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  • The powerful never deign to say sorry

    Posted On April 16, 2017

    By Karan Thapar

    They say to err is human to forgive divine but conveniently skip over the critical intervening stage of the need to apologize. No doubt this is because saying sorry isn’t easy. It’s an admission of a mistake. More importantly, it would suggest contrition. An apology is, therefore, a humbling experience that few are capable of.

    Two recent events prove my point. One concerns an MP, a member of a category that considers itself very important. The other concerns the government.

    Ravindra Gaikwad, the Shiv Sena MP who boasted of beating an Air India Manager with his slippers, simply couldn’t bring himself to apologize. The best he could manage was “to convey his regrets”, but to the Civil Aviation Minister and not the victim of his assault.

    Even this expression of regret was hypocritical if not, actually, illogical. Speaking in Parliament Mr. Gaikwad claimed he had only pushed the official and only after he himself had been pushed around. He also claimed the Air India official had taunted him. In other words he had been provoked. This account of what happened doesn’t suggest regret but an attempt to whitewash the incident and escape blame.

    To be honest, Mr. Gaikwad’s regret was a ploy to get his travel-ban lifted. It’s a shame it was. In his case he didn’t admit to erring, refused to apologize but was, nonetheless, forgiven! I guess this is why the need to apologize isn’t necessary to link erring with forgiveness.

    The incident connected with the government is worse. It concerns the despicable attack on Africans in Greater Noida. Not once but repeatedly and at multiple levels the government refused to accept the attack was racist. Understandably that stand riled the African Ambassadors. How different their response would have been if, instead, the government had said: “Whilst we’re investigating the incident we apologize for what happened. That this should have happened to our African guests at the hands of their Indian hosts shames us.” This simple apology would have defused the situation immediately.

    Worse, the Spokesman of the External Affairs Ministry called the attack “a criminal act triggered following the untimely death of a young student under suspicious circumstances.” First, that suggested a link between the two and an explanation for the attack on the Africans. Far from apologizing this was placing-in-context and, perhaps, justifying why it happened.

    Even more bizarrely, the Spokesman failed to mention that the five Nigerian students initially arrested in connection with the Indian student’s death were released within 24 hours because the police found no evidence to link them to the alleged crime. He also suppressed the fact Abhinandan Singh, Additional Superintendent of Police in Greater Noida, had said (see the New York Times of 29/3/2017) there is no evidence that any Africans were involved in the student’s death or, even, that he died of a drug overdose.

    The Spokesman’s intention was to put the best gloss on what happened rather than express contrition leave aside apologize. He knew India had erred but couldn’t admit it. He wanted forgiveness but was too proud to say sorry.

    My conclusion may be whimsical but seems irresistible: important people and powerful governments are just too big to say sorry. When they err they expect forgiveness and, sadly, often get it. It’s the small folk who say sorry. That’s people like you and me.


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