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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 41, October 1, 2011

Credibility of Leadership

Wednesday 5 October 2011, by Nikhil Chakravartty


From the celebration of the Gandhi Jayanti to the commissioning of Bokaro, the largest steel plant in the country—we are reminded of the miles we have covered as also of the promises yet to keep.

The Gandhi Jayanti has become a mere annual ritual. If it were to be celebrated in real earnest, it should have been the occasion to set the millions into motion for building the edifice of a new, prosperous India as he did in welding them into a fearless army that could break the shackles of foreign rule. Before Gandhi came, many a slogan had been raised, many blue-prints prepared for emancipating the country from alien domination: his greatness lay in unleashing the force of mass action for achieving independence.

In a totally different context, we face today a situation which calls for the assertion of mass action for freeing the country from the bondage of the past—colonial backwardness and its concomitant, the impoverishment of the millions—so that we might achieve economic independence, which alone can guarantee our political standing as a free and sovereign nation.

In this struggle for a new social order, we have reached a point when neither shibboleths nor copycat blueprints can help. The very definition of patriotism is today invested with a new content—our capacity to evolve our own way of social advance, combining skilfully the lessons of our own experience with the assimilation of the experience of similar struggles in other parts of the world, and also the determination to take the nation along such a path.

If we lack any of these elements, there cannot be any escape from the status quo, and the status quo in our situation will mean the lapse back into some form of colonial hegemony, no matter with what label it is sold. Without the capacity to learn from the concrete experience of developments as they have unfolded in our own country, there is always the danger of our trying to apply models which may prove a misfit in our own conditions. Without bothering to assimilate from the experience of social struggles in other lands we may be wasting our energy and resources in phoney gimmicks or hand-to-mouth pragmatism with a profusion of impressive platitudes. And most important of all, we cannot expect to go forward unless we are able to forge mass sanction behind our resolutions. The struggle for social advance involves an ordeal, more intense and bitter than the struggle for political independence.

Recent events have given ample indication of the rising level of mass awakening in this country. At the same time, the patience of the masses can no longer be taken for granted with the offer of pie in the sky. It is not that our millions are not prepared to stand up to the prospect of blood, sweat and tears. Their readiness to undergo hardship, to bear sacrifice, is not in doubt. But we are fast reaching a stage when slogans can no longer be passed off as solutions, nor promises can be made alibis for performance.

Many will be tempted to lay the blame for all our ailments on the prevalence of what is called, the mixed economy. In a general sense, they are largely right. But nations rise and peoples advance on the strength of the existing realities, and the job of a true revolutionary is to forge invincible mass movement out of the existing material. The genius of leadership lies in its capacity to take the millions forward making the maximum use of the wherewithal available at its disposal. Neither a Red Army imported on credit nor a Chairman borrowed from abroad, an help this nation to generate its own strength to build a new social order, just as a Beveridge Plan or a Keynesian panacea could not help our predecessors to work out a solution of social contradictions that are embedded in this vast and complex nation that is ours.

What is facing this country today is not the lack of resources, nor the courage to face difficulties on the part of the common man, but the lack of a leadership with a perspective.

That is why a period of drift has set in both in economic and political spheres. And drift is always a sign of danger in the life of a nation. It is not without significance that this is the very period when the CIA has stepped up its not-so-clandestine activities, so much so that the Prime Minister has had to warn the country publicly about the danger. Drift is the inevitable breeding ground for chaos; and chaos in its own has never been the midwife of revolution; rather it helps to reinforce counter-revolution. To combat the menace of the CIA, the government has to overcome the prevailing drift, while the Left has to take to a bold and positive line of action, and not belittle the danger of the CIA, as some of the Left parties have been doing, almost echoing the tune of the Right.

It is not a question of the magic of a personality—whether it is Indira Gandhi or somebody else—that can deliver the goods. There has to emerge a leadership whose credibility will be based not merely on promises of good days ahead but on its wisdom to exploit the existing present with all its positive as well as negative features.

The AICC will be meeting in the coming week to chalk out both a short-term programme and a long-term strategy of economic development. Most of the items in both are unexceptionable. The Left parties are engaged in mass actions—from satyagraha to more angry manifestations—to register their protests against rising prices and the government’s tardiness in combatting vested interests. All these taken together, however, do not add up to a leadership that can take this great nation forward through unprecedented mass action.

There is far too much of piece-meal approach by different segments of political life in our country. That is why the nation as a whole has yet to witness the gigantic mass upheavals that Gandhi in his days could switch on against British rule. We are bogged in the immediate task and tend to lose sight of the perspective and those amongst us who talk of the perspective are either bereft of mass experience or are looking at the reality as a simple fight between black and white.

Today, it will be unfair to the millions of our country to say that a nation gets the leadership it deserves. Our great people certainly deserve a leadership of much greater stature and wisdom than what they have to tolerate today.

(Mainstream, October 7, 1972)

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