Magnanimity and Leadership

I haven’t been able to live up to a few of my own magnanimous gestures at times. Having given myself more credit than I deserve, I have fought hard to live up to my promises; sometimes, to others, but often, to myself. I am just one person, responsible for my own actions, and the only one to bear the consequences.

Imagine Gandhi, Nehru, and others, who took a few such magnanimous decisions for 700 million Indians. Was Gandhi fair in asking the Indian Government to give Pakistan the money India technically owed them, so that they could fund their on-going proxy tribal war in Kashmir? Was he trying to be fair because India had to be fair to her neighbours? or was he exhibiting some personal gesture to himself? – that the people he leads are always fair to others. What statement was he trying to make?

Was Nehru fair in asking India to be secular? Did he (or they, the Congress) base the decision that allowed Indian Muslims to stay in India, on his own principles or on a more collective mindset of India? Pakistan was enforcing the Hindu exodus from its land and Nehru decided that India will accept them all, and there would be no corresponding enforcement from the Indian side. In a way, its like offering the other chin…..

Now, on the history per se, I have no strong opinion because I am not really privy to what exactly transpired then. The facts, the thoughts, the opinions; I have to read a lot more history before I am even close to giving my own opinion….But the point in question here is about whether leaders have the rights to be magnanimous, when all they are implicitly entrusted with is just the main cause. There are two “causes” here –

– The issue where magnanimity is being shown – India being secular (Nehru), Give Money (Gandhi)
– The issue on which leaders were made – Independent India (Nehru, Gandhi)

I might be mistaken here; these might not be two separate entities. Independent India might subsume Secular India or Internationally Fair India. But from first looks, it appears that some form of constitution had to be in place before the leaders took these decisions. But of course, I am grossly overlooking the urgency of the situation in 1947. The extreme nature of Partition might make these arguments on academic aspects of leadership look trivial; or to some extent, even offensive.

But in less extreme cases where leaders make choices for their “subjects,” do they have the right to be magnanimous on issues that are out of their leadership domain in a strict sense.

At a personal level, when individuals make commitments, stick to their signatures, their word, their promises, do they reckon with all the other agents who actually have to carry out their word? Agents like emotion, selfish instinct, reflex, malleable thought, maturity, micro-evolution, etc. Leadership at the micro level seems to be so hard……I wonder about Gandhi…

5 thoughts on “Magnanimity and Leadership

  1. Delighted to see you write after a long long time. Even more delighted at the profoundity of what you wrote.

    Leadership and magnanimity! Do leaders have the right to be magnanimous? If so, at whose cost? And who the beneficiary of this magnanimity is likely to be?

    The leader is taking a few responsibilities of the group of individuals he is leading. These are responsibilities that are mostly collective in nature, responsibbilities that can’t be discharged at an individual level. The group as a whole has to take action/make decision. But the group can’t function as a loosely coupled set of individuals. The easiest way to make a group decision is to delegate the decisiion making function to an individual or a small group of individuals with a view that they make decisions in the interest of the group that has vested power in them. The criteria for choosing the leader could be muscle power, money power, strength of intention, crowd pulling ability, intelligence, people skills or any combination of the above. In this process of delegation we are passing on collective rights as well as collective accountablity to the leader/representative. I call this ‘model of collective delegation’. The ‘right’ to make a decision is the freebie the leader gets for his capability/willingness to lead people and take blame for failure. The public, that is the people who vest powers with the representative find themselves a few of their rights being snatched. For example, I, as an individual might be interested in good roads. But if the leader I choose, feels that planing red and yellow flags on all roads is more important, I need to live with what he feels. But that’s the price to pay for leading a peaceful life not having to be answerable to others.

    In a way, the business of leadership, is like shareholder capitalism. The retail investor gets to invest in a corporation and make or lose money depending on how the corporation performs. The retail investor gets to bet on the business acumen of the corporation’s managers and workers and make money out of it. So, he can make money in business without having to have the skill in business. In addition, he alone is not likely to have enough capital to float a company. If he did, he would’ve put up his own company or would’ve simply lived happily ever after. So he gets to pool his money with others, form a big capital and cash in on the wealth generation capability of big capital. Statistics reveal that small money, left to itself, has very low wealth generating power. The retail investor also gets voting power to elect the board/CEO et al. But there are prices the retail investor has to pay. First, he has no control over what is money is spent on. If he is not happy with the way the managers of a company manage it, he is free not to invest. But he can’t dictate terms, even if he is an MBA from Harvard. If the managers of a company make bad decisions, he can make an effort to fire them through his vote or by taking his money out (if anything is left to be taken out in the first place). But he is absolutely in no position to take pre-emptive action. The same happened with Gandhi’s and Nehru’s decsions. Not just dethroning the CEO, Godse even succeeded in taking the CEO (Gandhi) out. But he couldn’t undo the damage he thought of Bapuji as having inflicted. I mean, he or anyone, including Nehru, didn’t have the power to take the money back from PAkistan, even fater having gotten a taste of Pakistan’s motives.

    The model of collective delegation throws up an interesting question. The rights part is OK. But, how do we ensure that the leader/representative really makes decisions in the true interest of the group? How do we make sure that in case there is a conflict of interest between the group and the leader, the former takes precedence? For example, I’ve heard of a rumor that Nehru had an affair with LAdy Mountbatten. LEt’s for a moment assume that the rumor is true. If Lord Mountbatten were smart/unscrupulous/patriotic enough, he could put Nehru in a situation where in Nehru would have to choose between his mistress and the freedom of his countrymen from foreign rule. If such a thing happened, how would we ensure that Nehru would put his country before his mistress? One way to solve this problem is to have in place, a reward/punishment system for the leader. Another way is to make sure that the leader is a man who is capable of his job and has put collective interest before self interest in the past. Past performance is no guarantee of future performance. But that’s true of all statistics. At the end of the day positive statistics is better than no statistics anyway.

    Let’s take a closer look at punishment reward system. It should be in such a way as to goad the leader to do good to the group in his own interest. Tying the monetary rewards of the leader to his performance is one way. But for this we need a way to measure public good. Moreover, we need a powerful way to discourage underperformnace/misperformance. Democratic elections are a brilliant way to solve this problem. First of all, it measures the performance of a leader/govt by the level of satisfaction the voter has got. This is by and far one of the most measurable ways. Secodly, democracy comes with the unveiled threat of losing power if a leader underperforms. However, this systems has its share of pitfalls too. First of all it works only if leaders are interested in retaining power. IT fails to work if leaders are cowboys looking make a fast buck and make a dash. Secondly, it works only when one leader/party of leaders is better than the other. Again this explains how Gandhi and Nehru could get away with the so called magnanimous decisions they made. Gandhi, presumably was not after money. But if he wanted a share of personal/historical glory as a poster boy of peace and harmony and were willing to put national security at risk, there was nothing anyone could do about it. Because he had statistically shown himself to be a good leader and the people had vested him with the power to make or break India. With Nehru it was that India didn’t have an alternative patry or prime ministerial candidate.

    Coming back to our original questions on magnanimity … Here are my views, which I’m afraid are heavily Randian and hence somewhat utopic.

    Magnanimity of a leader should ultimately benefit all, I mean all without a single exception and not just a majority, the people who made him leader. The maganimity can and will ofcourse benefit others.

    When there is a cost involved in the magnanimity, for the people who elected/crowned the leader, it should be made clear to them and their consent should be taken. Again, every individual who has a price to pay for the leader’s magnanimity, must ratify leader’s move. Again, a majority vote is not sufficient.

    Finally, whatever the ethical implications be, if we want a society/organization based on the idea of leadership we have to live with some amount of communism/dictoatorship/totalitarianism, no matter how angelic the leader is and how foolproof the system is. The bottomline is, if we elect a leader and the leader decides to rape us, we stand raped .

    With so much said, I feel I need to explain, I’m so hung up against the tyranny of majority. I’m an individualist. I believe that, in the end, gains and losses accrue to individuals and not groups. And no group has the moral right to take individuals for granted, however small their number may be with explicit consent. For example, let us say there is a federal case going on against Philip Morris and let us say Philip Morris has distributed a drug that could reverse the cancerous effects of Tobacco. LEt us also say that This drug is ineffective on the il effects of tobacco on the reproductive system of people. Let us finally assume that most of the damages of tobacco are associated with cancer and very few with impotency/infertility. If the majority cancer victims made good use of the anti cancer drug and decided to let Philip Morris go scot free, should the same decision be forced on the impotency infertility victims too, for whom Philip Morris has done nothing? Do tell me how logical it is. That’s the reason I’m so terribly against the tyranny of MAjority.

  2. A very good blog and an equally amazing comment! When I read the blog, I really liked the way you compared decision making for a group versus an individual. and When I read the comment, I was totally bowled by the way so many issues were raked up: collective delegation, shareholder capitalism, democracy, tyranny of majority, .. a range of topics yet nothing out of context..

  3. In the particular case u have mentioned, the leaders were overreaching their mandate in being magnanimous. But then again, the diversity might be a blessing for India. If we learn to use it to our advantage. Advantage relative to single-culture countries. Coz I believe the world is getting into an inclusive mode finally. It has to, with the ecological disaster staring every1 in their faces.

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