Netritva is different from netagiri
‘Leadership’ is a very commonly used word, but also one which has many meanings that depend on the context and type of leadership. Leadership or ‘netritva’ in our society, especially in modern times, is generally understood as ‘political leadership’. Thus, neta is almost invariably a political neta.
Netagiri is a widely prevalent phenomenon in the political process in today’s India. However, it is quite different from netritva. The latter connotes a combination of positive attributes such as vision, determination, and ability to accomplish a formidable task by mobilising a community of supporters.
In contrast, the common perception of netas, which obtains in the public mind, is not a very positive one. At the same time, political leaders in India get far more attention and importance than they intrinsically deserve. The disproportionately high attention and importance that political leaders get is, in fact, at the cost what is due to leaders in other fields of national life.
Leadership is a general concept, which is not specific to politics, and that leadership is needed in practically every sphere of human endeavour to achieve social progress, nation-building and welfare of the human race.
India needs good leaders – and good followers -- in every sphere
Today India needs good leaders in education, administration, business, culture and arts, media, diplomacy, research institutions, voluntary organisations, and even in religious and spiritual spheres. Good leadership is needed, and is often present, even in those areas where its necessity is least recognised and its presence least noticed. I am referring to the family sphere. Our women may not be highly educated in the formal sense of the term, some of them may even be illiterate, but the astute manner in which they manage the affairs of their households and provide leadership to their families is truly remarkable.
Similarly, there are people who are active in their neighbourhoods – in the resident welfare association, or the parent-teacher association in a school, or some organisation that is working for the welfare of senior citizens or for women and children in distress. Many of them take leadership responsibilities, they mobilise volunteers, they mobilise resources, they agitate against injustice and they inspire others with their selfless service. Most of them go unsung by the media and unhonoured by any governmental or non-governmental organisation. Yet, they continue in their mission, like karma yogis, with work itself as their reward.
It is this kind of leadership that is the true backbone of any orgnisation and the most reliable sustainer of any social good.
Attributes of good leaders
How are such good leaders made? These days, organisation-building and leadership development have become serious subjects of study, research and training. These are taught in management institutes and seminars and workshops that are tailored for specific categories of business executives and professionals.
It is my belief that good leaders are made not born. And they certainly do not become eligible to be leaders simply because they are born into a particular family. In democracy, all are born with an equal right to lead, provided they have the merit, ability and people’s support to assume the leadership responsibility. The concept of dynastic leadership, which we unfortunately are seeing in certain political parties in our country, is, therefore, deeply violative of both the democratic ideal and the spirit of the modern times.
If good leaders are made and not born, it implies that good leadership – in politics or in other sphere of society – entails certain basic qualities. Only those who have gone through the grind of life; experienced the rough and tumble of their professions; faced the ups and downs with fortitude; felt the pain and suffering of fellow human beings; taken life-defining decisions at critical junctures; made sacrifices whenever the situation demanded; made a good study of the problems in their chosen domain; demonstrated their capacity to effectively deal with the challenges before their organizations; learnt to make one’s self subservient to the larger goal that one is trying to pursue; developed the ability to motivate others with their character and not merely with their words; and remained true to their core beliefs and principles – only such persons emerge as true leaders in society.
True leadership is earned, not commanded
It should be obvious from this that true leadership is earned, and not commanded or demanded. History is replete with examples that show that great leaders, who gained the respect of people not only during but also beyond their lifetime, were least self-conscious about the leadership role they were playing. Humility, respect for small and big people alike, encouraging the followers to take initiatives (and even to make mistakes in the process), giving the credit of success to others and taking the blame of failure upon oneself – these have always been the characteristics of good leaders.
The inspiring legacy of the Freedom Movement
If we look back to our own country’s history, we see that the leadership, belonging to several successive generations, which emerged during the Freedom Movement had these noble qualities in great abundance. Lokmanya Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and Veer Savarkar, and those who did not participate in the political struggle directly but nevertheless exerted an enormous influence in arousing nationalist consciousness – modern-day seers like Swami Dayanand, Swami Vivekananda and Maharshi Aurobindo – each one of them was an exemplary leader in his own right.
These great names may be the most widely recognized and respected representatives of the leadership of the Freedom Movement. But if we look closely, we see that there were tens of thousands of lesser known individuals who discharged leadership roles during those days – by setting up educational institutions, establishing nationalist newspapers, launching social reform movements and laying the foundation for Swadeshi industries.
Erosion of idealism
What saddens me is that, in the post-1947 period, there has been progressive erosion in the political culture in the country. Lust for power, misuse of power for personal ends, corruption, emasculation of institutions, factionalism and indiscipline in political parties, apathy towards people’s welfare – these replaced, substantially though not fully, the high ideals that once inspired people to enter the political profession.
When idealism gets eroded in the political leadership, it has a rapid cascading effect in other spheres of life. Which is what we are seeing in India today.
Task before us: Develop leaders with the nationalist spirit
But I do not wish to paint a picture that is only gloomy, bleak and hopeless. Because that is far from the reality. In practically every sphere – indeed, more in other spheres than in politics – we see individuals who are providing excellent leadership. Without them, India could not have achieved the kind of remarkable success that we see in many fields today.
It is our duty to recognize them, and to support them wherever they are. It is equally our duty to nurture and develop a new generation of leaders from among the youth who constitute the overwhelming majority in India’s population. The new generation of leaders should be more broad-based, representing every section of our diverse society. This is needed both to strengthen our democracy and to promote greater social harmony.
And our leaders in every sphere must set big tasks before them. We should not be satisfied with accomplishing small successes. Those days when we could pat ourselves on our backs for small achievements are gone. The world is racing ahead. This is an era of breathtaking changes. India has the potential to more than match this pace of change and development, and thereby improve the living conditions of all its teeming millions. Some of this potential is already being realized, and the whole world is taking note of what India is capable of. But we need to move faster and we need to perform better than ever before. For this, as I said before, we need to develop good leadership and good fellowship at every level.
If I were to sum up my assessment about the quality of leadership India needs at present to ensure that the country really reaches the pinnacle of glory that it rightly deserves. I would say that the three most essential attributes of a leader ought to be: firstly, patriotism, secondly, character, and above all, commitment to some mission which for him is over and above everything relating to his personal self.