Political Leadership Begins with Character

Leadership begins with character. Let’s explore this idea further and consider the following political leaders: Jawaharlal Nehru, Abraham Lincoln, Yasser Arafat, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Barack Obama, Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, Narendra Modi, Gaëtan Duval, Mao Zedong, Margaret Thatcher, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, Charles De Gaulle, John F Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, Navin Ramgoolam, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Saddam Hussein, Sarah Palin, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. These people come from diverse walks of life and demographic variables such as nationality, gender, religion, ethnicity, age, success, level of education and the era during which they exerted political leadership in their respective mandates which made each of them a different and distinct political leader in themselves.

If, on one hand, some came to power through democratic elections, on the other hand, some may have climbed the ladder till they achieved the uppermost power through rebellion or illegal encroachments. Though all these differences existed, they all managed to rise to power and by holding their positions for years; they not only managed to get a proper grip of it but also proved that they could maintain this grip firmly. Yet, the names put forth in the above list, which is far from being exhaustible, had something else in common they all shared with everyone they encountered, but which still kept them distinctly separate from each other and hence in a way helped to mould their identities to lead: to wit, they all had personalities. Each of them had personal branding that came from their distinctive behaviours, values, thoughts and interests.

As such, the characters of these leaders give us an idea about how they would perform politically; as is seen in the case of a motivated and determined leader who practices a different form of leadership compared to the one who is more self-satisfied and complacent.

Now let us think of Navin Ramgoolam and his leadership brand. Isn’t it highly astonishing to note that whenever our conversations resort to NR, our argument focuses on his character solely? Strangely enough, there always seems to be weird and wonderful gusto to gauge a persona of that stature. As a rule, this curiosity into commodifying such personas intensifies businesses around: publishing houses anticipate success of living political figures’ biographies since they become bestsellers; on the other hand, tragedies and controversies of political figures become headlines of news channels to increase their Television Rating Points (TRPs).

After all is said and done, this curiosity of the common man is quite understandable and justified if one ponders over this strange fascination one has for the political figure. For the longest of time we’ve been made to believe that the way leaders take decisions, practice their hobbies and beliefs, perceive several topics, amongst many other traits, directly influence our lives. Thus this belief explains the bizarre and at times grotesque fixation people have when it comes to political figures’ lives.

Whether NR presented his ardour at the UN General Assembly for post-2015 development agenda to eradicate extreme poverty in the context of sustainable development, or whether he brought forward the best policies to deal with a number of issues: notably, counteracting climate change, empowering women, providing wider job and educational opportunities to young people, improving healthcare and better managing energy, water and food resources; at the end of the day all these were merely secondary elements for his aficionados.

The main reason Mauritians voted for NR in the past is solely, I think, because they admired him at one point. They were in awe of the kind of person he came across as being.

As I am penning these lines, I’m reminded of something that happened during my term in office as chairman of the National Youth Council (NYC) of Mauritius. Upon my appointment as the youngest-ever chairman of the body corporate under the aegis of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, I was determined to use this platform to its maximum for the benefit of the Mauritian youth community.

While milestones started being built under my leadership, some politically advantaged people sometimes went to extreme resorts to stop the engine of progress at the NYC. Out of nowhere controversies brewed in deep dark-pitted cauldrons, leading to a concoction of corruption cases, which were alleged, and an array of anonymous hate letters flying to-and-fro. It was only then that the realisation dawned on me that it was indeed extremely difficult to serve one’s country by being in the limelight in such a strategic position.

Moreover, it must be added that we live in a society in which competition can and does lead to outstripping our closest friends and family. The acknowledged culture of slinging mud at others with the intent to prove we are clean prevails. This has actually become a fashion in our modern-day society – if you want to get to the top of the ladder, just tarnish the image of your opponent. Agreed that it can be the easiest way to march into the arena, but is it a sustainable stratagem to keep the grip tightened and continue to reign? There is a growing quest dwelling inside us; a quest for power, a quest to invade, a quest to prevail. But have we ever wondered where this quest and thirst for power will lead us? What it will bring to us? Inner peace? I’m not so sure. In going after that quest with so much zeal, are we not just giving birth and nurturing a society full of insatiable desires, covetousness, greed and scepticism? Why are we adamant on tearing apart the widespread wings of other people when the infinite sky lies ahead in front of us, majestic in its infinity and so vast that all of us can fly and still reach our destinations?

Whenever anybody, whether it is the common man himself or a political figure, goes ahead and does anything that is beyond the mere daily imagination and vision of the contemporary man, those who do not have the strength themselves to do so resent this movement. This fact of life can in no way be negated. Does that then mean we should stop being ethical and innovative in our undertakings? I can still remember how these debates raged war in my life at that precise moment of crisis.

Though this is explicable in the words of Roseanne Barr that, ‘To expect life to treat you good is as foolish as hoping a bull won’t hit you because you are a vegetarian,’ I went ahead to express my deliberation by writing a newspaper article entitled ‘The Difficulty of Being Good’ which was eventually published in Le Mauricien. At the time I was baffled and didn’t actually know how to react as a young chairman, until my secretary, a level-headed man in his early 60s who was observing everything and hadn’t said anything for a very long while, finally turned to me and made this comment:

I’ve worked with a lot of colleagues and I’ve seen a lot in this line of business, but never in my life have I seen a more impressive political figure than NR. He seems more endowed and venerable than any leader I’ve ever encountered. He is definitely more endowed and venerable than me, and with all due respect, Mr the Chairman, I believe he’s far more endowed and dignified than you. He doesn’t seem at all shaken by so many controversies and allegations against him, so why are you letting it get to you? Follow his example and calm down.

The message was clear and banged on: Look up to NR, and emulate his behaviour. Actually these words not only shook me but also shed light on a number of things and made me envisage the whole sordidness of the affair in a more optimistic manner. Never before had I known a local political leader whose restful character and tact of dealing with crisis, stupidity, or sorrow were so commendable that I might actually like to imitate them. But it was clear at that time, that’s what NR came across as being – a leader of admirable character.

Despite the fact that I did not agree with every decision and attempts that he made, never once did I see him lose his calm, shed his cool-guy attitude, or forsake his clever standpoint – even for being consistent in getting new personal hullabaloos, or during the most serious national disasters and government misbalances.

In 2012, a Bollywood satirical comedy-drama movie called ‘Oh My God’, featuring Akshay Kumar and Paresh Rawal, was released which received an extremely positive response from critics. The movie was declared a blockbuster. Indeed, this movie is one of my favourites and I can in fact recall quite clearly a dialogue from the film where Paresh Rawal explains the qualities of an idyllic human being, by quoting a line from Bhagavad Gita:

Jis manushya ke liye sukh aur dukh samaan awastha hai, jo bhay aur krodh se mukt hai, jo isthir buddhi wala hai, wohi siddh purush kahelaata hai.

TR. The person who treats happiness and sadness equally, who is free from fear and angriness, who develops a sound and peaceful mind, he is the one considered to be an ideal human being.

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