– Loknath Mahanthi
“Vive La Revolution!”. Namaste everyone, my name is Loknath Mahanthi. I’m sure you know
the words I cried out before my introduction. These famous words were at the heart of the
French revolution 230 years ago. The revolution happened because, as time went on, people
realized that the king they had been raised to follow was holding them back from progress. I
believe we are in a similar situation. Hence, my topic being, “leaders are shackles”. Before I
continue, I would like to make it clear that I am not saying the position of a leader is harmful.
There has to be someone who shoulders the responsibility and divides the work. What I AM
referring to is the notion of leadership and in turn, leaders, being something amazing. Not just
political leaders, by leaders of any kind.
Upon seeing the title, I’m sure you must’ve thought, “How can they be shackles?”. You must’ve
thought, “a leader is someone extraordinary, someone, that can bring out the best in everyone,
someone that can do the impossible.” We’ve been told this all our lives. Actually, let me
rephrase that. We’ve been fed this notion all our lives. This notion of a strong, majestic, and
powerful leader that can take us to the promised land. We’ve been told this so often that,
unlike a lot of things, we’ve come to not only accept this but embrace it. What do I mean by
embrace? I’m talking about how we romanticize leadership. A lot.
In our movies, where there always seems to be this heroic leader, usually a male, who takes
office and SUDDENLY, everything changes for the good. On billboards advertising schools,
which say things like, “we create leaders”. You know which ones I’m talking about. On our
resumes, under the title of skills, what are we advised to put? LEADERSHIP skills. This has lead
to the idea that these “leadership qualities” are extremely important. To us, leadership has
become something to be marveled at and leaders are seen as saviors, rays of light in the
darkness. This conception has arisen due to numerous people who embody this. Nelson
Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. They were charismatic leaders who garnered
the affection and support of millions of people.
Now, allow me to remind you of one more such person. Adolf Hitler. WAIT. I’m not saying he
was a good person. He was a despicable man. But he also had the leadership qualities we
consider ideal, and so, he had a nation following him. Not just soldiers. Every day, ordinary
citizens. I bring up Hitler because I want to show you that the image we all carry in our heads, the image of a strong leader saving us, is inherently flawed. To the people of Germany, it certainly seemed
like Hitler was saving them, only for it all to end up in flames.
Fast forward to today. Has it changed? When there’s a crisis, do we get out there and help as
much as we can, or sit back and WAIT for our leaders to do something? Yes, we may make fun
of our leaders on social media and news channels, but at the end of the day, when darkness
falls, it is to the leaders we look at. And this is all because we respect the idea of a leader, not the
leaders themselves. The notion of a heroic and strong leader, and because this notion exists,
our leaders have become shackles. Not just in India, all over the world. The idea of a strong leader who can solve anything has made US, the people, lazy and incompetent. How you ask?
Well, to answer this question, let me ask you one. What is the most common answer to the
question, “why is this country so poor and backward?”. I would bet real money that the answer
is, “because of our leaders”. Do you see it? We push off everything off to our leaders, EXPECTING
them to become the leaders from our fairy tales and use their power to affect change. It’s like
we’re damsels in distress and we’re waiting for a knight in shining armor to save us. This
notion of leadership is antiquated. A relic of the past. You have been told all your life that
leaders are essential, that you NEED them. Most of the leaders today are corrupt, vindictive, and
completely our fault. We were told that having a leader looking out for us was the best way to
go. I’m here to tell you that that’s wrong. You DON’T need a leader.
I hope I have convinced you that leaders are shackles. Let me now try to show that the way we
look at leadership itself is also harmful. Like I mentioned before, “leadership skills” and
“leadership qualities” have become something to achieve, something that people believe will
be of great use. Many of us have our sights set on “becoming a leader”. Many schools and
colleges boast about creating leaders. But, tell me, if all of us become leaders, are any of us
actually leaders? The world continues to spin because there are some who are chosen to
shoulder the most responsibility. They are the ones that “lead” us. If everyone was a leader,
we’d end up creating nothing.
This is what my talk has been about. The two notions, of a strong, heroic leader that will save us
and of leadership being something to work hard for. They will continue to shape the way we
live our lives UNLESS we do something about it. For that, it is important to understand that
leaders and leadership have been given so much power and influence by US, not by some divine
being. I want you to say it with me. Leaders are shackles. But you know what the wonderful
thing is? The key to the shackles is right in front of you. This key is nothing but a realisation.
Realization of everything I have said. It’s dangling in front of you, waiting to be snatched up. As
the saying goes, “wake up and smell the coffee”. Don’t keep chasing after fictional leaders that
can solve all your problems. Become someone that doesn’t NEED such a leader. Become
someone that can stand strong without having to look to a leader for help. Once you do, you
will see the world in a way you never could have before.
You are now standing at a crossroads. Will you take my hand and break off the chains holding you back, or continue to look for a light in the darkness that doesn’t exist? It’s your choice.
P.S. The speech delivered by Loknath Mahanthi, Grade XII on 8th August, 2020 at the TED-X event organized by SPMS, a school in Ludhiana.