Leader as Statesman

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When the present is in such a mess, the task of envisioning the future becomes next only to impossible. While this truism must be acknowledged, what needs also to be taken cognizance of is the other fact that the challenge of taking on both the onerous responsibilities – that of setting the present in order as well as envisioning a future – is the only formula for the survival of any society under pressure. It goes without saying that at this very juncture, the prospect for Manipur’s survival hinges on its ability to outlive a similar baptism by fire. This is all the more reason why the state needs a strong leadership class who possess all the multiple qualities associated with true leadership, including the ability to be tough with the tough and soft with the soft, and at the same time to be visionaries of the future. In other words, the “Philosopher Kings” which the great Greek thinker of the classical period, Plato, described in his work of profound influence even on contemporary scholarship “The Republic“. Plato even prescribed systematically breeding this class of leaders through a regimented schooling system, where promising children are identified young and then kept in residential institutes where they are trained to be leaders – a notion which sounds draconian and militaristic, but nonetheless one which undoubtedly must have had plenty of articulation in the concept of the British Public Schools, where children are taught to relish the sprit of adventure and innovation, be good fighters and scholars, all at the same time, so much so that another great warrior, Lord Wellington, the admiral who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo was prompted to reflect and comment in retrospect that the Battle of Waterloo was actually won on the playing fields of Eton and Harrow, the two famous public schools in Britain, where many of India’s own leaders, including its first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru acquired some of his mettle in public leadership.

Plato’s “Philosopher King” is present in the Hindu casteist scheme of things, the only difference being, two of his most characteristic qualities are segregated into two different personas. Although in a different context and as a support for a totally different argument, a towering Indian intellectual, Sudhir Kakar in his celebrated book, Indian Identity (Penguin) describes these two characteristics as the “historical” Kshitriyas and the “a-historical” Brahmins who occupy the realm between divinity and temporal. The rest of the caste varna may roughly coincide with the plebeians of the Platonic order of citizenry, who Plato, and indeed the Hindu caste system, give little importance in matters of statecraft. In the days of democracy, the equations have altered dramatically and no section of the society can be justifiably sidelined anymore. But the principle of the “Philosopher King” should still apply, although the entire population and not just its upper echelons would now form the base from which the king material can emerge. Plato’s definition of the ideal ruler, in the Indian lexicon, thereby would be a person in whom is combined the qualities of the Kshitriya, the warrior-administrator, and the Brahmin, the seer-thinker.

Contemporary Manipur’s tragedy, as much as those of any other immature democracy, has been in the nature of an acute shortfall of men with these acknowledged qualities of a ruler. Or rather, the story is more about the society’s abject inability to groom and project men and women possessing these qualities as its rulers. In their place we have leaders, a majority of whom retain their position of leadership almost solely on the strength of the wealth they have amassed in their previous avatars as dishonest contractors and power-brokers, or else offered themselves as proxies of unlawful shadow governments. It should hardly come as a surprise to anybody that by and large, qualities such as courage, bravery, spirit of sacrifice etc, not to speak of the finer attributes of a leader such as statesmanship, political acumen, vision, are extremely rare to see in the state’s corridors of power. Instead, these corridors have been tirelessly witness to ravenous scrambles for official booty, and with it, the inevitable surrender of moral authority to rule. The consequences are the misery heaped endlessly on the entire people.

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