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Impropriety vs. Professionalism

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We, especially Indians, tend to dismiss a person lock stock and barrel, if there is any hint of personal misdemeanor or a rumour about his or her “wrong” behaviour in private life. We are quick to denounce them as immoral, unwanted, not worthy of any social interaction, leave alone fit for any responsible position.

This reaction is probably because of our pretentiously “civilized” upbringing (notwithstanding the frequent attacks on women and children that we perpetrate), or rather the Victorian principles we imbibed from the British. But this phenomenon of a “moral stand” is seen mostly among the middle class, because cases related to the other classes, including politicians, do not usually come in public knowledge.

Not condoning any such misadventures in private or public life, I sometimes think, should Impropriety in personal life really affect a person’s professional standing. This thought entered my mind when I read a quotation somewhere, saying that if a potter is ill, he does not necessarily make bad pots; his skill in making pots remains as it is.

I see some examples from other countries, where a personal misdemeanor has not really affected a person’s professional life, except for a brief period.

The case of Bill Clinton is well known, and need not be repeated here. However, what could have caused massive upheavals in a country like ours, leading to clamours in the street, fights in the parliament and possible impeachment, was handled in a very different way in the US. The perpetrator had courage enough to accept his mistake and apologise; the wife though mighty upset, stood by her husband, and Clinton went on to complete his term. He is still a widely respected personality for his other qualities and a highly paid speaker, invited across the world.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then head of IMF lost his job two years ago when his sexual escapades with a New York hotel maid came to light. He faced criminal and civil cases and tried to save himself crying “consensual sex”. The episode did damage his reputation to a great extent, as his French presidential hopes were also shattered. However, talented economist that he is, Strauss-Kahn went on to advise the governments of Serbia and South Sudan as well as banks in Russia and Morocco. Recent news reports say the he had been appointed president of an investment firm with operations in finance centres including Switzerland, Luxembourg, Monaco, Belgium, Israel and Romania. DSK, as he is known, has somewhat recouped his position, although he may never be in presidential contention in his country.

Tiger Woods, one time golfer no. 1, highest earning sportsman, recognized and respected, endorsing many world class brands, saw his nadir when accused of cheating on his wife, had to leave his home, go through a bitter divorce and suffer heavy financial loss as part of alimony. He lost his place in the world of sports and endorsements, his family life and peace. But it is surprising to see him slowly and surely inch back towards regaining his lost position. His career is again on the ascendant and a new girlfriend in tow.

Phanish Murthy, the star of Infosys and Narain Murthy’s blue eyed boy was accused of sexual harassment by an American employee. The case was settled out of court, but Narayan Murthy had to, very reluctantly, remove Phanish from Infosys. Phanish Murthy went on to head another company in the US – iGate and was very successful at it, until he again found himself in the familiar situation of being accused of sexual harassment by an employee in his new company. Phanish was again forced out, and his current whereabouts are not well known. He may be planning a comeback, for all we know. I won’t be surprised to see him heading another company in near future, or probably starting something of his own in the US. However, he will certainly not be welcome in India.

Three of the above cases rocked the world, and Phanish Murthy’s case definitely rocked India and the IT world in general. All the four men managed to make a comeback and lead normal lives again (although Phanish has still to come out from his second episode). I wonder at the social structure of western societies which allows even such disgraced (in our opinion) persons a second chance, and at the strength these people demonstrate to regain their lost position and status.

Thankfully, in the somewhat conservative society that we live, we don’t see many such cases. And I hope I am correct.

However, even the cases which do happen, involving people in high positions, normally do not surface. If they do, they are soon lost in the face of strong denials, long drawn judicial proceedings, corrupt police, hostile witnesses, disappearing complainants etc.

The case of a union minister from Kerala accused of rape has not gone anywhere. The case of a Haryana minister accused of abetting an airhostess’ suicide is still lingering in the court, with the accused out on bail. N D Tiwary’s paternity related case has fallen out of the public memory. Not to speak of corruption cases dogging our politicians, as they are now acceptable to the public also. Various godmen accused of sexual offences and other charges went on to regain their preeminent positions, given a clean chit by the courts. In general, nobody owns his mistakes and misdeeds. So, there is no question of efforts to regain lost ground, but what is required is the ability to carry on shamelessly, denying all accusations.

Despite all our ancient spiritual legacy, we Indians are not strong enough to accept our wrong doings and apologise. Big shots are surrounded by sycophants who go to any lengths to protect their masters and the masters in turn draw their strength from such fawning bootlickers. The slightest affront to a leader (political or religious) creates riot like situations, with their followers not giving two hoots to the law and its enforcers and democratic institutions in general.

But will our present society allow the sick potter to continue spinning his pots? Probably not. That is why the potter tries to hide his sickness. And the façade of purity, virtue and selflessness continues within sick, corrupt and rotten bodies.

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