Why our politicians never say sorry

Arvind K

In a rarity in Indian Politics, Arvind Kejriwal last week admitted that his impulsive exit as Chief Minister of Delhi was a mistake. I say rare because –think about it- when was the last time any of our politicians actually apologized or admitted to making a mistake?

While Arvind Kejriwal finally admitted his mistake, it was a poorly timed move that now just looks like a desperate attempt to regain the electorate’s trust- trust that was left shattered by his untimely and melodramatic exit. One wonders if an apology has just become a mere tactic in Indian politics to woo voters by showing fake sympathy.

With the entry of the AAP in the political landscape of the country, the public hoped for a new dawn of clean politics with a stress on humility and efficient governance. Yet the AAP’s short stint in Delhi proved that it failed to live up to these expectations, and just like the others it defended or chose to remain silent on objectionable actions by its party members- be it Kumar Vishwas’ comment on nurses from Kerala, or Somnath Bharti’s racism against Africans living in Delhi.

Is an apology so detrimental to a political party’s success in India? A Samajwadi Party leader sparked nationwide outrage last week with his insensitive comment on anti-rape law and pre-marital sex. In his defense, another senior leader from the SP, Abu Azmi initiated fresh controversy by talking about rape and consent. While the nation expressed fury and outrage at these comments, no one in the party thought of issuing an apology- even as the media continued to highlight the issue.

In another recent case, the BJP chose to defend its member Amit Shah’s “revenge” remark and justify it by saying that even Obama has used the word in the past. Our national parties- be it the BJP or the Congress- have had an unfortunate history of making insensitive and provocative statements without ever bothering to correct themselves or having the wisdom to close the unsavory chapter by issuing a simple apology.

This election season has seen some of the worst mudslinging and use of derogatory language in the recent past. Personal attacks have become the most common form of putting down one’s opponent. When the country is faced with issues like a decline in GDP growth, agriculture and human rights crises- our politicians are busy taking personal potshots at each other. Is it so difficult to win votes without mudslinging? Are voters not interested in knowing more about how a political party will make a positive change, or has our democracy just become a platform for cheap talk and gossip?

We have become a society that has stopped holding its politicians accountable for what they say in public- even at the expense of suffering because of their actions and words. Questioning and criticism by the media is also mostly never satisfactory. It is also worrying to see how Indians have taken democracy for granted and continue to overlook this shameful behavior by voting for these same politicians again -without ever questioning them- and conveniently forgetting their past comments in the light of new promises –promises that remain unfulfilled election after election.

Our politicians feel powerful and fearless in this country because its people have chosen to remain silent. In the words of Desmond Tutu, if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. We keep reassuring them that they can say whatever they want and we will continue to ignore it if we don’t like it, but we will not demand their apology.  But we as voters are not empowering women, democracy or human rights in this country by choosing to remain silent. We are empowering hatred, violence and bigotry. Our silence has become the license for politicians to say whatever they like, and this is so commonplace now that a simple sorry seems to be the hardest word in the realm of Indian politics.

The author, Pari Trivedi, tweets @parispective.