The new kind of leadership for the Valley
The new kind of leadership should stand for social justice in the development narrative while being sensitive to preserving the rights of the marginalized sections.
Leadership is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented concepts in Kashmir for decades now. Leadership over the previous regimes was about conquests by the sword and ideological dominance aided by religion. Military skills, strategy, a deft understanding of alliances, and contesting claims to popular support informed much of the grooming of the leaders till the 19th century. Amidst this tale of princes and warriors, saints, and colonial masters, the spirit of leadership was essentially lost somewhere. It became imperative to look for models outside the valley.
In search of Visionary Leaders
The 20th century saw the rise of leaders in the valley like Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah who adapted to narratives and won the hearts and minds of masses. Over time, the tendency that caught on was that of aspiring leaders looking for opportunities for their personal growth in their political careers at the cost of the need to further a vision for the people whose support earned them the footing to garner political power in the first place. This culture was not only a trend in Kashmir at that time but was also noticed across the Indian subcontinent. Interestingly, this trend of building one’s political career based on populist sentiments and the art of capitalizing on weaknesses of one’s opponents seemed to be a collateral element in the legacy of the final phase of gaining independence and the big blow of the Partition. These trends were already seeping in during the late 1930’s and 1940’s with communal tensions rising across the country and a fear for power sharing gripping the popular imagination as a factor of that narrative.
The vision that had once fuelled the dream of an independent, vibrant and diverse India was steadily dismantled by the new brand of opportunist leaders who decided to set their goals in terms of short-term political gains only. A vision-less Jammu and Kashmir, caught in between the two newly formed nations in the late 1940s, at once aligned culturally with the thousands of years of shared history of the Indian subcontinent and pulled ideologically in different directions, found itself caught in the struggle to define its own identity. Circumstantial decisions led to Jammu and Kashmir acceding to India politically but the chaotic struggle for identity wasn’t addressed due to the lack of a grounded leader. Could it have been helped had there been leaders with an actual vision, grounded in a sense of shared cultural identity with the larger subcontinent and with an instinct to guide the future generations for a more peace focussed and intentional future of opportunities? If we think of it in terms of leadership, one can only wonder what could have been the future of Kashmir under such leadership with clear elements of vision, intention, instinct, and direction. Maybe such leadership would have been more people-oriented, more focussed on finding opportunities and guided generations with a value-based approach that would have grounded them to their own identity and given them the power to build valuable, meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships with the world. It helps to look back and attempt to find models that we missed out on in the past. Maybe it is time to take the responsibility to assess what kind of leadership would be perfect to change the fate of Kashmir for the future.
Lessons from Gandhi ji and Babasaheb Ambedkar
Gandhi ji and Babasaheb Ambedkar are two role models of leadership. If we attempt to look at Gandhi’s journey from a barrister working in a British colony to his emergence as the Mahatma, the leader of millions, we find few important steps that most leaders overlook when it comes to their personal growth into the leadership role. These steps are the most important markings of the right intention of a would-be leader. A leader who compromises on these steps can be expected to be one who will predictably never have the instinct to mould a shared vision that resonates with the present and bears the promise of an abundant future. I would like to outline the few steps to encourage reflection on the same.
A real leader leads from within. That only comes from the practised instinct of seeking to learn from others, from the greater environment, from the people one seeks to serve. It is important to note how Gandhi ji spent two whole years touring the country and listening to people to understand the needs of the time and to develop the instinct for service to the needy. That was the foundation of his servant leadership model. Even at the height of his political power, Gandhi ji never forgot the faces of the most impoverished citizens to keep his intentions that guided his decisions, on track. This self-correcting and self-critical mode of operating as a leader with the instinct to spot the need of the hour and a check on the clarity behind one’s intention for every step of the way, offers the most sustainable approach to wielding moral authority as a leader with a vision.
Gandhi’s idea was simple and reflective of the deep soul searching that he engaged in over the entire span of his career. He became the voice of the voiceless by empowering them with his simple tools for making the right choice. His approach of listening to the needy and empathizing, relating to them as one who is their own and his practise of using his education to promote spiritual resilience to feed the correct intentions displays his strategy of honing intention and instinct to guide people to find the right direction. Today’s leaders need to do the inner work and build the vision narrative by engaging their followers to emerge as conscious individuals in their own right. From being the voice of the needy to giving voice to the needy and adding to the strength of that voice, it takes a visionary to “lead” as Gandhi ji did.
Contemporary leaders make manifestoes. Electorate choose them on promise versus performance basis. But they have a bleak vision. I daresay that most of them would probably find more intelligent ways of eluding the question if they are asked how they are going to lead. So, there is a dearth of quality leadership. It takes shared vision building skills while assessing the true needs of the people which sometimes they might themselves fail to recognize, to outline the vision for the future. A true leader would engage the people to co-own the vision in order to engender active support to build the same. From proving that India could survive on her own industries by spurring the Swadeshi movement to manifesting the magic of self-reliance and autonomy over one’s own resources with the Dandi March, a true leader brings in creativity in approach and strategy by harbouring the instinct to bring people to participate in the vision building process. We need leaders who would be creative and inclusive in spurring a shared vision building process.
Gandhi ji was also one of those leaders who valued the empowerment of women and stood to actively further the cause of interfaith and intercultural harmony through his teachings and movement. He instinctively knew that the backbone of the freedom struggle was the inter-community solidarity and harmony that built support for the larger struggles. As we face a future which already bears the communal scars of the past, Kashmir needs a leader who would take the time to build up the foundational support system of a new future by empowering women and building inter-community relations along the way. The burden of the Partition and the ensuing communal narrative cannot be allowed to threaten future prospects in the valley. Inter community relations need healing and revival. The new leader should take this element seriously as an imperative to sustain any worthwhile movement for progress in the valley.
Moving on from Gandhiji to the most important lessons to learn from Babasaheb Ambedkar and his visionary leadership, I have a few recommendations to offer:
Babasaheb Ambedkar was the educated and practical visionary. His take on the need to protect and support the marginalised communities could be the much-needed underlying instinct for social justice that could be followed by the new leader. As much as Gandhi ji’s approach for the spiritual and moral upliftment of the impoverished is important, there should be practical considerations to support their political, educational and societal empowerment overall as well. Shared vision building is only possible when the shared space is equal for all.
The unique element of offering protection (in the Indian constitution) to minority communities, special tribes to preserve their indigenous ways of life showcase a sense of deep empathy and instinct for social justice. As Kashmir prepares to move into a new political relationship with the rest of India with the abrogation of special status, there is a need for leaders who would work to stand for the merits of the inclusive, visionary document of the law of the land that offers a space for every community, people from every denomination, caste, creed and religion. The new kind of leadership should stand for social justice in the development narrative while being sensitive to preserving the rights of the marginalized sections.
Every step from here on should be measured in terms of seeking to bring all the stakeholders to the table for a shared vision building process which is at once educational, responsible and focussed to meet the needs of the most impoverished person as well as the people from middle and upper middle class. In a conflict zone, the task is cut out to be two times tougher. This is because the conflict is not just manifest in physical experience but is also entrenched in the psyche of the people. The new kind of leader has to be the one who is perceptive enough to give due time and effort to healing divides and wounds, building the foundation for a sustainable approach and then step forth to bring in the best from historical leadership narratives to find the new direction for the future.