LEADERSHIP

 

Islamabad diary, Friday, June 12, 2009
Ayaz Amir
Leadership is not part-timism. It is a single-minded vocation that brooks no rivals and indeed can co-exist with no distractions. You can’t be into business deals and kickbacks and the other pursuits that define leadership in a country such as Pakistan and yet lay claim to honest leadership. It just doesn’t happen that way.

The thought of property acquisition, plots and flats here and there, nest-eggs in London and New York, hobnobbing with property tycoons and other shady characters, are no part of leadership.

M A Jinnah, M K Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru were titans who lived politics and were consumed by politics. They were very much men of the world but in a sense other-worldly too in that what they cared about the most were idealistic things, things of the mind and the spirit. (He ne’er is called to immortality, wrote Keats, who fails to follow where airy voices lead.) Ordinary men could not have written what Gandhi and Nehru did. An ordinary man could not have delivered the speech that Jinnah did in the Constituent Assembly on Aug 11, 1947.

Here was a man who had led the fight for a separate homeland for the Muslims of the sub-continent on the basis of Muslim separatism. Yet at the very moment of his triumph he was exhorting his countrymen to leave the past behind and transcend the foundations of Partition.

Pakistanis try to impose a supernatural consistency on Jinnah’s political life. They are wrong. He was first a Congressite nationalist, then a Muslim separatist but when the goal for which he had struggled was on the very point of consummation he tried to sketch out another template for the future of the country he was founding.

Did Mustafa Kamal, Father of the Turks, leave behind any material possessions? His life was devoted first to his military career, in which he excelled, winning renown in the battle of Gallipoli where he was the senior Turkish commander; and then to the cause of Turkish independence. He was fond of drinking, and drank at times to excess, justifying it on the grounds that it was good for his chronic constipation (doctors of digestive disorders may kindly take note).

There’s no point in beating about the bush. He was also fond of women. (At times he was also fond of other things but let’s not get into that). Asked once as to what was the quality he admired most in women, his wry answer was, "Availability" — a sentiment sure to outrage feminists and other stalwarts of the various women’s movements. But all these proclivities were subordinate to the one overriding passion which dominated his waking hours, and perhaps even his dreams: Turkey’s rebirth and redemption after the chaos and humiliation of Ottoman decline and fall.

Lenin, Stalin, Mao: all of them driven souls, single-minded individuals, their lives dominated by one passion alone, revolution. All three were voracious readers; autodidacts all their lives. Lenin as Soviet leader often read dictionaries for relaxation. Stalin wrote poems (some surprisingly good) and read books on history and biography all the time. Mao as Chinese leader practically lived in his library. He had an oversized bed strewn with books and it was on the same bed that he consorted with the regular stream of female comrades arranged by his helpful bodyguards to help lighten his loneliness.

Philip Short’s excellent biography of Mao has this to say about the bed and its occasional occupants: "The tradition of Saturday night dances in Yan’an (during the Long March) had survived the move to Zhongnanhai (in Beijing after the communists had come to power). From the dance floor, Mao and his young partners would gravitate to his study… beside the pile of books stacked on his vast bed. The girls came from dance troupes organised by the cultural division of the PLA (Peoples Liberation Army), chosen both for their looks and their political reliability."
One of the things sadly missing in the Pakistan army: it has no cultural division.

When the German army was close to Moscow in October 1941 there was panic in the city and plans were made for its evacuation. A train had been prepared specially for Stalin. Here from Montefiore’s excellent life of Stalin: "Stalin hesitated for two long days. No one knows his exact movements but he no longer appeared in his office. At the height of the legendary struggle for Moscow the Supremo actually dossed down in his greatcoat on a mattress in the subterranean halls of the Metro, not unlike an omnipotent tramp."

And where did the Supremo sleep? In a small space sealed off from running trains by plywood. A space also was created for his use as an office: "Passing trains caused pages to fly so they were pinned to desks. After working all day in his subterranean offices, Stalin would finally stagger over to his sleeping compartment in the early hours…It is hard to imagine any of the other warlords living in such a way but Stalin was accustomed to dossing down like the young revolutionary he once was."

And then Stalin decided that Moscow would not be abandoned. When the Politburo seemed to be in two minds he asked his housekeeper, also rumoured to be his mistress, "Valentina Vasilevna, are you preparing to leave Moscow?" "Comrade Stalin," she answered, "Mother is our Mother, our home. It should be defended." And that was that.

Not only was Moscow not abandoned, Stalin, to the astonishment of his colleagues, also decided that the traditional Revolution Day parade on November 7 would be held. "I’ll see to it personally. If there’s an air raid during the parade and there are dead and wounded, they must be quickly removed and the parade allowed to go on. A newsreel should be made and distributed throughout the country. I’ll make a speech…"

The parade and speech can be seen on YouTube. The speech is just six and half minutes long, delivered in a very calm manner with no poetic or rhetorical flourishes whatever. But it says everything there is to say and leaves a deep impression.
We all know the last part of Churchill’s speech… we shall fight on the beaches and so on…but we shall never surrender. But the entire speech is a masterpiece, an account of the lost battle of France — almost a dispassionate account in which he also brings himself to say that the Germans are a brave race — and when it reaches its climax one can feel the hair rising on one’s back.

Churchill was the son of a lord but he had no private income and when not holding political office lived all his life from the money he derived from his books and newspaper writings. He lived the life of a highborn aristocrat but this was sustained by his pen.
When Clement Attlee stepped down as British prime minister he had to take to newspaper writing to support himself. Harold Wilson had no private income. Lord Wavell as viceroy of India had no house of his own in England and had to buy one when he returned from India.
The current scandal over MP expenses in Westminster tells an altogether different story but this is now and that was then.

Ordinary times call for ordinary leaders, leaders who are competent managers rather than inspirational figures in the Churchill or Stalin mould. But in Pakistan we are living through extraordinary times, with wars within and menacing pressures outside, a situation calling for leadership of a high calibre, to inspire the nation and summon it to action.

Criticism is easy and it is also easy to give way to despair but we should not lose heart. Other nations have been through worse times and while the weak have perished those with some strength in them have emerged successful from their trials. We have our weaknesses and failures but also our strengths and successes. The ordeal we are going through was perhaps necessary. We will be a better people once we pass this test.

Tailpiece: Consider Stalin’s decision not to evacuate Moscow and then consider the PML-N’s decision to have the by-elections in Rawalpindi and Lahore postponed because of the law and order situation. Is this the way to fight terrorism? No worse message could have been sent about the party’s stewardship of Punjab. Even if the threat of terrorism was a hundred times worse, the elections should have gone ahead. Even now it is not too late to make amends. A fresh application must be made to the Election Commission and the elections should be held as scheduled. Or else we might as well make our peace with Maulana Fazlullah and Baitullah Mahsud.
Email: winlust@yahoo.com

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