Can One Thousand Rights Undo A Wrong?

Posted on December 21, 2012 in Specials

By Rahool Gadkari:

Most of us are different people at work, at home, with friends, with family, with loved ones, on the sports field and many other places. It is often a necessity to adopt these multifarious forms to help compartmentalize different areas of one’s life. But usually there is a broad common basis of familiarity that weaves together these identities we adopt, shaping who we really are. The thought of reconciling with a person’s multiple identities (not the dissociative identity disorder kind!) is something I’ve always found intriguing. Good people do bad things, and bad people do good things. How then does one discern who is good and who is bad? And for someone trying to reform oneself, can one thousand rights undo a wrong?

The recent death of Bal Thackeray — the chief of the Shiv Sena, serves as a good starting point for an argument I’ll try and discuss further, through other examples. Mr. Thackeray’s demise saw an outpour of emotions. People thronged the streets to pay their respects, national leaders called upon the family and the huge city of Mumbai came to a virtual standstill. Witnessing this, one would assume that he was a good, nay — a great man, having touched countless lives through his work and message. And I guess that would be a fair thing to say, I have friends who swear by him and his party’s efforts to further the development of Mumbai and Maharashtra. On the flip side though, we also hear of the Shiv Sena’s oftentimes — violent ways, xenophobic behaviour and divisive message. How then should history remember such a man, loved by many, but with a questionable doctrine? Is he a good person or a bad person?

There is unfortunately, no right answer here. It is an entirely subjective matter. But, it puts forth another question — do we ignore the bad if there is enough good? Isn’t everybody guilty of wrongdoing at some level? Perhaps, but I’m not talking about the plebs here, rather about our leaders, people with the power to influence young minds, to shape our country’s and in turn the world’s future. An ill thought message preached by a demagogic leader runs the risk of being further misinterpreted by ardent followers’ generations later. Consequentially, it is imperative that we endeavour to promulgate the right legacy.

No one for instance, will remember fondly the legacy left behind by Adolf Hitler. Neither will we remember positively the lives of Mussolini, or Slobodan MiloÅ¡ević, or Gen. Dyer (the British officer responsible for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919) and many others like them. It is not people like these I’m concerned about, nor great people like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela or Mother Teresa. They can easily be categorized into good or bad. I’m interested in people like Winston Churchill, or Mao Zedong, or perhaps even Yasser Arafat, whose legacies though largely good, were subject to a lot of dispute. Churchill was heartless and indifferent towards India, and should’ve been held accountable for the great Bengal famine of 1943. Under Mao Zedong’s China, countless people lost their lives during the Great Leap Forward campaign. And Yasser Arafat, though revered and respected the world over, was believed by many to have supported the terrorist movement within Palestine and promoted violence against Israel, while amassing a vast personal fortune.

Author Gerald Seymour wrote in his book Harry’s Game (1975) — “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”, and it seems that in situations such as these there are always two sides to the coin. But somehow that explanation seems to be too convenient, too easy, and almost akin to allowing people to absolve themselves of the consequences of their actions. While good/bad are indeed subjective, there needs to be a better dialogue in society today to address the larger implications of our leaders’ actions. The Election Commission of India bans campaigns based on divisive racial/religious messages, but that hasn’t stopped many from continuing with their discordant rhetoric. As with most problems in our country, poverty and the lack of education lie at the root of the issue and need to be addressed before we can hope for the fructification of thoughts similar to what I’m expressing. At a community level, people will indeed vote for the leader who they feel would put in place policies and systems that give them the best chance to get two square meals a day. But very often the message of betterment is veiled in caste politics. Hence the analysis won’t and probably shouldn’t be expected to happen at the grass roots level. Rather it is only through greater awareness and control by regulatory bodies that we can hope that our politicians would focus only on their policies and plans, rather than on their kinship.

This issue also brings to the fore the question of how we should react to Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial aspirations. He is undoubtedly one of India’s savviest and most efficient chief ministers. I knew a gentleman who’d worked with him, and he described to me the amazing work ethic and the pragmatic attitude Mr. Modi possessed. He’s transformed the state of Gujarat into a vibrant business friendly zone, attracting billions of dollars in investments. His ability to get things done, efficiently at that, is unquestionable. But can we elect to our highest democratic office, a man accused of abetting communal violence? By the accusation itself (leading to a travel ban in several western countries), I fear that he has disqualified himself from that race. A representative of the country, no matter how astute, needs to be a unifying figure. Mr. Modi sadly doesn’t fit that bill. Mr. Modi’s example might prove (I’m speculating here) that even with a decade of brilliant statesmanship, certain things cannot be forgotten.

Unlike Mr. Modi though, there are several others who are skirting that thin line between right and wrong. So while the answer to my question about forgiving one wrong in favour of a thousand rights is very subjective, through an awareness of the facts and constructive debate, we can empower our citizens to decide on these people’s guilt. As author Gurcharan Das puts it — “When ordinary human beings err, it is sad, but when leaders do, it haunts us for generations”. Let us then, do our best to put the right people in positions of power.

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