The term “Dictator” evokes an image of someone who possesses absolute power. They are all thought to be oppressive, evil tyrants, who ruled over their lands with absolute ruthlessness. Although many of them have given new meanings to these very terms, it doesn’t mean every citizen under a dictatorship deals with dire consequences. Some of the lesser known dictators have actually been sensible, benevolent and have brought about several positive changes in their respective domains. So, despite their less-than-desirable moments, it wasn’t all that rough a ride! So, it is time you learn about such sensible dictators from our history books who broke stereotype and did more good things than bad.
Mustafa Kemal Pasha – affectionately referred to as Kemal Ataturk, the “Father of the Turks” was responsible for modernizing Turkey.
Kemal Pasha served in field commands during World War One and subsequently became the first Turkish President. He was the Prime Minister of the country from 1920-1921; he then became The President from 1922-1938. As an effective dictator, he abolished the caliphate and radically transformed Turkish society, politics and law. Citizens adopted Western standards of dress, the Latin alphabet, secularism and industry.
Voting rights for women, abolishing polygamy and the right to equal inheritance were landmark extensions of his ideology. He banned Sharia Law, leading to delineation of religion from governance. Pasha also helped in reviving the rich art, architecture, literature, music, libraries – all of which were banned under the Ottoman rule. He encouraged small and large-scale industries, established banks and introduced much needed land reforms to modernize Turkey. (1,2,3)
LEE KUAN YEW:
A ballsy lawyer who freed Singapore from British Rule in 1959 and remained in power for 52 long years during which he transformed the country into one of the richest in Asia.
Born in Singapore, Lee Kuan ruled as the Prime Minister of Singapore from 1959-1990, the senior minister, secretary general of his party and an MP till 2015 – when he died. Singapore transformed into a country with the third highest national per capita income in the world! Once in office, he introduced a five-year plan for urban renewal and construction of new public housing, greater rights for women, educational reforms and industrialization.
Singapore’s lack of natural resources and limited defensive capability were major challenges. He encouraged foreign investment and tried to ensure better standards of living for workers. Each worker had to save 25% of his salary, which would go to a provident fund that was further used to develop infrastructure. He left behind a legacy of an efficiently run country and as a leader who brought prosperity unheard of before his tenure, and made Singapore into a chief financial center of South East Asia. (1,2,3)
King Ashoka ruled large swathes of the Indian subcontinent- stretching from Bengal to present day Afghanistan.The third monarch of the Mauryan Dynasty, he was christened the “Great King Ashoka” recognizing his efforts to spread Buddhism all over.
King Ashoka was the ruler of the Mauryan Kingdom from 268 B.C. to 232 B.C. However, it was not all rosy in the beginning of his rule. Literature depicted him as a blood-thirsty, cruel and ruthless monarch who had many of his brothers murdered so he could seize the throne for himself. He then took a dramatic turn for the better after the Kalinga War and converted to Buddhism and continued to rule wisely and justly from then on.
The story goes like this- he had a two-year long war of succession during which at least one of his brothers was killed. About eight years after his coronation, his armies conquered Kalinga. The large-scale massacre caused by battle, reprisals and turmoil horrified Ashoka so much thathe spent the rest of his life trying to apply Buddhist principles and had a peaceful reign afterwards.
The 13 edicts he issued provided for medical aid to humans and animal welfare and spoke of state and individual morality. During his rule, the death penalty was banned, slavery abolished and civic developments undertaken. He was also responsible for spreading Buddhist teachings in his kingdom and abroad by sending emissaries to Sri Lanka.(1,2)