It’s called, “If only we had the right leader!”
Socialists, for example, like to fantasise on how India would have turned out had Jayaprakash Narayan been Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s choice, first to assist him in creating a new India and thereafter to succeed him as the undisputed leader of India.
What inspires such fantasising is not only JP’s impeccable moral core but also his leadership for nearly two decades of the socialist faction within the Indian National Congress, which enabled him to build a stronger left-centre alliance by bringing in stalwarts such as Ram Manohar Lohia and Acharya Narendra Dev into a governing coalition.
Admittedly, JP, Lohia and Narendra Dev were Nehru’s ideological cohorts rather than any of his cabinet colleagues. At the heart of this fantasy is also the fondest hope that such a move would have eliminated the need for Indira Gandhi to have entered into politics.
Many to the right of the socialists fantasise how India could have overcome many of our security and development related issues, if only Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had led India instead of Nehru after India attained independence in 1947.
To these, Subhash Chandra Bose would have been even better.
I am a professional student of history and yet, many a times, I do not understand this never-ending ‘man-crush’ on Subhash Chandra Bose.
On Sunday, Bose’s 114th birthday, our beloved Infosys chief mentor, N.R. Narayana Murthy, delivering the annual Netaji oration “If only Netaji had participated in post-independence nation building” in Calcutta, suggested that Netaji Bose could have taken ‘India past China’.
The Economic Times quotes Murthy as saying the following:
# “I believe India would have been a powerful exporter much before China if only Netaji had a frontseat in our policy making along with (Jawaharlal) Nehru… India would have seized the opportunity the world offered and would have become the second most powerful economy in the world…
# “Netaji was one of the most courageous leaders in India. Netaji was a real bold Indian leader who could have stood up to anyone… courage is one attribute which is more important in leadership than any other quality…
# “India would have embraced modern methods of scientific agriculture and made us food surplus year on year. India would have embraced industrialisation better and become more export oriented than relying on import substitution which has led to all kinds of problems.”
# “He would have continued and perhaps would have accelerated our efforts to control population through fair and transparent method.”
There’s no denying that the muscular, aggressive centre-right nationalism of Netaji Bose will always be appealing to some. Bose also famously differed with Gandhi throughout the 1930s, and that too makes him an attractive character for the Gandhi–haters amongst us.
His prison break, and the subsequent travels all over the world in search of allies and arms to fight against British imperialism is an absolutely romantic story, although one could say there is nothing romantic about joining hands with Nazis and Fascists, even if it is to liberate one’s homeland.
Still, I don’t get the love for Bose.
Narayana Murthy seems to believe that the courage displayed by Netaji Bose is an indicator of leadership qualities, and more importantly, the kind of public policy he would have advocated.
How could we surmise, as Murthy does, that had Netaji been part of the post-independent leadership, India would have benefited “in areas like economic progress, population control and adopting modern agricultural methods”?
Here is the danger in the kind of lazy thinking Murthy seems to be indulging in: that we reduce all the great problems faced by humanity—be it poverty and hunger, sickness and general well being, inequality and oppression—to the absence of the right kind of leadership.
Our corporate titans, in India and in the west, are often guilty of exaggerating the role of leadership. All that is required is the right, aggressive, problem-solving leader and humanity would be better off!
Our politicians too seek to cash in on the Netaji. Karnataka’s beleaguered chief minister, B.S.Yediyurappa found time to promise a one crore rupee grant so that a book on the Netaji could be written and distributed to the school children of Karnataka.
Now, this is something which the historian in me finds worthy of backing. Only if I were to get the contract to write and publish the book. And why not? I am a credentialed historian and very, very eager to serve my State.
Photograph: Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose on the cover of Time magazine in 1938
Also read: Narayana Murthy to revive Swatantra Party?