Kashmiris have generally lamented not having been able to produce outstanding leaders ever since the last King of Kashmir, Yusuf Shah Chak was deposed by the Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1586, following the defeat of Kashmir lashkar by the Mughal army in the second battle of Herpora and Kashmir brought under foreign rule for the first time in its history. Barring Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah who led the movement against the autocratic rule of the Maharaja from 1931 to 1947, in pursuit of democratic rights and power to the people, Kashmir cannot really claim to have produced a mass leader who fought and struggled for people’s rights and emancipation.
During the growing up years of my age group in Kashmir, we saw many political leaders, some even charismatic and popular, but not mass leaders in the way Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah had been, as we used to hear from our elders, during the movement against the autocratic rule. Most of the later day political leaders worked on the assumption that they could do little in Jammu and Kashmir without the blessings of powers that be in Delhi, irrespective of the party in power there. The great Sheikh also, ultimately, had to accept this reality of politics in Jammu and Kashmir and move on. So, these political leaders would often give preference to the interests of their own parties rather than the interest of the people they claimed to be representing. This is not to say there weren’t good people among them. To be fair in assessment, many of them were well meaning, caring, sympathetic and rendered, undeniably, great service to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Late Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq, a former Chief Minister, was known for his personal honesty and reportedly did not own a residential house except the ancestral house in Batmaloo, Srinagar. His son Rafiq Sadiq died in an allotted government quarter at Jammu and lived in an allotted custodian house at Srinagar, if my memory serves me right.
The other day there was an article in this newspaper about how the political parties in Jammu and Kashmir were busy admitting new members in anticipation of the forthcoming local body elections so as to field them as candidates. The article conveyed the impression, and correctly so, that there was this beeline for entry so as to get tickets for contesting forthcoming elections to Rural and Urban Local Bodies. Last few years have witnessed emergence of this new class of people in Jammu and Kashmir who have come forward to contest local self government elections, got security and other facilities that they could seek from the government as per the laid down norms and then exercised power as Panch, Sarpanch, Chairman of Block Development Council, Chairman District Development Council, Member of Municipal Council and Corporation, Chairman Municipal Council, Deputy Mayor, Mayor etc, depending on the position for which they got elected. The track record of work of this new class of elected officials in the local self government is not so well known. If you ask some among the common people, their electors, they will probably struggle to pinpoint any notable achievements. However, once assembly elections are held and a representative government takes charge, hopefully with restored statehood in full, things may change for the better in the local bodies as well, both rural and urban, not only due to oversight of the elected government but importantly because more sincere and dedicated people, who have hesitated to contest the local body elections so far, will come forward to contest future elections.
It is an old saying that people get the government they deserve. It is ipso facto true about democracies. Jammu and Kashmir needs good people in politics so that it gets good leaders. The world is fast changing and so is this country. We are entering the times when the new technologies of the fourth industrial revolution and digital age are going to dominate everyday life and when environment and climate change issues will become more important than even economy and infrastructure development. Perhaps, the only other issues which will compete for attention with environment and climate change will be skilling and new age jobs for the youth. So the societies everywhere need the best people to run for public offices to face the daunting challenges of the present and the future.
Now how do we create conditions for good people to enter politics. Frankly speaking, there is no magic formula or a crystal ball to gaze for answers. Induction of bright and honest men and women by the political parties may not be their priority, even though they may not oppose the idea. The solution lies in bright and honest men and women making a conscious decision to enter politics or else stop complaining about bad people in politics and positions of power. As the old saying goes, ‘our problems aren’t so much caused by the actions of bad people as by the silence of good people.’ If good people decide to shun politics, then they should be prepared to suffer the consequences of the actions of not so good people in politics. In political literature, Edmund Burke, Napoleon, Martin Luther King Junior and some others are often quoted to blame the silence of the good people for bad tidings. Perhaps, the French political philosopher Voltaire has said it in more telling words, that, ‘every man is guilty of all the good he did not do’. Our bright young people in particular must think over this Voltaire quote seriously, lest the time ebbs away to leave behind a lost opportunity for themselves, but more importantly for the society they belong to and who needed them in public service.
Every good and honest man and woman will not necessarily make a good leader but all leaders must be good and honest. It is also true that good leaders will not come down to us from heaven or planet Mars. They have to come from among the people, particularly from the youth who will get more years to bring about positive change in the life of the people they will get to serve. As the twentieth century American thinker and psychologist late John Seaman Garns has appropriately said, ’true leaders are ordinary people with exceptional resilience and extraordinary determination.’ Going by this, leadership is not everyone’s cup of tea. So, those who choose to enter politics for leadership should know what it takes to become a true leader. And if you don’t have it in you, then better, not venture into pursuit of leadership.
In the Islamic tradition, accountability, justice, trust and consultation are four important elements of leadership. In the same tradition, there is consensus on the two most important qualities required to make an ideal leader, mental strength or courage of conviction and trustworthiness, the latter would require the leader not to deceive his or her people and to retain their trust as ‘Amanah’. There is no scope for double speak or hedging, as is often resorted to by many present day political leaders in the garb of expediency and being practical in the so called real world, to dodge criticism for diversion from the promises made.
Chanakya, the powerful Prime Minister of the Maurya dynasty in 3rd century B.C and author of Arthshastra has listed seven pillars of leadership, namely, Swami (leader himself), Amatya (minister), Janpada (country and the citizens), Durg (Fort), Kosha (treasury), Dand (Army) and Mitra (the Ally). In present day context, these would mean the leader, ministers or officials with him or her, the people who have elected him or her, the territory he or she is in charge, infrastructure, finance, team work and consultants or mentors, respectively. So, a leader of the government must take care of the seven pillars of leadership and above all to first make an assessment of himself or herself as the leader to consider whether he or she has the mental and moral strength, the resilience and the determination to deliver to the level of trust reposed in him or her by those who elected him or her.
An old quote which says, ‘the best way to judge the intelligence of the leader is by looking at the men around him’, attributed to R.H.Grant, a Canadian politician who lived in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This quote indicates how important it is for the leader to have a team that delivers honestly and works hard for the people they are meant to serve.
Our future leaders must be men and women of honour, intelligent, well educated, sensitive, hard working, of character and above all trustworthy. Enough of double speak and duplicity, enough of practicality and expediency, because that is not being fair to the people who, once they repose trust, have no option of recall till the next election. The only option they have is to bear it all which has often been the case in our times.
In his beautiful book titled ‘The Principles of Leadership’ by Dr Yusuf bin Uthman Al-Huzaim, an Arab scholar and professional, he lists the problems of leadership within the Arab world as weakness of faith, ignorance, corruption (betrayal) and authoritarianism (tyranny). Our future leaders need to steer clear of similar problems in their own domain to achieve goodness and greatness for their people and the country. They should enter the leadership portals, if they have to, to serve the people and not to serve themselves or their own.
(Khurshid Ahmed Ganai is a retired IAS officer of erstwhile J&K cadre and former Advisor to the Governor)