If leadership is about finding a mob heading in some direction and then running a few paces ahead of it, India has plenty of leaders.
What we have seen in recent days – in fact, all through the last few years – is leaders in hiding. They come out only when their “followers” have shown them the way – and it is usually the wrong way, and about short-term populism.
They are fair weather leaders, who come out into the sunshine only when the going is good. When it isn't, they disappear, or turn up only to pour more fuel into the fire.
The mass arrest courted by our opposition parties is a case in point. Rolling back diesel prices and the curtailment of subsidised gas cylinder entitlements does not need “leaders” to articulate the idea. Narrow self-interest is enough to tell the rulers all about public sentiment on it.
However, it takes a real leader to tell an angry population why, when inflation is so high, the government still needs to raise oil prices. It takes a real leader to tell us that they made a mistake in not raising prices earlier – when the going was good and it would have done little damage.
Leaders are those who accept their mistakes and are not afraid to lose their jobs in the face of short-term public wrath.
But our leaders are men and women of straw, from Sonia down to Manmohan Singh, who talked about “going down fighting” over reforms. The first two words are probably right. He is “going down” for sure, but where had one seen any “fighting”.
In no place where people are agitating or demanding things are our leaders out there talking to them, or debating, explaining or moulding public opinion where it counts.
Have you heard Sonia Gandhi explaining one hard decision of the government directly to the people? She is a leader in literal hiding – ensconced behind the walls of 10 Janpath.
Have you heard Narendra Modi backing a diesel price hike? He is one more leader talking from behind the safe separation of bullet-proof glass.
Have you heard one BJP leader talk coherently about why they changed their stance on FDI in retail? It is no crime to change your mind, but shouldn’t you say why you did so? They are happy shouting at Congress rivals in TV studios.
Have you heard Puratchi Thalaivi Jayalalithaa talking to the protesters of Kudankulam? The “Puratchi (revolution)” is out there, but the Thalaivi is somewhere else. She sends her police force to do the talking – whether it is to the nuclear plant opponents or the anti-Islam video protesters.
Her bête noire M Karunanidhi, another armchair revolutionary, does not have the guts to tell his thuggish Eelam pals that fighting for Tamil human rights is one thing, running riot in Tamil Nadu and making a scene in Madhya Pradesh over a state visit of the Sri Lanka President is boorish. He is probably too scared of the Eelam hardcases to take a stand.
Have you heard Mayawati deign to answer any question at any press conference? Has she sought to explain why she wants quotas in promotions, and put herself to tough public examination on the score? She too is a haughty leader in hiding. She may not be afraid of anyone, but she is afraid of sharp scrutiny of her stand. Any hard question means you can be accused of being anti-Dalit.
Mulayam Singh is more available to the public, but he gets away without explaining anything. Why did he sign up with Mamata Banerjee to back APJ Abdul Kalam for president, and then quietly ditch her? We have no answers – the media has been too kind to him. Leaders like Mulayam Singh don’t need to hide since the media gives him a free ride.
The leaders of the CPI(M) have arrogated to themselves the right to pronounce who is right and who is wrong, who is secular and who is communal, but they themselves will not offer themselves for questioning. They are leaders in hiding. They will descend from the politburo pedestal to tell us earthlings what they have decided.
The Maoists, who are supposedly mass leaders, have used the tribal cause to fight a war against the state, but they now tell tribals what they should want. Not development, but an overthrow of the state. They are leaders in hiding and they have hijacked the tribal cause for their own ends. They will use friendly people in civil society to back their cause, but they will not be questioned as to their real motives.
Asaduddin Owaisi of the Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) talked of a “third wave of radicalisation” among Muslim youth over the Assam violence (the earlier two “radicalisations” presumably relate to Babri and Gujarat), but how can he be seen as a leader if he can’t fight this radicalisation?
How is it that no business leader in India has the gumption to tell the government in stronger terms what is right for the economy. They are more pleaders than leaders.
Even civil society leaders are more keen to sell snake oil to the masses rather than the truth. Thanks to high TV interest in their initial espousal of the anti-corruption cause, they thought they were mass leaders. But once the spotlight shifted, they were found wanting. The other day, Arvind Kejriwal, who excoriates politicians for lying most of the time, himself chose to hide behind rhetoric on the diesel price hike. His argument: if you can give coal blocks for free, why not give the poor subsidised cooking gas? By this argument, we should give our population everything free since most of our politicians and businessmen are humongously corrupt anyway. Their corruption means things should be free for us?
Our leaders are not leaders, but feudal lords whose leadership has more to do with power and sycophancy than a real ability to lead.
This is a pity. Indians everywhere are awakening and demanding answers and solutions to their problems, but we have a leadership that is afraid to speak to them and tell them the truth.
At one level, this is not surprising. They may have much to hide, and speaking the truth may be difficult.
But if all our leaders go into hiding, India will face anarchy. The sheer drop in governance standards over the last decade is evidence that our leadership has deserted the masses. Till we find credible leaders, we are going to sink deeper into chaos.
The India story is falling victim to the cowardice of our leadership who don’t want to give up their gaddis and moolah for any reason. Power and pelf have scored over principle.
Or maybe, we should just forget about them. If no leader is around explaining things to us, it means tough times are ahead.