A Word with Historians They are the custodians of a nation

I am not a historian. Believing that history spills beans, I often take recourse to history in analyzing   political situations and pushing forward my point of view.

In my last Monday column, I tried to analyze Kashmir’s predicament by looking at leadership that has been in the vanguard for past over sixty four years through the prism of some basic attributes of “charismatic” leadership   i.e. envisioning, energizing and enabling. I had looked for “instrumental leadership” that I believed could emerge as instruments of change for ending the political stalemate and changing the status quo. This column had generated some debate in the society and some of which was reflected in the reflection column of this paper.

Looking for an ‘instrumental leadership  was not something iconoclastic, ‘hunger for compelling and creative leadership’ is with all nations and it is more intense with nations that have a tortured history of suffering spreading over more than three hundred years. Craving for a colossal leader having the potential of steering people out of economic and political morass and uncertainties is universal. Twentieth century was an era of titans that ‘strode across   cultural and political horizons of the South Asia, Tagore, Iqbal, Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah, Sardar Patil, and Liaquat Ali Khan. These leaders were intellectual giants  unto themselves.  Someone has very rightly put it that the people in the South Asia followed these leaders everywhere, they loved them and loathed them, admired them and criticized them, marched with them, fought against them and died at their calls but what makes these leaders distinctive is that they did not land their people in whirlpools of uncertainties but guided them to their destinies.

Many a time, I see perpetuation of uncertainties in our part of the world to the leadership crisis. It is not to say that our leadership has not been striving. Their track record of sacrifices is immense. Many of them have suffered decades of incarceration, trials and tribulations. Right from 1931 they have withstood the brutal rulers   but where   have they been failing has been in translating their cherished political ideals into reality. To illustrate my point let me quote James MacGregor Burns. He says, “The crisis of   leadership today is mediocrity. He asserts that the fundamental crisis underlying mediocrity is intellectual. If we know all too much about leaders, we know far too little about leadership. We fail to grasp the essence of leadership that is relevant to modern age and hence we cannot agree even to   standards by which to measure, recruit and reject leadership.’  From these observations made by Mr. James one can deduce that besides suffering, commitment to the cause, envisioning, energizing, enabling something    more is needed by the leadership.  And this I believe is having a thorough knowledge of the state’s political history   and geography of the region with all its dynamics.

Is our crisis caused by leadership? There may be some stories of betrayals or infidelities towards the people by some leaders but seen in right perspective there have been a host of sincere and dedicated leaders that have stuck to their beliefs like rock but   despite their commitments they have failed. Many attribute their failures to their taking wrong decisions at the right moments. These errors of judgment by leadership have not only cost heavily to people of the state but have pushed entire region to a brink. The reason for these errors I believe has been   our leadership failing recognizing their fallibilities and identifying their deficiencies. Instead of introspecting and spotting chinks in their armor many a few of them in the lead roles have been suffering from megalomania.

 Looking at this question, I was reminded of a letter written by Allama Muhammad Iqbal to India’s top leader M.K. Gandhi.   In his letter dated 29th November 1920, Gandhi  had  requested  Iqbal to take over as Vice Chancellor of Jamiah Millyah Islamiyah, Aligarh,. Any person could have jumped over the idea. Here  it would be pertinent to quote a paragraph from the letter of the poet- philosopher of the East. Understanding   deficiencies fully well Iqbal declined the offer by saying:  “Thank you very much for your letter which I received the day before yesterday. I regret very much my ability to respond to the call of those for whom I have highest respect, for reasons which need not and perhaps cannot be mentioned at present. While I am a strong supporter of National Education I do not think I posses all the necessary qualification for guidance of a university which requires a man who would steer the infant institution through all the struggles and rivalries likely to arise in the earlier stage of life.”

Iqbal despite being one of the brightest minds of the world had not shied away from recognizing his deficiencies and had he joined as VC he might not have been a success. Had our leaders recognized their weaknesses perhaps no tragedy would have been born.   I believe that recognizing their own potentialities is essential for all leaders.

The question is as very rightly stated by Thomas E Crinonin ‘can we teach the people to become leaders?  Can we teach leaders? He says people are divided on these questions.’ He asserts that it was once widely held that leaders are born and not made, but that view is less widely held today. We also used to hear about natural leaders but nowadays most leaders have learned   their leadership ability rather than inherited it.”  Thomas in his essays discusses the subject in detail and analysis aspects of leadership but he also does not have any concrete answer to the question that if one can produce best leadership through teaching.  I have more than once written earlier also that in our situation it is the historical forces that have along thrown up political leadership. The 1846, Sale Deed followed by tyrant tax system caused famous April 29 1865 uprising that threw up a leadership. This leadership was jailed and many of them died in custody in Jammu. The 1931 uprising threw up a leadership that remained on the political scene of the state on both the sides of the LOC for over five decades. The 1964, Holy Relic Movement caused yet another group of leadership and some of leaders from this group continue to be on the scene. The 1990 situation that is considered as the most violent chapter in contemporary Kashmir history spawned scores of political organizations and mushroom of leaders. Many organizations have evaporated like ether from the scene but the survival of many others is indicated from the press releases that they have been issuing on daily basis. It may be a passing phase and winds of change may relegate them too to  the backyard of Kashmir politics but there are sufficient indications   some of the post 1990 leaders will remain on the state’s political landscape for many more years to come unless historical forces throw up a more vibrant and agile group capable to lead some more competent and imaginative to lead.

While being bogged down by the leadership crisis I see Kashmir entering into yet another transitory phase.  There are two important  factors that make me to say so, one the changing power balance in the South Asia    and second the assertive fourth generation Kashmir youth who sixty three years history of more of troughs less of crests before them.

All such periods of transition are like political minefields where vested interests   endeavor hard to plant their discourses couched in beautiful phraseology for changing the people’s narratives. Here I see greater role for contemporary Kashmir historians.  For past many years I have been pleading before contemporary historians   to rewrite and not rehash   the contemporary Kashmir history which is full of inaccuracies and inadequacies. Historians are     not demagogues who conjure history to their advantages and allow “mythology passes as history” but these are custodians of nations that have to come up with facts enable the fourth generation Kashmir to fix their own goals.

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