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Leadership in the time of crisis

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A leader is a one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.
John C. Maxwell

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was the greatest mass leader the world has ever seen. What made him so effective was his mass appeal and the manner in which he connected with the people. He was the first leader to involve people from every caste, class, race, region and religion in large numbers for a common cause. He awakened the undivided India and aroused the spirit of freedom in one and all. He did not have any Sena or team and yet, the whole nation followed him like never before. He stirred each and every soul with a sense of responsibility and dedication in his time. Even then, independence wasn’t won in a day. It took years and years of collective efforts, hardships, sacrifices and numerous setbacks to achieve what we deserved.

There are many instances like the non-cooperation movement where the entire nation, on just one appeal of Gandhiji, burnt foreign products (most notably their clothes made of British fabric). Many such movements didn’t give immediate result but yes, at a moral level, they did boost the confidence of many and encouraged even more towards the struggle for freedom. Most acts didn’t have any immediate objective but were largely symbolic in their impact which was really vital in that arduous task. It was the combined effect of those symbolic factors that led to the victory of nation as a whole.

Now, we come to twenty-first century and we’re in the largest democracy of the world. In 2014, after a gap of thirty years, a single party got absolute majority, i.e. more than 50% of the seats under the charismatic leadership of Shri Narendra Damodardas Modi, which was repeated with an even better performance in 2019, improving its previous tally. Two back-to-back public mandates from the Indian democracy undoubtedly proved that the number of people who trusted him and had faith in his leadership surpassed those who were sceptical or even scornful of him. Winning the hearts of the majority in a nation with such a heterogeneous population is really commendable and, with such a number behind him, we can confidently call him the most popular leader of the world.

As happens in any democratic structure, many of the PM’s decisions are questioned on the basis of efficiency, timing, preparedness etc. Yet, the nation as a whole has shown immense trust and confidence in him from time to time. And when the nation seemed to be getting on the track of development, it was struck by the Covid-19 virus which has shaken the entire world. Even USA and many European nations couldn’t check and control the damage on all fronts. It literally paralysed them.

When the ramifications are so intense in these developed nations, the thought of its repercussions in India send shivers across the mind. Like an unwelcome surprise, it marked its presence in India by mid-March, resulting in widespread fear, especially in the metropolitan cities. The Government had to buy time because of the complex structure of our country. Public places like schools, colleges, malls, coaching centres were already closed either by state or central government order. Everyone started whispering about corona and its ill-effect throughout the country. Further, mainstream media and infodemic on social media added fuel to the fire.

Then came an announcement of an 8 pm speech by Modiji on Friday, 20th of March. 8 pm time itself was reminiscent of the 8 pm demonetisation decision in 2016 which changed the lives and lifestyle of many! Quite naturally, anxiousness reached its peak by the time our PM went live for the historic announcement regarding the Corona pandemic. I too was impatiently curious. That day, for the first time ever, our PM talked about the effect of corona through a common public platform. He sounded human, humble and was very honest in his approach.

He urged the people to follow “Janta Curfew” on 22nd of March, including paying homage to all the corona warriors like doctors and medical staff by clapping or ringing bell or beating thali at 5 pm in their balconies or terrace for 5 minutes. He also reminded the people to maintain social distancing during the act of felicitation. Many found this gesture of clapping funny and Modi haters as always started making mockery of it. Everyone was amused to an extent but the grand success in its implementation (barring a few senseless exceptions who violated social distancing) silenced the critics. By 5:05 pm most of the participants got emotional and a sense of responsibility and patriotism arose in their hearts, including in mine.

That incident reminded me of Gandhiji and people’s faith in him. At that moment, we not only paid tribute to those who were serving the nation at a time of crisis but a sense of moral duty ensued towards our nation. It felt that if all of us could unite and follow the simple directions given to us, then we certainly could minimise the harm Corona can otherwise inflict upon us. This sense of responsibility encouraged me to stay indoors and motivate others to comply. Three days later, came the next announcement of 21 days lockdown by our honourable PM but the symbolic effect of clapping was such that we all felt like it’s our moral obligation to maintain self-quarantine. Surprisingly, people accepted it without much complaints.

Being a developing nation of 1.3 billion people with limited resources and a weak healthcare sector, here precaution is the best cure. The admission of vulnerability, of helplessness, of his mortal limitations was clearly visible when our usually self-assured PM folded his hands and repeatedly requested the citizens to maintain social distancing and respect the lockdown. The expressions on the face of PM were like that of a father who understands his condition and weakness to undo all the harm done to his children. It spoke volumes about his love and caring attitude for his citizens. The government on the other side is trying its best to upgrade the healthcare facilities and provide the basic items to those in need at minimal cost. The administration is trying to minimise the collateral damage and ensure the uninhibited supply of essential commodities.

It is true that in this time of crisis the only man we can look forward to is our PM. And on 10th day of lockdown morning when everyone’s energy level went down, our PM addressed the nation through a video message in which he not only appreciated and encouraged people for maintaining lockdown but also asked them to light candles or diyas or torches, etc on 5th of April, 2020 at 9 pm for 9 minutes. As usual, it again gave many critics an opportunity to find faults in his functioning. But to me, it appeared to be the master stroke as again it instilled a sense of hope and positivity. Again, it gave 1.3 billion people something to look forward to where they can contribute in this fight against just by being inside their homes and lighting candles. And I’m sure it’ll again invoke the feel of patriotism and unity among all the Indians on 5th and this ray of hope is going to be worthwhile.

Many people find the talks to be devoid of the steps taken by the government. However the PM takes his speech to be a confidence building exercise. He leads from the front like Gandhiji and keeps his allocution simple as majority is not matured with the sufficient knowhow of Covid19 and the associated facts. However the Government is parallely trying its best to disseminate the right information and services to the last mile.

Plus, nine minutes of lights off will, at the very least, save electricity and I don’t think it’ll cause any harm to any individual or group. And can strike the chord in the same manner as candle light marches or pride parades.

I feel it’s the most opportune time to stay united in this fight against corona and support our PM whole heartedly. We must remember that every action at the moment is being taken for the larger good and the truth is that our PM is concerned about every citizen of the nation.

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