Ever wondered how leaders like Mahatma Gandhi could get thousands of highly educated youth throw off their lucrative careers to take up public causes that yielded no personal fame or fortune? Have you been astonished at how thousands of acres of land got gifted at the call of a leader like Acharya Vinobha Bhave without any coercion? Have you thought about the dynamics that make ordinary people, with no personal connection whatsoever, listen to calls of such leaders to do the unbelievable without expecting anything in return? Well, it is only due to the Moral Highgrounds (MH) trod by those leaders.
It is true that our long struggle for independence threw up dozens of good leaders and more importantly set very high standards of probity & morality in public life. But it is also true that post-independence morality in public life is fast declining. Nowadays, we hardly find any public men of the stature of Mahatma Gandhi or Subhash Chandra Bose, who could stir the conscience of an entire nation with just a few words. With all the 'broad blasting' on TV and Internet, we find only the 'interested' attending public meetings. Only those who stand to gain something tangible or intangible, directly or indirectly, attend any meeting for public causes. The days of a coherent collective conscience of the nation seems to be over. There are many who argue that those earlier leaders were thrown up during our Independence struggle and it is not possible (or necessary) to have such types again. But is that entirely true? Post independence too we had many leaders (like JP, Nanaji and Morarji) who could command all round respect by their ability, humility and selflessness. And even now we find a few in all political parties who stand out as loners treading on MH. Our present electoral system cannot guarantee the victory of such leaders in elections and we are thereby denied their valuable leadership is a sad simple fact. But days are not far when people will call for electoral reforms to ensure election of such highly desirable individuals to public offices.
Democracy means politicians, elections and power. Though many of us despise politicians, we always run to them whenever there is something to be got done with the Government machinery. This clearly shows that they are indeed leaders of our society. If there are reasons to despise them, then there is something rotten in our society as well. They cannot be blamed in isolation. Post-independence, the single most important factor that has brought down the standards in our public life is the advent of 'professionalism' in politics. Though it is good to have professionals in politics, it is bad for democracy to have politics as a profession. There are many students who opt for a career in politics without attempting to acquire any skills for making a living in the future. To generate the necessary income for their own survival, they are forced to resort to 'wheeling and dealing' in the corridors of power later in their lives. In such a scenario, politics degenerates to a trade in itself and politicians become the trade union leaders in the trade of politics. Incidentally, this is exactly why we find a lot common between politicians irrespective of the political party they belong to. They are all engaged in the same trade but in different trade unions.
Amidst the present depressing 'leadership' scenario in our political horizon, we do find islands of hope in the form of social and religious movements with subtle political ideologies as well. It is interesting to note that some leaders of such movements are highly successful because of their treading MH (eg. Anna Hazare, Medha Patkar, Govindacharya ) and not because of their charisma or street smartness. Though their areas of influence are limited, the fact that MH is still a factor that can sway the masses is something that makes us hopeful. The fire of morality is still burning in Indian mind and another Mohandas Gandhi can always rekindle it for a common cause. But why do we find it rare to see leaders who swear by morality any more?
There are at least three reasons why it is difficult to tread the MH for attaining leadership. First and foremost is that there should not be any skeletons in the cupboard. For a leader who swear by morality, there cannot be anything more damaging than an expose'. Some of the thick skinned politicians can get away with unconvincing explanations but in countries like Japan it is inevitable hara-kiri. Anyone with a dubious past cannot get past the vast media network for much long. The truth shall come out sooner or later. Nowadays political mudslinging is commonplace and those treading MH are more vulnerable to this. The real test of any political leader is how he comes out of such a crisis. Any leader who is worthy of treading MH will come out unscathed because no mud can stick on clean personalities.
And that brings us to the second factor that nurtures morally upright leaders viz. values of the society they operate in. If the society cares little about morality and probity of its public men, any leader who is trying to tread MH will find little appreciation. If the society does not find anything wrong in having a secret family, we will find most leaders having a dozen each. It is in this context we feel happy that the embers of MH are still residual in Indian minds and it is upto our leaders to light it up again. The third and most important aspect that deters our leaders to opt for the MH option in public life is the rigors and inconveniences that it presents. It is next to impossible for many of our current leaders to avoid personal comforts. Can we imagine any of our leaders opting for regular trains for travel and non air-conditioned rooms for sleep? Have you ever seen a leader standing in a line to purchase train tickets or paying his personal bills? It has become difficult even to see our leaders because of security reasons.
MH is still an option open to all those who aspire for public life. But it is laden with rigors and challenges. Only those with a clean past and who are willing to be grilled on moral grounds can withstand it. It is definitely not for those who are looking for an easy career in politics. For those who are genuinely interested in politics as a means of service for betterment of society, it is still one of the best methods to opt for. The satisfaction of being a successful politician treading MH is unparalleled and would linger on for generations to come. But for the ordinary mortals looking for fast bucks in politics, the by-lanes and gullies are better suited than the highways.