Vallabhbhai Patel and M.K. Gandhi | Commons
Vallabhbhai Patel and M.K. Gandhi | Commons
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Outbreak of a dangerous disease like Covid-19 brings challenges as well as opportunities for political leadership.

It also distinguishes between two styles of leadership — one that believes in observing from a distance and the other, which believes in being physically present with the masses. The leadership style of leaders like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel when they wrestled with spread of the plague, however, was starkly different from the current crop of leaders who are battling coronavirus pandemic.

World leaders from Donald Trump to Justin Trudeau are monitoring the situation from a ‘safe distance’. Indian leaders, be it Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, are doing video conferencing to talk about the Covid-19 crisis which has claimed the lives of 939 Indians as of 28 April.


Also Read: When Delhi rioted, Sardar Patel busted fake news and wanted a Hindu newspaper banned


Gandhi — the caregiver

In 1904, when Gandhi was barely a community leader at Johannesburg, South Africa, he didn’t hesitate risking his life fighting against the spread of pneumonic plague among local Indians. He also inspired his four clerks (‘call them clerks, co-workers or sons’) for taking care of the patients. The risk was evident even then — a trained nurse got infected and lost her life.

While leading from the front, Gandhi co-operated with the local municipality. Yet, he didn’t spare municipality for its failure. He wrote a strong letter to the press ‘holding the municipality guilty of negligence…and responsible for the outbreak of plague itself’

(An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth, M.K. Gandhi, Navjivan Press, Ahmedabad, Second Edition, May 1940, p. 358).

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All the 23 patients and those who were nursing them, including Gandhi, were advised to take doses of brandy. But Gandhi didn’t believe in medical benefits of brandy and wanted to try out ‘earth’ treatment. Yet, instead of forcing his beliefs on the patients, he took the permission of the doctor in charge and consent of the patients. Three patients agreed and Gandhi ‘started applying wet earth bandages to their heads and chests.’ Of them, two survived.

(An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth, M.K. Gandhi, Navjivan Press, Ahmedabad, Second Edition, May 1940, p. 357).

Satyagraha was yet to be born. But for Gandhi, ‘the black plague enhanced my influence with the poor Indians and increased my business and my responsibility.’ He risked his life not for ambition, but out of a call for duty.

(An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth, M.K. Gandhi, Navjivan Press, Ahmedabad, Second Edition, May 1940, p.363).

He was a leader who didn’t ‘keep tab on the situation’ from safe distance or confine himself to delivering sermons from ivory tower, even when he enjoyed the status of a ‘Mahatma’ among masses. Selfless service was evident throughout his life, be it in treating a patient of leprosy —Parchure Shastri — or staying at plague-infected taluka of Borsad, Gujarat in 1935.


Also Read: Shaheen Bagh couldn’t get CAA revoked. But Gandhi’s satyagraha didn’t meet its goal either


Patel fought the plague

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was cast in the same mould of leadership. He always remained a servant of the people even after achieving fame as the ‘Sardar’. Seven years after Bardoli Satyagrah that catapulted him into national prominence, he was informed about the cases of plague in Borsad taluka of Gujarat. The disease started in 1932 and was spreading year after year. There were approximately 450 cases in 27 villages of Borsad taluka. Sardar Patel first sought advice from a doctor, Bhaskar Patel, and got a clear picture of the situation, difficulties therein, things that were required to be done scientifically and the available resources.

Then he camped at Borsad, the taluka place that used to be his home ground during his practice as a lawyer. A coat in a pandal under a tree became his office. He conducted and co-ordinated all efforts —recruiting volunteers, informing them about the risk involved, arranging hospital beds, conducting cleanliness drive in the affected villages, preparing pamphlets for the villagers etc.

At the time when not even the family members were ready to treat the plague patients, local leaders and volunteers followed the inspiring guidance of Sardar Patel, and won the battle against the plague.

Sardar visited all the affected villages personally. The volunteers learnt lessons of courage from Sardar and his associate Darbar Gopaldas —‘The Prince of Gujarat’.

(JeevanNaan Zaranaan, Ravjibhai Patel, Navjivan Prakashan Mandir, Ahmedabad, p.434).

Gandhi and Mahadev Desai also joined them at Borsad and stayed in a pandal under a mango tree, near Sardar’s pandal. They also visited all affected villages, met people door to door, checked their houses, gave suggestions for sanitation and helped Sardar in his effort.

(JeevanNaan Zaranaan, Ravjibhai Patel, Navjivan Prakashan Mandir, Ahmedabad, p.441-442)

But in the present scenario, even the health minister of the country, who is a doctor himself, is not on the ground. Instead, efforts are being made to consolidate the personality cult even more, and to create divide and settle political scores. Surveys that prove the popularity of the Prime Minister are released enthusiastically at such a difficult time.

Winning the trust of people shouldn’t mean delivering television monologues, without any accountability.

The author is a senior columnist and writer based in Ahmedabad. Views are personal.

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27 Comments Share Your Views

27 COMMENTS

  1. The article is timely. Because, evaluating the situation then and now we can certainly judge the leadership qualities then and now. The leadership means being present with the followers at the time of latter’s need. Gandhiji and Sardar were the leaders who never cared for politicl power, nor do they cared for their own lives when it came to the point of saving the lives of their followers. We do not have a single leader of that calibre now. Modi, Rahul or anyone else, they are all political in their attitude. Perhaps on the lower rung of doctors and nurses, as well as supporting staff at hospital or elsewhere, we have real leaders who have risked their lives. This top brass is really phoney.

    Having said this, we can realise that these are different time and circumstances when compared to the ones then. The spread of the disease is highly phenomenal. That does not permit the people to mingle with the sick even if the former want. However, they could assure the patients periodically by being with them physically taking all the precautions against contracting the virus. It is possible.

    As far as the time is concerned, the sacrifices of a person for others have lost meaning. Now a days sacrifice is perceived as weakness. It is not at all considered as a leadership quality.

  2. SHEKHAR GUPTA IF YOU HAVE THE GUTS AND THE SPINE THEN PUBLISH MY COMMENT. OTHERWISE I WILL SPAM YOU. PLEASE DON’T PROPAGATE A FALSE NARRATIVE. A LOT OF FINGERS CAN ALSO BE RAISED AT YOUR EDITOR, FOR WHAT HE HAS WRITTEN IN THE PAST IN SOME OTHER NEWSPAPERS, WITH HIS EYES WIDE OPEN. THANK GOD INDIA IS A VERY SOFT, RATHER SPINELESS STATE THAT SURRENDERS TO INIMICAL AND ANTI NATIONAL FORCES AT THE FIRST SIGN OF DANGER. PUBLISH MY COMMENT IF YOU DARE.

  3. Silly Article trying to make the citizenry think there is some sense of order in an abandoned ship called India. Judiciary is dead long ago, Demoocracy is dead way long ago, EC and sanskari people run things but not for long. A world government is coming and all those shysters calling themselves leaders will be no more. There is no government on the ground. The rag tag people in uniform is called the police, again a choice of people who know someone int he system and hence not capable of anything of substance.
    Rahul or Modi, democracy never existed. We were handed from one ruler to the next. And thuggery was the norm. If you cannot see things you are truly blind and then the world government will open your eyes soon.

  4. Rahul Gandhi is so much more charming and effective than the previous Gandhi. Rahul Gandhi is so much more loved than is Narendra Modi or Patel.. Congress ka neta kaisa ho? Rahul Gandhi jaisa ho.
    Please priase Rahul Gandhi. Please encourage Rahul Gandhi to do more in public, say more in public, come out more in public.
    That is the only way that Indians can ensure that Narendra Modi to wins the next electoin and Amit Shah becomes the next prime minister and India to be a great country to live in.

  5. PLEASE DON’T PROPAGATE A FALSE NARRATIVE. A LOT OF FINGERS CAN ALSO BE RAISED AT YOUR EDITOR, FOR WHAT HE HAS WRITTEN IN THE PAST IN SOME OTHER NEWSPAPERS, WITH HIS EYES WIDE OPEN. THANK GOD INDIA IS A VERY SOFT, RATHER SPINELESS STATE THAT SURRENDERS TO INIMICAL AND ANTI NATIONAL FORCES AT THE FIRST SIGN OF DANGER. PUBLISH MY COMMENT IF YOU DARE.

  6. Rahul Gandhi is showing a lot of guts and brains while Narendra ignores the nation and takes the opportunity to crackdown on dissent and communalise covid. Narendra can not be compared to either the Mahatma or the Sardar – he is too small a man and too toxic a leader.

    • Rahul is a Bacchu and noy comparable to state men like Modiji. So stop living in a dream Bacchu will never become our POM ever.

  7. This is such an irresponsible article. The message in these times should be step out if nessesary. Times were different then and access to facilities were remote and government was british. Unnecessary comparison has ruined your thinking. Rahul gandhi is doing his best when without reason anyone is being taken in custody and reporters also seem helpless as is judiciary. Still such ill thought advice??!.Reporters need to freshen up and help unite people against this self thumping and authoritarian government. But unfortunately they are losing track and also people’s trust

  8. So what the author is suggesting is that Mr Modi should break his own laws of quarantine and mix around indiscriminately. RG should roam around in the open and provide more ammunition to the govt, its partisan supporters and journalists like this one to write more false equivalence articles.
    Both have their own strengths and weaknesses – as did Mr MK Gandhi and Sardar Patel. Some people recognise it as such – most Indians are blind to it.

  9. I just hope ‘The Print’ reads comments section to this article and see the quality of thoughts of their writers

  10. “Winning the trust of people shouldn’t mean delivering television monologues, without any accountability.”. Great words..the leader considering his decades of political career never realise the importance of facing press. The nation meekly adores.

  11. One can smell these agenda driven articles from a distance. Accusing leaders not seen in the midst of the infected as not taking responsibility is a senile attempt at getting them infected. Had they risked getting infected, she would have been the first one to scream “what irresponsible behaviour”. And these are senior columnists.

  12. who is ignorant and has no confidence (RG) at the same time downplaying a leader who is confident, who has a strategy and above all has loads of experience in running Governments….

    Just asking.

  13. Are you comparing a politician who is ignorant and has no confidence (RG) with a leader (NAMO) who is confident, who has a strategy and above all has loads of experience in running Governments….
    Just asking

    • The author is not comparing RG wih NAMO. All he has written about RG is, “Indian leaders, be it Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, are doing video conferencing to talk about the Covid-19 crisis which has claimed the lives of 939 Indians as of 28 April”. Where is any comparision here?

  14. The nature of the two crisis are totally different from each other. Comparing them like this is not just irrational but also stupid and shows the author’s ignorance. Secondly, technology today is far more advanced. An author who is publishing his articles on a webpage should know better.

  15. Rahul Gandhi…. a “leader”?
    The guy is just a lucky idiot who won the genetic lottery. He has no education & zero achievements. Stop publishing these foolish vacuous articles and focus on important issues.

  16. Very Bad Idea , No comparison between Covid19 & Plague
    Dont write something just for the sake of filling space

  17. Please stop equating Shri Rahul Gandhi with Mr. Patel, Mr. Modi or the original MK Gandhi.
    Mr. R. Gandhi is a clown and an embarrassment to the Congress.

  18. There are different styles of leadership and what matters is results and consent of people being lead. Print team was on ground and ended up infected and maybe thereby imperiling others lives for ….what ..any breakthrough story ???

    A juvenile if not a delinquent piece of article or thinking.

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