Power corrupts but only the powerful remain in power

The world chooses to believe that a known devil is better than the unknown

Sanjeev Gupta
Published: 28, Jul 2015

Sanjeev Gupta has lived and worked across the emerging markets of Africa, the Middle East and India over the last 24 years. During his career, he has developed extensive experience in the conceptualisation and execution of innovative and customised solutions for successful business models in emerging economies amidst the challenges of transformation and policy changes and the complexities of managing paradigm shifts. He has been actively involved in the Private Equity & Corporate Advisory sector and has established a strong reputation for strategic business development and implementation of hitherto untried models in new and fast changing markets. He was the CEO of South African financial services giant Sanlam Investment Management`s Emerging Markets Business till December 2010. Sanjeev is currently the Managing Partner of Emerging Opportunities Consulting , a firm he set up to focus on working with fast growing, consumer facing, family owned businesses looking for strategic and financial support . He is a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Chartered Accountants, a Member of the Investment Analysts Society of South Africa and holds an AMP from Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, UK. His hobbies include writing on business and macro-economic trends and playing golf. He enjoys presenting papers and is an active public speaker in various forums.

A farmer stands as he listens to a speech by India's Congress party vice-president Rahul Gandhi (not pictured) at a farmers rally (Photo: Anindito Mukherjee / Reuters)
A farmer attends a rally of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi (not in picture) at the Ramlila ground in New Delhi in April 2015 (Photo: Anindito Mukherjee / Reuters)

"Cowboys and messiahs all joined at the hip while innocents languish"

Bertrand Russell had once said: “Extreme hopes are born out of extreme misery.”

I was in India recently and saw a headline that read: "Gandhi goes to farmers and visits rural areas".

Circa 1930s anyone? A trip down memory lane. Or a costume parade to relive the years bygone surely?

I mean, come on.

A Gandhi, a Congress leader, a Khadi clad missionary, yet again?

I checked the date.

Nope. It was 2015.

And the oppressor this time?

Not red coat tyrants or saffron-clad do gooders.

The protest, the march, the clamour; all against a duly elected prime minister of the world's largest democracy.

I fleetingly thought about my school civics classes, one of the few subjects I might add I excelled in.

Isn't Parliament the place where you debate and evolve and progress?

Aren’t marches and protests and street fights a manic attempt to be heard by the unheard?

Isn't populism something you resort to when you are disfranchised?

Isn't it rabble rousing when you have no official locus standi in an official political set-up?

But the leader of a party which has ruled for 60 of the 68 years of Independence resorting to such means barely a year after being voted out takes the cake. That too on behalf of those that you espoused were your priority in any case from the day your very own ancestry was born.

If indeed the truth be retold, the essence of our post independence ruling party proposition for decades harks back to pre-freedom promises around equality and empowerment.

So now, to be voted out so unceremoniously and then fight for those very same ideals like some sort of a rebel who has been jailed for activism defies logic.

But here is the sad thing.

It's neither unprecedented nor unusual.

Ankle biting and sabre rattling are ancient sciences.

In my own corporate space, I see it.

When a leader leaves, the successor decides to prove everything was wrong with him.

When all else fails, you blame it on legacy.

And when you succeed, you thank the mentors you had and the lessons you were taught.

Or in this case the inheritance that brought you here in the first place.

They say you have to learn from other people's mistakes.

Not sure anymore.

In frontier markets today, stories abound on financial institutions, backed by ex-blue blood bankers, funded by indiscreet investors, making waves in their aggressive approach toward developing allegedly "well governed" businesses.

The lynchpin of such initiatives are disgraced ex-leaders and entrepreneurs, who somehow can still conjure up investors at the drop of a hat.

Sounds like pay offs to me.

Guilt complex coupled with old school ties are potent combinations on the way to salvation.

And plain and simple herd mentality takes over thereafter.

A tragedy that more than half the people in the world today are still doomed to only hope.

They find solace in anyone who promises, never mind what their track records are.

The proverbial but true "old boys club" gets another winner.

Damn the meritocracy story.

(Read my "Africa and Cowboys" on the same site to draw reference)

And lo behold!

Those same very investors, looking for abnormal returns no doubt, are now peeved.

They are upset.

All because their idea of corporate governance (yes you heard it right) and their expectations on transparency and due process has been now belied.

Really?

And who are they rallying against?

That same fellow who made a Phoenix look like a mere Diwali rocket?

Insanity we know is about doing the same thing and expecting different results.

The business of being on the right side after you have wronged millions for so long is a lucrative one.

Masses are gullible, public memory is short and money flows within a clique that shorts morals and goes long on promises.

Power corrupts.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

But yet, the powerful remain in power all the time, by hook, or by crook.

Or by simple nepotism and media-led brain-washing.

Who says history doesn't repeat itself?

A Gandhi rules through his khadi still and a less-than-bankable banker still makes people bank with their money.

Fines are just fine as they merely redefine what is fine after all.

And masses forget what got them there in the first place and instead believe what /who got them there will take them out of there as well.

But then I am a cynic.

I believe that familiarity should breed contempt.

I believe that tried but failed solutions must die a death, natural or unnatural.

I also believe that people who break public trust and the inalienable principles of social contract must suffer and be made examples of.

It does appear, however, that the world chooses to believe that a known devil is better than the unknown, without harping too much on the devil bit I assume.

What's wrong with that?

So many people can't be wrong.

But it is also my right to see what will be left with so much righteousness around.

The tyranny of an expectation around a better life finds solace in every false promise.

Or maybe the old Mexican proverb has the right message.

It says: “They tried to bury us, but they didn't know we were seeds.”

Amen.

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