A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Henry VIII and Indian Petrol Adulteration


Cardinal Wolsey commits a blunder in Act 3 of Henry VIII when he arranges for his aide Thomas Cromwell to deliver a message to the king intended to persuade him to marry the Duchess of Alencon instead of Anne Bullen. The packet Cromwell delivers is actually an inventory of Wolsey's worldly goods, revealing Wolsey's misappropriation of the contents of the King's purse. Henry VIII marvels over the list:

Hen: "What piles of wealth hath he accumulated
To his own portion! And what expense by the hour
Seems to flow from him! How i' the name of thrift
Does he rake this together?"

A modern day avatar of Henry VIII, Manjunath Shanmugam, was murdered last weekend outside of Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern central India bordering Nepal. Mr. Shanmugam was shocked and appalled not by a greedy Cardinal, but by corrupt gas station owners who adulterate their gasoline with kerosene, and he mounted a crusade against them. In recent weeks Mr. Shanmugam had sealed shut the gas pumps of some stations and published the names of other offending ones, earning their enmity. His body was found, beaten and with six bullet holes in it, inside a car owned by Sulakshan Mittal. Mr. Mittal owns a gas station in the Gola area of Lakhimpur district whose spigot had been sealed as a punishment for its adulterated gas. You'd think the murderers would be smarter than that, but then you'd think Cardinal Wolsey would have been smarter about that inventory list, too:

Wolsey: "……………………..'Tis so!
This paper has undone me. 'Tis th' account
Of all that world of wealth I have drawn together
For mine own ends – indeed, to gain the Popedom
And fee my friends in Rome."

Eternal vigilance, we were told at the inception of our republic, is the price of liberty. But in what direction that vigilance should be targeted requires some thought. Clearly the threat to liberty comes not only from totalitarian visions that appeal to our adolescent desire for utopia, whereby someone's idea of heaven is hog-tied and dragged kicking and screaming to earth, and those earthlings who are unwilling to enter the offered heaven-on-earth are purged and sent (a bit paradoxically) to whatever real afterlife may be in store for them. No, the threat to liberty also comes from plain old corruption, the failure of enforcement of fair rules, which appeals not to adolescent utopian ardor, but to simple adult greed.

Wolsey: "……………….O negligence,
Fit for a fool to fall by! What cross devil
Made me put this main secret in the packet
I sent the King? Is there no way to cure this?
No new device to beat this from his brains?"

A relevant and revealing contrast to Mr. Shanmugam is available in the form of a republican California congressman, Randy Cunningham. Mr. Cunningham, who is also the decorated Vietnam fighter pilot on whose career Top Gun was loosely based, resigned today in disgrace after pleading guilty to taking over $2 million in bribes from a defense contractor. The former congressman's conduct can hardly withstand comparison to Mr. Shanmugam's heroism and ultimate sacrifice. One can only hope Mr. Shanmugam will inspire more people in India than Mr. Cunningham will render cynical in America. Here Wolsey, knowing his corruption to be discovered, announces to Cromwell his heartfelt remorse over the bribes he took from those defense contractors, I mean over the money he took from the royal treasury:

Wol: "Mark but my fall, and that that ruined me.
Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition!
By that sin fell the angels; how can man, then,
The image of his Maker, hope to win by it?
Love thyself last; cherish the hearts that hate thee.
Corruption wins not more than honesty.
Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace
To silence envious tongues. Be just, and fear not.
Let all the ends thou aim'st at be thy country's,
Thy God's, and truth's; then if thou fall'st, O Cromwell,
Thou fall'st a blessed martyr."

Fallen as a blessed martyr, as Mr. Shanmugam fell. In dedicating his life toward rooting out the corruption that has bedeviled India, the ends Mr. Shanmugam aimed at were indeed his country's. And while it is true that Mr. Cunningham is alive, he will live in prison, while Shanmugam will live eternally in the grateful hearts of his countrymen.

"Corruption wins not more than honesty."

P.S. Allow me to recommend a post by the always recommendable Don Surber.

And allow me to recommend another post by the always recommendable Mr. Surber.

And allow me to recommend the always appealing politicalteen with this link.

And yet another recommended political teen post.

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