The writings of Karl Marx is unparalleled. It is interesting how he sums up deep philosophies in single phrases. One such phrase – “from each according to his ability” – deeply haunted me. Marx refers to the idea that a person’s worth must be measured by what he does, in proportion to his ability. Having the ability is not enough. Using it to bring changes is the key. If we use this yardstick to evaluate our political leaders, we find newer perspectives to look into their lives.
Arguably, the most important politician of independent India, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru did introduce attitude-changing policies that helped modernize the country. But he paid no attention to the badly needed agricultural reforms, which only he could have pulled off. Nor did he focus on changing the basic colonial infrastructure inherited from the British. Thanks to Nehru, 65 years after independence, the bureaucrats, politicians and police personals continue to act as the masters and oppressors of people, instead of being transformed into what they are in civilized societies– friends and facilitators at the service of the people.
Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi’s power and popularity reached flaring heights in 1971 following the Bangladesh liberation war. Yet, within four years she took the country to its lowest-ever fall with the Emergency. Rajiv Gandhi’s parliamentary majority reached a record 404 out of 533 in 1984. And he did start off promisingly with focusing on key areas like telecommunication. But he proved too weak to stop his family and friends from manipulating the system for their private ends. The present prime minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh is no different from his league of ancestors who have the ability but have accomplished nothing significant.
Interestingly, the Marxists of India are no different. After Indian communism accepted the parliamentary system for better or worse, it produced two leaders, Jyoti Basu and E.M.S. Namboodiripad, men of extraordinary qualities, respected for their intellectual calibre as much as for their political mettle. But were their achievements in proportion to that level of ability? Both saw land reform as a priority, but, the implementation was strongly influenced by textbook ideology, not the practicalities of life. Both succeeded in ending feudal landlordism. But in the process, no attention was paid to the critical issue of agricultural production. In Bengal, regional imbalances developed and poverty became the synonym for Bengal. Kerala’s agriculture collapsed to an extent that the state today is dependent on imported food grains and vegetables.
But this doesn’t mean that we don’t have examples of political leaders whose abilities didn’t meet their achievements. Atal Bihari Vajpayee is an example, among many others. Unfortunately, many such men are being forgotten. One such forgotten hero is P V Narasimha Rao. PVN remains in a class of his own as a thinker, writer and scholar. Wit and wisdom came naturally to PVN, a master of thirteen languages who could read Greek, Latin and Sanskrit classics, speak Urdu stylishly, give guest lectures in German and American universities, impress Fidel Castro with his Spanish, translate novels from Marathi to Telugu and from Telugu to Hindi! He was an expert on classical military doctrines and a well-honed aficionado of music, cinema and theatre. He was the closest India got to Marx’ ‘able-achiever’, or to Plato’s ‘philosopher-king’