Prof. Arindam Chaudhuri
Hony. Dean, Centre For Economic Research and Advanced Studies, IIPM -
Five very important things happened in the month of May for India. They have actually made an impact on our destiny. I will write just in a while about what those events are and how they affected India.
Two words seem to have become very popular in popular media: governance and leadership. From America to Greece to Venezuela to India, the big journalists that I know and the media that I read and watch seem to complain that the world faces a crisis of governance and leadership. Even during my recent trip to America, I sensed a public cry about great leadership. I think almost all of us will agree that there is indeed a crisis. People across continents are angry and the media is doing a wonderful job of highlighting that anger. Frankly, I am more concerned about India.
In my last editorial, I wrote that the Indian media seems to have forgotten its purpose and mission as the fourth pillar of our democracy. In fact, I often call it a demonocracy! But perhaps, it is also time to remember leadership… of the type that has vision... of the type that can inspire a whole nation and society... And of the type that leaves behind a lasting legacy.
So let me start with my May events. In 1964, our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru passed away. He ruled India for 17 years as the Prime Minister. In recent times, I have read many articles and scholarly papers that say Nehru was actually bad for India. I have stopped getting angry at these illiterate comments. I know Nehru was a human being, and I don’t buy the propaganda sold by some that Nehru was as good as God. But I laugh at people who criticize him commenting that he was bad for India. Do you think this stupid cartoon controversy would have taken up so much time of our Parliament if he was the Prime Minister? There is simply no doubt about this and we all must respect that Nehru was so popular that he could have become the dictator of India and the voters would have probably voted for it. He had big differences with India’s first President Rajendra Prasad and yet the issue never became ugly. His son-in-law Feroze Gandhi argued against him in the Parliament and exposed India’s first scam where a Finance Minister had to resign. I am sure Nehru must have been angry. But let us all applaud his leadership. Nehru had a vision for India. In some things, he did fail, like with the humiliating military defeat against China in 1962. But he was a leader and he took it on the chin without blaming others.
The other May event I want to remind you of happened in 1974. India became the first country outside the five Big Powers – America, France, Soviet Union, United Kingdom and China – to explode a nuclear weapon. All hell broke loose and America, which is such a good friend of India in these times, basically blacklisted us then. A few years before that, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had travelled across the world to ask for support against the Pakistani army that was committing genocide in Bangladesh (till date, almost none of the senior Indian journalists I have met calls it a genocide the way they call the 2002 Gujarat riots a genocide!). She was publicly humiliated by the then American President Richard Nixon. Yet, the original Iron Lady led a war that virtually destroyed the Pakistani myth of superiority. I am no expert in history, but some colleagues tell me that Indira Gandhi – Atal Bihari Vajpayee even described her as “Durga” once – actually allowed Pakistan to get away because of her Leftist advisors. Who knows what actually happened? But can anyone deny that Indira Gandhi had the leadership skills and displayed it when it mattered the most? Sure, she had flaws, but can anyone say that she was not a leader?
The third May event I want to point out is something I have personally felt bad about. The year was 1991 when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber. As a youngster, I was so thrilled by Rajiv Gandhi’s open sincerity and passion to change India. As someone who was looking for a life beyond the confines of a classroom, I was inspired by his articulated vision of India becoming an information power in the 21st century. A lot of my ambitions as an entrepreneur relied on his vision as an inspiration. In an India when old and tired leaders were talking about status quo, this young man presented a new idea of India. And I think this idea of India is why at least 10 million out of 100 million young Indians have got a good job in the IT sector – something unimaginable till the late 1980s.
The fourth May event hit India in 1999. Suddenly, it was discovered that the Pakistani Army had quietly captured strategic locations in and around Kargil in Kashmir. This came as a body blow to India because just a few months earlier, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had made a friendship tour of Pakistan. Many mocked Vajpayee. But he stood firm and led the nation with resolve and dignity till Pakistan was forced to withdraw its troops. Even otherwise, there can be no doubt that Vajpayee is a tall leader. The spectacular economic growth that India witnessed in the first decade of this century is primarily because of his vision and leadership. The massive highway projects that dot India are just one reminder of his legacy.
Having highlighted sterling examples of leadership and vision, I now come to my final May event. In May 2009, Indian voters gave a clear mandate to Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. As the results came out, I was excited and very happy that the Indian voter has delivered a clear verdict. I was quite pleased with the manner in which the CPM, whose fascist policies I opposed, was defeated badly. So I looked for leadership that would again transform India. I – like so many other Indians – was confident that under such transformational leadership, our country will soon emerge as a genuine economic powerhouse and replicate the Chinese miracle of almost eliminating poverty. As the rupee slides uncontrollably down and inflation shoots unbearably up, it occurs to me, why should I waste your time by writing anything more? I am still waiting for that leadership.
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