The second wave of COVID-19 has exposed severe lacunae in Indian political, military, and bureaucratic leadership at all levels. The major flaws noticed are lack of vision and anticipation by everyone. Crisis management has been catastrophic. Their political and personal interests forbid them to visualise the gathering storm of second wave of the Coronavirus. Poor handling of the crisis has been the hallmark of military, political and bureaucratic leadership of today. The lack of facilities, civil and military both, such as beds, oxygen cylinders, medicines, ventilators, etc, showed lack of “Forward Thinking”. And when the crisis exploded, leadership exhibited helplessness.
Political interests of leaders far outweighed the national interests. Though motivated articles in foreign and national press raise accusing fingers at Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, yet the worst culprits have been leaders of the states who looked over their shoulders towards central leadership. The Seventh Schedule of Indian Constitution says that the onus of public health, hospitals, dispensaries, and sanitation was of the states. The issue of public health is not even in the Concurrent List. The centre has only advisory role in matters under the ‘State List’. Therefore, to blame Modi entirely for the Corona crisis is a farfetched argument. It is the state leaders who failed their masses. To be very frank, it has been criminal dereliction of responsibility of the state leadership of all hue and cry. There is no exception.
The worst leadership example is of Indian opposition leaders, who are so blinded by their hatred of the current Indian PM that its major leaders had nothing better to offer than negative thoughts. This also added confusion and panic amongst the general public. Modi might have faltered but it was no time to criticise him but to give constructive suggestions to pull the nation out of the crisis. It was disgraceful when these leaders quote motivated foreign media articles to slight PM, while crisis is raging. Compare these opposition leaders with opposition leaders of Israel, one will be ashamed.
Modern leadership is all about taking harsh and hard decisions to deliver goods at peril to your popularity index amongst your subordinates or fans/followers. You cannot be popular and yet deliver. Popularity is the antidote of modern leadership. Those who recommend the ‘middle path’ course of action are suggesting a sure recipe for performance paralysis. The middle path is a tactic of opportunists and careerists.
When a military leader asks his soldiers to attack the enemy, he cannot also say, “save your lives". The middle path suggestion is part of career management, it is not part of leadership. Unfortunately, it is not ‘leadership’ but "dealership", as was evident in ten years of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) rule. They are not ‘leaders’ but ‘dealers’, though alphabets which comprise the two words remain the same. Strange it might seem, but it is also true that a good follower ought to fail when he dons the mantle of leadership. It is because he was fitted into a leadership role rather than being capable of fitting himself into it, definitely a square peg in a round hole.
As a passing reference, let me say that an ‘Annual Confidential Report Created-Good Colonel’ might not be a ‘Good General’. They are good followers of their ‘masters voice’. Pliability is their main criterion. So, whole philosophy of promotions in the army stands on its head in the 21st Century environments. Due to rise of the ‘middle path traveler’ in the armed forces, the image of the armed forces has nose-dived.
Leadership philosophy in India till, as late as the advent of 21st Century, primarily drew its strength from its social stratagem. Therefore, whether political or military, the leadership flourished in the family kind of environs which complied with family ethos that the head of the family is supreme. Therefore, family authority and diktats were the guiding principle of leadership. It is what lord Tennyson had said in his poem Valley of Death “There is not to question why, there is but to do and die; Into the valley of death marched the six hundred"
Fundamental family moralities made the job of military leaders very easy. This also helped Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru et el to step into leadership shoes. Even now this philosophy carries on, like the kings and princes, leaders are being imposed by families. Political organisations, in India, have become business like family firms. They flourish in caste and religious based environs, aided by illiteracy and poverty.
Fitting individuals from top by ‘family firms’ into leadership matrix is the cause of non-development of proper leaders in every field of human activity of 21st Century. Of course, there is a mismatch between leaders and leadership environments. Please note, while the ground situation and value systems of individuals are fast changing, almost like a Tsunami, the leadership criterion remains the same, the moralities of 19th Century are guiding them. And most of them are an utter failure. Author of the book ‘Third Wave’, Alvin Toffler, quips, “—The failure of modern leadership is not because of lack of qualities amongst leaders but the breakdown of very institutions on which their power depends. —"
Even leadership philosophy of military suffers from these outdated and outmoded concepts. They continue to harp upon same traits and values, which made successful military leaders in the past. No more soldiers would march into the valley of death at the diktat of a leader. Leadership environs have changed. So have management philosophies, too. The 21st Century has dynamically reversed the equation between leader and the led, whatever the field, from military to politics to religion.
Pandemic management, so far in the country’s has brought out a bitter reality that our political and bureaucratic leadership needs to be trained in crisis management. COVID-19 is not the last crisis. The creation of National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) does not absolve the management responsibility of political and bureaucratic leaders. They need a short course in crisis management before they step into shoes of governing authority.
Even the sinking of Barge P-305, during Tauktae cyclone, with more than 68 dead, show the lack of foresight and anticipation of not only political and bureaucratic leaders but also technical leaders. There was No Plan B to rescue people on board. Too much faith and confidence were invested into steadfastness and solidity of eight anchors.
There are three important principles of crisis management. First is one’s ability to anticipate the worst which could happen and work out a plan to retrieve the situation. Call it plan B or an alternative option. Second principle is to defeat the crisis in time before it can hit you. The leader must move ahead of the crisis. Plan B must be launched as the storm begins to gather. Third principle is to stay calm and do not panic. Safety and security of people must be top priority and leader’s own safety and welfare must come last.
Finally, it is time that powers that be in India, must realise the huge pool of potential of crisis management amongst the veterans. Their services must be effectively put to use to control and manage crisis situation. In all other countries, services of retired military leaders are utilised to effectively govern the nation. In fact, the United States of America had, 15 out of 45 presidents, who had served in the military. Their Foreign/Defence secretary are invariably ex-military men. It is only in India that veterans do not get their dues — so much so that post of National Security Advisor (NSA) is never given to a military man. India ought to utilise this huge pool of experts idling away while India faces crisis after crisis.
‘Yass disaster’ is waiting to unfold in West Bengal on 26 May 2021, but other than token evacuation from low lying areas our leaders cannot think of anything else. Give the veterans their due to manage crisis for you!
About the Author
(Col. Rajinder Kushwaha is an ex-NDA, commissioned into 3 Bihar. He is a battle-hardened veteran who served in ’71 War & has operated extensively in various insurgency environs across the country. He is a renowned author, and a highly respected defence & national security expert writing for several reputed publications such as ‘Defence and Security Alert’ (DSA), the ‘Indian Defence Review’ (IDR) among others. You can reach him on Twitter: @RajeeKushwaha, Email ID: [email protected])
(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')