It was interesting to see Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's endorsement of Rahul Gandhi as the ideal PM after 2014. I am not aware if Mr. Singh elucidated any special qualities that Rahul Gandi possesses which make him the ideal PM of the largest democracy in the world. For someone in such a responsible post to endorse someone so strongly, specially someone as erudite as the present PM, it takes a lot. It is the kind of a statement that forces us to think about two things - whether there are some unknown factors about Mr. Rahul Gandhi's leadership skills of which Mr. Singh is so effusive and, Mr. Singh's judgment itself in putting forth his endorsement. I have not seen any case yet for Mr. Rahul Gandhi to claim leadership position yet, specially of our nation. Anyway, that can be debated, and I'd rather not judge him fully. Perhaps Mr. Singh has seen some spark in the past few years.
I am more concerned about the ideal PM we need to have. It is an important job I suppose and one that must not be given away frivolously. It is picking the leader of one billion and more people, one who can hold their lives, their futures, their hopes and aspirations and give them wings. A leader who belongs to all of us, who represents all of us and who understands all of us. The leader we can all respect, we can trust and someone who has, by his words and deeds, already earned it. Here is a list of attributes I will look for.
1) Vision: I need a leader with a clear and uncluttered vision that will drive us towards self-sustenance, prosperity, equality, balanced growth. Someone who does not weaken the structure by giving away freebies for votes thereby making people lazier and greedier but who makes it stronger by rewarding a good, honest work ethic, - by gradually convincing the nation that there is indeed no substitute for hard, efficient work. A vision that can leverage our strengths with opportunities . Chandrababu Naidu, ten years ago had this vision and the energy, but now I find no one who seems to have a vision for the country as a whole. If they have, I have not heard it yet.
2) Knowledge: I need a leader who has a genuine knowledge of our problems, our histories, our hopes and our complex cultures. India is not an easy nation to lead primarily because we are a fragmented bunch of people who came together as one, each with our own cultures and histories. Without an understanding of the people and our past, all future plans will be mere essays and good rhetoric because they come out of a brittle foundation. This understanding would require at least twenty or thirty years in knowing, studying, meeting and dealing with people and their problems across India. I am sure there are some worthies out there in the parliament but they are subjugated, by their own volition, being happy to be the supporting cast that I am not sure they have the spine to be a leader any more. This knowledge again must be on public display through papers, speeches.
3) Commitment: I need someone who is committed to the good of the nation, of the people, and will fight for that, even at the cost of power. We need the kind of commitment that will risk all, that may make enemies. The moment you compromise once, your commitment is shot. Someone who has shown a record of having stood up for the people's good in their public career, more than once and has remained committed until that cause has been brought in as a law. Anna Hazare, Naveen Jindal did that, the people behind the RTI did that.
4) Integrity: I need a leader who responds first to a crisis, who has his first principles clear, and who acts on those first principles. Long term or short term, the right thing is always the right thing and the wrong thing is the wrong thing, and one must have the integrity to stick by these principles. It's not about strong allies or weak ones - its about right and wrong. A leader who can stand up and say that the US, Britain, France or any other super power is wrong if it is treading down that path and not servilely toe along. I need them to show spine, pride and not fear saying and doing the right thing. A life is a life, whether it is in some unknown land in West Asia or in a developed nation. Again, a record of having stood up for what one believes in. A consistent record of having stood up for the right thing irrespective of alliances.
5) Technology friendly: I need someone who understands and who can leverage technology to break down our traditional barriers, to simplify, to make more transparent, to make more equal. Right now all administrative processes are still too complicated and they will remain so until someone has the will and understanding to use technology and make the system transparent. Using technology to educate, to simplify is something the leader must understand - it is the new power structure. Outsource the answer to the red tape - we are the outsourcing capital of the world. You may lose some power, but you will make the nation more efficient. Someone who has a vision here, a record of having used or propounded the use of technology in administration, in any of the big issues we are facing - security, education, health, governance. We had that wonderful eSeva in Andhra Pradesh which suddenly made the government appear as a single entity, not some multiple, hydra headed monster.
6) Administrative experience: I need someone who has a record of being a good administrator, of having brought in developmental ideas and implemented them well in the past. I need someone who will promise good governance, who can get the administrative body functioning and well. This needs to be backed by a record of the same, of one game changing policy statement, or experience in the past, that has made a difference. Even a head of industry who has built a corporation that ennobles these values, one which has made a significant difference, can present himself. A Narayana Murthy, a Ratan Tata are certainly people who have the experience. Any more names here?
7) People-centric approach: I need someone who is genuinely people-centric in approach. One who feels for the most marginalised of the people and takes care to see that they are not disturbed or left out or trod over. One who feels for every farmer, every woman, every child, every small businessman. The leader must not be partisan, must rise above caste, communal, regional biases, even people and party biases. One who can rise above dividing people on demographics and targeting his vote base on such divisions. Someone who can unite with his ideas and not divide, who convinces us that in our unity lies our prosperity. The leader must feel for his people and if he cannot, he is not fit to lead. Again, we would like leaders who have shown this quality in their work, who have drawn people of all backgrounds because he understands them and their problems.
8) Communication skills: I need a leader who can communicate and strongly, verbally and non verbally, who is visible and active, who has clear views on the direction and strategy. A leader who cannot communicate is leaving his people in the dark. That said we do not need leaders who always put their foot in their mouths. Someone who can express himself, his vision, his convictions, his maturity, his capability - through his communication. On who is constantly assuring us of the path he is leading us on - not making boring statements and repeating the obvious. Not merely telling us stories well, but impressing us with content, of new thought. Visual demonstration through public debates on television is a must.
9) Healthy and vibrant public image: I need a leader who is healthy and vibrant, someone who has a positive bent of mind which reflects in his disposition, his countenance, his every act. Someone who feel we can trust to handle a crisis. Someone who makes us feel strong by reflection, makes us energised, happy. It is the public image that we carry and if that can keep us happy, positive and energised, the leader has again done a lot. Again, where are these heavies who like a Lord Krishna, smile in adversity, stand tall and confident, who makes us feel that he/she can handle whatever situation comes up in the most mature, sensible manner. It is clear that this person must already be a recognised name for these qualities by now if he/she has to be the face of India in 2014. I cannot think of anyone who fits this bill as of now.
10) Strong: I certainly need a leader who is strong. Who has strong ideas and who has the strength of conviction to carry them forward - alone if need be. This would mean that he is proactive and not merely reactive as most leaders have become. Someone who acts on his own, and not at someone else's behest. If he has to listen to someone, he should listen to the people closely and guide them in the right path. I see strength in Narendra Modi but can he carry the others with him yet? Does he have the maturity and roundedness, the patience and wisdom that one needs at the top position? He has many good qualities that one looks for in a leader but I will give him another five years in which to make his case stronger.
I look at the national scene and I find almost no one out there who can fit the bill really. We are woefully short of leaders. What we have is a bunch of sycophants, followers, narrow minded bigots. Some leaders that come to mind who come close are Nitish Kumar, Prithviraj Chavan, Raman Singh, Narendra Modi - but each one of these worthies also appear that they need some more time - some are reluctant. The other leaders we see on television are nowhere near a state-of-readiness. The younger lot is too young, too brash and too inexperienced. They are not able to break out of their party, regional or family bondage yet.
But despite the lack of a talent pool we must be careful not to have dummy leaders thrust on us, because they will never be able to do anything of their own. Time to think of who we wish to entrust our futures to. Time to think of how we can make our political parties think about who and how they wish to entrust their leadership to. I do wish that a short list is made of 10-12 names across the nation, and each be analysed publicly in our ever so willing media, so we can choose our leader better. These leaders must be nurtured.
I cannot think of many names. Can you?