Never before has India’s lack of leadership been as depressingly obvious as it has been in the past few weeks. Never before has the moral vacuum that accompanies those in charge been so apparent.
It’s not just politics — the story that politicians are venal, weak, immoral is an old track — moral bankruptcy now stares at us from cricket to business.
Certainly the business of cricket has the nation up in a stir. The ‘stepping aside’ of BCCI boss N Srinivasan in the wake of the spot-fixing scandal that led to the arrest of his son-in-law has only exposed a greasy complicity among owners, officials and even players.
When Indian captain MS Dhoni is accused of serious conflict of interest, we must ask, do other senior cricketers, current and retired, also face this charge. And what of the small town boy who plays only because he is chasing a dream?
Does he now still hold on to his ideals, raging in impotence because his credibility and motivations could come into question because of a few rotten eggs? Or does he give up and ask: well, what’s in it for me?
It’s not cricket alone. What can one say about the second coming of NR Narayana Murthy at Infosys, once the beacon of middle class aspiration and a symbol of how a professionally-run Indian company could be both ethical and successful?
Murthy’s return as Infosys executive might have led to a surge in stock value, but equally underlines leadership failure. Bringing back a moth-balled former CEO, no matter how beloved or charismatic, speaks of some pretty poor succession planning.
Moreover, by insisting on bringing in his son as his executive assistant, Murthy, once described in such euphemistic terms as ‘iconic’ and even as a possible president of India now stands vulnerable to charges of nepotism, once anathema to the company he founded.
Thousands of entrepreneurs who subscribed to Murthy’s dream could now be asking themselves: if he can promote family, why not us? Tens of thousands of young people can only wonder about the worth of professionalism and whether meritocracy is just another fancy word.
Speaking at the golden jubilee ceremony of the Dayanand Education Society at Latur recently, President Pranab Mukherjee called for instilling social values in young minds. It’s a good piece of advice that comes from a good man.
But when the systemic rot in values infects all fields from industry to media, the president could have taken his question a step further: who is going to instill these values?
The sense of an unraveling begins from the top and works all the way down. Within the BJP, an ageing patriarch takes on the pretender and unseemly speculation about the joust for leadership follows.
The Congress, already infected by a series of seemingly endless scams, now joins ranks with other parties (with the exception of the BJP) in opposing the Central Information Commission’s decision that political parties must come under the Right to Information Act.
Congress managers defend their position on points of law. They are missing the issue. It’s a question of propriety, not splitting hairs over various sub-sections of a law that the party ironically is responsible for.
The disregard of authority to public opinion runs parallel to a growing cynicism in civil society. How else does one explain the lack of public outrage at recent events?
Dhoni’s conflict of interest has barely raised a murmur and the scandal at Ranbaxy where India’s largest drug-maker has been fined $500 million by a US court for adulteration and the fudging of quality tests has barely raised a red flag back home.
Perhaps the real tragedy of the events of the past few weeks is that we have simply lost the expectation of being governed well. Corruption, nepotism and cronyism now invade every area of our lives. If the leadership is rotten, who will show the way? Who sets the standards for India’s youth to follow?
The views expressed by the author are personal