Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

Abraham Lincoln had no choice but to sack one of his army generals for losing a battle during the Civil war for his sheer stupidity when victory seemed almost certain. In his witty style Lincoln said, “He has managed to wring a spectacular defeat from the jaws of victory.”

Congress was the ruling party in Punjab with 77 out of 117 seats under the CM Amarinder Singh. The alliance of BJP and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) had 21 seats.

The alliance partner SAD parted ways with the BJP for the latter’s high-handed approach in dealing with its allies. Moreover, discontent was brewing  for long in Punjab due to the farmers’ protests, the bulldozing of the farm-laws in the parliament by the government, the  sudden lockdown during the pandemic which forced untold miseries  on the migrant workers.

Considering the weak opposition, victory was on the platter for the congress. No doubt, Captain Singh had his follies, he was not accessible there was discontent brewing in the party. But it could have been resolved amicably. But Rahul Gandhi thought otherwise. Navjot Singh Sidhu was thrust upon the state leadership. Captain Singh was replaced by a Charan Singh Channi who did not have much following in the state politics. And AAP created history taking its tally from 18 seats to a record of 92 seats. Is this an isolated instance of stupidity on part of Rahul Gandhi? (1)

In 2004, Manmohan Singh took over as the PM leading the UPA-1.Having completed his first term as the PM, the nation was ready for the Lok Sabha elections in 2009. What were his achievements?

From 2004-2009 the economy logged a growth of 9%, the highest rate for any plan period since independence. He stood up to the manipulations of the Left and the opposition in signing the Nuclear Deal between India and the US.

Despite these splendid achievements, the party high command had doubts of winning the election. Manmohan Singh’s photo was printed on the Election manifesto as well as on the election posters. If the party were to lose, it was the PM’s defeat. Incidentally, a Senior political journalist while speaking to Ahmed Patel confided that Rahul Gandhi was ready to be the leader of the opposition and be the agent of Change and differentiate from Dr. Manmohan Singh (2)

Lo Behold! After 1962,  Dr. Manmohan Singh had become the first PM to have been re-elected with an improved margin. Congress improved the tally of LS seats from 145 to 206. ( 9 more than what Rajiv Gandhi had achieved in 1989)

But then how was this Star Performer treated by the ‘family’? Was he given a free hand to choose his team members? For example, for the finance portfolio, Dr. Singh wanted to  induct C. Rangarajan, the former RBI governor with whom he had battled the BoP ( Balance of Payment) Crisis during the Narasimha Rao regime. Sonia Gandhi offered the portfolio to Pranab Mukherjee without consulting him. Incidentally, Pranab Mukherjee was the ‘architect’ of the retrospective tax regime ( the Vodafone case of Rs. 22,100 crores on Capital Gains and Withholding Tax which the GOI lost in the International Court at the Hague)  which was one of the factors of slowing down of India’s economy  growth rate. It also impacted India’s credibility in the international business (3)

By the time the Lok Sabha elections for 1996 were announced, the P.V. Narasimha Rao-led Government  formed by Congress had delivered one of the most  spectacular performances in a 5-year period then. India was able to overcome the BoP ( Balance of Payments)  crises. ( The foreign exchange reserves rose 12 times from 1991 to 1996) License Raj was abolished, the New Industrial Policy was launched, the insurance and the banking sector was opened to the private sector and the new telecom policy was to usher in the mobile revolution. In fact,1991 is termed as a watershed year, also called as India’s 2nd Independence.

But did the Star Performer who was responsible for delivering such an outstanding performance suitably rewarded? Forget being rewarded or being acknowledged, P.V. Narasimha Rao was humiliated not only when he was alive but even after his death. But did the Congress party or Rahul Gandhi win? Congress lost power despite the best performance delivered by the Rao Government. ( A forgotten Hero or a Ungrateful Nation?)

The three incidents discussed above prove the adage that insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results!

There are different approaches in helping the non-performing executives in improve  their deliverables which include coaching, mentoring, reprimanding or if nothing works, the dismissal. But then how do you deal with  star performers who are already doing well and need no interference? The cost involved when such a Star is demotivated increases exponentially when one is heading a department, an organization, or the nation. In the last instance, the damage is humongous. The article is not about Rahul Gandhi and his personality per se. but more about the orientation of a toxic leader. I come across a common refrain in my mentoring sessions that people do not change the organization but their bosses.

Do  toxic leaders like star performers? The question is not about liking and needs reframing. Can toxic leaders manage the star performers? I doubt as they are afraid of being surpassed by their subordinates which might be due to a deep insecurity and a trust deficit which increases in direct proportion to the subordinate’s achievement.

A concept called Wu-Wei can be helpful for effective leaders particularly in managing the star performers. Wu-Wei is loosely translated as ‘letting-go’ as followed in Tao-Te-Ching which denotes :

  1. An attitude of genuine NON-ACTION motivated by a lack of desire to participate in human affairs.
  2. A technique by which the practitioner may get a subtle control in pushing the envelope.

Some of you might have collaborated with good bosses  who practised wu-wei can consider yourself to be lucky. And those, the less fortunate (?)  in getting the toxic bosses- were you able to realize your potential by moving elsewhere or venturing on your own?

References:

  1. The art of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory – Capt. G.R. Gopinath ( Retd.) , Deccan Herald, 16th March 2022
  2. The Accidental Prime Minister- Sanjay Baru
  3. The Lost Decade ( 2008-2018), How India’s Growth Story devolved into Growth without a Story – Pooja Mehra

2 thoughts on “Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

  1. Adrian Dsouza

    Well articulated article. Thanks for sharing

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