Borhras and reform
Dawoodi Bohras - Borhras and reform

A new brand of leadership

If you ask a common man on the street the meaning of the word leader or "netaji", he will either laugh at you or take serious offence to your question. Day in day out he is confronted with this strange species among humans.

If you are a common man, again, you may object to a leader being called human and if you are a neta ( it sounds better) you would complain of being equated with a common man. Both are right because a human being is related to humanity while a "neta" is related to "netagiri" and both have practically nothing in common. To be a neta is not everyone's cup of tea. If your voice is heard in the house you are the "neta" of the family. Outside, if your voice is heard in the locality you are the "neta" of the locality and likewise the more you are heard the bigger the "neta" you are. For a common man it does not matter who is the "neta" and from where. If a favor is done to him he will salute the "netaji" with folded hands and if not he will give some choicest abuses and get on with his work. That in short is the image of a leader in our country.

We, the Dawoodi Bohras are also Indians but a little different in this respect. We knew very little about netas and netagiri until about three decades ago. We were accustomed to autocratic rule and hero worship in varying degrees of severity, which increased manifold as time passed by. Ours was a simple ritual of paying "salam" to the Mullah to get the job done. In Udaipur, about three decades ago, we found a new identity for us. We came to be known as reformists. Our battle was for freedom from the ugly clutches of "Kothar" and in victory we were rewarded with democratic governance of the affairs of the community. Democratic governance is of the people, for the people and by the people. The last of these people are the leaders or the netas. Here we were initially taken by surprise. Perhaps we were not prepared for this situation to arise. Law of nature took charge and those in the forefront of our battle became the netas. The initial situation was so volatile that anyone and everyone who contributed, attended meetings or said a few words on the microphone was accepted as leader.

As time passed and the situation on the reformist front stabilized, the process of sieving also started within this group of netas. The vociferous among the group survived while others lost steam or backed out for various reasons and we came to a situation where we accepted only one "neta" and almost hero worshipped him. This gentleman was a born leader, no doubt about that. He had this naïve and simple community of reformist Bohras of Udaipur rallying behind him. While he was surrounded by other leaders as supporting actors his word was final in all matters. We all paid the price for this unflinching faith in one person. That is history and, on a positive note, we survived. It was indeed a miracle that we survived and if anyone deserves the credit for this survival it is the community as a whole and not the leaders alone.

Our movement is now 30 years plus and mature. For the past three decades and more of our existence all our energies were directed towards consolidation and that was essential. The last betrayal, in Udaipur, by about a few scores of our people was the final phase of our consolidation process. I would prefer to call it a cleansing process. We are now clean and compact. At the same time. perhaps, we have failed to learn lessons from our past experiences. During the past three decades the scene of governance has changed multi fold all over. On the national front the dhoti clad "netas" of yesteryears have, to a large extent, given way to Harvard and Oxford educated leaders in their suave and smart suits. The thinking process in leadership has also changed likewise. In our case, however, nothing seems to have changed. We are now like a rudder less boat. Our leaders still like to live in our past glory and recite at every opportune moment the sacrifices made by them for the movement. Beyond this, the movement is practically at a stand still.

The only silver lining here is some fragmented approach towards progress made by some of our younger generation who are working for some social cause through satellite institutions affiliated to our movement. The credit for their hard work is also partly hijacked by our leaders. While these young leaders have the energy and the will to do some good for the community, they lack direction for an integrated approach towards development which should come from the central leadership. As a result each of these satellite institutions are practically running their own fiefdom with little or no control on their activities and no accountability whatsoever. In short the reformist movement is like a confederation of a few autonomous bodies without a federal control and this has resulted in a substantial loss of credibility.

So what is ailing the movement and who is to take the blame? For the first part of our question, the only thing that is coming in between us and our progress is the lack of good leadership. In this era of 21st century we need leaders with knowledge and vision, leaders with personal charisma and leaders with compassion and spirit of service. We do not need politicians and neither do we need leaders who expect remuneration for their service in one form or other. For the second part of the question, it is we who are to blame. We do go through the democratic process of electing our leaders. The process of election is flawless but the choice of candidates is not. We have never bothered to check on the credibility, the qualifications or the past performance before choosing our leaders. We just go through the motion of voting and in some cases not even that. We are paying and will continue to pay for our lethargy. As they say "As you sow so you reap".

It is always easy to criticize and find faults with the system. So the next point is where lies the remedy? If I may, I would like to put forth my two penny worth of suggestions as follows:-

  1. In our predominantly trading community, there has been a tradition of the father grooming his son in taking over the business of the family. As the son comes of age, the father takes the back seat in the shop and allows the son to run the business. At the same time he keeps a discreet eye on the way his son handles the business. The business gets a boost from the youthful energy of the son and the experience of the father. The same, if, applied to the affairs of our community will do wonders for the community. The youth here is denoted by people in the age group of 55 to 60 years who have just taken retirement. Those younger than this age group are busy with their own careers and cannot devote full time to community service. So let the fathers in the community take a back seat and share their wisdom and experience with the younger generation.
  2. Strengthen the institution of democracy by bringing in some capable people with vision and administrative experience. Let us stop this lifetime leadership syndrome and opt for change. There are many such people in the community who can manage the affairs of the community better. They are achievers who do not long for status and recognition anymore since they have seen all that in their career. The reason these people are not coming forward is because they are not politicians. It is for us, the people, to request them to come forward and do their bit for the community.
  3. Reorganize our institutions, at the local jamaat level, to bring them under one umbrella without taking away their autonomy. The singular aim here is to bring in synergy.
  4. Redefine our Democracy as the Government of the community, for the community, by the community. Let us begin with charity at home and then take over others' causes.

As they say "Better late than never". It is time to consolidate our gains and move on in a positive direction from here before it is too late and the movement dies its natural death. I am indeed harsh and it pains my heart when I say these words because I am a die hard reformist. We have no option but to face reality and lets face reality. Let us for once forget our personal gains and do some good for this wonderful community of reformists even if it means taking a back seat and allowing others to come forward and do their bit. A prudent mix of the old guard and a new brand of leaders is the need of the hour. I take this opportunity to call upon all those who have done their bit for the Government and the corporate sector to come forward and do their bit for this wonderful community of ours. Let us manage our community as a corporate entity and build a bright future for us.

"Khudi ko kar buland itna ki har taqdeer se pahle
Khuda bande se khud poochhe bata teri raza kya hai"