New India Needs New Leaders: Can Institutions Groom Them?

We need to gather the best of thinkers, policymakers, social workers and the funders to envision a world-class Indian institution for public leadership.

By Shobhit Mathur, Co-Founder and Dean at Rashtram School of Public Leadership and Dr. Nomesh Bolia, Professor at IIT Bombay

This article was published in The Hans India.

On 13th March 2017, Shri Manohar Parrikar stepped down as the Defense Minister of India and took oath as the Chief Minister of Goa the next day. The Defence ministry was passed on to Shri Arun Jaitley, who was already heading the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Corporate Affairs at that time. Back in Goa, the potential allies insisted that they would extend support to the BJP, only if Parrikar was brought back from Delhi. A well-performing Defence Minister had to resign since the State needed a deserving Chief Minister. Both Shri Parrikar and Shri Jaitley are no more with us today and have left a void which is hard to fill. In a country of 1.3 billion people, it is hard to find leaders of immaculate character and caliber who can hold public positions of responsibility. Not just at the top, but at all levels – from panchayat to parliament, from villages to cabinet secretariat, from primary schools to universities. This vacuum has held our country back when it is time to grow by leaps and bounds. 

It is time to fill the public leadership vacuum in India in primarily three domains of public life. We need thought leaders to infuse fresh ideas that work in the Indian context. We need social leaders who are rooted in the soil and animated by the thought leaders. And, we need political leaders who represent the will of the people and put the nation above self. There is a dearth of all three types of leaders today. For far too long, we have left the destiny of our nation to chance. We hope that an inspired leader will emerge from somewhere and show us a way out. With the emerging crises caused due to climate change, economic and military wars, and technological disruptions, there is an urgent need for systematic creation of public leadership which will guide India to its future. 

India is the only living civilisation on this planet which has retained its character. It has seen its share of ups and downs for several millennia. It has not just survived, but thrived. As recent as 250 years ago, the entire world was searching for this prospering land. This was possible only because this land has consistently produced great thought leaders, reformist social leaders, and dedicated political leaders. Their names are alive in public memory. But today when we look around, we do not find such leaders in abundance. Post-independence, we have barely produced a few, and they have arisen out of adversity. We need institutions that systematically create public leaders for India. We need these institutions to be rooted in the Indian ethos and produce leaders who take India back to the global stage. 

Throughout history, various countries have created institutions to nurture public leaders whenever they faced a crisis of existence. In the 1870 Franco-Prussian war, the French army was decisively defeated. The quick defeat of the French was attributed to their outdated military education. It broke the morale of the French people. Émile Boutmy, a French political scientist and sociologist analyzed this defeat and created École Libre des Sciences Politiques (Sciences Po) as a response. The intention was to create an institution that will help France come out of its moral and political crisis. This would be done by training the ruling classes of France to lead France in the right way. Today Sciences Po has produced several French presidents, heads of government and international organizations and much more. It has played a key role in pulling France out of the abyss and making it a superpower. The Matsushita Institute of Government and Management is a similar effort in Japan. It was established in 1979 by Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic Corporation. The vision was to create leaders who can envision an ideal Japanese society and work to make that dream into a reality. Graduates of the school have become leaders in various walks of life including the Prime Minister of Japan, members of the Japanese Parliament, mayors, academicians, and CEOs. These are some examples to showcase how institutions that create public leaders can change the course of a Nation’s future. 

There is an urgent need for such an institution in India. The above institutions were built for a specific country in a specific context. They have produced extraordinary results. We need the same yet different – a world-class Indian institution for public leadership, built for the Indian needs, rooted in the Indian ethos. Institution building for Nation building, not just for securing careers of the graduates – this thought has not yet sufficiently entered the minds of the institution builders and philanthropists in India. We need to gather the best of thinkers, policymakers, social workers and the funders to envision such an institution that would not just secure India’s future but catapult it back to its worthy place at the global stage.

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