A dearth of leaders

Published : Feb 14, 2003 00:00 IST

Nelson Mandela. - FRED CHARTRAND/AP

Nelson Mandela. - FRED CHARTRAND/AP

THE Contemporary world is in desperate need of great and inspiring leaders. Nelson Mandela will be 85 in July. He is in a class by himself as Gandhiji was. The likes of Mandela come once in a century to redeem the world, to put honour, virtue, selflessness and truth on human kind's agenda. They also help us in looking at life's spiritual stations with sincerity. How Mandela survived 27 years in prison is a saga unparalleled in modern history. His spirituality and morality had deep roots in his soul. He made his captors feel inferior by conveying to them through his character and dignity that any man or system that enslaves others is inevitably second rate. That he is still with us is a blessing. However, his active days are behind him.

The other man who could be called great with a smaller `g' is Vaclav Havel, the President of the Czech Republic. He retires next month. He was united Czechoslovakia's most famous playwright and dissident. His country was small and became smaller after Slovakia broke away. Yet, Havel, earned the admiration and respect of not only Europe but also of the countries across the Atlantic and in other parts of the world. It is not enough just for the message to be luminous. The messenger is equally relevant. Havel represented the irresistible power of unarmed truth. And what may that be? Truth. Simple word, weighty meaning. Unfortunately, the supply is generally in excess of demand. Havel, like Mandela, has been a worshipper at the temple of truth. For once one of my favourite authors was wrong. Albert Camus (1913-1960) wrote: "All modern revolutions have ended in a reinforcement of the power of the state." Not applicable to the "Velvet revolution" of Havel's Czechoslovakia. Also true of the Solidarity movement created by Lech Walesa in Poland. Both dismantled the power and baleful malignance of the totalitarian state.

Let us look at 1953. Nehru at his peak. Mao and Zhou in China leading a united China. Churchill, Prime Minister for the second time. Attlee is Opposition. De Gaulle waiting in the wings. Ho Chi Minh about to drive the French out. Nasser taking control of Egypt. Kenyatta defiant in prison. Nkruma still idol of Ghana and most of Africa. Sukarno, still the beloved of his people. Truman alive and kicking. Eisenhower in the White House. Adeneouer leading the recovery of West Germany. Stalin alive but not long to live. U. Nu in Burma. Senanayake in Ceylon. Gaspari in Italy. Tito in Yugoslavia. Ben-Gurion in Israel. Not an unimpressive bunch.

THE passing away of Dr.Harivanshrai Bachchan at the age of 96 has been widely mourned. I first set eyes on him in Cambridge in 1952. Later he was OSD (Office on Special Duty) (Hindi) in the Ministry of External Affairs. In 1970, Indira Gandhi held a dinner at Rashtrapati Bhavan in honour of Prime Minister Seewoosagur Ramgoolam of Mauritius. Bachchanji was one of the guests. Mrs. Gandhi asked him to recite a few stanzas from Madhushala. The great poet did so to everyone's delight and that is how I remember him. Harivanshrai Bachchan is to Hindi poetry what Mohammad Iqbal to Urudu poetry. His autobiography What to Remember and What to Forget is a classic. Harivanshrai Bachchan will be remembered as a creative writer of the highest order and not only as the father of the most well-known Indian of the last 25 years - Amitabh Bachchan.

The Parvasi Bharitiya Diwas jamboree held in New Delhi in January probably cost the exchequer a packet. The most candid, cereberal and scintillating summing up was done by Vir Sanghvi in his weekly column in the paper he edits. He is hundred per cent right in asking the NRI moneybags and fat cats living in California and Long Island and Florida to keep locked not only their dollars but also their mouths. His message: you have chosen the American haven. Don't preach and mind your business. An elder brother of mine has been living in New York for the past 40 years. He has not taken American nationality nor acquired the grating American accent.

I am not suggesting that these are no exceptional NRIs. There is Sam Pitroda for one. Rajiv Gandhi picked him up and the result is today's telecom revolution. V.S. Naipaul was his usual self. He suffers from chronic indignation. Two of his three books on India are ill-tempered, lacking mature judgement. He is a very great writer who should not be taken seriously when he writes on Bharat Mata.

The original list of invitees did not include Sir Shridath Ramphal, the great son of Guyana. It was only at the eleventh hour that his name was included. In the voluminous L.M. Singhvi Report, no mention is made of the fact that Indira Gandhi was the only Indian Prime Minister to ever visit the West Indies. I and Sharada Prasad accompanied her to Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago in 1968 and to Jamaica in 1975. Manmohan Singh and Salman Haider were also with her in Jamaica.

FINALLY, a word about "Ambassador" Bhishma Kumar Agnihotri. What precisely does this drum-beater of the Bharatiya Janata Party in America do? He wants to have the cake and eat it too. The United States government has rightly refused him a diplomatic passport unless he surrenders his Green Card or whatever it is called. I intend to ask in Parliament how much he costs the country and what are his breathtaking achievements. Thank heaven the Agnihotri experiment has not been replicated in London, Paris and Kuala Lumpur.

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