Brexit and the Trump Presidency represent a silent revolution that shook the world in a rejection of the unaddressed inequities and the unfulfilled promise of liberal democracies and globalisation. BJP’s ascendancy to power in May 2014 is seen as our own silent revolution against the established political order, a clear mandate in favour of decisive leadership and against the status quo, mounted on an offer of hope for the people in their future. Thankfully, the mandate is not seen as a vote to deface, defile and disown the ideals we stand for. In these challenging times, we need to elevate our politics that can measure up to the enormity of the task.
The nation demands leadership that is daring and humble, caring and wise, such that can summon the national will to foster national renewal. In an ‘era of churn’, our ability to ‘nourish selfhood without selflessness’, ‘individuality without individualism’ is on test. Quite clearly, we need to forge a new social compact that would resist ‘…the poison of majoritarianism and the intimidation of ultra nationalism’ (Pratap Bhanu Mehta). For this, we need leadership powered by selflessness and vision that mirrors our yearning for a just social order based on freedom and inclusion.
In the infancy of our existence as a free nation, we were privileged to be guided by tall men and women whose life was a saga of sacrifice in the cause of freedom and who defined its value for us. Somewhere along the journey, we lost our way when pursuit of power for its own sake became the principal obsession of political parties and their leaders, signalling the demise of ideology and the contest of ideas. In the process, small, scheming and timid ‘leaders’ who confuse power for authority and think nothing of sacrificing principle for power, justice for survival rose in the hierarchy of their respective parties, suborning the institutions of governance and credibility of the political system in the process. To redeem our tryst with destiny, we are obliged to reclaim our liberal legacy by locating the larger purposes of politics in the dignity and esteem of our people. We have sustained our plurality despite its challenges.
We have defied the ‘tyranny of homogeneity’, carrying in our hearts a vision in which all our people can travel together so that we may travel far. We are proud of a nation that rejoices in freedom as an ‘unending frenzy’, values it over identity and is anchored in a liberal core. Though in retreat, we want our liberalism to be pulsating and vibrant.
The task cut out for us warrants leadership that is not ‘wrapped up’ in itself, can rise above petty vanities and demonstrate a generosity of heart and sincerity of purpose to inspire inclusive nationalism. Democratic leadership is about bonding. Those who cannot bond will not bind and are therefore, unable to lead. The Mahatma reminded us that a leader is measured ‘by the purity of his life, the unselfishness of his mission and the breadth of his outlook.’
Tragically, as Gopalkrishna Gandhi reminds us, we ‘…have become good at faulting that old, tried servant of the nation and adept at not consulting him.’ (Hindustan Times, February 7, 2017). It is time to reclaim the Gandhian legacy of moral leadership. We must promote leadership that can translate into reality the constitutional promise of social justice in a clear understanding of the difference between living standards and standards of life. We need ‘guerillas of the imagination’, individuals whose cast of mind is ‘vehement, high and daring’ and who can help others achieve shared goals in a just society that celebrates freedom in a rejection of extremes.
A call of duty to the nation demands that we banish small men from exalted positions. For we know that, ‘…if the rope is short, it cannot be used to draw water from a deep well, if the vessel is small, it cannot be used to hold what is large…’. And to invoke Bhutanese wisdom, ‘A good king can take you to the top of the mountain, but a bad one will push you over the edge.’ Since nature abhors a vacuum, we must give unto ourselves leadership that can rise against tyranny in defence of reason justice and dignity. A la Hegel, we need interlocutors who can see and awaken the ‘hidden will’ of the nation, tell the nation what its will is and lead to accomplish it.