Where is India’s Jacinda Ardern?

Can the country produce its own iconic Prime Minister? It desperately needs one, writes Mari Marcel Thekaekara.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern waves as she leaves after the Friday prayers at Hagley Park outside Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand 22 March 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su

India is being wrenched apart by an orchestrated hate fest never seen before, not even at the peak of the Hindu-Muslim riots just before Partition in 1947. So, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's outstanding example of dealing spectacularly with a hate-driven crisis, is particularly relevant to our country and to our leadership at this particular point in time. Ardern's statesmanship, or should it be stateswomanship, has earned her iconic status as an extraordinarily exemplary world leader. Her youth, her sincerity, her unrivalled courage in such a difficult situation, is being hailed internationally as the only way ahead, to stop violence and create global unity.

Instead of screaming revenge, as many others have done, this woman stepped forward and embraced the victims, with no thought of political consequences. Jacinda was spontaneous, genuine and unaffected. The world in general and youth in particular, can see through phoney gestures and political photo ops. For once, here was a politician who was the real thing. She led her entire country to condemn the hateful gunning down of the innocent victims, a Muslim minority in largely white dominated New Zealand. Christians, Jewish people and other people of all faiths followed to show solidarity and empathy with their Muslim countrymen. Sikh gurudwaras in New Zealand opened up for the survivors’ families.

Jacinda led by example, donning a head-scarf in empathy and to show respect for the victims and their traditions. She announced she would not give the shooter the publicity he craved by ever naming him. Her action of having the Muslim azaan or call to prayer played publicly throughout the country has stunned every Islamic nation. It has disarmed every Muslim, except the most hate-filled terrorists possibly. By every gesture – headscarf, azaan, embracing the victims, Jacinda put her money where her mouth is. And headlines around the globe screamed appreciation and admiration in a world starved, yes, longing for decent leaders.

To hear that the Gulf emirate’s Burj Khalifa tower lit up with an image of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in admiration of her nation's unhesitating position of solidarity with her country’s slain Muslims and the bereaved families, is unprecedented.

Will Jacinda's actions and the effect it had on her people, and people around the world, turn the tide? Can world leaders emulate her actions instead of spewing venom and stereotyping all Muslims as terrorists, as happens all too often?

We need two way traffic, though. Muslim leaders have saluted her and calls have gone out for an end to terrorism. One such voice of sanity, comes from a Malaysian professor, unnamed, as I would not like to make him a target for fanatics. Paraphrased, he said ‘I felt extreme sadness, but not shock as all of us could see this coming. We Muslims,’ he continues, ‘are ominously silent on heinous acts of terrorism perpetrated by ISIS and others of that ilk.’

He quotes the prophet Mohammed's rule ‘about living in harmony with others. The Prophet had said to some Muslims; do not cause dishonour to your dead parents. When the Muslims asked how would they cause dishonour to their own parents, the Prophet simply replied; if you insult and dishonour the parents of others than they in turn will insult and dishonour your own parents! In other words, the act of dishonouring is an insult to the Muslims’ own parents. The Prophet had blamed the Muslims themselves, not the non-Muslim. It is such a simple rule. It is part of the universal wisdom of do not do unto others as you do not want it to to be done unto yourself.’

The world would be heaven, as John Lennon ‘imagined’, if everyone obeyed the simple rules of peace and harmony which every religion basically teaches. It's heartening to see young people taking to the streets in order to save the world's environment for future generations. It would be wonderful if young people everywhere showed the same eagerness now, to turn the clock and return to a world where terror attacks were the exception not the rule. Where it was a relatively safer place for everyone.

Back to India, where the sabre rattling before the forthcoming elections is particularly ominous. Rabble rousing is so much easier than poverty eradication. Peace groups are trying their best to be heard. Its hard because the hate-mongers scream the loudest. Hope lies in young people. Can India produce an iconic Prime Minister like Jacinda. We desperately need one. We desperately need peace, harmony and hope.