Image Source: Pexels
Image Source: Pexels

This Wednesday just past was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian season of Lent, and I started it off with what has become my usual little ritual. Reading T S Eliot’s soaring cathedral of a poem by the same name and reveling in the fact that I haven’t forgotten the first four lines. “Because I do not hope to turn again/ Because I do not hope/ Because I do not hope to turn/ Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope/ I no longer strive to strive after such things….”

Sometimes it is hard going and even bewildering, infinitely layered to reflect the thinking of a man conflicted about God and ideas of heaven and hell, but in the end, the awakening towards spirituality comes through, the acceptance of divine forgiveness, and far from abandoning hope, I begin to hope again. Provided, of course, Mea Culpa (through my fault) is followed by I am sorry.

It’s strange how both these concepts seem so utterly alien to our politicians and bureaucrats, but particularly the former. How many of our leaders have ever publicly accepted that they are responsible for some terrible outrage or scam or fraud or criminal activity (take your pick) and followed it up with an expression of sorrow and regret. In other words, saying sorry.

Sure, there are sanctimonious expressions of collective regret, carefully calibrated to reflect one’s individual innocence. “I will resign on moral grounds.” How often have we heard this from ministers, bureaucrats and other officials? The moral argument enables them to pretend that they are not really responsible and that the public actually acknowledges their magnanimity in being either scapegoat or sacrificial lamb.

And then there are our politicians, that is, career criminals, who, even when caught with their hands in the till or up someone’s skirt, who even after being found guilty in a court of law, actually have the temerity to piously intone, “I will go to the court of the people” or, worse, “I trust in God”. Or in the judicial system.

Yet history shows that those who acknowledge guilt and wrong doing, following it up with an apology, are actually judged far less harshly by the world.  A good example is Rajat Gupta, the first Indian (and foreign born) to lead management consultancy firm McKinsey and Co. for nine years. Accused of insider trading, convicted and sentenced to prison for just two years, he humbly accepted his guilt and offered reparation freely. His friends and admirers stuck by him and even the judge, while sentencing him, called him “a good man” who had, however, done bad things.

Personally, the case stood out because I compared it with the seeming inability to accept guilt that plagues the Indian public space, the outright refusal to see oneself as guilty, even when the wrong-doing is clearly established. Gupta was convicted on circumstantial evidence that was so overwhelming that the jury had no problem in saying he was guilty.

Everything is done and dusted now, but there have been consequences, even for the man who set up the country’s best private management school, the ISB in Hyderabad. His name has been erased from the directory of men who led McKinsey, and that must be hard to bear. And now, as recently as January, we learn that Gupta, who has always maintained his innocence, suffered a second setback in an attempt to get the courts in the US to overturn his conviction. Why can’t the man just accept that he was guilty?

I sometimes wonder what my own reaction might have been if Prime Minister Narendra Modi ever accepted responsibility for the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat after Godhra and apologised? “Moral responsibility” would be fine, because everyone is still looking for closure.

That’s never going to happen now. No Mea Culpa, no sorry. But that is also because he no longer can. Whether he admits it or not, he is also subject to external pressures and internal party priorities. Thankfully, I have no such problems. So here it is. Mea Culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa to all those I have wronged in some way or the other. And I am sorry.

Former journalist, now media educator, still curious about everything.

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