Time for a transformative leadership

Politics that enables the powerless is the need of the hour

Updated - June 18, 2020 08:06 am IST

Published - June 18, 2020 08:05 am IST

On the frontline: Medical staff are warriors against the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court said.

On the frontline: Medical staff are warriors against the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court said.

When posterity records its verdict on how a world that boasts of a near mastery over Nature and the Universe handled COVID-19 , that threatens its very existence, we will most certainly be hauled over the coals. History will censure us for a collective failure to preserve human dignity in our fight with the virus. The multiple deprivations inflicted on millions of destitutes resulting in a tragic loss of self esteem will remain an indelible scar on the conscience of the Indian State, sworn to vindicate its dignitarian charter.

The sight of dead bodies being thrown in a pit and dumped in a municipal garbage van by our “ frontline soldiers ” will remain a festering wound in the soul of the republic. But the unbearable ache of such insensitivity felt in every heart holds out hope for a transformative renaissance of forgotten values that have held the nation together.

Undeserved suffering, redemptive as it is, will hopefully enable us to purposively resurrect empathy, compassion dignity and justice as sacrosanct values perched at the pinnacle in the hierarchy of constitutional rights.

The Supreme Court’s suo motu intervention to secure dignity of the dead and sick is an opportunity for the Court to reinforce its role as a responsive and responsible arbiter of our fundamental values. As the nation interrogates the record of its institutions of governance, the highest forum of justice is expected to assert itself in the advancement of non negotiable rights of the individual against the State.

It is expected to be “ a light unto the nations ” even if it cannot be “ a sheriff unto the nations ”. And since the justification for the Court’s expanding remit is an ongoing project, the Court must continually vindicate the nation’s trust in its custody of the Constitution. It must stand out as the unfailing ambassador of the vision of our Founding fathers. Its decisions should reassure the nation of its capacity to script a consistent construct of constitutionalism that places human dignity at the centre, since “ man is the measure of all things ”. Indeed, robust institutions draw strength and sustenance from the leadership of men and woman of substance who shape them as instruments of national purpose. The destiny of nations, as vouched by history, is in many ways, a function of the integrity and selfless strivings of its leaders, baptized in the crucible of an unremitting struggle for a just social order.

The pandemic, which has exposed the limitations of a fractured polity, of politics enslaved to the seduction of populism at the cost of principle, discredited for the narrowness of vision and dwarfed by consuming personal ambitions, can be an opportunity to imagine and practice a politics of national renewal.

Lurking in the shadow of despair is hope of a transformative leadership that can humbly and truthfully engage with the people on the unprecedented challenges of our age. At this watershed moment of our history, we are obliged to nurture leadership that can forge a broad national consensus around the values of a just society, recognize the inequities that diminish us all in the injustices inflicted on the marginalized and excluded.

At a time when a new world order is in the offing, the success of India’s aspirations for a seat on the high table of global politics will depend upon the soft power of its liberal values practiced at home, and the towering stature of its leadership. The vision of such leadership was articulated by the poet Allama Iqbal in his immortal verse thus;

nigah buland suḳhan dil-navāz jaañ pur-soz yahī hai raḳht-e-safar mīr-e-kārvāñ ke liye

(Broadly translated, Soaring vision, dulcet speech, benevolent heart and a life full of dynamism are the baggage(qualities) of a leader).

But note also his eloquent lament;

Nishan-e-Rah Dikhate the Jo Sitaron KoTaras Gye Hain Kisi Mard-e-Rah Daan Ke Liye”

(Those who showed the way to the stars are themselves yearning for a leader to guide them).

The nation deserves leadership that can invest “ the tissue of every day and hour ” with nobility and high purpose, politics that enables the powerless to assert their power and mirrors the collective aspirations of a free people for the greatest happiness of the multitude in larger freedom.

As long as millions of citizens languish on the margins without hope and future and till such time as divisive sectarian and communal agendas hold the field, the search for elevating leadership must remain a national imperative. Above all, we need leadership whose quest to remain on the opening pages of history is driven by a cause larger than the self -onfronting, addressing and eliminating injustice in all its forms. We know from experience that faced with unabating historical inequities, the victims of history will “ speak back to the histories of marginalization, oppression and exploitation” . Lest centres cease to hold irretrievably, let us mobilize the collective to forge a vigorous social compact. Let us stir ourselves into action for national renewal anchored in a refreshing politics that is not dismissive of idealism as a driving force of history. And now is the time to summon leadership befitting the cause, for “ it is not in the still calm of life or the repose of a pacific situation, that great characters are formed ”.

Dr. Ashwani Kumar is a Senior Advocate, Supreme Court and Former Union Minister for Law and Justice.

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