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Taking Stock:
Of leaders and leadership

By Rizwan Ullah

Mr C. Acroid, an Englishman of simple and unassuming manners taught political science in Christ Church College, Kanpur, in the 1940s-50s. With his untrimmed beard, plainly clipped hair, clad in khaki half shirt, shorts and sandals, he was a highly disciplined person. He would enter the classroom almost simultaneously with the ringing of the period bell and immediately start his lectures. He was so friendly with his students that they never hesitated to ask any questions and sure enough to get a satisfactory response with a smile. Did Mr Acroid need a leader to tell him how he should behave as a person or as a teacher? He was certainly a leader into himself and for his students who must have learnt discipline and promptitude according to varying degrees of their receptivity. 

Dr. Abdus Samad, a messiah for the terminally sick and suffering people of the same city of predominantly poor working-class unfortunately decided to migrate to Pakistan in mid-1950s. He left the city under a pall of gloom. Why? Had he sought advice from a leader about how to behave with his patients in a manner that they perceived him as a life saver despite his unmistakable Muslim appearance?

Mr Sher Mohammed Khan, a teacher in the government high school of same city and a contemporary of Dr. Abdus Samad would be seen with a team of scouts and first aid workers whenever and wherever there was a need for relief, first aid or guidance such as in a mela or in communal disturbances for which Kanpur was notorious. Did a leader tell him to perform humanitarian task sometimes at personal risk? 

Mr Shabbir Ahmed founded Maulana Mohammed Ali Memorial School in late 1930s. He started from almost nothing and guided its course till it became a high school and firmly established in its own building. He lived singly in the school library, ate just for survival. Did a leader tell him that that was the way to lead a backward people on the path to progress? He retired as professor of education from Hyderabad (Sindh) University in mid 1970s, since then he lived with his nephews, family of late Prof. Shamim Ahmed, till late 1980s. (This writer will be personally grateful if someone traces him and informs MG. His nephews lived in the vicinity of Thana Goli Maro in Karachi). 

Forgoing are example of individual leaders and their performances of leadership. On a wider and higher plane we have brilliant examples of leaders and their leadership qualities. Some of them may be products of circumstances, some of them came into prominence by virtue of their qualities needed by the people, and the emergence of some leaders was quite spontaneous. All of them cast some sort of spell over their followers. Then there are leaders chosen by the people of their free will which is the case in democratic societies. The media hype these days, especially in the Muslim press, about the leader and the leadership, generally reflects on the last mentioned class of leaders and leadership. Before proceeding further it may not be out of place to mention a few more examples.

Gandhiji and Mr Jinnah are most brilliant examples of leaders though they pulled their followers in opposite directions. A word of Gandhiji would be the last word, neither masses nor the government dared to deviate. He ruled over the head and heart of the Indian people, intellectuals and the naïve alike. His perfect contemporary and compatriot was Mr Jinnah whose followers were crazy to the extent of being unable to see beyond the call for a separate homeland for Muslims. These two leaders were dissimilar in their appearances, otherwise there were more similarities in their leadership. Both rose from the Gujarat region of the then state of Maharashtra, studied law in Britain and practiced law, arrived in India only to lead the national movement for freedom, divided two major Indian communities among themselves as followers, one demanding and the other agreeing, of course reluctantly, to the division of the country and both were removed from the scene in the next year after Independence. It is for the researchers of political history to dig deeper into this series of apparent coincidences. However, the leadership of the two giant leaders was apparently spontaneous.

Other examples of spontaneity are to be found in the examples of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the US President Franklin Roosevelt diving the Second World War. Prime Minister Clement Attlee resigned to let Mr Churchill guide the destiny of his people during the war and the latter bluntly told his people: ‘Give me blood and I will give you victory.’ His raised two fingers making a V form which became a sign for victory for all people for all time to come. The people did offer their blood and the leader proved true to his word. The US constitution permits only two terms for a President but when it came to Mr Roosevelt that constitutional compulsion was cast aside in view of the world war. He was elected for the third term and the fourth term which he left half way for Mr Truman to make history by presiding at the dropping of atom bomb on Hiroshima. These two leaders were chosen by the people in literally conservative democracies.

Thus far we have seen a variety of leaders, individuals with leadership qualities providing examples to be followed by others in similar fields of activity, then the leaders who were spontaneously chosen or simply accepted such as Indian leaders during the struggle for independence and the examples of two allied leaders during the World War Two. There are others as well such as dictators or military coup leaders but they do not come under the purview of the present writing. We shall try to see later the exactitude of a leader and the relevance of leadership in contemporary India especially with reference to the Muslims. (To be concluded)

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