Joan Baez lives!God bless her heart. We know where the flowers she sang about have gone ( they’ve been crushed a long, long time ago), but now here comes a book written by a crusty, feisty 82- year-old legend called Lee Iacocca (surely you remember the saviour of Chrysler Corporation?) titled, ‘‘Where have all the leaders gone?” Perfect timing. Perfect tone. Just as the world is in raptures over its latest Superman (Obama), Iacocca’s book raises pertinent questions about leadership and responsibility. Iacocca argues his case brilliantly, passionately and convincingly. The book needs to be made compulsory reading for not just Americans going gaga over their brand new President, but for anybody interested in effective change. With elections in India round the corner, it is exactly this crisis (“Where are the leaders? Why should we vote?’’) that needs to be urgently addressed.
I was on a jury judging the final round of a debate involving college students from Maharashtra. The topic was topical, relevant and challenging (“Governance of a State is better served by a directly elected C.M. rather than through an indirectly elected one as is prevalent today’’). The interesting thing was this – who do you think made it to the final round? Not the smart, sassy students from elite South Mumbai colleges, but clever, ambitious students from colleges in rural Maharashtra – Bordi and Aurangabad. We listened to the team leaders as they argued for and against the motion. What emerged was the level of genuine engagement in the political process, as well as a desperate cry for reform in the electoral processes. But the frustration and despair were evident once the competition was over ( the vibrant, articulate women from Bordi thrashed the men from Aurangabad by a huge margin), and the students were chatting informally with the judges. It was the same question - “ Where are the leaders worth voting for?” And it is indeed this very question that has most voters in a quandary. Every country is looking for an Obama – a charismatic, inspirational, youthful, dynamic person capable of motivating millions. But an Obama cannot be ‘manufactured’. Omar Abdullah is Omar Abdullah – there is a lot of hope riding on the guy. But it would be wrong and foolish to impose Obama’s personality on him. Just as it would be foolhardy to propel Rahul Gandhi to premiership, based on nothing beyond perception. Let him toil a little for the top job – and by that I don’t mean a night spent in a sanitized village with poster boy Millihand.
Increasingly, it looks as if the next election will be determined by nothing more than caste - modern India’s biggest curse.Even the thought that the under -25 citizens of the country – the very people who will decide the next government, will be influenced by something as medieval as caste, is depressing. It is this constituency that needs to read Iacocca’s bold book which throws up tough questions on every page and demands a response to the provocative issues it raises.
Whether it is Satyam, ‘Slumdog…’ or Sanjay Dutt, we are actually confronting the very same issues – corruption and more corruption. Moral and financial. There are enough people out there who are willing to stick their necks out and fight the rot. Like one of the bright eyed debaters said with admirable conviction, “ Why criticize the system ? We need to become a part of the solution.” Her simple statement worked like a booster shot and I found myself strangely re-energized after weeks of quiet rage. The same evening, I came home to find Munnabhai telling viewers that he saw himself as a ‘leader’ and not a ‘politician’. I instantly wanted him to face some of our aware, committed students and ask them what they thought of his leadership qualities. Whether they were ready to accept his ‘jaddu ki jhappis’ and fall for his scripted ‘Gandhigiri’ lines? Sanjay Dutt, it may surprise you to know that our youth are not as gullible as to confuse Bollywood dialogues from a popular film for political savvy. As for ‘serving the people’, maybe serving the jail term first is the better option. In today’s India, such is the irony that the word ‘satyam..’ has become a synonym for corruption on a mega scale. Truth and justice no longer go together. Which maybe why there are so many Indians who refuse to accept ‘Slumdog…’ on merit and continue to regard it as a western conspiracy. Good cinema always but always hides a kernel of truth. How long and how far are we going to run from it ?? Jai ho!!