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Recently, an MP in Singapore resigned citing ‘personal reasons’. This was no momentous event in global politics. But, when you dig deeper, it offers interesting lessons, especially for India.

The MP had had an extramarital affair. He was respected and doing a good job. His constituents were sorry to see him go. His party, which has been ruling the country for 50 years with a strong majority, need not have let him resign. The party’s reputation would not have had a big setback if he had just apologized and continued being an MP. It could even have simply ignored the incident as a private domestic event. But the MP resigned, not only from the parliament, but also from the party.

The country’s and ruling party’s tolerance for bad behavior in politics and public services is very low. Lee Kuan Yew, the country’s founding father, had zero tolerance for corruption. At the same time, he embraced meritocracy and attracted top talent to politics and civil services, many of them experienced professionals & leaders from the industry, defense etc. These top talent in government & civil services are paid well, with salaries benchmarked at 70-80% of their peers in the industry & other key professions.

“….misgovernment and corruption always go together. I have it from very trustworthy sources that corruption is increasing in the country”

Mahatma Gandhi said that many decades ago. Forget meritocracy. Many of our elected MPs & MLAs have criminal records or cases pending in courts. Major political parties are not ashamed to field such candidates in elections.

How can we expect ministers with little or no talent to debate, formulate & execute good policies? The salaried bureaucrats who work for such ministers have to be more pitied than censured. Clean & transparent governance starts from the top. Ministers, MPs & MLAs set the tone for the rest of the government machinery.

Whats missing is top talent at the topmost levels in Indian politics.