Indian Leadership Crisis- a compromise of conscience!

This election is a political manthan (churning) that has surfaced a deep leadership crisis in India.

In their race for power the current political leaders have shown their worst— ego-centric, manipulative, self-obsessed leadership that exploits emotions, religion, defence and public institutions on name of stability and victory. They hide development failures behind war, religion or caste rhetoric. Is this the leadership we want, to govern our country? 

When questioned, all the logical supporters come with only one consistent argument— “we don’t have any other option!” 

It’s like saying— let’s keep feeding on slow poison cause we don’t have any other healthy option. Or keep burning fossil fuels and poisoning our air cause we don’t have any viable option.

Fair enough, the only other strong political opponents come with their share of corrupt history. They lack credibility or gravity demanded by a large democracy like ours. Then there are those who are neither corrupt nor inefficient. They have demonstrated development results in their constituency but they are small players and relatively inexperienced to manage complex national politics. 

Where does this lead us to?

A compromise. 

Not just for a political leader but a compromise of our own voice, values and conscience. 

“We don’t have another option”— is not a narrative of choice. It’s a narrative of a victim. It’s a narrative carefully created by those in power by ridiculing the opposition to hide their exploitation. 

“We don’t have another option” is a political game and it not true for those who design it. A political party has a choice about whom they give tickets to contest elections. The party chief endorses that choice. He gives sanction to that kind of leadership. Now think of all morally-corrupt, hate-promoting, criminal choices that the party chiefs have sanctioned. It’s the kind of leadership he stands for. He could have said “no” and stood his ground. It’s a choice he has made and it’s the choice we are making if we don’t see the game we are being fed to. 

If you discover that the class teacher and other staff in your kid’s school are corrupt, incompetent and abusive, what would you do? Will you hold the Principal and Management accountable or keep singing Principal’s praise and ignore the mess that he is creating? Will a good speech by the celebrated Principal, about how the school won lost pride in last football tournament, and, how they are better than previous management, cover up for their lack of focus on what matters— quality education for your child? What if you raised the issue and the Principal and staff called you anti-education, anti-national and hinderance to their leadership? If all this happened to our own kids in a school, wouldn’t we hold the school leader accountable for results and for those they give power to? Will telling our kids that “we don’t have better option” be enough? 

 

Seeing the binary game of compromise

We are forced to choose between corruption of resources and corruption of character. One threatens our development by exploiting public resources. Other threatens our democracy by dividing us on basis of religion, caste and nationalism. At one end we argue against re-distributing wealth to the poor as freebies. While on the other, we don’t mind the politician-capitalist-nexus that gives free access to a few capitalists to exploit our resources and control our lives.

Stuck in this binary narrative we end up choosing political leaders half-hearted (conscious compromise) or devoted (unconscious compromise). “This leader is our best option” (devotion/ bhakt narrative) is another way of saying “we don’t have any other option” (adjustment narrative). Either way it’s a compromise. It only serves the power-accumulator, weakens opposition, shuts the dissent, kills creativity, threatens democracy and divides a community into a binary of staunch-supporters-vs-anti-nationals. 

Why do we get stuck in this game of limited choice? Why we loose the capacity to see the grey? And courage to be vulnerable about our limitations? Why do we end up giving all our power to a few leaders and feel helpless about our own destiny? 

We are in middle of deep leadership crisis. And we can’t overcome it unless we learn to see thru the game and call out the corruption of either kind. We may have limited choice about political parties but we do have choice about what political narrative we buy. We can choose our own leadership as citizens and hold our political leaders accountable. 

 

We need a new leadership narrative 

I recall the community leadership development work I was doing in tribal villages of Melghat. We were inviting community leaders to step forward. When I translated “leader” to “neta” in Hindi, everyone in the room stepped back. I learnt that we see “neta” as someone who is corrupt, ego-centered, exploiting and even criminal. When I tried give examples of Gandhi or Bose, they appeared too idealistic for our current times. The current examples of political leaders only inspired youth to accumulate power, show might and eradicate other religions and nations. There was no way people could relate “public leaders” to community based service. This is worrisome. This leaves a void for corrupts to exploit. This is the way current leaders make corruption, power-hoarding and communalism a new normal. 

Our country needs a new leadership narrative. A narrative where political leadership honours humanity beyond communal or caste divides, pursues development before nationalist politics, and, puts community service ahead of their political aspirations. We need leaders who are honest about their limitations and collaborate with people across societal divides or ideologies to create policies that benefit all. We need leaders who are vulnerable enough to admits their mistakes, courageous enough to invite and listen to opposition and critics, and humble enough to give credit to people who make change happen. 

We need leadership that stands on moral grounds and can say No to their own party when greed or power overtakes; who can take full accountability of their position including the ones they select to lead and the mishaps that take place in their command. 

We as citizens need to redefine what kind of leaders we want. We need to start now. Name the leadership qualities or practices that we want and what we are not okay with. Voting is only a beginning. Naming, developing and holding self and other accountable is a long-term daily work. 

We Indian are natives of one of the richest, wisest and oldest society. We have capacity to hold diversity and dissent as part of our pluralist, wise tradition. We are way more than the reduced, binary, either-or narrative that our leaders are dividing us into.  This election is a manthan of a new kind. Along with its poisonous painful patterns, its has also surfaced some divine amrut (elixir). Perhaps, it’s a call for seeing active citizenship as powerful as the leaders we choose. We need to role-model the public leadership we seek in at the centre.

 

~ Manish Srivastava

PS: My intent here is not just to notice the deeper games we play (irrespective of our side) but also to turn this crisis into an opportunity. What if we could co-create a new leadership narrative? What if we start role-modelling and holding our leaders accountable for the same? If you feel the frustration, compromise or apathy like many others, I invite you to name the shift in political leadership qualities you want to see & live with #callfornewleadership in comment. A journey of thousand steps starts with first.

(from the Sacred Well)

 

Related earlier articles:

 

Advertisements

Are we appreciating or idolising our leaders? 

There is significant difference between appreciating and idolising.

When we appreciate, we acknowledge the good in someone as we do it in ourself. We are at same plane. We learn from them. We honour both.

When we idolise, we put the other on a pedestal. We project all our good on to them. We make them demi-gods and rob them of any capacity to err like human. We free ourself from any responsibility to learn or to hold either of us accountable. 

Idolising quickly turns devotees into advocates of the one (or what) they idolise. As if they have an unconscious contract with their idol. 

Appreciation on the other hand, leaves room for inquiry. There is curiosity that’s open to both “how did you do that?” and “what happens if that does not work?”.

In appreciation there is a field of “and“. We see the gold in our leaders and we see their limitations. We see their strengths and their vulnerability. We can praise them and we can criticise them. 

In idolising, we get stuck in an “either-or” field. We assume that one can either support our leaders or be against them. We can’t see their faults and we refuse to hear any criticism of their decisions. There is no place for nuances. It’s all black or white!

Humans and societies evolve when they learn to appreciate the grey. The nuances. The field between and beyond “either-or”. When they can tolerate an alternate view and see the value even if it’s radical to the mainstream. When they are not threatened by criticism. They don’t have to defend. They resort to child-like curiosity, innocence and acceptance. 

Diversity is not merely a threat but an opportunity to learn and integrate. 

While idolising, we glorify our leaders and ignore their shadows. If they also promote the same (as most politicians end up doing), sooner than later, we have disasters, failures and corruption. 

When we are out of the spell of idolising, we fall flat on earth. Feeling cheated, exploited and used. Desperately looking for another pedestal…

from the Sacred Well
(manish srivastava)
24.10.2016

Vulnerability…

Showing up is vulnerability.vulnerability
Standing for is vulnerability.
Staying still is vulnerability.
All acts of leadership are vulnerable.
Any moment lived with authenticity is….

The most important life skill
is to stand still with a naked heart…

Feeling the softest wind on the skin;
Drenched, when rain of judgements washes us over;
Shivering, when fear shakes every foundation;
Blown away, when joy marries madness;
Enflamed, when rage comes from deepest violation;
Dissolved, when tears know no other way;

And empty, when there is nothing else to hold on…

Vulnerability is rendezvous with Self!

 

(Dec 21, 2014, from thesacredwell…

inspired by David Whyte’s recent Facebook post)

Election is over but the leadership void still exists…

First there was naivety,
They ruled us and exploited our resources.
Then there was apathy,
We were aware but powerless…
They thrived on corruption

Then some of us said enough !!!
And gathered the grassroot power of masses…
To challenge their might!

The country got polarised between 2 choices:
At one end were those who vouched for experience, stability, growth
and were okay to live with inauthenticity and corruption.
On the other end were activists of authenticity and honest governance

but lacked experience and political stability.

Between these two, there was a huge void
Both sides exposed the gaps of other
The best conversations from either ended in a compromise
“Well… he is the best choice we have”
“He may not be authentic, open, honest, inclusive but he will help us grow!”
“He may not have experience and stability but he is honest and inclusive!”

We have made a choice
Lets call spade a spade
At best it’s a compromise

When the celebrations
settles in the darkness of the night
And the bones feel the real weight of tired muscles..
When all the fanfare and fanaticism is over
Leaving behind empty stadium with wavering trash…
Then, just before the sun breaks in dawn
Lets wake up…
Wake up to the job yet undone
Wake up to the responsibility that can’t be outsourced
Wake up to the voice that calls for authentic leadership

 

Election is not a elixirleadership void
The leadership void still exists…
Looking at us
Echoing our name
Calling each of us to step in
To be the leader…
Who is committed to serve selflessly
Who is courageous enough to be vulnerable and authentic
And who can hold inclusion, diversity and progress in same breath

Remember, 67 years of exploitation and 100’s of years of slavery
Was build on our own ignorance and fear
It’s time to break these patterns
To reclaim our power back from few representatives
To name the facade in the face
And hold them accountable in service of the nation.
It’s time for us to stand in our own leadership…

The world is watching its largest democracy to lead responsibly
And the ‘one in the mirror’  is calling the authentic leader within you!

A Gentle Warrior

“Gentleness and understanding create in others an unconscious willingness to be led.”

“The I Ching teaches a simple but effective method of influencing difficult people and arduous situations. It advises us first to lay aside our prejudices – our feelings of being wounded, angry, or in the right – and second to seek to understand the positions of others and the lesson that the Sage is teaching us with the situation. ” (I Ching translations by Brian Browne Walker)

I Ching is the Chinese Book of Changes that has been consulted for sage’s advice at life’s turning points. It has been an oracle to rulers & warriors for many centuries. Yesterday, while dealing with an arduous situation, I consulted I Ching and it gave me some wonderful advice that I would like to share here with my reflections.

To better understand this insight, you may take a moment to recall a difficult situation or encounter with a difficult person that you have recently experienced. I Ching presents a counterintuitive approach to leading in difficult situations. It highlights 3 warrior-like qualities: “acceptance, gentleness, and a desire to understand the lesson underneath”.

Acceptance:

We often misunderstand acceptance with passive behaviour. Instead, acceptance is an aware choice.

We are tempted to escape to future or resort to past– demanding what we expect or fighting for what we lost. Accepting the moment helps us in being present in the here & now. We accept each experience with the awareness that it is “necessary for us to learn something about ourselves and about the higher laws of life” (I Ching). Such acceptance shifts us from being a victim of the situation to engaging with it as a curious learner.

In your difficult moments, how could you practice ‘accepting the moment’ and truly welcome all that it has to offer?

Gentleness:

When faced with difficult situation and people, gentleness seems to be counter-intuitive. It appears like a softer, weaker quality that is not appropriate or possible in difficult moments. We wonder– how can warrior be gentle in midst of a war? We need to deepen our understanding about gentleness.

Best way, I have understood gentleness is through an image: a strong warrior, gently holding a sparrow in his palms. Thus, gentle to me, is full awareness of your power and therefore being gracious and mindful of how you use it. Gentleness is deep centeredness in who you are. It has an element of care, love and respect. Gentleness melts the barriers, generates trust, deepens awareness and inspires a willingness to be led.

In the difficult situation that you are confronted with, could you gently hold the other person, their point of view and their deeper needs?

Desire to understand the lesson beneath:

When we are confronted with difficult people, we feel stuck. We slide into victimhood and externalize the blame. Its natural. It helps us, temporarily. All we want is to unstuck ourselves but we end up being, further entangled.

I Ching advises that all difficult situations and people, come to our life to teach us deeper lessons about ourselves and the higher laws. They become enablers in our journey to wholeness. Like Kekai helped Ram in his journey from being an obedient prince to becoming a warrior king and realizing his divine inspiration.

When we engage with tough conversations with this belief, we connect with our deeper longing and inspire others to do so. Each moment and each person becomes our aide and cotraveller and we feel liberated from the helplessness we were stuck into.

What are you longing to learn in this moment? What lessons for personal growth is this situation bringing to you?

I Ching further alarms that what you are inside will be experienced by other people. If you are accepting, gentle and understanding within, they will experience that, even if you are quiet. If you are not experiencing it within but just putting up a facade of being gentle or accepting, they will experience your facade leading to further stuckness and powerlessness.

This new way of leading is an inside-out job!

Sacred Well

A call for soulful leadership

What part of our soul is dying? What is the stand that we are dreading to take? What is the call that we are not responding to?

Dying souls, endangered kingdom…

23 children die due to poisonous oil served in a government school under a government midday meal scheme. Suddenly reports start surfacing all over the country about poor school children falling sick and dying due to contaminated, poisonous food, vitamin tablets, etc… distributed under public health schemes.

Following the news, while media is highlighting the gross governance negligence, our political leaders have been hiding. It took more than 24-48 hrs for key ministers to respond. Chief minister of the state came to public address after 9 days. Instead of taking accountability they got busy in the political blame game. Soon media also shifted its focus to other spicier political news stories.

This news hurts me deeply and fills me with anger and helplessness.

I have indirectly worked for Anganwadis (child care centers where these meals are served). I can relate to the hope and innocence of the children who come to Anganwadis. They are the most vulnerable and powerless part of our society. They are poor and they are innocent children. And they have to bear the burnt of a massive governance, public systems and leadership failure.

I don’t know how is the soul of our country is coping with such a breakdown. At a deeper level its a humanity failure.

When my intense emotions settled, I started seeing a pattern among many similar incidents happening across India and globe. Themes may be different, ranging from corruption, rape, dictatorship etc, but the underlying pattern is same: citizens suffering, governance apathy, systems failure and public outrage.

Historically such moments have been tipping points for revolutions and renaissance. Old forms and power systems die and new ones come to life.

Mythologically, such moments are captured in the hero’s or heroine’s journey (ref Joseph Campbell). There comes a time in life of a kingdom when the king is sick, dying, powerless. His kingdom (being his manifestation) is also suffering, poor, hopeless. In such times, a hero receives a call. A deep soul call to take on a journey. This journey would test his mettle. Take him to unknown places. Make him encounter and slay the dragon within. Enter the crucible and emerge as a new born- a soulful leader now ready to serve the kingdom. He then comes back and heals the king and the kingdom. Reclaims his power and is often enthroned as the new king.

If these recurring systemic failures are representing the suffering kingdoms of our collective psyche, then what is the call that we as heroes, heroines and leaders need to respond to?

The call for soulful leadership…

Children represent the soul of a community. What happens when the patriarchal systems fail to nurture and protect its soul? What are we heading towards? How is all this a massive manifestation of the inner world within all of us? How are we colluding with power and exploiting the child within us? What is the deeper leadership stand that we are not ready to take? What is the call that we are not responding to?

A leader comes to life in his/ her response to the context. It’s this crucible that shapes the leadership. As I look at this incident and other similar incidents around the world, I see a leadership void. A void that is calling for soulful leaders. Leaders who show up and take a stand to respond to their context. Leaders who hold themselves and others accountable for the social-ecological well-being. Leaders who nurture their systems and communities like their own families. Leaders who are both courageous warriors and passionate lovers.

If its your kingdom burning and your king dying, what would you do? What are you being called for?

I feel I am called to fill the leadership void. To call others to connect with their deep calling. To cocreate an ecosystems of soulful leaders who care deeply for their people and planet. This is my response to the failing systems and this is my promise to the dying children.

What is yours?

In hero’s journey, sometime hero fails to respond to the call. Life then is full of a suffering called mediocrity. For they knew but could not step into their brilliance.

Whether small or big, it’s the next soulful step that matters…

Bon voyage!
Sacred Well