When leaders are forced to take decisions related to racial sentiments or sentiments where the nation is divided very sharply, then it is a hard task. Farsighted leaders who lead from the front take strong decisions in such times and take the nation forward during the difficult period. Those who apply the fox theory of Machiavelli and those who have nothing but self-interest act indecisively in such situations. We have ample
examples internationally and locally.
In his book ‘The Prince’ written in the 16th century, Niccolo Machiavelli stated as follows in Chapter 18: “…A prince, therefore, being compelled knowingly to adopt the beast, ought to choose the fox and the lion; because the lion cannot defend himself against snares and the fox cannot defend himself against wolves… Of this endless modern examples could be given, showing how many treaties and engagements have been made void and of no effect through the faithlessness of princes; and he who has known best how to employ the fox has succeeded best. But it is necessary to know well how to disguise this characteristic, and to be a great pretender and dissembler; and men are so simple, and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived.”
During the time of Hindu-Muslim religious violence in India in 1948 after the partition which was the worst one India faced, Mahatma Gandhi who did not hold any official position of the Indian Government at that time took a firm stand supported by then Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru.
Gandhi, who was residing at a house of a prominent Muslim leader, entered into a hunger campaign demanding the end of violence which act paved the way for his assassination. He expressed his stance in no uncertain terms which was totally against the stance of the majority of the people at that time and he managed to change the thinking of the people during a short period which was the need of the hour at that time.
When Nelson Mandela became the President of South Africa ending the apartheid regime, he was under immense pressure of the activists of the African National Congress to sideline the white Afrikaners. Irrespective of that he kept the bodyguards of the former President De Klerk and invited the former Defence Minister to his cabinet. He asked the white Afrikaner staff of the office of the President not to leave.
Football was the game played by the blacks in South Africa while the game played by the Afrikaners was rugby, which was a symbol of apartheid. Mandela used the South African Rugby team to unite the nation by promoting them. He was following what he has stated at the Rivonia Trial, facing the death penalty to the court at the end of his famous ‘Speech from the Dock’ on 20 April 1964.
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, argued against slavery during and prior to his election campaign. He won the presidential election in 1860 with very little support from the southern states which supported slavery.
Southern states formed a secessionist government in 1861 following the election of Lincoln and entered in to war with the Union. Lincoln led the Union in war, taking major decisions in the process. His goal was to reunite the nation. By his actions he preserved the Union, abolished slavery and strengthened the federal government.
"Fearlessness or powerfulness is not measured by popular decisions taken when there is authority. It is measured by the unpopular decisions with accrued benefits in future taken when there is less authority and by the ability to implement the same. Leaders should lead the masses and not follow them unless they follow Machiavelli"
Gandhi, Mandela and Lincoln proved by their actions that they were the leaders of their respective nations and not mere followers of the masses. They also proved that they were not mere leaders but giant leaders of the masses by taking decisive actions to change the views of the masses. These leaders are quite exceptional. However, the situation in Sri Lanka is different.
Bandaranaike came into power in 1956 capitalising on the sentiments of the Sinhala Buddhist masses and fuelling the same. The power of the UNP was reduced to eight seats in Parliament and the LSSP leader became the Leader of the Opposition.
For two years the Police and the administration was so intimidated by politicians so when communal riots broke out in 1958, the first major riots in the post-independence era, the administration was afraid to move to end the violence
It was not Prime Minister Bandaranaike but Governor General Oliver Goonethilake who intervened and suspended Parliamentary control, declared a state of emergency, imposed martial law and introduced press censorship in order to control the situation. Bandaranaike, the popular, educated and powerful leader, was indecisive - quite in contrast to the decisive way his wife, who was an uneducated housewife, acted subsequently in difficult situations.
At the time of the July 1983 communal riots, then President J.R. Jayewardene had all-powerful presidential powers and the power of Parliament with a five-sixths majority together with the undated resignation letters of Members of Parliament of the governing party. There was no leader in Sri Lanka who exercised such a power.
Although he was so powerful, he behaved as a coward would. He failed to impose curfew in time. It took several days for him to address the nation and even in that speech he blamed the oppressed and not the oppressor.
People of this country beli-eve that J.R. Jay-ewardene was a powerful leader. It was not possible to gauge the power or fearlessness of a leader by the acts of directing Police thugs to attack unarmed workers who were on strike or arranging to fence the Gatambe temple to take the revenge over a speech by the chief prelate of that temple where it was stated that the leader of the country could be a traitor.
Fearlessness of a leader is gauged by the way he acts in difficult situations. He did not have a solid backbone to act against the masses when they behaved in an unruly and extremist manner. If he had done so, the history of the country would have been changed.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa also exercises extensive power. His popularity among the people due to the war victory is still high, partly as a result of the endeavours of the Government to keep the memories alive.
A large number of people still treat him as a king. There is a possibility that he will become the lifetime president due to the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. The power of two-thirds of Parliament comprising of members who are concerned with self-interest most is also with the President against the intentions of the Constitution and with the support of the Judiciary, although the people have not given such power. The Opposition is in shatters, with a large number of its Parliament members having crossed over to Government benches.
The President removed the 42nd Chief Justice of the country, who was not in line with the thinking of the ruling elite in no time. Such a powerful President changed his stance on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and devolution of power to the minority Tamils several times.
When the international leaders pressurise him, he says yes to them and when the Sinhala extremists pressurise him, he says yes to them as well. When intimidation takes place against minorities, whether it is racial or religious, he blames the minorities. He follows the majority who think that the problem is a conspiracy of the West and not a reaction to the wrong domestic and foreign policy of the Government. Yet, the majority thinks that he is a strong leader.
The Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe is considered a weak leader by the majority of the country. He became the Prime Minister in the second tenure when the President of the country was the Leader of the party opponent to him. His powers were somewhat limited. With these limitations he decided to enter into a peace agreement with the LTTE even without getting the consent of the Head of the State. It was a bold decision, although there were various opinions on the repercussions of that decision.
Fearlessness or powerfulness is not measured by popular decisions taken when there is authority. It is measured by the unpopular decisions with accrued benefits in future taken when there is less authority and by the ability to implement the same. Leaders should lead the masses and not follow them unless they follow Machiavelli.
(The writer is a Chartered Accountant by profession and holds a Master of Business Administration degree awarded by the Postgraduate Institute of Management of University of Sri Jayewardenepura.)