Leaders are not born, they are made (or destroyed) in turbulent times like these. The Covid-19 crisis has laid bare leadership in each country, sealing the fate of its people as an invisible enemy wreaks havoc. The world watched in awe as an omnipotent Chinese President Xi Jinping built hospitals overnight, while simultaneously being accused of concealing the outbreak. Confinement in China was, predictably, a cakewalk but we know the price that level of efficiency comes at, and most of us would rather not live with ‘Big Brother’.
But there is a clear winner for the place where people would (if they could) choose to wait out the virus – Singapore. With WHO calling the Singaporean response to Coronavirus the gold standard, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is the leader of the moment. “What makes Singapore different,” he says, “is we don’t leave anyone behind”.
Normally (although there is nothing normal about this situation), during a global crisis, the world has looked for American leadership. As PM Loong put it himself, “They have the resources, the science, the influence and the track record of dealing with these problems convincingly and successfully, and in the greater good of many countries, not just the US. It is a pity not to put those resources to work now, to deal with this very grave challenge to mankind.”
The Trump administration, however, has other things on its mind – like TV ratings for his Corona briefings and accusing hospitals (the frontline keeping him and his people safe) of stealing and hiding tests and PPE.
High on my gratitude list is that I’m not being led by a man who has no desire to lead only to ‘triumph’. Perhaps the local war jingoism has taken hold of me, but I’m grateful to be in France (unless Singapore is offering). President Macron, who channelled his inner Napoleon to assume the sober and strong role of a War President from the get-go, is having a popularity resurgence similar to when he first came to power. In his last address, he seemed well aware of the feeling of solidarity he was inspiring in a country that has spent the better part of the last year striking and revolting against his government. He has achieved this by cushioning the blow of a very stringent confinement with financial promises of protecting businesses and individuals “no matter what it costs”.
It’s the first rule of parenting – if you want your child to obey an unpopular rule, you have to have an equally popular reward. The other secret parents are privy to is that children respect and thrive under clear, simple authority and structure, but they have an uncanny instinct for what is just. Heaven help you if you dither, or don’t follow through – for if these clever little creatures spot the smallest chink in your armour, they will run amok. Macron (playing the father of a nation under siege) has managed to win over a habitually petulant population with his tenacity and apparent attention to details. We’ve all been informed about what we can (not much) and can’t do. The homeless have been sheltered in vacant hotel rooms and empty public halls; for reasons of shared humanity, this makes us sleep a little easier.
Although I live in Paris, my heart beats for India and those images of migrants (whose only fault is trying to get home) being sprayed, beaten and locked up like cattle (in the time of social distancing) take away my sleep. Prime Minister Narendra Modi would’ve been hailed as a heroic leader for bold early action, but the devil is in the details and he missed tens of millions of them. People that even in the best of times we render invisible and in the worst of time treat, well, not like people. What’s more distressing is that we have elected leader after leader that has forgotten them, taking away their will to resist and leaving them with a superhuman capacity to endure. Can you imagine yourself not screaming and putting up a fight when you know you’ve done nothing wrong? But you and I have the privilege of not being unvalued people.
Here’s the silver lining about being a parent – there is always tomorrow to make amends. My hope is that the crisis of today teaches the leaders of tomorrow to make those amends. Macron has promised to review and completely reform healthcare once we are through to the other side. Long overdue, the world over. In India, the expenditure on defence is five times more than that on health and family welfare. The world has enough weapons to destroy the planet, but the greatest war our generation is currently fighting requires medics, scientists and epidemiologists, which, the whole world put together, doesn’t have enough of. The leaders of the world must know that we cannot substitute bombs and bunkers for ventilators and hospitals.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)