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In Quest of a Hero?

G.D. Deshingkar

By Ross Terrill
Clarion Press, Delhi, 1978, pp. 331, Rs. 75.00

VOLUME IV NUMBER 4 January-February 1980

Nobody ever thinks of writing a book on ‘America After Carter’ or ‘Britain After Margaret Thatcher’. But books ·and articles on ‘Post-Nehru India’, and ‘China After Mao’ abound. Why? Is it that America and Britain are crisis-free societies? Obviously not; they have been visibly moving from crisis to crisis. But a change of leadership there does not seem to make much difference. In contrast, in Third World societies, leaders play enor­mously important roles. My tentative conclusion about this phenomenon is that the quality of the top leaders in developed countries has been uniformly poor in the post-World War II era. The Trumans, the Eisenhowers, the Callaghans, the Schmidts, the Tanakas pale into insignificance when compared to the Maos, the Nehrus, the Ho Chi Minhs. The genre of books ‘X After So-and­-So’ reflects the First World's view of the Third World. This is that institutions, norms, consensus and policy-thrusts in the First World are in the stage of matu­rity. But every Third World society depends on the leader of the moment for its institutions, norms and policy. Every­thing changes with the change of the leader. One can turn this proposition on its head and argue that the need for radical change is desperate almost everywhere. But only Third World societies seem to be attempting such a change through the agency of towering leaders. The First and the Second Worlds respond with only routine adjustments. Mao Zedong (Mao-Tsetung) has the unique distinction of having attempted not just one radical change but several. Obviously, he was unable to find the solu­tion during his lifetime. Otherwise he would not have switched policies so radi­cally and so often. He did go disastrously wrong on some occasions but he always drew lessons from previous experience. Ross Terrill has undertaken the enor­mously difficult task of evaluating Mao. He has produced an immensely readable book. It is enlivened by personal anecdotes which cast light on the changes and debates in China after Mao's death. History, documentation, personal observations and interpretation are skillfully woven to­gether. To Terrill, Mao was a brilliant revolu­tionary who outlived the ‘heroic age’ in Chinese history and thus ‘became an albatross around China's neck at the end’. He did not realize that the Chinese people had changed; he continued to believe in a revolution which was an anachronism. But the problem, says Terrill, went deeper. Mao's ...

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