However genuine may be the cause, however good and sincere may be the intention, while dealing with the issues and problems of masses in public life, first thought should come in the mind of a leader whether he (or she) is in a position to really handle it, whether adequate forum and resources exist when he attempts to address a cause. Instead, people rush in a big hurry without making proper assessment of a situation and availability of tools for redressal and in the process they end up messing it all. There is no doubt that biggest challenges today in society to deal with are corruption, inefficiency and inflation in public life. Common man has a tendency to mob towards a direction or look at a window wherever he perceive a hope and fresh air.
To my mind, some of the core qualities of a good leader aka politician are honesty, integrity, calm, confidence, compassion and flexibility. He must know his responsibilities as an elected representative and lead by example. Honesty enables to develop good character and paves way for credibility and trust. Integrity basically refers to the adherence to contemporary moral and ethical norms. Confidence is a requisite to lead public life whereby he stands with due faith and trust for a cause as also motivate and inspire others to follow suit. Compassion is the humane quality of understanding the miseries and problems of common people and a desire to do something to alleviate it. Calm is the tendency of remaining suave and keeping cool even in most difficult situations. Last but not the least, flexibility is an essential quality of a political leader whereby he acts with understanding and necessary give and take in a given situation. In addition, it also helps him to appreciate criticism and setbacks, have necessary learning and move forward.
The other day, a news item attracted my attention that the top elected leader of a new order has decided to open a helpline with immediate effect to handle complaints and grievances involving corruption and corrupt practices of those in public service.
This immediately reminded me of an interesting incident from my long stint in public service. Almost a decade back, I had gone to a particular office on inspection. The head of the organization had recently opened a facility for the clients whereby they could send their grievances or queries through e-mail with the assurance that the same will be attended to with no loss of time, issue resolved and reply be sent back within twenty-four hours. He, in turn, had already received a lot of publicity and appreciation for this innovation and moved out to another assignment elsewhere. Despite a relatively disciplined and manageable number of clients, a few hundred mails were received in the first few days itself. With no additional manpower and infrastructure available, a small group deployed for handling the job was unsuccessfully struggling with immense pressure to meet the challenges of the target set.
Notwithstanding their efforts, already there was a pendency of almost ten days against the committed twenty four hours of prompt reply and the incumbent head was in a fix to handle the situation. Analysis of a small sample of disposed of queries and complaints at my personal level revealed that about eight to ten percent mails were genuine or with some substance and remaining were superfluous with hardly any substance. But then the staff would decipher it only after examining the contents with reference to relevant documents. Clearly, when the gates are open, an overwhelming majority would act without discretion and often without wisdom too.
In the instant case too, the helpline was stated to be too busy and over flooded with numerous complaints – reportedly more than twenty thousand calls in two days. It would remain for anybody to guess about the exact nature of complaints, follow up action taken and actual outcome there against. But one thing is for sure that you need to have an adequate infrastructure with equally dedicated, sincere and honest manpower with necessary knowledge and expertise to effectively handle it to the satisfaction of people. One perhaps need not act with undue haste unless the chief intent of the event managers is to gather maximum publicity rather than redressal of public grievances with eyes set on short term or some long term agenda or gain. But then to fathom the truth is so difficult and in politics today, a shrewd politician would be ready to go to any extent in a matter if he is able to perceive any gains.
During old times, people were governed under dynastic rule, a sort of autocracy. The ruler king while grooming his son or daughter for eventual transfer of reigns in their hands, used to expose them through a rigorous routine. For illustration, apart from imparting education and skills in management, politics, socio-economics and warfare, and so on, he will send his potential successor to the ashram or gurukul run by renowned ascetic or muni for a considerable duration to live like an ordinary folk to learn humility, compassion, tolerance and forgiveness, among many values, towards ordinary beings. In the process, he would often be required to do ordinary work including menial jobs necessary to live and earn own livelihood. The idea perhaps was that this hardship would enable him to understand the miseries and problems of common people and will groom him to deal with equity and justice to his subjects as a king. Such learning is so relevant and essential even for the managers in the modern times. Unfortunately, we don’t have institutions now who could groom aspirants of political offices with right kind of learning, values and ethics.
In another path breaking move, the leader of the same order announced a janta darbar. Without any skepticism, I would once again believe that he certainly had genuine intention to be accessible to masses and holy desire to address their problems. It is a common belief that in the existing bureaucratic and political environment, an ordinary person would not even think or dream to contact a higher functionary in governance unless he has appropriate link or is ready to cough up enough bucks through middlemen.
But then on the very first day of janta darbar, thousands reached the venue. It was obvious from what transpired that such a response was neither anticipated nor there were enough arrangement to guide or advise the crowd. Everyone would want to meet the leader for personal hearing of his case and disposal of petition to his satisfaction. Some security barricades hurriedly put were promptly removed by impatient crowd with everyone in a hurry to gatecrash to reach the leader who perhaps on his part was bubbling with enthusiasm and the magic broom to redress all grievances. In a short while, fearing greater trouble, the move was hurriedly postponed (Leader had to virtually flee from the scene), if not abandoned. This is what some people, in slang, define mobocracy and a clear case of inadequacy in planning, organization, communication and domain knowledge on the part of the leadership.
Forget a person having a reasonably long exposure in public dealing as a bureaucrat or politician, even a man of average intellect would know that you need at least four to five minutes even to give careful hearing to someone's grievance. Clearly in the mob everyone has his or her agenda. Ordinary people would have their genuine grievances, some stooges from adversaries cannot be ruled out just to derail the process, and some with free time just to watch and have fun. And then, any event these days without media presence is incomplete. So they would always be around to cover and create enough hype to ensure and improve their viewership and TRP ratings.
There are many instances in the history where the king was open to ordinary folk to reach him for redressal of their grievances. Among the most talked about is the Moghal Emperor Jehangir who was famous for his fairness and justice to common people. He had put in place a system called ‘Nyaya ke Zanjeer’ (Chain of Justice). Reportedly, this consisted of sixty bells all over the palace with its string put in his Deewane Aam. This chain was a link between the emperor and common man. Any person in distress or need could go and pull the string, and the emperor would personally appear to listen his grievance and do instant justice. But then those days there was no mobocracy. What to talk of ordinary folk even the privileged ones would not dare to approach emperor without enough valid reasons. We live in a different system which has its own dynamics and the present day leader clearly needs to understand this and, accordingly, evolve his strategy and put a system in place for public grievances.
Unfortunately, many leaders fall easy prey to glamour and publicity and tend to focus less on healthy and efficient management. It is so difficult to fathom their thoughts and real intentions. In my opinion, a leader must be an equally good manager too. As leader one may carry vision, inspiration and challenge but as a good manager one can ensure that things are done properly and efficiently.
Essential requisites of a good manager are planning, communication, organization, adaptability, team building, handling challanges, inter-personal skills and domain knowledge. A good and successful leader undoubtedly needs to imbibe these attributes. Of course, choice is his (or her) whether he learns and acquires wisdom and skills through proper training or devise own methods through trial and errors. Whatever methodology he adapts, key to success would ultimately be whether he is doing this with a genuine concerns for people without any selfish interest or he just wants to play on their psyche with eyes fixed for his long term vision or ambition of greater political gains.