Leaders make gambles. When they pay off, the leaders see their stature elevated to an immortal height. But it doesn't, they become villain overnight.
British Prime Minister David Cameron promised a referendum to decide whether the UK will prefer to stay within the European Union (EU) or not before the general election held last year. He himself though was in favour of staying in the EU but his Conservative Party was deeply split on the issue.
And finally on June 24, when it was learnt that the anti-exit camp lost the polling by 48 per cent to 52 per cent to the pro-exit camp, Cameron's 'gamble' backfired and he lost his position in the eyes of several Britishers.
Was Cameron's act really meaningless?
What was the need for the "meaningless act"?---many are asking. Was it exactly a meaningless act or do we call brave and honest steps as meaningless in politics?
If 52 per cent of the people of the UK prefer to stay out of the EU, then it can't be called just a gamble. Cameron's decision to take the 'gamble' was not something related to a personal adventure but he engaged the entire country in it, which means he gave democracy the responsibility to sort out the 'UK vs EU' problem that existed within the Conservative ranks for years. And the people gave their verdict in favour of the Leave campaign.
Calling for referendum was a move which was politically honest
Cameron had hoped that the referendum would settle the question of Europe in the Conservative Party once for all. It was also a strategy to not allow the UK Independence Party to make serious dent into the Conservatives' vote base. But it did not. But at the same time, it also showed that western democracies function to the actual tune. At many corners of the country, even that minimum honouring of the people's sentiments do not take place.
For the 52% who have voted in favour of Brexit, they must have done it knowingly
Brexit might mean that Cameron's political career could be dashed but he will certainly go down in history as a brave and not a foolish leader. It is absolutely unjust to blame the man for the Brexit disaster, if at all it is, because it is the people's choice. For those who have voted in favour of the exit, they must have done it knowing the consequences fully well.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of USSR, had also taken a similar 'gamble'
There are not many leaders in the political history of mankind who had taken 'gambles' but saw it not paying off like Cameron. Another such leader was Mikhail Gorbachev. The last president of the erstwhile Soviet Union, Gorbachev, had made drastic steps to revive the collapsing USSR which was suffering from several political and economic ills, but to no avail.
Gorbachev was an exception who did not want to identify himself with Vladimir Lenin but also exhibited some resemblance with the latter's approach to the imperial Germany. Lenin was willing to sign the exploitative Treaty of Brest-Litovsk after the end of the First World War since he hoped that the subsequent developments (he envisioned a socialist upheaval in Germany) would fundamentally promote the Soviet interests.
Gorbachev's New Thinking led to USSR's collapse but he did not lose his name as a statesman
Gorbachev, in his dealing with Europe, also initiated a 'New Thinking' whereby moral and ethical principles were stressed to resolve global problems and not the irreconcilable clashes between capitalism and communism as propagated by Marxism-Leninism.
Instead of flexing the military muscle as the Soviet leaderships before him had done, Gorbachev preferred softer means like diplomacy, economic cooperation and personal relation-building and also skillfully used the media in world affairs. He also made a drastic departure from the conventional wisdom and offered concessions when approaching conflicts and negotiations.
Gorbachev's 'New Thinking' did not help him as the soft stand vis-a-vis the West and refusal to use force to back communist govrnments in Eastern Europe led to the collapse of the Soviet Union itself. But that was a gamble which had helped the people of the USSR/Russia in the long term.
Gorbachev is still remembered today as a statesman who was never afraid to take a decision, irrespective of the outcome.
Cameron, similarly, has apparently lost his bid but he didn't deny democracy its chance. While a closed system like the former Soviet Union had offered its own problems to Gorbachev like in the form of a rigid and non-complying bureaucracy, a democracy like the UK today also poses its own problem for Cameron. But these reactions don't judge statesmen. Even in their defeats, they set a precedent.
Will history judge Cameron as Gorbachev of UK?
Cameron may also have a luck similar to Gorbachev if the post-Brexit days sees the dismemberment of the UK just like the Soviet Union had collapsed in 1991 but it will be again a cruel joke if we hold one individual responsible for such an outcome.