Col. (retd) Anil A Athale is a Fellow at the Centre for Armed Forces Historical Research. A former Joint Director (History Division) and infantryman, he has been running an NGO, Peace and Disarmament, based in Pune for the past 10 years. As a military historian he specialises in insurgency and peace process. Colonel (Dr.) Anil Athale is the author of ‘Nuclear Menace: the Sataygraha Approach’, published May 1997.
Ever since the shock victory of parties who later cobbled together the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) in 2004, India has suffered terribly from a 'leadership deficit'. The situation is comparable with the years when the Deve Gowdas and Gujrals of our country ruled by default.
Most of the problems that the country faces today can be safely put at the door of absence of leadership. The latest violence in Kashmir is no exception. But what is galling is that while all this is happening in the country, the real leader of the ruling political formation, Ms Sonia Gandhi, is visiting Beijing with her entire family, to watch the Olympics.
Lt. Gen Eric Vas (Retd.), an astute military thinker, has often remarked that in his long career he had seen many foolish Generals, Air Marshals and Admirals, many moronic bureaucrats, but never a stupid politician. What the General was trying to emphasize was the crucial difference between an 'elected' leader and an appointed one.
The typical middle class and media might express disdain for politicians, but any one who has to fight even a minor club election knows very well that it takes skills to win. Grassroot politicians who have come up the hard way through the electoral grind, develop and hone these skills.
India has many examples of such people. Whatever one's opinion about his corruption or jumbo sized family, people like Lalu Prasad Yadav or Mayawati display this earthy intelligence and ability to lead. What has gone wrong with India over the past four years or so is that genuine leaders have been kept out and a technocrat (even though honest one) heads the government.
It was proudly declared that Ms Sonia Gandhi would do the political management while Dr Man Mohan Singh would run the government. As if it is possible to separate the two. If one looks at the UPA's record over the past four years, one can easily perceive the virtual absence of 'governance'. That the situation seemed to be under control is mainly thanks to the extremely favourable international situation (India being most sought after) and the booming economy.
But at the first sign of economic bad tidings, the government has been essentially lurching from crisis to crisis. That it survived for such a long time is because there is an equally terrible leadership vacuum in the major opposition party.
Leading a country like India, with it's over a billion people and mind boggling diversity, needs deep understanding of the history, culture and languages of its people. It also demands an intellect of high order and ability to judge men and issues. Unfortunately, in many political parties we have leaders who were parachuted into the job due to their family connection.
Ms Sonia Gandhi, who is the virtual leader of the country today as head of the ruling combine, got the job by virtue of being the widow of late Rajiv Gandhi. She lacked any understanding of India. Her intellect can be gauged from a simple fact that despite over 10 years in public life, and some effort to learn, she cannot speak any Indian language with ease.
One would have forgiven her inordinate delay in becoming an Indian citizen (almost 20 years after she came to India) if she could have displayed honesty and loyalty to the country. India has never discriminated against foreign born persons. Annie Besant, Sister Nivedita, Mother Teresa come immediately to mind. But to compare Ms Gandhi with these jewels of India is like equating cheese with chalk, just because both happen to be white.
Her latest caper of going to Beijing while the country faces a real crisis in Kashmir robs her of the last fig leaf of legitimacy based on her commitment to the country. By her behaviour she has proved that she is in politics for the enjoyment of its perks and privileges.
It is rumoured that her late mother in law, Indira Gandhi, apparently packed her off to Italy due to considerations of security during the 1971 war with Pakistan. The Prime Minister's household is naturally a sensitive place in war time. Ms Sonia Gandhi owes us an explanation about her whereabouts during that crucial period.
Of late there is another noticeable trend amongst the 'parachuted' dynastic leaders, specially the young ones, of claiming education and a degree from a prestigious foreign university.
Any one familiar with the American university system knows that most of these are private universities who have 'payment seats.' While these young guns never tire of flaunting their foreign degrees, there is not a single one among them who has managed to get a competitive seat in say IIT or IIM. It would be interesting to know the scores of these worthies in the class X and class XII board examinations.
In fact, why can't the election commission make this compulsory information in its election form? After all, we the ordinary citizens have to give this data for any job application, why not for those who aspire for the highest job in the country? This would put an end to fraud where by class XII failures masquerade as 'educated' with fake degrees from non existent institutes.
The current crisis in Jammu and earlier in the Kashmir Valley is basically a result of short sighted and cynical politics. When the J&K Government decided to give land to erect temporary shelters for the Amarnath pilgrims, politicians in the Valley raised a spectre of demographic change. By this token, there should be no tourist facilities made either. This is a typical case of 'ulta chor kotwal ko daten' (a thief upbraiding a policeman). The only demographic change forced on the valley was the violent eviction of close to 300,000 Kashmiri Pandits.
But in this particular case, a solution could easily have been found by limiting the use of this land by the shrine board for the limited period of the yatra. This should assuage the valley and satisfy the Jammu agitators. Having said that, it is equally unfair on part of Jammu people to block supplies to the valley. Why should innocent Kashmiri people suffer because of some cynical leaders like Mehbooba Mufti or Omar Abdullah?
But perhaps it is too much to expect common sense from a new Governor who was allegedly thrown out of the Indian Military Academy for lacking in "officer like qualities."
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