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Two ‘Wannabe’ Leaders And Why They Failed

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On August 28, a special CBI court sentenced Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh to 20 years in jail, convicting him in a 2002 rape case. But the situation had already been tensed as around two lakh Dera followers were in Panchkula, Haryana, not too far from the court premises.  This was ahead of any verdict, which they were expecting against the Dera chief.

So, what could have been the aftermath?

Not surprisingly, Dera followers engaged in a violent protest, resulting in at least 38 people getting killed and 260 injured.

Who is responsible for all this mayhem?

You could recount a number of responsible elements. But I would like to analyse it through the lens of public administration studies, specifically focusing on the leader and leadership.

Leadership theories not only deal with the definitions of the terminology but also ask ‘who is’ or ‘how to be’ an effective leader.

There are five types leadership theories — charismatic, trait, behavioural, situational and transformational. Each of these has its own role and meaning, and can only apply in accordance with the facts which are coherent to it.

Analyzing the recent event, we have here two ‘wannabe’ leaders, one is a spiritual leader (the Dera chief) and another is a public leader (Haryana’s Chief Minister). Both have their own respective responsibilities, duties and leadership styles.

Let us understand what kind of leaders they want to be and why, in my opinion, they have failed.

Gurmeet  Ram Rahim Singh

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Ram Rahim was a follower of DSS sect leader Shah Satnam Singh. When he announced his retirement in 1990, he appointed Ram Rahim as his successor, that is, chief of DSS. This acquired leadership by Ram Rahim places him in the ‘trait’ leadership theory.

According to this theory, nobody is born with leadership qualities but such skills can be acquired through learning. This theory also paves the way for a continuous supply of leaders in the form of successors who do not possess inborn qualities but have learned their skills over a period of time.

But in the case of Ram Rahim, this ‘trait’ leadership transformed into ‘charismatic’ leadership.

Basically, charismatic leaders are those born with the gift of charisma – they are attractive, have a confident personality and can inspire many people. But it is to be noted that this leadership style proposes that leaders aren’t made but are born with God-gifted qualities.

So, for Ram Rahim, ‘trait’ leadership helps to overcome the limitations of ‘charismatic’ leadership but also, for him, his acquired charismatic personality has become his source of power.

Sects like the DSS attract most of its followers from marginalised sections of people who have faced structural violence at all levels and who dream for egalitarian societies. So the more the number of followers they have, the more influential their powers gets, making it easy for them to create vote banks for political parties with whom they negotiate to gain access to political power.

Such sects also own acres of land, influence businesses, use the cover of social welfare programs and even resort to using nationalist jingoism.

Ram Rahim is convicted of rape, but let us not forget other pending cases like the murder of the journalist who helped expose him and the castration of many men.

He used all his power to divert, subdue and silence protesting voices.

He fails to follow his spiritual responsibility and duty (trait leadership). He is a prime example of a failed case of charismatic leadership, betraying his followers and using their beliefs and devotion to aggrandize himself.

Manohar Lal Khattar

Image Credit: Sanjeev Sharma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

In a hierarchical decision-making system, it depends on the senior leader as to how they support, coordinate and provide mobility to subordinates. This comes under the behavioural leadership theory.

According to this theory, the effectiveness of a leader depends on the behavioural pattern a leader has towards their followers or subordinates, that is, are they authoritarian or democratic?

But the most important point here is if subordinates or followers don’t approve of their leadership, then it is doomed to fail. I believe this has been the case for Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar.

The Prakash Singh committee’s report on the Jat reservation agitation, which was the first violent event that happened under Khattar, mentioned that excessive political control and authority hadn’t changed. It had continued from the previous government. The same status quo had been maintained. The state machinery mostly waited for command and instructions which resulted in an administrative lapse, even after having proper intel.

This, and the other two events (Rampal’s arrest and Panchkula violence) have made him unpopular among the public. Thus he fails as a leader according to behavioural leadership theory.

According to situational leadership theory, no leadership style is necessarily the best and a leader has to evolve according to the situation. It’s about the leader’s ability to handle, react and adapt emergent situations.

But the Haryana CM, in all three events, failed to act swiftly and was ineffective in controlling the situation despite having prior situational knowledge. The irony was that he was on Twitter asking the public to remain calm when internet access was blocked in Haryana. However, not surprisingly, he has admitted lapses in handling Panchkula’s riot.

This proves that he lacks leadership abilities and skills. This has been demonstrated thrice. He has become a failed public leader.


Transformational leadership theory is a synthesis of all the other four leadership theories. It argues that leaders are the ones who transform potential into reality; who are visionary, ready to grasp every possible opportunity; who lead by their own examples, think outside of the box; focus on doing the right things rather than doing things right.

They can inspire and learn and acquire new skills and ability. They are compassionate and democratic in nature and free thinkers. They react in a time-bound manner to situations and know what’s morally and constitutionally right.

In my opinion, becoming a leader is not a piece of cake. It will try to test you in every possible situation and show no mercy.

You can win or fail in the situation, it doesn’t matter; what matters is how much you have tried, and how you take the actions and set the examples.

May be the failure of these two ‘wannabe’ leaders will become learning lessons for many.

But everyone should remember this quote from retired US army general Casey, “Anyone can be a leader, and anyone can learn to be a better leader.” 

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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