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A Month After The Uttarakhand Disaster, Exceptional Leadership Crisis Is A Bigger Problem

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By Anoop Nautiyal:

As Uttarakhand completes its first month after the recent disaster, it is amply clear that this is a huge moment of grave crisis for the state. This tragedy, the biggest ever to hit Uttarakhand, has brought into sharp focus the fierce debate around environment, development, governance, politics and disaster management. Untold and unimaginable damage has been done. Surging rivers and flash floods have brought death and destruction together. Glaring man made gaps and inefficiencies have been identified and highlighted. All of this has left the state, its people and the citizens of our country traumatized.

Uttarakhand floods

As the ones who have lost their loved ones try and desperately get their lives back on track and the others limp along, the question that still haunts many is – what next? With confidence in the political class at an all-time low, the rehabilitation hopes of the people of Uttarakhand are very low.  Though the Government has announced relief and compensation measures, this is clearly not enough to rebuild shattered lives and reestablish broken homes. Much more needs to be accomplished to get things done and to inspire hope for the future. This is where exceptional leadership comes in.

There are hundreds of leadership definitions. In this time of incomprehensible crisis the one that appeals the most to me are the famous words of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States of America “If your actions inspire others to do more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”. The level of leadership that Adams had in mind when he said these famous words is the only level of exceptional leadership that can take Uttarakhand ahead.  Politicians and bureaucrats can make plans and announcements but without exceptional leadership Uttarakhand would continue to lick its wounds and forever feel sorry for itself.

What is the starting point for this exceptional leadership? This has to be leadership that can act quickly and is able to create that sense of extreme urgency. This needs to be leadership that operates on strong principles of alliances and partnerships and is able to motivate various agencies and institutions to come forward and support with the rebuilding of the state. On a sensitive note, this has to be leadership that can deeply feel the pain of the people who have perished and others who have lost everything.  Is this level of exceptional leadership possible in today’s cut throat and highly competitive political environment in the state? The non- believer would obviously say no but in this hour of extraordinary gloom and misery it is only outstanding actions and exceptional leadership that can heal Uttarakhand and make it move ahead.

What should the leadership in Uttarakhand be doing right now? There are three things to focus on. Creating a vision, communicating that vision and executing the vision is what the leadership should concentrate on. Working on multiple fronts, the leader will have to inspire the millions of Uttarakhandis and the rest of the nation who are all looking up to him for creating a long term blue print for their future and destiny.  Integrity, competence and plain old hard work are just few of the components that are needed for exceptional leadership to have a long term impact on life and livelihoods in Uttarakhand.

Why is creating a vision necessary?  In the Cold War era of the 60s, the Americans were lagging behind the Soviets. John F. Kennedy, the then US President, needed a vision to inspire his country and said in the Congress “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” Critics called it fantasy while many others termed it pure lunacy. Kennedy’s dream was fulfilled when on July 20, 1969 the Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong stepped foot on moon and said “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

If the Americans could create this extraordinary vision more than 50 years ago, why can’t our leadership get inspired and create a vision for the rebuilding of Uttarakhand? The leadership needs to come out with a vision that is clear and articulate. It needs to be simple, inspirational and time bound. In the absence of a vision, as a state, Uttarakhand will once again fail and falter as it will operate on a day to day basis without any long term goal or plans.

Once the vision is clear it needs to be clearly communicated and understood. The fulfillment of the vision for Uttarakhand should get utmost priority over everything else that matters. This will require an iron will and the ability to take bold steps at every moment making steady progress towards achieving that vision. The people of Uttarakhand would need to have a deep faith in the vision and would have to truly own that vision. The ability to inspire others would only come with exceptional leadership.

How will the vision get fulfilled? This is where the ability to conceptualize, to create institutional frameworks and to deliver outcomes comes in. Creation and communication of the Uttarakhand vision needs to be backed up with execution and results on the ground. The bureaucratic machinery needs to be energized and organized. Deft political handling of opponents within and outside the party needs to be undertaken as a preventive measure. All of this would require exceptional leadership.

The cynic, as always, is bound to sneer and call the exceptional leadership dream for Uttarakhand equivalent to making castles in the air while the optimist agrees to move on the path towards a safer and new Uttarakhand.  But for her to feel optimistic, she would need the exceptional leader to hold her bruised hands and show her the path. Time alone will tell if Devbhoomi Uttarakhand, the mystical land of gods, legend and lore, was fortunate during its worst times to have had that exceptional leadership.


About the author: The writer is a Dehradun, Uttarakhand based social/political commentator and was the former COO of 108 government emergency services in Uttarakhand.

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  1. Amit Sharma

    Just want to add up here sir — Faced with bad news, many leaders cannot believe that things could really be so grim. Consequently, they try to convince the bearers of bad news that things aren’t so bad, and swift action can make problems go away. This causes leaders to undershoot the mark in terms of corrective actions. As a consequence, they wind up taking a series of steps, none of which is powerful enough to correct the downward spiral. It is far better for leaders to anticipate the worst and get out in front of it rather than doing things without logical thinking. Unfortunately…this is what is happening currently with our state !!

  2. Anoop Nautiyal

    Thanks a lot Amit for your thoughts and perspectives. I like the way you have summarized how the leaders are thinking and then acting based on those thoughts. It is precisely for reasons such as those outlined by you that we unfortunately continue to suffer as a state. Uttarakhand will only be able to maximize its position and potential with exceptional leadership, not with the ordinary leadership that we see all the time.

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