadership, which can put us out of the mess. Producing leaders is not an easy job for it is not confined to one sector or house. The country is too scattered and politicised for us today to find a consensus leader but still we must start looking after our future at this moment. Or as Premji has said: "If we do not change, we would be down for years."

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