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What kind of a leader India needs?

India needs a leader who, instead of making tall claims, humbly accepts his limitations as a leader and can motivate the citizens to overcome theirs individually and collectively by way of positive action.

By Anubhav Srivastava

August 01, 2009

Come elections and the streets get flooded with leaders. Leaders of all colours and hues. Young and old, part-timers and 24x7 practitioners, inheritors of family legacy and new-entrants willing to make a mark, some addressing massive rallies from a high podium trying to build a halo of invincibility around them while others indulging in ‘Padyatras’ and door-to-door campaigns, trying to strike a chord in people’s hearts. Some of the leaders have gone to the extent of using internet to increase their reach.

But what is the most essential qualification, quality or trait that the leader of a country like India must possess in these testing times? Economy is in a mess nationally and globally. So should our leader be an economist? Or should he be an experienced administrator, maybe an ex-bureaucrat, as India is simmering with internal problems? Or should we have a legal luminary at the helm because our constitutional and legal systems need a complete overhaul? 

Educational qualifications apart, does age has to do anything with the ability of a leader? Should we elect a person who has ‘devoted 50 years of his life in public service’ or look for someone who is ‘below 50’ and is apparently more energetic and attuned with the changing times? More importantly, should the leader necessarily be ‘well-educated’, ‘tech-savvy’ or ‘well-versed in Hindi’ even if his knowledge about the problems India is facing in the rural areas is extremely limited? 

Then comes the issue of nativity and class. Is it necessary that India should necessarily be led by someone belonging to the ‘cow-belt’ or the ‘Hindi-heartland’? Or the leader must sometime emerge from the ‘South’ rather than the ‘North’? Should he belong to one of the minority communities or the oppressed classes so that ‘social equity’ is achieved? Should we elect someone from the elite, educated class whose ‘global exposure’ we can vouch for or should we elect a humble ‘son of the soil’?

And what should be the leader’s personality traits? Should he be a simple and straightforward person though running a country is all about taking pragmatic decisions in a timely manner? Should the leader be charming with great oratorical skills? But we have had enough of them who promised much but failed to deliver. Should the leader of a country have a revolutionary mindset, committed to bringing about a ‘change’? But then India as a nation with ‘Chalta Hai’ attitude has remote chances of propping a ‘total revolution’.

What kind of an approach the leader should have? Should the leader be hawkish or dovish? To put it simply, should he be someone who is not afraid of invoking ire of a few sections in national interest or someone who has the accommodative and patient outlook needed to take everyone along? Should we go for show-makers who intermittently hold ‘Janta-Darbars’ or should we elect the ‘silent and strong’ types, who maintain a punishing ’14-hours-a-day work schedule’? Should the leader be a die-hard secularist or a dogged preserver of Indian tradition and culture? 

The questions will remain endless. However a crucial fact must be realised by the citizens who are the ultimate custodians of democracy in India. The leaders who enter the poll arena build hype around them that all the present problems will be solved once they come to power. In reality, no single person or the small group of individuals at the top of the power pyramid can solve all the problems that exist in the country. The leaders will promise the moon in their quest for power but the gap between aspirations of the people and what can be realistically delivered is huge. Hence if citizens expect the leaders they elect to solve all the problems for them, they will always face disappointment and discontentment will always remain. 

It is high time that citizens of India realize that the problems on every front that the country is facing is not because of the inefficiency of the leaders that have been voted to power since independence but due to the combined limitations of Indian citizens. Limitations which make them a liability. If the citizens indulge in corrupt practices, they are a liability. If the citizens spit on the road and litter at public places, they are a liability. If the gruesome incidents of terrorist violence fail to move them, they are a liability. If they indulge in discrimination on the basis of caste and creed, they are a liability. Citizens must realise that a leader, however capable, will fail in his efforts unless they themselves get over their limitations individually and collectively and rally firmly behind him. 

A rational outcome in the endeavours of the leaders can be achieved only when the citizens get over their limitations at the individual and group level. Every citizen who expects leaders to deliver the goods without himself making a concerted effort to get what he wants is a liability to the nation. Thus it is for a citizen to decide whether he wants to remain a liability to the nation or become an asset by means of positive action. And if the citizens of India decide to take the lead in overcoming their limitations, the leaders will follow suit. This provides an answer to the kind of leader India needs. He or she should be someone who, instead of making tall claims, humbly accepts his or her limitations as a leader and at the same time makes the citizens aware of theirs. Not only this, he or she should be someone who is able to motivate the citizens to try and get over their limitations and contribute their best in shaping India’s destiny. 

The author is Editor, Policy Proposals For India. 

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