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“Power over People”: A tale of two democratically elected leaders

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agarwalvj
Born in village Kotah (Saharanpur), Vijendra Agarwal, left India in 1973 after Ph.D. (Physics) from IIT Roorkee but always remained connected with his roots. A researcher in Italy, Japan, and France, he came to the US in 1978. He served as faculty and academic administrator (Assistant Vice President, Associate Vice Chancellor, and Dean of the College of Science and Engineering) in several universities, and an Executive Fellow in the White House S&T Policy during Clinton administration. Following his voluntary retirement in 2014, he and his wife co-founded a US-based NGO, Vidya Gyan, to serve rural India toward education, health, and empowerment of girls and overall development. An Indian at heart, his passion for writing has no boundaries. This includes policy, politics and people, and social/cultural activities promoting community engagement. Currently, he is the Brand Ambassador for Times of India and frequently blogs on Linkedin on various topics.

Should political leaders choose people’s will or power? It truly depends on their motives and how badly they want to stay in power against the will of the people. We talk about some parallels between two world leaders from the oldest and the largest democracies who chose power over people and had a very unfortunate and sad ending. One suffered a sudden “political death” in a matter of days and the other an “unnatural death,” brewing for about a decade. While the events occurred decades and oceans apart in time and distance, both are of historic proportions and unprecedented toward shunning the will of their people and damaging the respective democracies.

We first talk about the United States in 2021 with its origin when Trump was elected President in 2016. In many cultures and countries, Friday, the 13th is dreaded and considered an unlucky combination. But, going forward, Wednesday, the 13th may assume a distinction of being a sad and unprecedented day for the United States. On this day, the sitting President Trump was impeached for the second time by the House of Representatives which never happened before. A week ago, on January 6, the country had the worst nightmare- an incitement of insurrection, allegedly prompted by President Trump who chose power over accepting the people’s will. Trump refused to accept the loss of the election to Biden even after many dozens of lawsuits in various courts rejected his claim of voter fraud and rigged elections.

Trump’s four years have been uncharacteristically different than any of his predecessors his free fall occurred in a matter of hours on January 6 and ended in impeachment just a week later. While many disagreed with his policies and politics, he was everyone’s President. On the fateful January 6, he lost that stature because of his words and deeds. His political fortune ended as it had begun without any prior experience in politics and he became a name-sake President without power for the next several days. In recent history, Nixon’s Presidency may come close to being as disgraceful, but he had the wisdom to resign and move on and thus avoiding the embarrassment for himself and the country. Trump has no such wisdom or remorse for what he brought upon the country. He cares less about the deepening crisis every day he is around the White House.

India’s Indira Gandhi also became intoxicated with power over people’s will with its origin in 1971 when she was elected a Member of Parliament and later as Prime Minister. The fateful day, however, was June 12, 1975, when Allahabad High Court convicted her of electoral malpractices and debarred her from holding an elected post for six years. However, the Supreme Court on June 24, 1975, granted a conditional stay, allowed her to continue as Prime Minister but debarred from taking part in parliamentary proceedings. That did not satisfy Gandhi’s ego for political power. What transpired overnight was the most disgraceful act of persuading or twisting arms of the then President of India in having nationwide State of Emergency imposed on June 25. The political leaders and many others were rounded up nationwide and the prisons filled. India woke up under the dark and dictatorial morning of emergency which lasted for about 22 months with personal freedom curtailed for everyone.

One distinct difference between Gandhi and Trump is that the former reemerged as the Prime Minister a few years later while Trump has probably no chance of being the leader of the free world again. The speculations were ripe that Trump will be a candidate in 2024 which is now highly improbable because of the impeachment charges. It is anticipated that even if the U.S. Senate does not convict him for his high crimes outlined in the impeachment documents, the Senate may pass a bill barring Trump from holding a future Federal office. Thus, his dream for another term as President may be short-lived. On the contrary, Gandhi, the Iron Lady of India, met an extremely sad and fateful end of life when her own bodyguards assassinated her on October 31, 1984, followed by violent rioting and anarchy on India’s streets for days.

The United States is now under an extreme degree of internal threats by homegrown anarchists not only in the nation’s Capital but in all 50 States. The Capitol grounds, where the insurrection, act of domestic terrorism, violent riots, and destruction occurred on January 6, are heavily fortified, unlike ever before, for the upcoming Presidential inauguration. The mayor of Washington D.C. has promogulated a state of emergency and every State capital is on the highest state of alert. India in 1975 faced a literal shut down with streets heavily guarded by law enforcement during the state of emergency. The U.S. is facing something similar in the next several days. We hope that the days leading to the inauguration are peaceful because of the heavy presence of law enforcement everywhere but we can’t let our guards down about the potential for the violent rioters creating anarchy and unrest like India’s streets

In summary, the toxic quest for power over people by Indira Gandhi lasted from 1975 until her death in 1984 but for Trump, it barely lasted a week or so from January 6 to 13. India has already forgotten the dark days of emergency but for the United States, it will be weeks and months even after President Biden is sworn in on January 20. The U.S. is in a transition and under real threat which we have not seen since the days of civil unrest. Let us live with the hope for peaceful weeks and months ahead and all future leaders choosing the will of the “People over Power.”

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agarwalvj
Born in village Kotah (Saharanpur), Vijendra Agarwal, left India in 1973 after Ph.D. (Physics) from IIT Roorkee but always remained connected with his roots. A researcher in Italy, Japan, and France, he came to the US in 1978. He served as faculty and academic administrator (Assistant Vice President, Associate Vice Chancellor, and Dean of the College of Science and Engineering) in several universities, and an Executive Fellow in the White House S&T Policy during Clinton administration. Following his voluntary retirement in 2014, he and his wife co-founded a US-based NGO, Vidya Gyan, to serve rural India toward education, health, and empowerment of girls and overall development. An Indian at heart, his passion for writing has no boundaries. This includes policy, politics and people, and social/cultural activities promoting community engagement. Currently, he is the Brand Ambassador for Times of India and frequently blogs on Linkedin on various topics.

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