Taking responsibility is the sign of a good leader but the present-day trend is one of taking credit when good things happen and finding someone else to take the rap when things go wrong. This has been in evidence in plenty in recent times.
After the suicide of Dr. Kelly in Britain last year over the alleged leak in intelligence information, the Hutton Enquiry was asked to probe into the causes of his death and present a detailed report. Lord Hutton looked like he was going about his business thoroughly and much was expected from him. But ultimately, though Hutton spoke of lapses, he completely absolved Tony Blair and his government of any blame with regard to the events leading up to Dr. Kelly's death, and made a scapegoat of the British Broadcasting Corporation instead! Three of their personnel, including two senior officials, were compelled to step down and the BBC has never quite been the same since then. Recently, the Butler Commission was asked to go into the British government's case for going to war with Iraq. It again absolved Teflon Tony of any lapses and chose instead to put the blame on the UK's Secret Intelligence Service. (SIS).
Similarly, in the United States, the Senate Committee's findings gave George Bush an opportunity to blame intelligence failure as the reason for ordering the war against Iraq. This sounded so much like his predecessor, Ronald Reagan (blessed with a thick coat of Teflon) who was able to escape from the fallout of the Iran Contras scandal by feigning ignorance of the real state of affairs. In the case of the Iraq war, the CIA had to take the rap and George Tenet, its chief, was made the fall guy.
What kind of leaders are these who order a war in which thousands of people on the other side, besides their own soldiers, get killed, just on the strength of intelligence reports. The truth as anyone knows it is that the intelligence is almost always doctored to back the decisions of the leaders as it happened with Iraq. So maybe the time has now come for intelligence agencies to prevent themselves from being used so shoddily. They could think of getting ideas from the group of brave Israeli pilots who refused to fly their planes when they came to know that they were going to be used to attack Palestinian targets! Some might call this anarchy but the better word is bravery, as it involves putting one's job on the line to prevent a sinister purpose from being carried out.
Western governments aren't the only ones guilty of passing the buck. Recently, a young Bangalore lad was electrocuted when he accidentally stamped a livewire near an electricity pole. After the huge furor created by his death, the different branches of the government are still absorbed in passing the buck to each other, while also attempting to blame it on the cable operators who are known to use the electric poles to string up their cable wires. When the Power Minister ordered the cutting of cable wires, the people of the city were up in arms more because they were missing their favorite TV programs. In the process, the tragedy of the young life lost has been completely forgotten.
In the recent fire accident in a Kumbakonam school, the teachers were blamed for the deaths of the many young children. It was said that they ran away and left the children to their fate whereas eyewitnesses vouch for the fact that they stayed to help the children escape but bolted from the scene when public anger turned against them. The ones to be made culpable here are the government authorities. It was they who gave recognition to the school, despite knowing that the children were being cramped in limited spaces in a building with a thatched roof (the owner was trying to save his expenses in not arranging for a cement roofing) in which food was being cooked as a part of the government's Mid-Day Meals program. It is a known fact that attendance in these government schools has gone up to 80% ever since this scheme was introduced to provide succor to children from poor families. Should it not be the responsibility of the officials who give permission and grants to the school to ensure basic fire safety measures? But there is probably some money consideration, which leads these officials to ignore these lapses. And when a tragedy of such mammoth proportions takes place, the teachers are framed in place of the actual culprits.
Real leaders are those who have the courage to admit to wrong decisions, but they seem to be in terrible short supply. Most of them are happy to use the bureaucratic machinery to escape from taking the rap. In India, an official, even when discovered, is suspended for the period of the enquiry and his salary docked or reduced. But once the enquiry is complete, he is back to business and very rarely is anyone in government penalized in the manner that he truly deserves to be. The only way that this can perhaps be achieved is when heads of commissions and enquiries, put themselves in the places of those who have been affected by the lapses instead of thinking of a future elevation or a promotion for letting the guilty get off the hook.