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The waves

As the Wind Blows

Location: Chennai, Tamilnadu, India

26 April 2004

Once a Leader, Always a Leader

What makes an “Indian” has always been an interesting debate. Outlook carried a whole issue focusing on this question. I was drawn to this subject again today in Hindu Magazine. The lead story gives excerpts from a just released book – “ Being Indian.” By Pawan K. Varma.

I agree with him to a certain extent that one can never generalize the “Indianness”; agree also, that the contradictions in fact are the threads that runs undercurrent, among Indians. And I enjoyed his observations on Indian fixation for politics and elections. Read this:

“ Given the Indian fascination with power, elections fulfilled a deep psychological need to participate in power game, to see who was in and who would be out. Many foreigners are surprised by the intense involvement of the ordinary Indian in politics, making India ‘the world’s largest producer of politicians, elections and democratic political parties. It produces more in this regard than the rest of the world combined. People discuss politics in buses and trains and dhabas, and in their homes, and are deeply involved in the equations of power: who wields it, who will wield it, who once wielded it, who may wield it, and who can never wield it. The play of politics, with its betrayal and intrigue and calculation and conspiracy, holds the common persons in thrall…..”

But what interested me most was his observation that Indians love to idolize other human beings. This is a unique characteristic which has been discussed by many sociologists and other social researchers. When we like certain qualities in a fellow human being we begin to idolize that person and soon he/she is put on a pedestal and deity-fied. Leaders, for us are super human beings.

So much so, once a leader, always a leader. You don’t let him/her live a normal life thenceforth. Once “dethroned”, Clinton could go back to academia or whatever pleases him to do in a post retirement life. For all his charisma, and for all the good things he did for Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew could have remained the “Idol” or “Super Human being” for ever. But when he chose to step down, he began to lead a normal retired and dignified life.

But here in India, retirement for a leader? Forget it. Once a leader – always a leader. You might have undergone knee operations twice, had an open-heart surgery or perhaps may have difficulty even in remembering your colleagues’ names. Never mind. You are our leader. When you are lifted up and put on a pedestal, you remain there only - till the end of your life. You can’t step down even if you wish to. ( Our “leaders” also want to remain that way is another issue altogether – worth writing another piece.) Only Lord “Yaman” is allowed to “retire” the “leader” - forever from life.

Therefore, the question of succession always looms large over the “devotees”. After all, the Guru - Sishya linage has to continue ! Thus, the leaders – a la Kings of erstwhile dynasties, have to identify their successors well in advance. Offsprings are the "natural" choice. In the absence of it - or till the offsprings comes of age, someone from the family has to be identified or made to occupy the throne temporarily as if to keep the seat warm. So that the under study will have enough time to learn the art of “leading”, before taking over the baton.

There is no question of aging gracefully in “Indian Leaders’ lives”.


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