Ghalib – 20: Leaders and Followers

How do we decide whom to follow? Ghalib has some advice:

laazim nahiiN ke kih Khizr kii ham pairavii kareN
jaanaa kih ek buzurg hameN ham-safar mile

it is not necessary that we follow in the footsteps of Khizr
we consider that we have a venerable-elder as a fellow-traveler

Hazrat Khizr is the most revered guide to the lost in Islamic folk tradition and Ghalib is saying that we do not need to follow in the footsteps of Khizr. Why?

Ghalib has faith in the individual; he wants every human being to use his or her mind first. Ghalib is not rejecting advice but he wishes the advice to be just another input into our decision-making as we proceed on our journey through life. A knowledgeable fellow traveler is fine, but a leader to be followed blindly is not recommended.

What do you think of the advice of Ghalib?

Well, it is clear that Ghalib would not wish us to follow his own advice blindly but to reflect upon it and use it as a venerable-elder’s contribution to our stock of knowledge.

So let us reflect upon his advice and see how we can interpret our recent past in its light.

Consider the advice of international agencies to developing countries. Almost all countries accepted the loans but only those that used the funds according to their own visions and priorities benefited from their use. Most East Asian countries that succeeded belong to this category – think of China with its prescription of ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’. On the other hand, all countries that followed the advice uncritically and allowed the agencies to sit in the driving seat, Pakistan being the major example in South Asia, did very poorly indeed.

Or consider the time when many young idealists in South Asia became the followers of Karl Marx? They went into the countryside boxing people into Marxist categories like kulaks, middle-peasants etc., and declared religion to be the opiate of the masses. A little reflection might have suggested that the social conditions of Europe that gave rise to Marxism were quite different from those that prevailed in South Asia. Marxism could not be copied blindly; it needed intelligent adaptation to local conditions if its goals of social justice were to be achieved.

And now we have Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar as our modern-day Khizr’s. Is there a case for following their pronouncements blindly even if they argue they are relying on the highest authority for what they proclaim?

And do they even count as venerable elders? There was no doubt about the intellectual credentials of Marx but are bin Laden and Mullah Omar in the same category?

So we actually need to start a step earlier. We have first to decide whether we are dealing with a venerable elder as a fellow traveler or with a charlatan peddling snake oil. Only after we get past this test should we even consider the advice we are being asked to follow.

I feel Ghalib is giving us sound advice. What do you think?

On this theme, see also Ghalib – 9 on leadership. For a literary interpretation see the parallel post on Mehr-e-Niimroz.

  • cueark
    Posted at 08:25h, 25 January Reply

    the names mentioned should be from a wider spectrum so ill remove omar and osama since they are hired hands to begin with and add rulers of us, uk, iran, s.arabia, isreal, russia, china, japan, n maybe a few more plus the ceo’s of the agencies who are spreadin wealth and decide after finding out the intent of their benevolence.
    ghalib however should be left out from all this colonialist discourse. thanks.

  • Ijaz
    Posted at 20:27h, 25 January Reply

    We need to follow Ghalib on Ghalib as well…but I agree Ghailb might have had leftist leanings..but he could not be fundamentalist, snake oil or not.

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