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Wallow the leader

Whatever people may say, politicians, assuming the onus of leadership is on them, are not all responsible for the ills of our society, writes Uddalok Bhattacharya.

india Updated: Dec 08, 2009 23:09 IST
Uddalok Bhattacharya

Sometime in the late 1980s, Patna was holding what could be called the city’s equivalent of the HT Leadership Summit. Only those who were invited could attend.

Respected guests turned up — mostly IAS and IPS officers who were recruited into service directly, and some ministers. Then came a man, uninvited, dressed in a dhoti and wearing a Gandhi topi. Someone politely asked: “Ji, aap kaun hain?” (Who are you?) The man replied confidently and dramatically: “Main neta hoon.” (I am a leader.) What party he belonged to was not specified and he was not denied entry.

What happened at the summit is eminently forgettable. But the bit about a self-styled leader thinking he had the natural right to participate in a leadership summit tells a purportedly deeper story: what stuff leaders are made of in Bihar. My narrator probably missed the nuanced message.

Whatever people may say, politicians, assuming the onus of leadership is on them, are not all responsible for the ills of our society. Behind each wrong-doing of a politician, there are legions of common people involved. Illegal constructions in Delhi are a case in point here. Seen from another angle, how is it that even for an occasion like a book release function, publishers fall over themselves to get a leader to bless the occasion? I was part of an exercise to get a leading politician from Madhya Pradesh, who was also a minister, to release four children’s books together. When I failed to reach him, one of the authors, an MP cadre woman IAS officer, described me as “unenterprising” to my work supervisor. What case was the publisher making out through his zeal to be seen sitting next to a minister? Looking at the author’s behaviour, I kept wondering where to draw the line between ‘people like them’ and ‘people like us’.

But leadership is not about politics alone. There are leaders in extended families, civil society organisations, corporate set-ups, universities, health chains, sports bodies and so on. There have been outstanding examples, but how many? Very few. Why? Lack of talent? Maybe. But the most potent reason to my mind is the overarching desire to ape the ways of politicians, with the obvious implication being their abiding faith in their own effectiveness — prevaricating, playing favourites, eagerness to find fault with others while covering up their own guilt... the list is long. Fine. But, why do these other ‘leaders’ fail? Politicians rarely do. Because such people lack the skills of a politician. Politics is no doddle, after all.

Chances are the man there on sufferance in Patna was not commenting on the state of Bihar. Most probably, he was mocking the leadership summit. Or leadership itself.