What is Leadership?
“...Every age develops leaders that bespeak its fears, its longings, its creative urges. Established culture values represent in a peculiar way the groundwork of leadership... A simple example of (Pirabakaran’s) innate intelligence was his choice of Tiger as the symbol of his rebel group. What an astounding choice, which reverberates with Tamil culture, militarism and glory!..”
Emory Borgadus (1882-1973) was an eminent American sociologist, who has been eponymized by the ‘Bogardus social distance scale’ he devised in the 1920s-1930s. In 1929, he also published a research paper entitled, ‘Leadership and Attitudes’ in the journal, Sociology and Social Research (March-April 1929, vol.13, no.4, pp.377-381). To comprehend the Pirabhakaran phenomenon, it is pertinent to scan this paper by Bogardus, on how he defined and categorized leadership in human endeavors. Thus, first I provide excerpts of this classic paper by Bogardus.
What is Leadership?
Bogardus began his essay by stating,
“Leadership is the special influence that one person exercises over other persons. [A leader is a person (1) who surpasses his fellows in achieving in some particular plane of activity, and (2) whose achievement is recognized by his fellows as being superior.] It is manifested when one human being arouses the dormant attitudes of other persons, changes the attitudes of others, or arouses new attitudes in others. In each of these type-situations, the ‘other persons’ are as important factors as the leader, and the process by which one person succeeds in affecting the attitudes of others is most important of all. In other words, there is always a social situation matrix wherein a leader and leadership operate. It is within this organic social unity that we must look if we would discern the meaning of leadership.”
Then, Bogardus proceeded to categorize the leaders into three types.
“If the leader is one who arouses, changes, or creates new attitudes in the lives of other persons, then the study of leadership must deal with the attitudes of these ‘other persons’. In fact they become one of the chief sources of leadership. The natural history of all these attitudes and of the antecedent experiences which account for them is needed. These attitudes, experiences, and life organizations, and how they have been aroused, changed, or created anew, tend to become the main objects for leadership study, as much as the leader himself. They are what the leader himself usually studies.
It is often the potential followers who influence the leaders as much as the leader influences the followers. It was Simmel who was one of the first to point out how the leader is subservient to the followers, how the followers may ‘walk out’ on their leader, how they may refuse to respond or to be led, how they may choose imprisonment rather than obey the orders of some autocratic leader, and how the leader fears any negative or antagonistic responses that will lower his own status. The well-established and relatively permanent behavior patterns, the urge for status, and the innumerable attitudes of the potential followers, are all dynamic and powerful forces that any would-be leader must treat respectfully. None of these may be wantonly violated.
[Type 1 Leader] To arouse the dormant attitudes of one’s fellows and become a leader is relatively easy. By being enthusiastic along traditional lines of activity, by ballyhooing, by raising the cry of ‘danger’, and by the use of other cheap devices, a member of a group may shoot up into the rank of leader without much difficulty.
[Type 2 Leader] To change human attitudes requires greater skill. The use of indirect suggestion, the setting of new, appropriate, and attractive examples, the creation of a pleasing atmosphere favorable to the desired change, the changing of the followers’ environmental conditions in ways to arouse pleasant feelings regarding the proposed changes - these are some of the techniques that create leadership of a higher order than is represented by the standpatter or ballyhoo type of leader.
[Type 3 Leader] To arouse entirely new attitudes and a new creative type of followers is the supreme height of leadership. To arouse unsuspected possibilities and originalities in other persons makes for the greatest leadership. The techniques are often those of the superior teacher, case-worker, parent, who challenge and give heavy responsibilities, who set forth unique opportunities, who make the impossible seem possible, who by deed or word arouse their followers to superhuman effort.
It may be noted here that the three types of leadership discussed in the preceding paragraphs represent an ascending scale of difficulty but a descending scale of recognition.”
Then, Bogardus concluded his essay with the following paragraph.
“Every age develops leaders that bespeak its fears, its longings, its creative urges. Established culture values represent in a peculiar way the groundwork of leadership. Social momentum or social stagnation are equally important desiderata. As a social process, leadership is that social inter stimulation which causes a number of people to set out toward an old goal with new zest or a new goal with hopeful courage, - with different persons keeping indifferent paces. The foremost is the leader, but without the others he never would have started, or having started he would not be a leader. Without the antecedent as well as the ever-continuing inter stimulation, there would be no leadership. The interplay of attitudes is the dynamic heart of leadership.”
Wonderful thoughts on leadership, by a reputed sociologist. When I read the above seven sentences repeatedly, written in 1929, I felt these sentences explained succinctly how the political leadership of Eelam Tamils passed hands since 1944 from Ponnambalam (1944-55) to Chelvanayakam (1956-77) to Amirthalingam (1977-83) to Pirabhakaran (1983-to date). Now, where can one place Pirabhakaran in the Bogardus rating of leadership scale? I present my case as follows:
In the past two centuries, among Tamils in India, Eelam, Malaysia, Singapore and elsewhere, there have been thousands who raised capital, and worked that capital to financial fortunes. They belong to the Type 1 leaders of Bogardus category - “those enthusiastic along traditional lines of activity”.
Then, Type 2 leaders of Bogardus category are those handful of Tamils who raised a political party and led that party to success. C.N. Annadurai and M.G. Ramachandran in India are two leaders. Rajaji raised his Swatantra Party in 1959, but it couldn’t produce success. Kamarajar or Karunanidhi or Jayalalitha cannot claim that they ‘raised’ a political party; rather, they inherited the parties they led, from their founders. E.V. Ramasamy Naicker (Periyar) qualifies partially in this category, as a founder-leader of the Dravida Kazhagam - a new, self-respect, social movement (which he refrained from transforming into a political party) for Tamils. In Eelam, G.G. Ponnambalam, S.J.V. Chelvanayakam and S. Thondaman are the three leaders who qualify in this category. Amirthalingam and Kumar Ponnambalam do not qualify, since they inherited the parties they led, from their founders. These Type 2 leaders, according to Bogardus, were successful in “the changing of the followers’ environmental conditions in ways to arouse pleasant feelings regarding the proposed changes”.
Then, in a class of their own, are the Type 3 leaders. Only Pirabhakaran among the Tamils of the past two centuries can claim that he raised an army and led his followers to success. His equals in India were only Mahatma Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose. While Gandhi was a successful leader of his non-violent army, Bose’s army, tagged as Indian National Army (INA), couldn’t produce success. In the words of Bogardus, the achievement of Type 3 leaders is “to arouse entirely new attitudes and a new creative type of followers...who challenge and give heavy responsibilities, who set forth unique opportunities, who make the impossible seem possible, who by deed or word arouse their followers to superhuman effort.” In this Type 3 category, Pirabhakaran is in the league with Mao Ze Dong and Fidel Castro. His interview to the Time magazine in 1990, presented in part 1 of this essay, shows how he qualifies for the criterion of Type 3 leadership, as categorized by Bogardus. Of course, Pirabhakaran is criticised for many of his actions by some Tamils and non-Tamils. The Tamil proverb, ‘Kaayaa marathukku kal eri vizhuma?’ [Does the barren tree gets bombarded with stones?] may explain partly why he is the target of criticism.
Intelligent and ‘semi-literate’
One of the wisecracks used to ridicule Pirabhakaran, repeated ad-nauseam in the partisan press in Sri Lanka, is that he is a ‘semi-literate’; thus, incapable of leadership. Literacy is a much misused and misunderstood word. Many equate the meaning of ‘literate’ to ‘intelligent’, which in reality is as different from chalk and cheese. Let me explain the difference.
The dictionary defines the word ‘literate’ as 1. able to read and write. 2. educated, cultured. (derived from the Latin root, litteratus < littera =letter). The same dictionary defines the word ‘intelligent’ as 1. having an active, able mind; acute. 2. marked or characterized by intelligence. 3. endowed with intellect or understanding; reasoning. (derived from the Latin root intelligere = to understand).
Literate people need not be intelligent. Similarly, intelligent people need not be literate. I will mention some well-known examples. Henry Kissinger and Bill Clinton are more literate than Muhammad Ali, but Ali is more intelligent than either Kissinger or Clinton. One’s literacy doesn’t provide any immunity for foul-ups in leadership. Kissinger’s or Clinton’s problems in leadership attest to this. Compared to these two, Muhammad Ali was able to project a successful leadership in sports and social activism due to his innate intelligence. In the Indian subcontinent, Subramanian Swamy is literate but not intelligent. Contrastingly, Kamarajar and MGR were more intelligent than Swamy. Thus, it is more or less a rule that to become a successful leader and hold the affection of his or her followers, one need to be intelligent rather than being literate only.
Among the Tamils living now, there are tens of thousands who are more literate than Pirabhakaran. For instance, Lakshman Kadirgamar [who is laughably posturing as a leader of Eelam Tamils for the past six years] is literate, but not intelligent. So, he is devoid of any followers. But, as viewed from the criteria set by Bogardus for leadership, Pirabhakaran qualifies more ably than the hundreds of literate Tamils, because he is more intelligent than others. A simple example of his innate intelligence was his choice of Tiger as the symbol of his rebel group. What an astounding choice, which reverberates with Tamil culture, militarism and glory!
I reproduce excerpts of my 1996 letter, which appeared in the Asiaweek magazine, to buttress this point. This was written in response to a critical feature by Anthony Davis, entitled, ‘Tigers Inc.’, which appeared as the cover story in the same magazine of July 26, 1996.
“Within the limits of not antagonizing the political and military-intelligence establishments in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Anthony Davis has done a good profile of Tamil guerrilla leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. Prabhakaran is not an angel. But he is not a devil either, as projected by the Sri Lankan political establishment for the past 13 years. Davis insults the intelligence of the majority of the Tamil diaspora with the claim that Prabhakaran can extort money from them at whim. He remains their hope against the duplicity of the Indian Intelligence Service (RAW), who used the Sri Lankan Tamil issue to advance Indian expansionism.
Those who have read the history of the liberation struggles in the US, China, Israel and Palestine can grasp that Prabhakaran’s profile as presented doesn’t differ much from those of George Washington, Mao Zedong, Menachem Begin and Yassir Arafat. And don’t forget that designated ‘terrorists’ like Begin, Nelson Mandela and Arafat could metamorphose into ‘statesmen’ and even receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Davis’s source, Rohan Gunaratna, has figured out that the Tigers may be harvesting revenues worth nearly $24 million per annum. But this figure is 1/25 of the current Sri Lankan annual defense expenditure of nearly $600 million. Prabhakaran may be deficient in university education, but he surely has heeded one of Albert Einstein’s maxims: ‘Organized power can be opposed only by organized power’. If you count the number of Sri Lankan service chiefs who have tried to outsmart Prabhakaran since 1983, one can only marvel at his skill.... [Asiaweek, Aug.16, 1996]
Formula for success
With affluence, contacts and luck, one can enter the portals of Oxford or Harvard universities to become literate. But that does not assure attainment of intelligence. On the contrary, one can achieve intelligence and the acclaim as a genius, by proper blessing of genes as well as by hard work and use of common sense. This is what Thomas Edison prescribed.
“When I want to discover something, I begin by reading up everything that has been done along that line in the past - that’s what all the books in the library are for. I see what has been accomplished at great labor and expense in the past. I gather the data of many thousands of experiments as a starting point and then I make thousands more. The three essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-it-iveness; third, common sense.”
Though he has not entered any university in a nominal sense, those who had met Pirabhakaran have recorded that he is ‘well read’. The difference between Pirabhakaran and his competitors for Eelam Tamil leadership (including the TULF) lies in these three criteria presented by Edison.
The TULF leaders and other rebel groups (TELO, PLOTE, EPRLF and later EPDP) all had ‘liberation of Eelam’ as their prime motto in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Because they lacked common sense to a higher degree, they allowed themselves to be manipulatable puppets of the Indian Intelligence-wallahs. Also, due to lack of intelligence, they came to forfeit the much-vaunted ‘stick-to-it-iveness’ attitude which Pirabhakaran showed in abundance.
Pirabhakaran also endeared himself to his followers, by the third ingredient in Edison’s formula for success - hard work. As is evident for anyone, ‘hard work’ cannot be purchased like military hardware in global arms bazaar or granted like a degree certificate by any university following payment of tuition fees and completing the course work.
Like Edison, Pirabhakaran was (and still is) an innovator par excellence, as one could see from the battles he had fought so far. Like Mao, he also has grasped the skill of when to retreat and when to attack for maximum gain. He has been a thinker and tinkerer in military tactics. Raising an army from zero point and continuing to maul his opponent who outspends his outfit by 25 to 40-fold, demands intelligence of exceptional caliber. Pirabhakaran’s adversaries may boast of training from Sandhurst (UK), West Point (USA), India, Pakistan, Malaysia and Israel. But one should marvel at how he is adopting to changing circumstances by using adventurous plans. “No plan survives the first five minutes encounter with the enemy” is a well-known military dictum of Prussian field marshal Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891). But the success rate of Pirabhakaran’s plans are higher than his adversaries. Like great military minds, he also possesses the ability to learn from mis-steps and defeats. [Continued].