Hot News

The Myth Of The Strong Leader

The Myth Of The  Strong Leader

The Nation is Burning

Neither the Hindutva think-tank nor Modiji’s political instinct foresaw the reaction at the passing the CAA. An observer in Assam described it as a “tsunami of the revolutionary spirit of the people of the state.” It has picked up nationwide, whether it be in UP, Kerala, Chennai or Mangalore. “The nation is on fire,” says a political commentator. This is what happens when an insensitive leader gets too many things done in haste with no concern for the sentiments of people. But the Top Leader is self-confident. Mussolini once claimed, “I have never made a mistake when I followed my instinct; I always went wrong when I listened to reason,” and to others (The Myth of the Strong Leader, Archie Brown, Vintage Books, London, 2015, pg. 282).

That is the pose of the Prime Minister today. Modiji claims that India’s youth ardently long for stability, and poses as though he alone can fulfil that desire with a “56-inch chest.” Is he not an Avatar?

Beware of the So-called “Strong Man” Leader

Political scientists, who have studied outstanding leaders of several generations and compared them with today’s authoritarian leaders are far from accepting the notion that that “strong leaders” who “get their way, dominate their colleagues, and concentrate decision-making in their hands are most successful and admirable.” On the contrary, they are convinced that concentration of power “paves the way for important errors at best and disaster and massive bloodshed at worst” (Brown ix).

Even Modiji’s admirers who extol his hard-working habit, decision-making ability, and sense of timing have to admit that there is a limit to such things.  Comparative studies have unmistakably established that one person should not have “the last and decisive word on all important issues” (Brown xi). “When… a leader is sure he knows best, problems follow, and they can be on a disastrous scale. Others who think differently should be consulted, rule of law should be respected, government should be accountable” (Brown 1).

Humility Is the Most Needed Virtue for a Leader

Vice President Venkaiah Naidu has suggested a debate on the CAA and NPR. Earlier, people of Sualkuchi (Assam) in Himanta Biswa Sarma’s constituency had dared Modi for a debate on the CAA.  “Too much deference makes for bad policy,” says Brown. There is need of colleagues who stand strong against the judgment of the top leader and correct him when there is need (Brown 19).

Samujjal Bhattacharya, Adviser to NE Students, says, the CAA has not been approved in the people’s court.  One-man decision can surely go wrong. Placing great power in the hands of one person is inappropriate in a democracy.” No matter how great his qualities, “humility” is the most needed virtue in a leader (Brown 2). Malala and Greta have persuaded entire societies through a ‘human’ approach. So have Gandhi and Mandela.

‘Over-Reaction’ to People’s Protest

Even in the face of stiff opposition, the leaders at the Centre have not shown themselves ready to bend a little, or to do a bit of re-thinking, open a debate, or initiate a dialogue with the protestors. They would rather “re-educate” the public. The Chinese put one million Uighurs in Xinjiang into ‘re-education camps’ to teach them how to be true Chinese. We are taking after the Chinese model. BJP Government is going to put 1.3 billion people under a similar exercise under the guidance of the RSS cadres and their associates. They will outsmart the protesters with an “India Supports CAA” campaign.  Their task will be to rectify the ‘misinformation’ that the Opposition has spread, and correct the people ‘misguided’ by the Congress. Now we understand what George Orwell meant when he referred to the “Ministry of Truth” which totalitarian regimes set up…to ‘manufacture truth.’

BJP ‘Ministry of Truth’ will assure citizens that the CCA decision was taken by a political genius. Accept, they will insist, if not on the merit of the idea, at least on the genius of the leader. We recall Hitler who would exclaim from time to time, “We need a dictator who is a genius.” No doubt, the Fuhrer was a gifted man; when he spoke, he held millions in thrall (Brown 289). He was convinced that “Millions are yearning for a leader” (Brown 293) of his type. Similarly, we have a chest-thumping leader who calls himself a ‘chowkidar’ in all humility. But he is “determined” to push the CAA against the people’s will, mobilizing “big shows” in support. Samujjal contends that all CAA-supporters are state-sponsored.

Charisma Created by Supporters, Who in turn Abuse Power

Indeed, Modiji too holds millions in thrall when he speaks. He has the charisma. But, discussing ‘charisma,’ Archie Brown is convinced that it is the followers who bestow the charisma on the leader (Brown 4) for their own interests. Leaders merely deceive themselves, when supporters flatter them and take over the situation. “The more decisions are taken by one individual leader, the less time that person has for thinking about the policy and weighing up the evidence in each case.” Consequently, his helpers and aides take decisions in his behalf.  That is the beginning of the abuse of power (Brown 9).  Amit Shah is the mastermind behind the ‘outreach programme’ for the re-education of the public on the CAA. He wants to prove himself tough and loyal, and show that he can get things done in “military haste.”  It is this haste in pushing controversial programmes that has landed the BJP-RSS in trouble.

Shah’s detention camps are bound to develop into ‘concentration camps’ like in Nazi Germany. Forty-five crore rupees have already been sanctioned for the detention camp in Matia, Assam. Contrary to what the PM says, there are several detention camps in Assam already. But according to the BJP “Ministry of Truth,” there is none. Some detainees have died recently in such camps. But what does that matter? For Amit Shah Muslim immigrants are mere ‘termites,’ as for Hitler the Jews were subhumans.

For Churchill Germans were Huns, for the Soviets Afghans were cockroaches (Jonathan Glover, Humanity, Pimlico, London, 1997, pg. 49), for the Hindutvawadis tribals are vanvasis, mere jungle product.  Modi in his Gujarat days used to refer to Muslims as “baby-making factories,” and these days as identifiable by their clothes.  Dilip Ghosh, a BJP MP from Bengal, had the same attitude when he called them “lungi-clad terrorists.”

Hiran Gohain of Assam laments, “The BJP government is soft only towards corporate bodies, not to citizens…It has been suppressing the voice of the people.”  Intellectuals are being attacked, even eliminated. Of late, India has marched ahead of China in the area of internet control, cutting off citizens from each other and the rest of the world. Economic activities have been crippled, students’ research interrupted, India’s image shattered. PMO’s Ministry of Truth denies that. For the rest of the world, Gandhi’s India has ceased to exist.

Adityanath Yogi is another great Hindutva icon. He has taken up the issue of CAA-protesters with a spirit of vindictiveness. He has not only threatened them of severe consequences (roodra roop), but followed it up with merciless action. Nineteen have been shot dead. Apparently the police had ‘shoot-to-kill orders’ like at Jallianwalabag. Some of those who were killed were mere youth, even passersby. Moreover, enormous sums are being asked in compensation from those accused of vandalism. According to lawyers, the amounts are to be fixed by the Judiciary, not the Executive.  And take note, most ‘encounter killings’ under Yogiji’s direction belonged to the Muslim community. No wonder people have accused the UP Chief Minister of being grossly discriminatory…acting as police, judge and executioner at the same time.

Colossal Consequences

Archie Brown argues, “Many of the failures of leaders who are confident they know best, and brook no disagreement, have been monumental,” because too much is expected of the all-knowing leader (Brown 24). Adam Smith in fact was extremely sceptical of “vast power placed in the hands of an individual.” He says, the impression of ‘stability’ created by an absolute ruler is an illusion. When tension mounts, he warns, there is every possibility of rebellion. Addressing the University of Glasgow in 1763, he affirmed, “The folly of single men often incenses the people and makes it proper and right to rebel.” By conquest or revolution the one-man order is overthrown (Brown 29). 

Stalin was one who concentred power in his hands. His first targets were intellectuals, thinkers, religious leaders (Brown 256-57). Then began the hunt for his critics, whom he called the “enemy within,” which turned harsher than that against opponents. We have a mild version of such bitterness in our times when BJP allies parted ways in deep resentment. The vocabulary used was the sharpest.

The BJP ideologues already need to think of that period of history when they will become objects of study in another era. See what happened to Stalin. His successor Khrushchev turned a severe critic of his mentor and accused him of being a claimant to “godlike infallibility.” He described his ways as “barbaric” (Brown 257). “Under Stalin anyone could be arrested, even if they were not in the least critical of the regime.” For, “Stalin was chronically suspicious,” and “…hundreds of thousands of arrests were quite arbitrary” (Brown 260). Our experience is the same. Thousands of cases have been filed against CAA agitators and critics of the regime. History will surely hold the RSS-Hindutva-club responsible for seriously damaging the Hindu image in the world and weakening the true Hindu cause.

Hasty Decisions Spell Disaster

Everyone is aware of what America’s un-reflected rush into Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan has meant for the respective nations and for the world at large. The same is true of Brezhnev’s despatch of troops into Afghanistan in haste (Brown 308). Mao’s Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward belong to the same classical list Great Blunders that involved the loss millions of lives. And have not demonetisation, GST imposition, cow-slaughter ban, Triple Talaq, abolition of RTI, scrapping of Article 370,  Ayodhya verdict, and CCA affected the lives of millions?     

The trouble with our Prime Minister is that he is not accessible for a conversation, a press conference, questions, discussions. He believes as Hitler did in the magic of “inaccessibility, unpredictable interventions, long-winded monologues and lack of interest in policy detail” (Brown 287).  Hubris controls affairs. The Fuhrer had no difficulty is saying, “I have achieved everything that I set out to do and have thus perhaps become the greatest German in all history.” Some of our leaders have reached that level of self-admiration, having achieved the ‘impossible and the unreasonable’ in seven months.

Though critical of Stalin, Khrushchev himself did not learn a lesson for himself.  “He moved forward like a tank” with absolute resolve (Brown 258). Is Brown speaking of Amit Shah who refuses to yield an inch?  Is he speaking about Modi who wants to ‘re-educate’ the world on the CAA? A Pravda editorial described Khrushchev as “harebrained, scheming, half-baked conclusions and hasty decisions and actions divorced from reality, bragging and bluster, attraction to rule by ‘fiat,’ unwillingness to take into account what science and practical experience have already worked out” (Brown 259). Do these adjectives remind us of some outstanding personalities in our context, who praise science, but promote superstition? What do you think of the new development at the Benares Hindu University calling its psychotherapy department “Bhoot vidya”? Does it seem to fit in with the scientific mindset that our Founding Fathers encouraged?

Democracy is Difficult, but Rewarding

No wonder Ariel Durant argued, “Democracy is the most difficult of all forms of government, since it requires the widest spread of intelligence…”  With the diffusion of obscurantism that Hindutva advocates stand for, the spread of intelligence is not easy to take place in Modi’s era, no matter what his Ministry of Truth claims. The atmosphere he has created favours the popularisation of blind obedience and outdated fanaticisms. Unfortunately, too few are capable of foreseeing the consequences.  We are returning to the times of George Orwell who was greatly worried that “totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere…”  His book was meant to address the threat of totalitarianism in his own days.

That is the mission of present day intellectuals too: to convince people that ‘concentration of power’ in the hands of a few, of one, contains seeds of its own destruction (Brown 253), that flattering the Army excessively could compromise the interests of freedom, that the Executive getting too close to the military leaders could be a way of marginalizing the Legislative and the Judiciary, that alarms about external threats can be created to suppress critical voices among citizens, that today’s opposition to CAA is not against humanitarian concern for refugees, but questioning dozens of decisions that the Ruling Dispensation have made in haste with least concern for the sentiments of fellow-citizens. Today the Opposition leaders and critics may be called Pakistanis, traitors, anti-nationalists; tomorrow the Army may be asked to deal with them as such.

The Greatest Danger: Lack of Idealism in ALL Parties

Pinarayi Vijayan, the CM of Kerala, alleges, “The ideological leader of today’s government, the RSS, has already decided who are the internal enemies…their target is to convert India into a theocratic state.” In fact, they have never hidden their aim. However, the present danger is the division among the Opposition leaders themselves, which includes a strong show of unity before a common danger, and an equally strong eagerness for plum portfolios, posts and purses whenever they win an election. See what is happening in Karnataka and Maharashtra.

The tragedy is that ideological values seem weakest in the parties that claim to cherish the highest ideals of secularism, inclusiveness, service to the nation, sacrifice for the common good and truth.  The Dalai Lama says the power of truth is greater than the power of the gun.  Parties must stand by the values they profess, and the leadership should be “visionary and inclusive” (Brown 42).  Stand by the core values of our civilization, or perish!

(Published on 13th January 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 03)