Important people and powerful governments can’t bring themselves to say sorry | columns | Hindustan Times
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Important people and powerful governments can’t bring themselves to say sorry

Even this expression of regret was hypocritical if not, actually, illogical. Speaking in Parliament Mr Ravindra Gaikwad claimed he had only pushed the official and only after he himself had been pushed around. He also claimed the Air India official had taunted him. In other words he had been provoked. This account of what happened doesn’t suggest regret but an attempt to whitewash the incident and escape blame.

columns Updated: Apr 15, 2017 19:34 IST
Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad in Lok Sabha, April 6 , 2017
Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad in Lok Sabha, April 6 , 2017

They say to err is human to forgive divine but conveniently skip over the critical intervening stage of the need to apologise. No doubt this is because saying sorry isn’t easy. It’s an admission of a mistake. More importantly, it would suggest contrition. An apology is, therefore, a humbling experience that few are capable of.

Two recent events prove my point. One concerns an MP, a member of a category that considers itself very important. The other concerns the government.

Ravindra Gaikwad, the Shiv Sena MP who boasted of beating an Air India manager with his slippers, couldn’t bring himself to apologise. The best he could manage was “to convey his regrets”, but to the civil aviation minister and not the victim of his assault.

Even this expression of regret was hypocritical if not, actually, illogical. Speaking in Parliament Mr Gaikwad claimed he had only pushed the official and only after he himself had been pushed around. He also claimed the Air India official had taunted him. In other words he had been provoked. This account of what happened doesn’t suggest regret but an attempt to whitewash the incident and escape blame.

To be honest, Mr Gaikwad’s regret was a ploy to get his travel-ban lifted. It’s a shame it was. In his case he didn’t admit to erring, refused to apologise but was, nonetheless, forgiven! I guess this is why the need to apologise isn’t necessary to link erring with forgiveness.

The incident connected with the government is worse. It concerns the despicable attack on Africans in Greater Noida. Not once but repeatedly and at multiple levels the government refused to accept the attack was racist. Understandably that stand riled the African ambassadors. How different their response would have been if, instead, the government had said: “Whilst we’re investigating the incident we apologise for what happened. That this should have happened to our African guests at the hands of their Indian hosts shames us.” This simple apology would have defused the situation immediately.

Worse, the spokesman of the external affairs ministry called the attack “a criminal act triggered following the untimely death of a young student under suspicious circumstances.” First, that suggested a link between the two and an explanation for the attack on the Africans. Far from apologising this was placing-in-context and, perhaps, justifying why it happened.

Even more bizarrely, the spokesman failed to mention that the five Nigerian students initially arrested in connection with the Indian student’s death were released within 24 hours because the police found no evidence to link them to the alleged crime. He also suppressed the fact Abhinandan Singh, additional superintendent of police in Greater Noida, had said (see the New York Times of 29/3/2017) there is no evidence that any Africans were involved in the student’s death or, even, that he died of a drug overdose.

The spokesman’s intention was to put the best gloss on what happened rather than express contrition leave aside apologise. He knew India had erred but couldn’t admit it. He wanted forgiveness but was too proud to say sorry.

My conclusion may be whimsical but seems irresistible: Important people and powerful governments are just too big to say sorry. When they err they expect forgiveness and, sadly, often get it. It’s the small folk who say sorry. That’s people like you and me.

The views expressed are personal