When we talk of charity and actually helping the needy in our country, we all think of public-spirited people who may be lawyers or NGO workers. With the changing business scenario, even the corporates have started practicing what is known as Corporate Social Responsibility, building hospitals and the like. But in India, we seldom talk of ‘philanthropic politicians.’
Yes, we recently witnessed a kind of political awakening among the masses in the general elections, and because of this political parties promised all kinds of reforms in their election manifestos. Ever since campaigning for the elections started, there was the Congress-BJP-AAP tussle all across the country. The Great Indian Political Scenario led to more people exercising their right to vote. This sensitization was seen mainly among the youth of the country. Desperate for change in the nation, the citizens voted Narendra Modi to power. It was strongly believed that he had the ability to revive the stagnant economy of the nation and work for the benefit of the ‘common man’. While the Modi government has initiated a slew of much-needed reforms ever since it came to power, these measures need time to be implemented. In this regard, if there is any politician the Indian leaders need to learn from, it is José Mujica.
José Mujica, Uruguay’s President, who is popularly known as the ‘World’s Poorest President’ deserves applause from one and all because he gave up a life of luxury and exuberance to help the citizens of his nation. He has been labeled as a politician who ‘does not fiddle his expenses’. Sounds too farfetched? Read on and decide for yourself.
Alberto ‘Pepe’ Mujica Cordano is a former guerrilla fighter and member of the Broad Front coalition of the left-wing parties. Mujica was formerly the Minister of Livestock, Agriculture, and Fisheries from 2005 to 2008 and a Senator afterwards. Contesting as a candidate of the Broad Front, he won the 2009 presidential elections and took office as President on 1 March 2010.
After taking over as the President, Mujica donates a whopping 90% of his not very exorbitant monthly salary of $12,000. The money is used to fund socially beneficial projects and encourage favorable businesses. Though he is the first citizen of Uruguay, yet he lives in a small cottage to avoid expenses of living in the opulent Presidential Palace. He rides in an old Volkswagen Beetle and flies at economy class for all his foreign trips. He says that ‘I don’t live in poverty, I live in simplicity. There’s very little that I need to live.’ Praise for him has rolled in from all sides of the political gamut. He offered refuge to five Guantánamo Bay detainees cleared of wrongdoing, which would make Uruguay the first nation in South America to do so, should the United States accept the offer. Due to these practices and gestures, today he can be regarded as the only ‘philanthropic politician’ who has garnered appreciation world over.
Mujica presents a stark contrast to the Indian political scenario where political leaders spend crores of rupees on campaigning- be it rallies across the length and width of the nation or offering prayers in temples and on the banks of the Ganga. They live in humungous bungalows and spend lakhs of rupees on their travel. While politicians in India love to attend gatherings with all the pomp and show, Mujica moved away from tradition by donning a shirt, pant and slippers during an official programme of the country, thereby changing the notion associated with politicians. A photograph where he was dressed in casuals went viral over the social media. As he has attempted to move away from the lifestyle of a typical President, he has been described as the ‘People’s President.’
Since Mujica spent 13 years in prison under the military dictatorship, where he was shot six times, he devoted his strengths to restore democracy in the country. The Guardian has described him as the ‘humble leader with great ideas’ and The Economist has named Uruguay as the country of the year for 2013. Believing in equality, he worked tirelessly to get the Gay Marriage Act passed. As the President, he has legalized abortion and same sex marriage. Mujica showed his commitment to environment when he rejected a joint energy project with Brazil that would have provided Uruguay with cheap coal energy. One of the highlights of his governance is the decriminalization of the cultivation and sale of marijuana to combat the illegal drug trade. Due to these path-breaking reforms, he made it to the list of 100 Leading Global Thinkers. To the same, he said that ‘I think recognition of gay marriage; abortion and the law on marijuana all represent progress. But they will really achieve something when there is less of a gap between the poor, the destitute and the very rich.’ By his donations and charity, he has taken a step towards elimination of the gap between the rich and the poor.
He believes himself to be a peasant and says that Uruguay is a republican voice for the world. He is disheartened by the state of politics today and says that ‘Politics, which should rule human relations, has succumbed to economics and become a mere administrator of what the financial system does not control’. Through his simple lifestyle and his policies, he has aimed to change this sad reality of politics. He has been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for his relentless efforts in bringing about much-needed change and leading by example.
But at the same time, he has drawn flak from several groups for legalizing marijuana. His critics have argued that this law would turn Uruguay a paradise for pot smokers and this has led to a drop in his popularity. But Mujica is least concerned when he says that ‘It’s part of politics and besides, I am 77 and can’t run again in 2014.’
Here again, he leaves us awestruck as we see a leader who is more concerned about his people and least bothered about any titles. Leaders like Mujica are needed more than ever in today’s times, when we are facing all kinds of challenges that require selfless leaders with a clear vision.