As kids we dream of what we want to become when we grow up. From fantasy like becoming Batman or Superman to growing up to be a doctor, engineer, soldier or teacher, we have dreamt of them all. For some it remains a childhood fancy which is forgotten pretty quickly and for some the dream graduates to becoming an ambition, an ambition that is pursued with single minded focus.

But there is another kind of ambition, one that emerges as we evolve into adulthood and join that fierce race to achieve fame, power and most of all money. This drive to acquire overrides all values, ethics and morality that were probably taught by our parents or perhaps in school. So what makes us so ambitious at the cost of all probity and morality that when we achieve a position we simply refuse to let go.

Any public position comes with a responsibility that is not always defined by law but by values of propriety and behavior. A person in public life must stand up as a model to society as he is a leader and has the responsibility to show the way forward. And when he fails in this duty, society as a whole fails. When this is repeated often then society begins to live with this behavior and soon that becomes the standard. A society must only allow those who uphold the principles of probity and responsibility, to lead and remove or disallow all those who don’t.

The South Korean Ferry disaster, April 2014

Today the prime minister of South Korea, Chung Hong-won, announced his resignation over the sinking of the ferry that killed 187 with 115 more still missing. A majority of those who died were young students who drowned in freezing waters. The fault wasn’t his and he was not responsible for the ferry’s condition or operation in any way. But he has taken moral responsibility.

Announcing his resignation, this is what he had to say “ It has been more than 10 days since the sinking accident occurred, but the cries from the family members, who still not have found their missing keep me from sleeping at night,”. He further said “I bow my head and express my condolences to the victims’ portraits of this accident. I apologize deeply to the bereaving families, and I pray for a quick recovery from the hurt of a slow recovery.”

Do we get to hear any of that from our leadership when we have had disasters far worse?

Bhopal Gas Tragedy, Dec 1984

Now compare this with what happened during the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. 2,259 people died that night, 8,000 died within two weeks, and another 8,000 have died since due to gas related diseases. The Chief Minister of the state at the time, Arjun Singh did not resign, the Prime Minister of the day, Rajiv Gandhi did not resign. Life moved on as usual.

Uttarakhand Disaster, June 2013

June 2013 saw one of the worst flash floods in Uttarakhand when overnight cloudburst sent down torrential rain in the Kedarnath region of Rudraprayag. It is reported that over 5,700 persons died while the government’s numbers were in the region of around 900 dead. Compare this with the then Chief Minister, Vijay Bahuguna’s response. He was both hapless and clueless in his response and let the army take leadership in search, rescue and rehabilitation efforts in the aftermath. No need for stepping down here.

CWG Games fiasco, October 2010

All of us remember with disgust when the CWG Games scandal of 2010 which broke just before the games got inaugurated. The nation watched helplessly as the world took notice of how our system allowed one person to show the thumb to the nation and carry on shamelessly. Kalmadi ultimately went to jail. So what is it that makes us love the throne so much that we refuse to vacate it till death do us apart?

BCCI Controversy, 2013-14

More recently, N. Srinivasan, ex-President, has personified utter shamelessness, complete disregard to propriety and total contempt of public opinion. So what makes a man who has a very successful business running and has attained all kinds of positions and recognition in his society still want to cling onto his chair? Why does it take the courts to intervene to finally force him to step aside? Where does a man’s conscience go when it comes to letting go of one’s position?

Indian Olympic Association Controversy, Dec 2012

In December 2012, International Olympic Committee suspended the Indian Olympic Association for repeated violations of the Olympic Charter. A black day for sports in India. The IOA led by Ajay Singh Chautala and the Secretary General, Lalit Bhanot, both having been jailed on corruption charges, stuck on to their positions until it took direct intervention from the IOC that forced them to relinquish their long held seats.

This scenario plays out in most areas of public life where we as a nation allow persons to stay on in a position for a longer period than they need to.

Other examples

Not all are extreme examples. There are several situations where we don’t leave on our own until we are pressured adequately by public and media. We simply don’t know when to let go.

Sachin Tendulkar would be a good example. He has achieved every milestone there was to achieve in the game of cricket. He got all the love, respect and recognition there was to get by an extremely grateful nation but when it came to letting go, even the great Tendulkar showed reluctance to leave gracefully. It took a lot of pressure from fans, media and finally the BCCI to gently point that it was time to go.

This year’s IPL has seen a nightmare start for KKR’s captain, Gautam Gambhir. In three matches the captain got out on duck and still plays the fourth game, where he scores one run in two balls and gets out. That’s one run in four matches by a top order batsman in the world’s premier T20 tournament. Would an Australian or English Captain still play on?

He is not the only one. Dhoni despite the recent IPL controversy and a series of disastrous test performances, does not consider stepping aside an option. Why do we love our thrones so much?

There was a time when India stood for values in public life. Why did we let go these values as we walked towards development? Can we introspect within ourselves and redefine the value systems we wish to see in our society? India needs to awaken and fast.