Plus one, not minus two
THE golden rule of algebra is that what you do to one side of the equation is what you must also do to the other. It must have been the spirit of this axiom that once drove us to the Minus Two formula. Removing two top leaders of two political parties was considered necessary to strike a political equilibrium. Here's another axiom that should work better. Two minuses make one plus, which is our need of the hour. Instead of faltering to banish two politicians, we should focus on finding a new one.
Indeed, the Minus Two formula has been a waste of time. Politics in a democracy is always at its best in the natural state, because manipulation brings distortions. The Minus Two postulation was a preemptive strike seven some years ago, when a leadership change was contemplated before devising functional succession. The result has been an atrocious disaster.
That experience has taught us that political problems should have political solutions. A leadership crisis can't be resolved unless a competent leader is identified first. But it's important to know what makes such a leader before we go scouting for one.
It's not bloodline, foreign education, bank balance or glib tongue that should underscore a person's ability to lead. A true leader needs three things to start with, which are character, courage and conviction. One may be impressive because he or she is a charmer. One may be knowledgeable because he or she is learned. One may even be convincing because he or she is articulate and rational.
But all of these can make one either a good actor or a scholar or an orator. These are the necessary conditions of leadership, but not its sufficient conditions. A leader should have two things more than either one of these professionals. Like icing on the cake, this person must have vision and wisdom.
This nation needs to do a collective search to find someone who fits the bill. Popularity isn't the true test of leadership since a gang leader is immensely popular amongst his minions. So is a holy man amongst his devotees, a singer amongst his admirers and an actor amongst his fans.
A national leader is when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That means a leader is someone who at once can be an actor, a scholar and an orator, but the total person must have the combined effect of someone larger than life. In our case individuals are inadequate in their respective roles. So, anyone who must combine all of those roles in him also has to carry the cumulative effects of their shortcomings. It's not surprising that our politicians appear dismally deficient in human qualities when compared with ordinary citizens.
This is the crux of the crisis. Larger-than-life roles have been thrust upon Lilliputian minds. It's never going to work if one Lilliput is replaced by another. Our current political gloom can't give us the light at the end of the tunnel unless we can find a giant amongst us. Petty politicians have, contrarily, given us a tunnel after they snatched the light.
Where do we look for such a giant? Can we find him or her in the midst of this despair? Where should we start the search?
In the turbulent years of the 1960s in the United States, the Free Speech Movement at University of California, Berkeley tried to galvanise students over the right to engage in political speech on campus. Free Speech activist Jack Weinberg had urged students not to trust anyone over 30. Does that give us a cut-off line for the search? Should we look for someone young because the older generation isn't to be trusted anymore?
Rightly or wrongly the older generation is still living in the past, their minds trapped in a time warp. These people have mastered the art of hypocrisy, exploiting public function as an opportunity to aggrandise private fortune. They're also responsible for the dubious double speak in politics, blurring the line between truth and fiction.
Like an antidote to a virus, we need a leader to save us. It's unfortunate we haven't yet found one decisive leader in a divisive country of 160 million. No need for a smooth talker or a telegenic face or a master of evasive answers. No need for a charismatic leader with maniacal manners. No need for an ambitious person with lofty pedigree or hefty credentials.
Let's start with the basic. We need a man of character, and then build on him with courage, conviction, vision and wisdom. He has to be selfless not self-seeking, profound not pretentious, gumptious not greedy, one who'll know how to seize the opportunity without being opportunistic. He's our only hope for the plus, others doomed to give us the minus.
The writer is Editor, First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.
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