Mankind in the last 100 odd years has faced much bigger perils than COVID-19 pandemic. It has gone through two world wars, several pandemics, famines etc. in which millions and millions of people were killed but has never faced so much scare as has been created now. This reflects on the leadership of the countries who appear to be governed by fear and almost all these countries are following each other’s example. In this age of instantaneous communication this has become a norm rather than the exception. The leaders therefore should look carefully at the ground realities and then take corrective action rather than imitating others.
One of the great attributes of a leader is to inspire confidence and improve the morale of its people to fight the enemy, whether it is external or internal, so as to be victorious in the war. Legendry speeches of Winston Churchill and others during the Second World War is a testimony of how the morale of the people at the frontlines was boosted.
I think in a democracy it is very important to include everybody in this morale raising strategy. That is what great leaders have done in the past. Examples of Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, even Mao, etc. come to mind. However when fear is instilled like that was done by Hitler, Mussolini etc. then there maybe initial victories but the war is lost because nobody has ever been inspired by fear.
Hitler’s case was classic one since he being a dictator almost all the orders had to originate from him. He was portrayed as all knowing, omniscient leader. He ultimately failed because when the power is centralized then it has a tendency to block out all the sane voices and advice. Similarly in the present COVID fight we have all knowing “dictators” operating in democratic countries who have failed miserably because they have created a fear psychosis. If on the other hand had they applied balm to the bruised and frayed nerves of the people and taken them into confidence then people themselves would have followed the norms for fighting COVID much more rigorously and responsibly.
A great leader in such a situation should have calmly explained the crisis and what is being done. He/She should have listened to the experts and even through there was no consensus could have told the population about the state of the knowledge at a given time with regular updates and cajoled and inspired them to follow the common sense norms of physical distancing, washing hands, etc. The moment police are unleashed for forced lockdown then people react and that has happened in India and the U.S. Yet at the same time there are examples of great leadership in New Zealand, Germany, Taiwan and Sweden where the COVID has created fewer problems. However when the focus of the leader is on creating “shock and awe” then the basic facts regarding why we are fighting and against whom are pushed into the background with disastrous results.