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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Who wants a tough leader?

P Chidambaram writes: I think gentle leaders are the best. They are wise, speak softly, listen to the people, respect institutions and the law, celebrate diversity, work for harmony among the people and leave office quietly. They make the people’s lives better.

Written by P Chidambaram |
Updated: March 6, 2022 2:19:01 pm
In the election campaign in Uttar Pradesh, Narendra Modi spoke approvingly of the need to elect ‘tough’ leaders. (File Photo)

There is an American colloquialism that reads ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’.

I have always wondered what is ‘tough’. The word has different meanings in different contexts. ‘Tough’ can mean determination; ability to endure hardship; difficult (as in a tough game); or obstinate (as in a tough nut). Tough can also mean a bully or a rough and violent person.

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From Liberator to Tough

Usually, a democratically elected leader, loath to step down after long years in power, becomes ‘tough’. Hitler was before I was born. Growing up, I was dismayed to see Jawaharlal Nehru’s close friends turn from liberators into ‘tough’ leaders: Kwame Nkrumah, Josip Broz Tito, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Sukarno. Each one led the liberation struggle in his country, was elected by a popular vote, was admired by the people, but finally became ‘tough’ and buried democracy and his own legacy.

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Jawaharlal Nehru was the sole exception among the five signatories of Panchsheel. Every election under his Prime Ministership — 1952, 1957 and 1962 — was a truly democratic election. His election speeches were lessons in democracy. The vast majority of the gathering did not understand English but sensed that he was talking about democracy, secularism, the difficult task of building a nation, eradicating poverty, the role of government and so on. Nehru was a loved leader, he never became ‘tough’.

The present world is full of tough leaders. None of them, if a free and fair election were held today, would be elected. Prominent tough leaders are Mr Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Mr Recep Erdogan of Turkey, Mr Abdul al-Sisi of Egypt, Mr Viktor Orban of Hungary, Mr Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, Mr Kim Jong-un of North Korea, and dozens of others who are not known outside their country or their continent.

Mr Vladimir Putin is in a class of his own. So is Mr Xi Jinping. Both are ‘tough’ leaders who plan to rule as long as they live. As I write, the tough Russian leader is raining rockets and bombs on a helpless Ukraine. According to one count, there are 52 countries whose governments can be described as dictatorships.

Mr Modi Prefers ‘Tough’

In the election campaign in Uttar Pradesh, Mr Narendra Modi spoke approvingly of the need to elect ‘tough’ leaders. At a rally in Bahraich, Mr Modi said “when turmoil is prevailing in the world, India needs to be stronger and for difficult times, a tough leader is needed (The Economic Times, February 23, 2022)”. Incidentally, Bahraich is one of three districts in UP where, according to NITI Aayog, the poverty ratio is over 70 per cent.

Mr Modi clearly wanted the BJP’s leader in UP, Mr Adityanath, to be re-elected presumably because

Mr Adityanath is a ‘tough’ leader needed in these ‘difficult’ times. Mr Adityanath believes in enforcing law and order and brooks no opposition. ‘Encounters’ have official sanction. A criminal need not be brought before a court of law and punished, he can be shot down in an ‘encounter’. According to a report in The Indian Express (July 13, 2021), between March 2017 and June 2021, 139 criminals were killed in police encounters and 3,196 injured.

A favourite word of Mr Adityanath is ‘bulldozer’. On February 27, 2022, while addressing a rally at Karka Bazar in Sultanpur district, Mr Adityanath said, “we have developed this machine that builds express highways and also tackles the mafias and criminals. When I was coming here, I saw four bulldozers. I think there are five assemblies, we will send one to each, then everything will be fine” (India Today). In UP, to use bulldozers to raze buildings or vacate occupants (allegedly illegal), no court orders and no legal processes are necessary.

Mr Adityanath is so tough that

Mr Siddique Kappan, a journalist from Kerala covering the Hathras case of rape and murder, has been kept in jail since October 5, 2020. According to The Wire, since Mr Adityanath became chief minister, a total of 12 journalists have been killed, 48 physically assaulted and 66 booked for various charges or arrested. The tough chief minister persuaded his party not to give a ticket to a Muslim in any of the 403 constituencies, although Muslims constitute 20 per cent of the state’s population.

Under the tough leader, UP is poor, the people have become poorer and 40 per cent has been added in five years to the state’s debt, that stands at a humongous sum of Rs 6,62,891 crore.

Gentle and Wise

I think gentle leaders are the best. They are wise, speak softly, listen to the people, respect institutions and the law, celebrate diversity, work for harmony among the people and leave office quietly. They make the people’s lives better. They provide jobs, better education and healthcare. They are against war and address the challenges of climate change. There have been — and are — such leaders in the world. The incomparable Nelson Mandela was one. Other examples are former Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Jacinda Adern of New Zealand, Prime Minister Mark Rutte of Netherlands and a few others.

I don’t know what kind of leader UP, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa will elect. If I had a vote in any of those states, I would vote for a gentle and wise leader.

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