The Importance of Second-tier Leadership

While reading Stephen Philip Cohen’s lucid, analytical and insightful book about Pakistan’s past, present and future: The Idea of Pakistan, I learned how Pakistan struggled with a void of political leadership that was immediately felt after the untimely death of its founding father Mohammed Ali Jinnah in September 1948. Jinnah’s close associate Liaqat Ali Khan, then the prime minister, was assassinated in 1951 and then Pakistan slipped into a state of political (as well as social & economical, for that matter) instability that “oscillated between unstable democracy and benign authoritarianism”. No wonder the army was compelled to take over the political void and in 60 years of history of Pakistan’s existence there were four coups by army Generals: Ayub Khan (1958), Yahya Khan (1969), Zia ul-Haq (1977) and Pervez Musharraf (1999).

There are many reasons for this political turmoil in Pakistan (which Stephen Cohen has explained in detail in his book) but I am not going to divulge on that here. What made me wonder was the striking difference in terms of the lineage of political leaderships between India and Pakistan.

The father of the nation of India, Gandhi, passed away just several months before his counterpart in Pakistan died. (Gandhi was assassinated in Jan 1948.) Other significant political leader, Patel, died soon after in 1950. But India had a cadre of great national leaders whose patriotic zeal and dedication was thriving to lead India into a politically stable, socially liberal and economically growing nation for years to come after independence. These leaders included people like Nehru, C Rajagopalachari, Rajendra Prasad, Jayprakash Narayan, Maulana Abul Azad and Kripalani among others.

If you trace back the rise of all aforementioned leaders, you will find that it was Gandhi’s influence that worked as a stimulus to bring them into the centre stage of freedom struggle. They might have had their disagreements with Gandhi time to time, and some of them were active freedom fighters before they met Gandhi, but after their engagements with him, they all became his staunch followers, adored their leader and learned a great deal of political acumen from him.

When Gandhi was 62, a foreign journalist asked him whether he would agree to become the Prime Minister of the future government [of India]. To this, Gandhi simply but resolutely replied “No. It will be reserved for younger minds and stouter hearts.”

That was in 1931, 16 years before India actually became free. But Gandhi’s search and recruitment for the leaders of free and independent India started even earlier than that – right after he came back to India in 1915, to be precise. Gandhi seem to have selected his disciples carefully from all around India (Patel from Gujarat, Kripalani from Sindh, Nehru from Allahabad, Rajagopalachari from Madras, Abdul Ghaffar Khan from NWFP, Abul Kalam Azad from Calcutta, Narayan and Prasad from Bihar, Sarojini Naidu from Hyderabad). 

Gandhi’s recruitment also transcended the political boundaries. His close associates included Kalelkar – a scholar from Maharashtra, Ghanshyam Das Birla – a marwadi industrialist, Vinoba Bhave – a social activist from Maharashtra, Jamnalal Bajaj – another marwadi industrialist, among others. Apart from achieving independence, Gandhi’s other visionary goal was to prepare India for independence and create a foundation for a politically stable and economically self-reliant nation.

As liberal democracy continues to survive in India, 60 years after independence (in stark contrast with its neighbor Pakistan), we should be grateful to those great leaders of the yore who dedicated their lives to not only attain independence but build the foundations of our country with a futuristic vision.

Alas, the leaders of pre-1947 Pakistan seem to have completely missed on this foresight. Jinnah’s strong but dominant leadership left no room for second tier leadership there. And for past six decades Pakistan has been paying a very high price for that.


6 responses to “The Importance of Second-tier Leadership

  1. Nicely written!I think the reason was the concept of a free India (Swaraj) was espoused very early on (1906 I presume) by leaders like Tilak and the Congress adopted several resolutions in its annual meetings towards this goal. Thus the concept of a free and united India was strong among the followers of the Congress which sowed the seeds of patriotism. No wonder we had many leaders of great caliber who were visionaries willing to work towards establishing a strong democracy.

    Not so for Pakistan. The Muslim league began as the Khilafat movement in response to the shabby treatment meted out to the Ottoman empire by the British. Till the late 1930s there was no demand for a separate Pakistan as Muslims thought their interests could be accomodated as part of a federal set up which gave autonomy to the provinces. But realizing that they would always remain second class in an Indian set up in which Congress was the dominant national party they asked for a seperate country for Muslims(by a resolution adopted by the Muslim league) sometime in the early 1940s. However barring a few leaders like Jinnah and Gaffar Khan there were not many visionaries who could carry the concept of Pakistan forward after Independence (as you have rightly mentioned). Pakistan’s national identity got mixed with its religious identity thus leading to utter chaos.

  2. vishal12



    Yup, the Muslim League achieved a big momentum during the Quit India movement (early 40’s as you mentioned) when most of the Congress leaders were in jail and politically dormant. The league leaders took this opportunity to test their waters with the Britishers. Their other big win for them (which put them in a better position to negotiate with the British government) was when Congress declared that they would *conditionally* support the Raj in World War II – as opposed to the league’s full support.

    The Muslim League did NOT start as Khilafat movement though. The league was established in 1906 and the Khilafat movement came sometime in 30’s.

  3. Yeah my mistake! I guess my brain’s getting rusty. The Muslim league and Communists alienated themselves from the Congress by their complete support to the Allies in world war II.

  4. Pingback: Indian History Carnival - 8 | DesiPundit

  5. Red

    And its ironic how few contemporary Indian political parties have second tier of leadership.

  6. Pingback: Repurcussions of Uncertainty « A Blank Slate

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