Kanpur: Those who don’t learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat the same mistakes. I see a striking resemblance in the behavior and attitude of some of our current crop of leaders, with those of the past. Hence my apprehension that they may be falling in to the same trap, or making the same mistakes of those with whom they seem to share that striking resemblance.
In the last century we had dictators like Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao and Salazar. All of them had simplistic solutions to complex issues and chose to strike at the “enemies” of the State or society. These dictators fell from grace and are today remembered more for their foolish decisions, rather than their leadership qualities or other accomplishments.
At present I find four world leaders who seem to have similar “simplistic” solutions. We have Rodrigo Duterte, President of the Philippines, who believes that he can solve the drug problem by shooting dead all the drug peddlers. No need of cumbersome trials. Then comes rocketman Kim Jong-un, President of North Korea, who believes that he will be immortalized if he nukes the rest of the world.
Next we have the one and only Donald Trump, the American President, who believes that building a wall will prevent illegal migration from Mexico. Like Texan cowboys of yesteryear he also believes that he can shoot his way through North Korea, Iran and Islamist terrorists. As often as not, he ends up shooting himself in the foot; provided that it is not in his mouth!
We in India have our very own Namo Namo. He thought that a surgical strike against Pakistan would stop terrorism. It had the opposite effect. Namo thought that an overnight Demo would exorcise the demon of black money. It failed miserably. Then he brought in GST that he euphemistically termed a good and simple tax. It was a good idea, but far from simple. The GST manual runs into over 700 pages. Four months down the line the experts are still looking for “simple solutions.”
Namo is building a huge statue of Shivaji in the Arabian Sea, one of Sardar Patel in Gujarat, and now his aide in U.P. intends building a 100 meter statue of Sri Ram in Ayodhya. Such acts have a striking resemblance to Mayawati building huge icons of herself, among others, and of other megalomaniacs in history who wanted their subjects to bow down and worship them. They have all bitten the dust on which their pedestals were raised.
But Namo and his ilk cannot learn the lessons of history, because they are busy re-writing Indian history; be it the cow, aerospace engineering, plastic surgery, the Mughal “traitors” and even the role of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel in the freedom movement. They are strangely silent on the role of the British. Anybody thought about that?
Namo and his National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, believed that they would strike at the root of Kashmiri unrest with pellet guns, then by tying an innocent voter on to the bonnet of an army jeep. For three years they obstinately refused to dialogue with the stone pelters. Rather late in the day some realization has dawned and an interlocutor has been appointed. Is this a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted? It could now cause a nightmare (pun intended).
Another attempted strike has been against open defecation. Again a good idea that could go wrong. In my hometown municipal authorities are doing the rounds of slums early in the morning and beating drums or bugling to embarrass those with their pants down (pun again intended). Most of them are poor slum dwellers, including women and children. I find this inhuman. We need to ask ourselves why there are slums. Why is there migration from rural areas? Why have municipal toilets been converted into living accommodation for municipal workers? How many public toilets do we have, especially for women, in proportion to the population?
Even if toilets are being constructed, where is the water to flush them, the sewage system, and sewage treatment plants? Where are the sanitation workers to clean other peoples’ crap? This last is a valid point raised by Magsaysay Awardee B. Wilson of the Safai Karmachari Sangh. Namo seems to strike at the symptom rather than the disease. He is yet to learn a holistic approach to good governance.
Namo has another target to strike at – a Congress mukht Bharat. To attain that end he seems to justify all means – poaching legislators, breaking legislatures, and threatening others with tax raids. If the Congress wants to dig its own grave so be it. But the goal of a striking leader should be to build the nation, not to destroy the opposition by means fair or foul.
Instead of deriding the Congress and questioning ad nauseum what they did in the last 70 years, he needs to take a good hard look at the leaders that went before him – both their achievements and their blunders.
Colossi of the freedom movement like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and B. R. Ambedkar were all decisive in their own ways. Gandhiji brought us Swaraj, Nehru a vision of modern India, and Ambedkar a Constitution that many others envy. Nehru had to walk a tight rope between conservatives and communalists. He chose the path of modernity.
So we had the Bhakra Nangal Dam, atomic power, IITs and IIMs, to which Sushma Swaraj paid glowing tribute at a recent meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. Nehru also acted decisively against a foreign power in 1961 to liberate Goa. That was far more challenging than the annexation of the princely State of Hyderabad, for which the Gujaratis would like to give all the credit to Sardar Patel alone.
Nehru’s daughter, “goongi gudiya” Indira Gandhi proved to be even more decisive – whether it was the nationalization of banks, abolition of Privy Purses, Urban Land Ceiling or the liberation of Bangladesh. By no stretch of the imagination can Namo claim to be the first “striking leader” of India.
Talking of strikers we could also learn some lessons from sport. About 55 years ago when I was representing my school in hockey and football I always played as left winger (was that a harbinger of my subsequent social proclivity?). Back then, in a team of eleven we had five forwards, three half backs, two full backs and one goalkeeper. Today the formations have changed. Usually there is only one striker, four midfielders, four defenders and then the goalkeeper. The striker can do nothing on his own. He needs team work.
Namo seems to lack that. For five months he did not have a full time Defense Minister. For several months there was no Environment Minister. In his recent cabinet expansion he leaned heavily on ex-bureaucrats, prompting political commentators to quip that his team lacked bench strength, again a term borrowed from sports parlance.
All leaders are prone to error. Nehru faced the ignominy of the Himalayan Blunder against China in 1962. Indira Gandhi broke the back of the judiciary and bureaucracy during the infamous Emergency. Her son Sanjay embarked on surgical strikes like forced sterilizations (our family planning program is yet to recover from it), and planting eucalyptus trees that drained out all the underground water. Indira first propped up Bhindranwala, then killed him in Operation Blue Star, and ultimately paid for it with her own life.
Her son Rajiv did not learn from his mother’s mistakes. First he trained the LTTE cadres at the Chakrata army base near Dehradun. Then he sent the IPKF against them in Sri Lanka, only to die at their hands. When you sow the wind you reap a whirlwind. So Namobhai please learn the lessons of history, else you will bear a striking resemblance to those who struck first and got struck down later.
This surgical strike with my pen is not meant to strike down anybody. It is only hoped that those who read this will learn the lessons of history and avoid those pitfalls. Let us remember that a common man makes mistakes, a wise man learns from other peoples’ mistakes, and a fool never learns. Let us all be a part of that learning process. Let us not be struck down by lightning, but rather be enlightened citizens. Jai Hind!
(The writer is the Convener of the Kanpur Nagrik Manch.)