India’s tragedy: it lacks a credible leadership

India’s tragedy: it lacks a credible leadership
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First Published: Tue, Dec 09 2008. 12 50 AM IST

Updated: Tue, Dec 09 2008. 12 50 AM IST
Rage remains the predominant mood nearly two weeks after a group of 10 men brought this country to its knees with an attack on Mumbai’s most visible icons. Who exactly are we mad at and what are we angry about?
The first is easy to answer. The second, somewhat more difficult.
Right now we’re pretty much angry with everyone. Our first target: our politicians. Insensitive, incompetent and out of touch with reality, how can we not rage against those we’ve entrusted our leadership with?
Already, this anger has claimed its victims: home minister Shivraj Patil, Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and his deputy R.R. Patil. But the list of shame is longer: Kerala chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, Bharatiya Janata Party’s Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, and a host of midget-sized Maharashtra politicians who ensured that caste, not competence, was what counted in deciding the state’s next chief minister.
Then, you have the less visible anger directed at our bureaucracy. It’s not so easy to put a face to the name here. But we are asking why agencies concerned (the navy, the Coast Guard and others) didn’t act on specific intelligence inputs as detailed in a front page story by Vir Sanghvi in this newspaper. Although national security adviser M.K. Narayanan put in his papers, his resignation has not been accepted for reasons best known to the Prime Minister’s Office.
The anger against Pakistan has been less subtle as voice after voice is heard advocating either a full-scale war or a surgical strike at specific jihadi training camps.
On television, actress Simi Garewal wondered why she saw so many “Pakistani” flags fluttering atop huts in Mumbai slums. When she realized that it was the green flag of Islam and not the Pakistani flag, she retracted the remark, but her suggestion that we “carpet bomb” Pakistan has many takers who have been advocating the obliteration of our neighbour. And the words “Muslim terror” seem to be heard more and more often with little concern that it tars the entire community with the same brush.
We’re angry with the media, specifically the television media, too. The information and broadcasting ministry has issued notices to a rash of broadcasters, including India TV, and in the days to come there will undoubtedly be considerable soul-searching on how to cover something as devastating as this.
Was the media insensitive in shoving mikes in front of the relatives of victims? Did our TV channels unwittingly become allies of the terrorists as they broadcast live images of commando positions?
On SMS and on email, every day some missive or the other circulates: We must refuse to vote, we must withhold our taxes, military conscription should be made compulsory, power should be handed over to the army. And on and on it goes in a manner that brings alive W.B. Yeats’ line “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”
Several columnists have already tried to analyse this rage. Equally, there is a sense that our political leaders have failed us. It’s not just the career politicians (Milind Deora on television made the startling confession that he was “ashamed” to be a politician), but also the bureaucrats.
A strong nation, certainly one that sees itself as the next super power, needs strong, ethical leadership at all times. In times of crisis we need that leadership even more.
But in the 60-odd years that we’ve been independent, I can’t think of a single political leader—with the exception of our founding fathers—who has inspired and bound us together. You could argue that Indira Gandhi (later to be reviled for her suspension of human rights during the Emergency) was a fearless Durga in the aftermath of Bangladesh. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the hero of Kargil who ensured a five-year term for his government.
And perhaps V.P. Singh had his 15 minutes of fame as the raja/fakir, only to lose it all in a matter of months as he played the Mandal card and became the middle class’s object of hate.
Who are our leaders? Opinion polls demonstrate that the youth picks its icons from the field of sport, film or even business (remember the campaign to draft Infosys Technologies Ltd chief mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy as president?).
In the aftermath of 26/11, we could empathize with Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata, clearly stricken, genuinely pained. Forbes magazine wondered if this was our “Obama moment” and if Tata could provide that sort of leadership.
The simple answer: of course not. He’s busy picking up the pieces and getting his hotel back on track. In India, the best don’t just lack all conviction; they also steer clear of political power.
India’s tragedy is indeed the spate of terror strikes, dotted like so many milestones on our collective memory: Ahmedabad, Malegaon, Jaipur, Varanasi, Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai.
Yet, our bigger tragedy is that not one from among our billion can provide that much-needed salve. Not one among our political class can bridge the gap and heal the wounds. And that is our real tragedy.
Namita Bhandare writes every other Tuesday on social trends. Send your feedback to lookingglass@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Dec 09 2008. 12 50 AM IST