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India's crisis of leadership

India's crisis of leadership

Author: Kanchan Gupta
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: March 1, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/159535/India's-crisis-of-leadership.html

For the past couple of years we had been putting off the distressing task of getting our apartment repainted. Besides the hassle of coping with temporary dislocation and eating out of soggy paper plates, what would scare us was the prospect of dealing with the junk that invariably accumulates under the bed, in cupboards and between file covers. In 2002 we had to leave India on short notice and since there was no place of our own where we could have dumped our papers, books and everything else that crams our house, we lugged all of it with us to Cairo, neatly packed in cartons, which travelled back with us to India when we returned home, both metaphorically and literally. This time we had an apartment of our own, but not big enough to keep the stuff packed in cartons. So out came everything and in they went into whatever space that was available, which was not much. Over the last few years, with more stuff moving in, some of the old stuff had to go, among them stacks of yellowing, fraying, dusty notesheets, stacked in a corner of our study.

Finally when we got around to braving the hazards of getting our apartment repainted recently, we also decided to get rid of the junk. The stack of notesheets, caringly preserved for years, had to go, too. Before dumping the papers into a garbage bag, I thought of flipping through them. And stumbled across notes I had prepared for an article on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, which had been commissioned by a newspaper after the BJP appropriated him as a mascot of 'cultural nationalism' during Mr LK Advani's Swarna Jayanti Yatra. Was Bose indifferent to religion and spiritualism? Did he believe there was a link between religion and nationalism? Bits and pieces which I could gather from material that was easily available (no, there was no Google those days and access to the Internet was a privilege, not a right!) by way of books appeared to suggest that Bose believed that rashtrabhakti was a synthesis of religion and nationalism, of the spiritual and the political.

When others were looking up to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi for inspiration, Bose was exploring the teachings of Swami Vivekananda and the writings of Aurobindo Ghosh. The latter made a lasting impression on his mind. Years later, Bose would record in his unfinished autobiography, "In my undergraduate days, Aurobindo Ghosh was easily the most popular leader in Bengal... a mixture of spirituality and politics had given him a halo of mysticism and made his personality more fascinating to those who were religiously inclined... We felt convinced that spiritual enlightenment was necessary for effective national service...". He was equally influenced by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee's construction of nationalism, which raised the nation from the geographical to the devotional plane. He wrote of "impoverished Mother India"; the "picture of (the) real India" that he painted was "the India of the villlages where poverty stalks the land, men die like flies, and illiteracy is the prevailing order". Six decades after independence, much of that picture remains unchanged; five years of Congress rule have served to highlight its gut-wrenching features. As MJ Akbar pointed out in his column last Sunday, "The number of people living below the poverty line has increased by a horrifying 20 per cent. India had some 270 million people below the poverty line in 2004-5, when the present Government took office. That number has gone up by 55 million." Strangely, as media agonises over the debilitating impact of the economic slowdown on the middle class and politicians mouth clichés, this shocking statistical detail remains unmentioned in our public discourse.

But we digress from the notes that were eventually consigned to the garbage bin. In his book, Brothers Against the Raj, Leonard A Gordon writes about Bose's quest for a religious philosophy to sustain his politics: "Inner religious explorations continued to be a part of his adult life. This set him apart from the slowly growing number of atheistic socialists and communists who dotted the Indian landscape." Bose was never explicit about it, but he remained firm in his belief that "Hinduism was an essential part of his Indianness". In his celebrated memoir, Thy Hand! Great Anarch!, Nirad C Chaudhuri refers to the "definite Hindu streak in Bose's dislike for Gandhi" -- "He was in no sense a bigoted or even orthodox Hindu. But he had grown up in the first two decades of the twentieth century in Bengal,where, owing to the influence of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Swami Vivekananda, there was a fusion of religion and nationalism, so that the nationalist feeling had a pronounced Hindu complexion and Hinduism a pronounced political character."

This "fusion of religion and nationalism" and Hinduism with a "pronounced political character" came into play in 1925 when during his incarceration at Mandalay prison, Bose, along with the other Bengali prisoners, organised Durga Puja on the jail premises and demanded that the expenses be borne by the authorities. When the latter refused, Bose converted his 'spiritual quest' into a 'political campaign' by launching a hunger strike. Years later, in his Poona speech after being elected president of the Maharashtra Provincial Conference, Bose would articulate his perception of nation and nationalism: "Indian nationalism is inspired by the highest ideals of the human race, Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram. Nationalism in India has... roused the creative faculties which for centuries had been lying dormant in our people...".

In a sense, it still lies dormant as we look Westward for 'change' and 'hope', instead of looking within. The real challenge for those who wish to lead India, a nation of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Parsis and many other faiths, as well as those who do not subscribe to any faith, lies in awakening our latent nationalism, in kindling our national pride. Yes, we have seen the unleashing of the creative faculties of Indians, but we hitched our success, our prosperity, to that of the West, namely the US, by allowing globalisation to get the better of us. As a result, with the American economy foundering on the twin rocks of unrestricted greed and plastic money driven prosperity, our national economy has begun to flounder. To get us out of this mess, we need a netaji, not a neta.

- kanchangupta@rocketmail.com

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