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Covid Exposes Leadership Chinks Business management not immune to same malaise

Calamities can bring out both the best and the worst in leaders. The real test of leaders takes place when things turn tough. Those with real mettle do themselves and their people proud. They save nations.

The impact of Covid-19 on humankind has been unprecedented in intensity and magnitude. In its hitherto unending sweep, the virus pandemic is devouring lives, economies and businesses around the planet, cutting across communities, faiths, castes and creeds without discrimination.

Covid has been a great equaliser in that sense, killing rich and poor alike. The mightiest and richest of nations have been humbled by a microbe whose true nature and structure has defied the best scientific minds. The anti-Covid vaccine as yet remains a creature of human hope. The reality resides somewhere on the distant horizon. Howsoever scary and sordid the scenario may be, it has done well to shake off some of man’s arrogance. Also, Covid has put man in his place by reminding that it is man’s own making. So the suffering too will be borne by mankind. For too long have we been playing with nature. Retribution direct and real has taken its toll so ruthlessly first time in living memory.

Let’s move to the more practical and pragmatic facet of the issue at hand. The idea is to analyse how political leadership can wreak havoc on all sections of its country or society because of its ideological predilections or sheer foolhardiness of a self-proclaimed charismatic leader.

Let’s move to scenic Italy where most unseemly developments crushed the country’s medical infrastructure and people’s spirit. It needs to be noted that Italy is among the well endowed countries of Western Europe. So far, its population of just over six crore people was ably serviced by one of the best healthcare systems in the region.

Covid infection is petering out in Italy in the first week of July with 34,854 scalps under its belt. Total cases stood at 241,419. Of the currently infected 14,500 persons, 71% are in critical stage. Indeed, disheartening numbers for a developed country!

To understand the Italian enigma, please incorporate another figure in the analysis. The number of Chinese living in Italy is 3,10,000. The high number is explained by the recent spurt of Chinese investment in Italy: 29 deals worth $ 2.8 billion. Italy was lagging behind other European Union countries vis a vis Chinese investment. Italian trade zones and ports were soon open for China.

Gratified by Beijing’s largesse Italy chose to be, in March 2019, EU’s only country to join China’s much tom- tommed Belt and Road Initiative. Chinese tourists flocked to Italy. Following Covid’s outbreak in China’s Wuhan city, Italy suspended flights to China on January 1. But when China frowned upon the move, the Italian President Sergio Mattarello whimpered on February 2 that his country stood by China. Florence’s Mayor Dario Nardella went to ridiculous lengths by urging his citizens to hug Chinese tourists and visitors in a show of solidarity. They did and Covid caught Italy by the neck. Economic indebtedness to China cost Italy thousands of lives and its reputation too.

COVID crisis was not well managed in Brazil. Stats first. Population: just over 21 crore. Deaths: 64,365. Cases: 1578376. Currently infected: 5,35,396 of which 2% are in critical condition. Horrifying figures!

A far-right fan of US Prez Donald Trump, Bolsonaro loved to describe Covid as ‘a little cold’. Voluntary quarantine seemed good enough to him. He blabbered about miracle drugs even as thousands of his countrymen perished, medical infrastructure broke down, businesses fell apart and protesters rioted in the streets.

Similar erratic and arrogant behaviour has been often displayed by captains of industry. We have witnessed business behemoths simply vanishing from the world of commerce. The scope for destruction is enormous. Like the civil society, young managers too have the responsibility to abide by ethics to contain unbridled autocracy within their corporations. Nobody is beyond the rule of law and corporate governance.

Basant Chaudhary is a Poet, Writer, The Chairman of BLC and Basant Chaudhary Foundation. (feedback@basantchaudhary.com)

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