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T N Ninan: Leaders all

Six men in the news, and in very different boats

T N Ninan  |  New Delhi 

T N Ninan

This has been Leadership Week. All it took for people to feel better about the economy was for a young, new governor of the Reserve Bank with impressive credentials to stand up, show he was in control, and outline a plan of action that made sense. The Rajan effect explains a good bit of the latest rally in stocks and the rupee. We can guess at the additional "Kennedy effect" - the cut of his suit, the width of the tie, the slight rebelliousness that people have detected in his hairstyle, and facial features that have apparently made some women go weak at the knees (a first for a governor). But the performance made immediately clear one thing: what has been sapping the country's self-belief these past many months has been not just the presence of real macroeconomic problems, but also the lack of demonstrated leadership.

In Uttar Pradesh, a younger but not-so-new leader showed that he was not up to the job of maintaining law and order and communal peace. All the reasons attributed to why mayhem and killing followed minor incidents may or may not be valid, such as: a ruling party that is not short of criminal and anti-social elements had been interfering with postings at police stations, and thereby undermined the law and order machinery. But in a crisis politics has to yield to governance, and a chief minister can either stop a conflagration or fail at the job. Akhilesh Yadav failed. One question is whether this failure will be followed by electoral success - as it was for Rajiv Gandhi and Narendra Modi. If the reported mood of Muslims in western Uttar Pradesh is anything to go by, perhaps not.

Then we had Mr Putin showing up Mr Obama. We had TV shots of them talking in St Petersburg, the body language spelling tension, before the G20 majority refused to endorse Mr Obama's agenda. Then, suddenly, we had the breakthrough that placed Mr Putin centre stage, with Syria agreeing to play ball on chemical weapons. Upstaged, Mr Obama tried to say that it wasn't good enough, then bowed to the wind from the east. The coup de grace was

Mr Putin's long article in The New York Times, questioning American exceptionalism in a manner (by quoting God's plan and the American Constitution) that - as someone said on TV - would have been accompanied by loud laughter in Moscow and vomiting in Washington.

Back home, the Bharatiya Janata Party has anointed Mr Modi as its prime ministerial candidate (and please don't remind us of what one Mr Vanzara said a few days earlier, because it makes no difference and everyone knows the truth anyway). So a country crying out for leadership could get a prime minister who is a "doer" even if (or, heaven forbid, because) he reflects not the best but the worst in us. Like our willingness to turn a blind eye to "fake encounters" that kill "the other" of the moment (in Punjab and Kashmir, Maoists, etc). A question that was asked of Sanjay Gandhi is relevant: "He was a doer, but what did he want to do?"

And finally, Rahul Gandhi revisited this week a theme that he had dwelt on briefly at the Confederation of Indian Industry - that it wasn't his choice to be where he was, but now that he had been put there, he would do what it took. The retake: he was willing to crush his own dreams in order to realise those of his audience. It may well be true, but someone should tell him that the image of a self-sacrificing leader who is not in charge of his own life sits poorly on a 43-year-old, fifth-generation inheritor.

First Published: Fri, September 13 2013. 23:50 IST