5 August 2020 01:10 PM

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S.G.VOMBATKERE | 8 APRIL, 2020

Leadership In Troubled Times

Need of the hour


PM Modi has recognized the Corona pandemic as a “ladai (war)” and given a clarion call to the people to be prepared for a long battle, and to contribute liberally for the fight. For Central and State governments, it is an unprecedented challenge to handle cases of Covid-19 and prevent/check spread of the virus, as well as to reach help and relief to the many millions of Indians without work-food-shelter, especially in the wake of the drastic Covid-19 social-distancing lockdown.

The battle is being fought gallantly and tirelessly nation-wide, by medical doctors and health workers at their own personal risk, and risk of infecting their families.

Without being asked, NGOs and volunteer groups in many states spontaneously pitched in, working around lockdown restrictions to reach food to the needy, their volunteers moving among crowds to do so. These volunteers working on-the-ground are also at personal risk, like doctors and health workers, and police personnel.

Leaders are emerging at the “battle front” among doctors, health workers and NGO volunteers, and that is the reason why help and relief measures are actually happening, despite the mere 4-hours lockdown “notice” and zero preparation.

It is now time for people’s elected representatives at ULB, Assembly and Parliament levels to step into leadership roles and go out among the people who sent them to the legislatures. The people need to see their elected representatives, whom they mostly see when he/she comes to beg for their votes, and the representative needs to listen to the woes of people who elected him/her. He/she should rise above party politics, and check on correct distribution of PPE for health workers, fair and adequate distribution of food, cash, etc., to maximize on-going efforts and prevent or reduce corruption in these difficult times.

Legislators can ensure that food reaches every person who stands in a food queue, regardless of whether or not they produce ration cards or Aadhaar cards, which misguided officials are demanding in some places. They can ensure that truant police personnel or other officials do not use force or intimidation against hungry people in food queues, and also understand the reality or otherwise of media reports. They will understand the harsh reality of the lockdown on poor people and their inability to observe social distancing.

One wonders how many elected representatives are going out among the suffering, deprived millions, especially since there are hardly any media reports about this. There would surely be at least a few of the many thousands of elected representatives working amongst the people during the current crisis, but what is needed is their involvement in much greater numbers.

However sadly to the contrary, and possibly a one-off instance, rather than their going out to actively serve, according to a news item quoting a Deccan Chronicle report: “N95 masks in Government Hospitals are being diverted to VIPs including politicians and government officials for their self-usage, their followers, friends and kin, and even their visitors. The report says that DMHOs of Krishna district alone were forced to give away 3,000 out of the 4,000 high-quality N95 masks”. [“Politicians and VIPs Leave Doctors Fighting Corona At Risk“; Mirchi9; <https://www.mirchi9.com/politics/politicians-and-vips-leave-doctors-fighting-corona-at-risk> ; April 3, 2020.]

Undoubtedly, legislators who step into leadership roles in the Corona battle may be at risk of contracting Covid-19, and pose risk to their family members contracting Covid-19. However, it will not be as serious as it is for doctors, health workers, NGO volunteers and police personnel who are at work 24x7. The legislator may take this risk as part of his/her public duty and service to his constituency.

The reader or an elected representative may legitimately demand the basis for this writer making prescriptive remarks and calling upon legislators to display leadership during the on-going crisis, and expose themselves and their families to Covid-19. Examples follow.

Ireland PM Leo Varadkar, who has re-registered himself as a medical practitioner to work as a doctor amid the Covid-19 pandemic, thereby exposing himself and his family to Covid-19 risk, is an outstanding example of leadership in crisis, which every leader, doctor or otherwise, would do well to emulate.

Notwithstanding the exemplary Dr.Varadkar, every Indian Armed Forces leader leads from the front in all operations, whether against the enemy at the border, in counter-insurgency, or even in disaster relief. Such leadership always involves grave personal risk, but it is absolutely necessary as a part of leadership according to our military’s “country-first-men-under-command-next-self-last” dictum.

It is a risk that the leader undertakes in full knowledge that his family will bear the consequences of his death or permanent disability sustained as a part of his duty. Thus, for a military leader, facing personal risk and danger and its fall-out on his family is a 24x7x365 matter, because his “own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time”.

Taking inspiration from our military and from the brave doctors, health workers and volunteers, our elected representatives at all levels would do well to step outside their security cocoons to lead from the front in the Corona battle, and face the risks in the line of duty and service.

Major General S.G.Vombatkere is focussed on development and strategic issues, using cross-discipline study and systems thinking.

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