Wielding the Organ of Power: Dimensions of Political Leadership– M.S. Srinivasan

(Published in VILAKSHAN, journal of the Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar)


A surprising fact of modern society in that while some standards of qualification, experience, skill, ability and the requisite aptitude are insisted upon for leadership position in business, industry, commerce, education and other fields, no such standards exists in politics.   We frequently bemoan the poor quality of our political leaders. How can there be sound politics when the products of pure mass popularity become politicians and ministers?   The simple fact that a leader should have the right temperament and the intellectual and moral ability to provide high quality leadership is simply ignored in modern politics. This brings us to the question what are the qualities, values and capabilities of a political leader who can uplift a nation and bring wellbeing and fulfillment to people? This article explores this question in the light of a deeper spiritual perspective.


The importance of effective leadership is now recognised all over the world. In modern management, leadership is a subject of extensive study and research by business thinkers and management scholars. However most of the managerial literature is on corporate leadership. Many of the concepts, insights and conclusions of these studies on corporate leadership are equally valid for political leadership. Nevertheless, we also need similar studies with a special focus on political leadership. This article presents a brief review of some of the important aspects of political leadership in the light of Indian spiritual perspectives.

Key perspectives

Forms of power; political challenge; visionary patriotism; inspirational stewardship; kindling hope; pragmatic idealism; dharmic strength; global perspective; ideal of power.

The Forms of Power

If business can be regarded as the organ of wealth of a society then polity may be viewed as the organ of power. Oxford dictionary defines the concept of power as the “ability to influence people or events,” “right or authority to do something,” “political authority or control.” However, in an increasingly democratizing society we have to progress beyond authority and control to a more refined conceptions of power.   We will come to this subject a little later. We may begin our discussion with a commonly accepted conception of power as the ability to influence people or event.

We may classify power into four categories: political, economic, social and psychological. Political power comes from position, authority and hierarchy. For example a Prime Minister or President of a Nation or the CEO of a multinational company has a certain political power which comes from her position or authority. Wealth is the source of economic power. This doesn’t need any elaboration or example because the power of money is wellknown. The social power comes from possessing knowledge, skill, expertise or qualities valued or respected by the community, especially a particular community, nation or culture of which the individual is a part. For example, in ancient India, the Brahmin had not much of political or economic power but has considerable social power. The fourth and the highest form of power is the moral, psychological and spiritual power or inner power, which comes from power of thought,¾which means the ability to think with clarify, insight and vision¾ communication skills, strength of character, self-mastery, lived values or walking the talk and spiritual growth.

The Political Challenge

The great challenge facing modern governance is to ensure that political power goes to people with sufficient and matching psychological, spiritual and moral power. In ancient India political power was vested mostly with the royal and warrior clans of Kshathria’s, bequeathed by birth and hereditary. But most of the leaders of the Kshathria clan, like for example the crown prince, were put through a rigorous physical, mental, moral and religious education based on the ideal of dharma. This education and training has to a certain extent helped in building the required inner power in the political leader. But in modern democratic polity, which elects the political leaders by vote, there are no such mental or moral educations or standards for the leaders. As a result the political organ has become the “last resort of the scoundrel” or the most mediocre in terms of inner power.

How to rectify this situation? The first step is to educate the citizen and the voter on the ideals of true leadership and on the type of leaders which can bring the highest wellbeing to people and society. In this task, the modern mass-media with its extensive reach can be a great help in educating the public on how to choose the right type of leaders. The second step is to maintain certain basic mental and moral standards for contesting the election like for example some minimum educational qualification or no criminal record. The third step is to educate the elected leaders on the ideals of leadership and governance and how to develop the psychological, moral and spiritual power needed to lead and govern in the right way. For example in most of the big and progressive companies in the corporate world, managers and executives go through regular training and development programmes for upgrading their knowledge and skill and some of them make a conscious, systematic and planned effort to educate and groom their future leaders. A similar effort has to be made in the political domain.

The fourth step is to promote creative thinking and research in political thought, governance and leadership. Here again the modern political world can learn much from the corporate world. Modern business has given birth to the science of management which is a rigorous and innovative academic and professional discipline which nourishes theoretical and practical research on the various aspects of corporate management, governance and leadership.   A similar attempt has to be made in the political domain. The first step in this task is to understand with clarity what are the values or qualities which can build the moral, psychological and spiritual power in a leader of the political organ. There are six qualities which are necessary for building effective political leadership with the inner power. The rest of this article discusses this qualities interms of following categories:

  1. Visionary Patriotism
  2. Inspirational Stewardship
  3. Kindling Hope
  4. Pragmatic Idealism
  5. Dharmic Strength
  6. Global Perspective

The Visionary Patriotism

The political leader has to be a patriot. She must have a deep love for the Nation she is leading. But it must be an enlightened patriotism based on a deep insight into the inner being or the mind and soul of a Nation. She must have a clear understanding of the unique genius and mission of the Nation in fulfilling the evolutionary destiny of humanity. And in our globalizing world, this patriotism cannot be something narrow and local, focused exclusively on the glorification of the nation, it must be a global patriotism based on universal humanism. This term “global patriotism” may appear as contradictory or an oxymoron. But in a deeper perspective globalism and nationalism or patriotism are not contradictory.

We can better understand this synthesis between nationalism and globalism by viewing national development in the light of individual development. An individual must first discover herself and realise his deepest and true self and his highest potential. Only such an individual who has found her true self and highest potential can make her best and most effective contribution to the society. Similarly a nation should also realise her deepest and true self, her unique genius and her highest potential. This national self-discovery must be the highest aim of patriotism or nationalism. The key to this self-discovery lies in the Nation’s Culture which is the outer expression of the inner self of a Nation.

One of the main dharmas of a top political leader of a Nation is to promote this national discovery through cultural awakening. She must evolve a culture-specific development strategy which leads to conscious self-expression of the higher self of the nation and its unique genius in every activity of the national life. But as we have said earlier, the purpose of this national self-discovery is not for the self-glorification of the nation but for making her into a powerful creative force for the evolution and progress of humanity as a whole:

To do this, the nation should not remain closed within itself cut off from the rest of humanity. She must interact creatively with other nations. She must freely give her ideas, capabilities or resources to other nations which are in need of such inputs for their healthy growth. At the same time she must also receive the influences and helpful inputs from other nations and assimilate them with her own unique cultural ethos. As Sri Aurobindo sums up this vision of national development:

“Thus the law for the individual is to perfect his individuality by free development from within, but to respect and to aid and be aided by the same free development in others. His law is to harmonise his life with the life of the social aggregate and to pour himself out as a force for growth and perfection on humanity. The law for the community or nation is equally to perfect its corporate existence by a free development from within, aiding and taking full advantage of that of the individual, but to respect and to aid and be aided by the same free development of other communities and nations. Its law is to harmonise its life with that of the human aggregate and to pour itself out as a force for growth and perfection on humanity. The law for humanity is to pursue its upward evolution towards the finding and expression of the Divine in the type of mankind, taking full advantage of the free development and gains of all individuals and nations and groupings of men, to work towards the day when mankind may be really and not only ideally one divine family, but even then, when it has succeeded in unifying itself, to respect, aid and be aided by the free growth and activity of its individuals and constituent aggregates.” (Sri Aurobindo, 1972)

The political leader of the future must have this integral and global vision of individual and national development and must be able to provide a strategic thrust to the national evolution based on this vision. This requires a clear perception of the past heritage, present actualities and future possibilities of the Nation. The leader of the nation must have an intuitive understanding of the following questions:

  1. How much of the national genius is realised or manifest in the past? How much of it is lost in the present and therefore has to be recovered.
  2. What are the major external influences from other nations and cultures? Which of them are harmful to the national swadharma and how to deal with it? What are the helpful and beneficial influences which are to be absorbed and assimilated into our national ethos?
  3. What are the main evolutionary and progressive forces in the world-environment interms of new ideas, values, ideals or capabilities which need to be assimilated by the nation?
  4. What is the next step in human evolution and what is the unique and specific contribution of our nation to this future evolution?

The other important task of political leadership of a nation is to maintain good and mutually beneficial relationship with other nations, especially with neighbours and those nations which are part of the same continental or civilizational or cultural clusters. For example, India, Pakistan, SriLanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Burma and Afghanistan belong to the same civilizational and cultural cluster. The political leadership of nations which belong to the same cultural clusters must work together to arrive at some form of a cultural and political unity among their nations. Similarly, nations which belong to the same continental clusters¾like for example Association of South East Asian Nation, ASEAN¾must strive for harmonious mutuality and cooperation. But the relations between nations can also progress beyond linking mutual self-interest towards mutual giving or sharing. Nations acquire positive karma by giving or sharing their knowledge, ideas, wealth or culture with other nations which are less advanced or poor in any of these domains. Similarly, providing an open moral or political support to a just or legitimate cause or struggle against oppression, domination, exploitation, helps in forging positive karma.

Here comes the importance of historical insight for effective political leadership. The concept of vision is normally associated with the future. In modern management and in the corporate world, there is a dominant emphasis on understanding the future possibilities as the basis of vision. This stress on the future, especially on the future evolution of humanity, is of paramount importance for effective leadership, corporate or political. But in politics, vision has to be rooted in history and culture of the nation. Most of the great and successful political leaders had such a historical insight or perspective and a vision based on history. For example, Napoleon was reported to have said, “History is the only philosophy.” The political vision has to be based on an insightful understanding of the civilizational and cultural roots of a nation, forward integrated into the future. Thus, rooted in the past doesn’t mean going back to the obsolete ideals of the past but to use the past as a spring board for leaping into the unmanifest and unrealized possibilities of the future. This is now beginning to be recognised in the corporate world. In an article in Harvard Business Review, business historians John T. Seaman Jr. and George D. Smith, state: “leaders with no patience for history are missing a vital truth: A sophisticated understanding of the past is one of the most powerful tools we have for shaping the future.” (Seaman J.T, Smith G. D, 2012)

The Inspirational Stewardship

There is at present a growing agreement among management gurus and corporate leaders that transformational change requires two things: first a shared vision and values that transcends the mundane and self-centered aims; second, leaders who walk the talk, which means live the values which they preach. A pioneering work on this kind of higher leadership is the well-known studies on “Transformational Leadership” by James McGregor Burns. In his Pulitzer Prize Winning book “Leadership” Burns identified two basic types of leaders: transactional and transformational. He describes the transactional leader as behaving essentially in an “exchange” mode; for example, jobs are exchanged for votes, or reward is exchanged for effort. The transformational leader, in contrast “recognizes an existing need or demand of a potential follower—beyond that looks for potential motives in followers, seek to satisfy higher needs and engages the full person of the followers”. The result of transforming leadership is “a relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents.” (Burns, J.M, 1983) More recently, British management thinker, Charles Hardy said, “The great and satisfying thing in life, I think, is a sense of purpose beyond oneself. It is the organization’s responsibility to provide such a purpose, if you want to retain good people.” (Hardy, C, 1998)

These are universal principle of higher motivation which applies equally to corporate as well as political leadership. However political leader has to apply this higher motivation to the entire nation. The traditional western motivation model is based mainly on the vital motives like power, achievement and self-actualization. This can release a lot of vital energy into the community which is essential for sustaining the vital vigour of the collectivity. So these vital motives should not be suppressed, killed or condemned but they have to be subordinated to higher moral and spiritual motives and values.

The natures of these values are more or less well-known to the higher mind of humanity.   They are some of the highest aspirations of human beings. These higher values may be put into two categories. The first set of values are predominantly individual but with a collective dimension. They have to be first internalized in the consciousness of the individual leader. In the following passage, Sri Aurobindo forcefully describes these values of the higher mind:

“The innate demand of the mental being is for mental experience— the demand of the intellect for truth and knowledge, the demand of the ethical mind for right and good, the demand of the aesthetic mind for beauty and delight of beauty, the demand of the emotional mind for love and the joy of relation with our fellow-beings, the demand of the will for self-mastery and mastery of things and the world.” (Sri Aurobindo, 1972)

Let us briefly examine some of these values in the context of political leadership. For the political leader, the most important is the ideal of self-mastery, which is a value of the faculty of will. Someone who has achieved mastery over the energies within her acquires the capacity for a similar mastery over the energies around her. The self-mastering leader radiates a subtle psychological power which commands respect, loyalty and obedience from others. However, as we have said earlier, power, psychological or secular, has to be governed and enlightened by truth and knowledge and values. The other crucial value is the demand of the ethical being for goodness and the highest goodness is to work for the long-term well being of people or in other words for “Gross National Happiness.” The third value is the demand of the heart for love and for the leader, it must be compassion. Human wellbeing cannot be created by cold hearted and ruthless leaders. Leaders must be kind and compassionate.

The other set of values are the great ideals discovered by eighteenth century French thinkers: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity and the more recent ideal of Progress. These ideals are more related to the collective life and the nature of the external environment. However, the most effective method for implementing these ideals is to first internalize them in the consciousness of people and allow them to express freely and spontaneously in the   outer organisation and life. The deeper and inner significance of these values have to be discovered by deep meditation. For example, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity are in their inner essence not political or social values but spiritual ideals. In the Indian spiritual thought they are the inherent qualities of the spiritual self in human beings. This deeper spiritual self in us is inherently free from ego and desire which is the source of all other bondage; it is equal in all and feels a sense of spiritual equality with all human being irrespective of their external nature interms of capabilities, social status, gender, race or other identities; it feels all other human beings and the entire creation as a part of its own self in an inner spiritual fraternity. Similarly with progress. We must include outer as well inner progress. The outer progress in the economic, social or political life can be safe and stable only if it is a creative expression of the inner progress in the psychological, moral and spiritual dimension.

This spiritual dimension of liberty, equality and fraternity can be realised perfectly only in the spiritual consciousness of our soul. However a partial inner realisation of this triples values at the psychological level, in our mind and heart, is possible through appropriate educational methodologies. At this psychological level, liberty means certain amount of inner freedom from selfishness, greed and attachment to things or fixed ideas, one-sided dogmas, preconceived notions or forms of the past. In the outer life this inner liberty should manifest itself as “empowerment” which means freedom of thought, speech and action, culminating in self-government. Similarly Equality at the psychological level means a concrete inner sense of the equal dignity of and respect for the human essence of all individuals irrespective of the external variation or inequality in social status or identity. In the outer life, this inner equality must express itself as distributive justice which means equitable sharing of wealth, power, knowledge and culture among people. And, finally a concrete sense of inner solidarity or psychological fraternity in the minds and hearts of people expressing itself outwardly interms of social or communal harmony and peace.

The next practical question is how to implement these values in the individuals and the collectivity on a national scale, especially interms of leadership tasks? Left to itself the average mind tends towards inertia and stagnation. To neutralize this downward gravitation and raise the average mentality to a higher level of motivation, a much greater mental, moral or spiritual force, stronger than the entropic downward gravity of tamas has to be released into the consciousness and life of the individual and collectivity. The pressure of these higher forces has to be constantly applied on the human mass. This pressure has to be both internal as well external. At the internal level, the main forces of transformation are education, culture, creative thought, media and the living example of leaders who walk the talk. The first factor is a system of education with an emphasis on the mental, moral and spiritual development of the individual or in other words the higher evolution of the human being. The second task is to saturate the mental atmosphere with idea-forces and images which can trigger this higher evolution, through scholarship, research, creative thinking, art, literature, symbols, mass-media. The third factor is leaders and mentors who are consciously pursuing this higher evolution and communicating it through their thought, speech, action and living example. According to leadership consultant, Dr. Joseph Boyott, who has done extensive research on the concept of transformational leadership, such leaders who awaken the higher motives in their followers, “make sacrifices for the benefit of the group, remain calm in crises, display competence and set a personal example for others to follow.” The follower tends to describe such leaders in the following manner:

I have complete faith in him/her.

He is a model for me to follow.

I’m proud of him/her.

He/she goes beyond self-interest.

He/she has my respect.

He/she displays power and confidence.

He/she talks about values.

He/she models ethical standards.

He/she considers the moral/ethical consequences of his/her actions.

He/she talks to us about his/her most important values and beliefs.

He/she emphasizes the importance of being committed to our beliefs.

He/she displays conviction in his/her ideals, beliefs, and values.

He/she clarifies the central purpose underlying our actions.

He/she talks about how trusting each other can help us to overcome our difficulties.

He/she emphasizes the importance of having a collective sense of mission.

He/she takes a stand on difficult issues.

He/she behaves in ways that are consistent with his/her expressed values. (Boyett, J.H 2007)

We have discussed so far the factors related to inner transformation of the leaders and inspiration of the followers. But what needs to be done in the external life? An environment which actively and consciously encourages this higher evolution in dharmic values and conversely discourages all violation of dharma. The political leadership of a Nation has to evolve a comprehensive strategy on how to build these internal and external factors into every activity of national life.

Kindling Hope

Inspirational and lived values are only one aspect of transformational leadership. The other aspect is a shared purpose based on a vision of the future. The leader must provide an image of future hope or a great task to be accomplished together which brings glory to the nation. In any great and difficult mission, especially in the work of moral and spiritual evolution of the community, the power of faith and hope provided by a clear, luminous and promising vision of the future is a great and uplifting motivational force.   The too pragmatic modern mind tends to dismiss such a vision as “Utopia”. But this is precisely one of the cardinal defects of the modern scientific-pragmatic culture. By its too heavy insistence on immediate utilitarian motives, it has crippled the capacity for the human mind for faith and hope and creative imagination. But what else is human progress than the progressive realisation of the Utopias of its creative and visionary dreamers?

According to Dutch Futurist, Fred Polak, our image of the future world plays a crucial part in shaping society.   Polak argues that in every instance of a flowering culture there has been a positive image of the future at work. As an example, he noted the way in which the Jewish people have remained spiritually intact over centuries of adversity. Israel’s power, he suggested, rested in her living image of the future. The power of the prophets and the revolutionaries came from a burning expectation of the future. When the opposite happened, when the images of the future were weak, the culture decayed-as was the case with the fall of Roman Empire. Polak states that the potential strength of the society was reflected in the intensity and energy of its images of the future. These images acted as a barometer, indicating the potential rise or fall of a culture. He concludes “bold visionary thinking is in itself prerequisite for effective social change.” (Polak, F, 1973)

The Pragmatic Idealism

Idealism is essential for transforming political life. But a political leader cannot be entirely or even predominantly an idealist. She must be mainly a being of action. Once the ideals are fixed the main stress of the political leader has to be towards pragmatic action, implementation and realization. This requires a clear understanding of two factors: first, the present facts or condition of the nation; second, how much of the ideal can be realised at present and how much of it has to be postponed for the future. This doesn’t mean compromising on the ideal but a temporary postponement of the full realisation of the ideal.

We must keep in mind that for an effective and authentic realisation of the ideal there must be a match between the ideal and the capacity to live it in action. If we try to impose a high moral or spiritual ideal on a community which is unprepared for the ideal, it only leads to dilution and falsification of the idea. The pragmatic idealist understands this fact of life. She is firm in her vision and conviction to get the full realisation of the ideal in the future. But she is willing to accept a partial realisation of the ideal in the present if nothing better is possible now and does whatever that is needed to progressively prepare the community for a full realization of the ideal in the future.

A very good example of such pragmatic idealism is Sri Aurobindo’s proposal to accept the Cripp’s mission (1942) for the liberation of India. Sri Aurobindo was a revolutionary freedom fighter in India’s struggle for freedom from the colonial rule. He was a fierce champion of uncompromising and total freedom for India. But when Stafford Cripps proposed a dominion status for India as a temporary stage towards “earliest possible realisation of self-government in India” and “lay down in precise and clear term the steps” towards this eventual full freedom, Sri Aurobindo immediately accepted the proposal. He wrote to Cripps: “I welcome it as an opportunity given to India to determine for herself and organise in all liberty of choice her freedom and unity and take an effective place among the worlds free nations. I hope that it will be accepted and the right use made of it putting aside all discords and divisions. I hope too that a friendly relation between Britain and India replacing past struggles will be a step towards a greater world-union in which as a free nation her spiritual force will contribute to build for mankind a better and happier life. In this light I offer my public adhesion in case it can be of any help in your work.” Sri Aurobindo felt that Cripps proposal provided sufficient scope and opportunity for the “congress and Muslim to understand each other and pull together for country’s good.” Sri Aurobindo sent one of his emissaries to Indian leaders with a personal request to accept the Cripps proposal. But unfortunately, Indian leaders rejected the Cripps proposal and Sri Aurobindo’s wise council. (Nirodbaran, 1988) And the result was the political division of two parts of a Nation, which are historically and culturally a single whole. This artificial partition was accompanied by a massive and unprecedented violence and bloodletting. Later, it has become a fostering sore in the body-politic of both the nations and a breeding ground for constant wars and terrorist violence.

Some of the recent events in the political arena bring a few more lessons on pragmatic idealism. National idealism should not become a source of conflict with other nations or arouse animosity of others, especially the neighbours or powerful nations. National honor and patriotism are great political ideals. But for a small or weak nation, aggressive and exclusive assertion of these ideals may ultimately lead to loss of national sovereignty. When anti-american sentiments were raging in Pakistan, its former President General Mushraf, told his people: “This is not good. Do you want your country to become another Iraq?”

This brings us to another example of pragmatic idealism: the government of Singapore and its former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who has built Singapore into one of the most prosperous nations of the world and a role model of good governance. Singapore maintains good relationship with all its neighbors; it has a very harmonious, mutually beneficial relation with the two powerful nations, US and China, giving them the status of most favoured nations in trade. Lee once said in an interview, “We cannot afford to antagonize China and US. We cannot survive if we go against them.”  Lee described his ideal of government in the following words:

(a) People are well cared for, their food, housing, employment, health.

(b) There is order and justice under the rule of law, and not the capricious, arbitrariness of individual rulers. There is no discrimination between peoples, regardless of race, language, religion. No great extremes of wealth.   ­

(c) As much personal freedom as possible but without infringing on the freedom of others

(d) Growth in the economy and progress in society.

(e) Good and ever improving education.

(f) High moral standards of rulers and of the people.

(g) Good physical infrastructure, facilities for recreation, music, culture and the arts; spiritual and religious freedoms, and a full intellectual life. (Hon Fook Kwang, et. al, 1998)

Singapore, under the leadership of Lee and other leaders who followed him, is moving progressively towards these ideals, in a phased manner. In the first phase Lee focused on two factors; first in building a sound and ultramodern infrastructure which can lead to rapid economic progress; second, on building a cadre of political and administrative leadership based on merit, competence and character, recruited on corporate lines, and making them the highest paid executives of the nation. At present, the government of Singapore is making a conscious and planned effort towards a new course of development based on higher education, research and culture

While many Asiatic nations, which got independence more or less at the same time as Singapore, are struggling with poverty, hunger, religious fundamentalism and terrorism, Lee led and built this small nation-state into an oasis of peace, prosperity and a model of good governance. Singapore’s system of government has become widely known for efficiency, competence and rapid economic progress which was consistent since 1970 at an average annual rate of 9.8%. And by 1994 Singapore’s percapita income has surpassed that of Australia, Canada and UK. The Singapore government has been consistently rated by Transparency International as one of the most politically transparent and least corrupt in the world. Lee was justifiably proud of his achievements. When he was asked about his political achievements, he said, “What I have to show for all my work is Singapore and Singapore is still working.” (Hon Fook Kwang, et. al, 1998) Lee was also criticized sharply by the Western media and his opponents as dictatorial, undemocratic, and ruthless. But, if we are asked to assess the quality of leadership by the results, Lee’s performance is impressive. He has given peace, order, stability, prosperity, good life and efficient government to his people.

The Dharmic Strength

The Indian thought always held the view that a political leader must have the sprit and temperament of a Kshathria, righteous or dharmic warrior. She must be strong and firm against all adharmic forces which try to destroy or disrupt the dharmic order of society. There must be no compromise with the dark forces which use violence to break the order of dharma. So non-violence cannot be a part of the value-systems of political leader because he may have to use violence against adharmic forces to restore the dharmic order in society.

The saintly and idealistic mind preaches love, non-violence and forgiveness as a universal value which have to be practiced under all situations and circumstage. But the dark forces which are bent on destroying the moral fabric of society have no respect for such soft sentiments. They regard them as weakness. In fact, the more you try to appease them with such soft feelings, the more they become bold and aggressive in their destructive urge. The spiritual love which flows from a spiritual consciousness is a great power that can transform evil.   But very few of us have this spiritual love. What most of us have¾and call it as “love”¾is an emotional or moral sentiment, which has no transforming power.

The most effective way to deal with adharmic forces is a calm strength which slows concretely that any attempt to get things done by violence will not succeed. However, a political leader, apart from the warrior spirit, should have a diplomatic tact which can bring the adharmic forces to the negotiating table. For a value-based leader, it must be an honest and sympathetic diplomacy, which is ready to extend a friendly hand to a sincere response towards peace, but which can turn into a strong fist if the response relapses into violence.

These are some of the general principles or attitudes in dealing with adharmic forces. But in actual practice what is needed is an intuitive understanding of the truth of each situation and a corresponding response. I admit these things are easy to preach but difficult to put into practice. Nevertheless, certain amount of clarity in understanding the principles and attitudes maybe of some help in practice. Let us now examine two examples of dharmic warriors from the modern and ancient world.

In our modern age a comparative study of the approach of Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln in more or less similar situations may illustrate some of the principles and attitudes we have discussed so far. It was the last days of the British Colonial rule in India. The nation was on the threshold of getting divided into two parts on religious lines. The divisive forces have unleashed ruthless and widespread violence. And Mahatma Gandhi, the most respected Indian leader, was trying to win over these violent elements by saintly appeasement, which ultimately failed. Abraham Lincoln faced a more or less similar situation during the Civil War in America. The nation was on the verge of getting divided between states which favoured slavery and other states that are willing to follow the progressive path of freedom and equality. Lincoln stood firmly against the forces of slavery and division. He deployed military force to subdue the divisive elements and finally succeeded in unifying the country. (Amelie C.R, 2012)

In the ancient world, the Indian epic Mahabharata portrays a great battle between dharmic and adharmic forces. The prince Arjuna, a leader and the most accomplished warrior of the dharmic forces, was in midst of the battle field, confronting the vast army of adharmic forces. He was dismayed at seeing some of his dear ones and revered teachers in the enemy camp. He shrinks from the battle and finds some saintly and plausible justification to runaway from the battlefield. But his divine Teacher and charioteer, Sri Krishna, admonishes him for his undharmic feelings and says something like this: “Don’t shrink from your dharmic responsibilities as a warrior and prince. If you runaway from the battle and allow the adharmic forces to win, you are handing over the world to evil forces. Fight and die as a glorious hero or conquer the adharmic forces and enjoy a prosperous kingdom.”

Global Perspective

We are now brought to some of the emerging global imperatives facing mankind. The world around us is becoming global, interconnected, complex and changing fast. The corporate world is very much aware of this emerging reality of the world, and making the effort to deal with it. But the political world is very much lagging behind the corporate world in its understanding and managing these global imperatives. The political world cannot escape from these emerging realities and remain closed within its narrow geographical and political boundaries. Most of the problems facing nations or humanity today like environment or poverty have their causes in the world-environment beyond national boundaries.   The political leaders of the future must have an insightful understanding of the following factors:

  1. Interconnected and interdependent totality of life
  2. Long-term consequences of a decision or action for the progress and wellbeing of a nation as a whole.
  3. Immediate and long-term impact or consequences of the forces and trends in the world-environment for the well-being and progress of the nation.
  4. Deeper truth of a situation or circumstance and the right response to it.
  5. Underlying patterns behind emerging trends and their consequences for the future.
  6. How to resolve logical contradiction in a higher synthesis.

This higher understanding cannot be achieved entirely by logical or rational analysis; it requires a higher intuitive faculty beyond reason. This doesn’t mean relinquishing reason but subordinating reason to intuition. This higher faculty can be consciously cultivated through an inner discipline based on the principles of yoga.

The Ideal of Power

There is one more important question related to wielding power. What is the higher purpose or ideal or the ultimate aim of power? The answer of the old traditional paradigm is control, perfect control of the power-holder over those who are under her charge. But this ideal of power is now obsolete and no longer viable for the present or for the future. Interestingly, some of the insights and perspectives of the ancient Indian social paradigm can throw some luminous clues for a better organisation of power.

The ancient Indian ideal of power is not control but bringing a dharmic order to society by creating an environment where each individual and community can live and grow freely according to their unique swadharma, interacting harmoniously with each other and contributing to the common good of all. In this Indian perspective the main function of the organ of power is not control but coordination, harmonizing and unifying the communal life into an organic whole. The other important values prescribed for the wielder of power is to ensure justice, and prevent or correct all violation of dharma. The third ideal of power is to promote well-being, and in the Indian thought, it is primarily social and moral being of people. (Sri Aurobindo, 1972)

We have to add to this Indian ideal of power, the modern ideal of “empowerment” which means literally giving more power to people. The process of wielding power has to move from holding or concentrating power in a few people towards distribution or giving power to a large mass of people. But power for what? To think, create, decide, plan, organise and ultimately to govern themselves. Thus the highest ideal of power is not to control or regulate people but to release and empower people so that they can govern themselves. The highest ideal of the organ of power or government is to foster the self-governing individual in a self-governing community.


Modern political leadership needs a radical inner transformation. The upliftment of a nation or a community cannot be done by mere diplomacy or opportunistic politics. The political leader must have the capacity to wield power under the yoke of elevating values. She must be a visionary patriot, righteous warrior, pragmatic idealist, intuitive seer and an inspirational leader. She must have the inner strength of character to live these values in her personal life and enforce them in the collective life through a combination of inner and outer power and her living example. And the highest ideal of political leadership is to empower people towards elf-government.


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Polak, Fred, The Image of Future, (1973) Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, p. 34-37

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Han Fook Kwang, Warren Fernandez, Sumilo Tan, (1998) Lee Kuwan Yew, The Man and His Ideas , Singapore Press Hobling, Singapore, p. 45, 102

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Sri Aurobindo, Foundations of Indian Culture, Collected Works, Vol. 14, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry, p. 343-45

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Sri Aurobindo, (1972) Essays in Philosophy and Yoga, Collected Works, Vol. 13, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry, p. 413

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