Aeons ago when the halcyon days of democracy had yet not arrived,     the world was governed by kings and queens. The king with his absolute powers ruled over his subjects with the help of his ministers and governors who could be aptly termed as the politicians of those days. Then one day a minister in some province decided that he’d like to be the king himself. But how? Then he along with his followers devised a stratagem to overthrow the king and claim the throne. And after a coup and perhaps some bloodshed, the crown exchanged hands, or more precisely, heads. Thus ever since the world ‘polities’ became an antonym of ‘ethics’, history has witnessed many unethical practices in politics over the centuries. A classical instance of this can be had from the great epic Ramayana in which Lord Rama’s stepmother succeeds in sending Lord Rama, the heir-designate to the throne, into exile in order to get her son crowned as the king. Another great epic Mahabharata portrays how the Kauravas snatched the entire kingdom from the ruling Pandavas by winning a mere game of dice. However, these were bloodless change-over’s and could be justified on moral grounds i.e. honouring a word given by his father by Lord Rama and abdicating the throne voluntarily for no one could have forced him out and the result of indulging in self-destruction through gambling vice of Yudhistra—so cleverly exploited by the wily Shakuni for Kauravas. But elsewhere there was bloodshed and treachery. The great Roman emperor Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by his own ministers on the very floor of the Senate and centuries later Aurangzeb imprisoned his own father, the Mughal ruler Shahjehan after killing his brothers, Dara and Murad in his lust for power. Throughout history these and countless other events around the world manifest how the human avarice for power and riches has driven man to commit unethical and bestial acts. Almost invariably such acts have led to conflicts and bloodshed. The state and its dozens had to bear the brunt of such acts and human kind has regressed into animal hood many a time.

Today, with the advent of modem values based on scientific thought and dramatic advancements in the field of technology, almost every nation in the world can be termed as ‘civilized’. Over the past couple of centuries the system of governance across the world has undergone a metamorphosis and today almost every nation is governed on the principles of democracy. Our own country, India, with more man 60 million voters is today the world’s largest democracy. Hence, it is no wonder that there are thousands of politicians across the country willing to ‘serve’ the people. But the leitmotif of almost all leaders is the same. Not just in our country but politicians around the world will do anything and everything to achieve the ultimate goal—the seat of power. The only difference is that unfortunately the number of such people is much more in our country and their intentions perhaps more profound. Right from the day the election campaign begins to the Prime Minister’s last day in office before the next elections the politicians indulge in numerous unethical ads. Those in office commit these acts to remain in power while those in Opposition engage in such acts to disparage or even dislodge the government since that is their only aim. During the campaign politicians harangue wildly, garnishing their speeches with hollow promises and time-tested anodynes. Large scale distribution of cash and kind to the lower strata of the society takes place since our politicians know quite well that it is the proletariat that constitutes a majority of their vote bank; thanks to the lethargy and indolence of the upper and middle classes.

Sometimes even liquor and drugs are made freely available to entice the voters. It is highly egregious that the same leaders who initiate rehabilitation programmes of drug-addicts and exhort people to refrain from alcohol and drugs, themselves indulge in promoting such acts, which highlight their hypocrisy.

On the other hand, those already in office misuse their powers to a great extent. Many politicians order mass transfers of the government officials to suit their vested interests. It is said that money brings power and our politicians know it only too well. During election campaigns, huge amounts of money are spent, most of which is ill-gotten through corrupt practices and the so-called ‘donations’. Never even once did our politicians realise that this money could have been used for public welfare which would have automatically attracted votes in their favour. The ‘Hawala’ scam, unfolded just prior to the 1996 general elections, in which many prominent leaders of our country were alleged to have received lakhs of rupees through illegal channels, spoke volumes about the state of ethics in the political circles. Some politician’s reach a nadir of immorality when as a last-ditch effort to grab power, they perpetrate booth-capturing and rigging with the help of criminals and dreaded gangsters.

“Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realise that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.” – Ronald Regan

Due to the immense promiscuity of the Indian society, many political parties, big and small, manage to win seats in elections for the Parliament and the various State Legislative Assemblies. This results in a fractured mandate leading to the formation of coalition governments which have been the bane of the Indian political system in recent times. In order to form a government the party with the largest number of MPs or MLAs indulges in ‘horse trades’ or more explicitly, the buying or rival MPs or MLAs to attain majority in the House. Whether the politician is bought with cash, kind or a ministerial berth is decided behind closed doors.
Such ‘up-for-sale’ leaders hold ‘ideological differences’ with their colleagues responsible for their defection while in fact it is the ‘ideological adjustments’ which inspire them to take such unethical steps. One can only imagine the deplorable state of politics when an MP or an MLA who won an election on the basis of his ideologies and agenda deviates from them and joins hands with leaders who advocate diametrically opposite ideologies.
In another situation such ‘power-trading’ goes on in full swing prior to a no-confidence motion. The government which has to survive by all means, employs all possible methods to stay in power. Obviously the easiest method is to purchase the Opposition members’ votes or engineer large scale defections in their favour. The veridical statements made by an MP
recently revealed how the Central government headed by a national party actually bought MPs to avert defeat during a no-confidence motion. A similar but much worse situation arose in the U.P. State Legislative Assembly when the Opposition alleged that the government survived the no-confidence motion by abetting mass defections from other parties. The issue climaxed with MLAs indulging in a physical ‘trial of strength’ on the very floor of the House. As if to prove the opposition’s allegations the Chief Minister allotted a ministerial berth to each and every ML A who had supported him during the no-confidence motion thereby setting an unsurpassable record for the maximum number of ministers in a State Legislative Assembly! Needless to say all norms of ethics become moribund on the day when such detestable events occur.

It is well known that the actions and deeds of the leaders have a telling effect on the minds of the people. In a truly democratic setup, a leader indulging in any misfeasance would be expelled and any such party would meet its Waterloo after the general elections. But what if almost all the leaders and their parties have the same style of functioning? Unfortunately such a pejorative situation is prevalent today in our country and its results could be and have been disastrous. A leader in office has the power to direct the course of the country’s socioeconomic development But the leaders who cannot even spell ethics what to speak of practicing it, can wreak havoc on the country. The birth of scourges like communalism, corruption, under-development, poverty, etc can be attributed to the unethical practices our leaders indulge in. Even after fifty-two years of independence our country falls under the category of Third World nations’ while a country like Singapore which was a tiny, poverty-ridden island only a few decades ago, today takes pride in its high standard of living, per capita income and overall development The simple reason behind this disparity is the leadership based on ethics, morality and discipline in that country. Another serious consequence of unethical politics is the flagging faith of the people in our leaders and the system. The youth are becoming increasingly disillusioned and frustrated due to lack of opportunities and the apathetic leaders. This has been a major factor behind the exodus of our talented youth to the Western countries. On the other hand, the voters are becoming increasingly indolent towards the process of Government formation. This is evident from the low turnout in many recent elections across the country. Actually such voters are led by the belief that all leaders are basically the same and it won’t matter as to which party comes to power. Such public opinion is the major factor behind the current political turmoil under which our country is reeling. Hence, the situation is highly detrimental for the country’s socioeconomic development and overall progress. Undoubtedly politics without following ethical values is bound to bring untold disasters in the country, paralyzing its very democratic fabric.

It is said that devolution is better than revolution but under the present circumstances nothing short of a revolution would suffice. It is high time that our leaders learnt the basic tenets of ethics and more importantly put them into practice. For this they will have to dig into their conscience and bring a seminal change in themselves. Only then will they be able to empathies with the common man who has taken a beating for their misdemeanors. They should learn to accept defeat at the hustling with grace and allow their victorious colleagues to perform their duties smoothly. At the same time, they should keep the public informed about the shortcomings of the government through healthy criticism in keeping with the true spirit of democracy. On the other hand, such an attitude would serve as a moral code of conduct for the upcoming leaders and the youth of the country. People would then shed their cynical views about politicians and come forward to actively participate in the election. Hence our leaders will have to bring ethics into politics before it is forever condemned to its death row. Only then can we, the people of India, reclaim the respect and pride long due to us.