Youth and Leadership

I delivered the chief guest’s address at a leading engineering college the other day. It is tough to advise young Indian students these days; they are ambitious, focused, determined. I delivered a message that now sounds trite to me: only do what you love doing; fire up your work with passion; test your work for integrity; and so rise to true greatness. I am surprised, but they took the message giving strong applause.

They are meek, we were so militant when we were in college. Their best students were introduced to me; looking at them, their shy, smiling faces, I felt like an uncle; we used to be so insolent. And during the ceremonies, speeches - the opening speech, the closing speech, the annual report - were all made by the staff. Two members of staff, not students, had invited me to the function - a cultural festival of students, for students. (I heard later that the festivities went off well and they had a very good show.) I learnt they have no students’ unions anymore. So the students will not experience debate, organizing, collective bargaining, winning and losing elections, and all the noise of democratic action during formative years. They will learn engineering and go off and work for Intel, Microsoft and Dell. No trouble from these youngsters in college.

At a time when they have enormous opportunities, when they cannot wait to go for those great careers, there is minimum risk (and plenty of good) in putting them through the dynamics of a democratic process in college. (In our time, opportunities were woefully short, so we would stray easily.) They must elect leaders who in turn should be empowered for collective bargaining, and they must be in the forefront in organizing extra-curricular activities. That demands courage on the part of educators, and some willingness to take a little irksome belligerence, but they will send out well-rounded citizens who have verve in them. All good leaders - and we could do with some of them - first experienced leadership in school.

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