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Success without Character

In the former half of 2000s I suggested a topic for an inter-school declamation competition. I was teaching at Sawan Public School, Delhi at that time and the competition was an annual event. More than 30 schools from different states of North India participated. My suggestion was: “Success without character is hollow.” It was an adaptation of a quote from Albert Einstein: “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.”

My suggestion elicited a few dissenting murmurs. “Is success possible without some compromises?” A senior faculty member asked me. The others desisted from articulating their dissent. For some reason the Principal nodded his assent and as was the practice the topic was displayed on the stage of the auditorium where the competition was to be held. You can see it in the picture below.

It was an interesting competition with more than 30 brilliant young speakers from some elite schools of the region trying to enlighten a few hundred listeners about the importance of character. Narendra Modi had presided over the genocide in Gujarat a year before that and eventually went on to secure a massive victory for his party in the assembly elections that ensued. Nobody mentioned that victory in the declamation speeches, but what prompted me to suggest the topic was what had happened in Gujarat.

As years passed, I watched with consternation how Modi went on to conquer the country like a medieval marauder. As soon as he conquered the most coveted seat of power in Delhi, the country began witnessing a bewildering assortment of crimes: attacks on certain religious institutions and people, lynching, sporadic assaults and murders even of writers and dissenters, inane claims made in the name of the country’s ancient culture and so on.

We have now reached a stage when everything from mindless violence to mind-blowing corruption is justified so long as it is done for the sake or benefit of the ruling party or persons somehow associated with it.

Success with character is impossible, it seems, today. The entire foundation of the country’s morality and even spirituality has undergone a radical change, a change for the worse, and the downslide has gathered a formidable momentum.

In the last few weeks, Kerala has been witnessing an unusual strike. A few nuns took their grievances to the streets, something unprecedented in the history of Christianity in India. Their protests ended only with the arrest of a bishop. The arrest seems to be unwrapping too many scandals within the Church.

I wouldn’t go to the extent of suggesting that there is any link between the political corruption and the religious one. The truth is that moral corruption is like a cancer: it spreads rapidly to all parts of the organism sooner than later. Even if there is no such connection in this case, the case itself reminds me that success without character is hollow. The bishop had conquered great heights but without character. It is possible that he will come out of the charges unscathed except for a temporary prison term and minor inconveniences. Already action has been taken against one of the nuns for disobeying the laws and restrictions imposed by the Church by hitting the streets in protest. Finally the villain will become the saint and vice-versa. I had suggested this long before the nuns had taken to public protests.

Every system has a self-correcting mechanism, however. The decay won’t go on forever. There will be an eruption before the reformation begins. There is no lasting success without character, in short.


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