Politics and ethics are often considered mutually irreconcilable. It is commonly held that running the affairs of the state, contesting elections, and defeating opponents often requires one to take measures that may be outside the acceptable ethical spectrum of society.
In the modern-day, such political behavior is reinforced by the observations that politicians who indulge in corruption, bribe the voters, play divisive/narrow politics, often win elections. On the other hand, the man of wisdom and ethics is unable to win elections.
Historical backgroung of being both Politically successful and Ethical
Even in the Mahabharata, when Youdhisthir was questioned by Draupadi as to why he did not break the exile and fight to win back his Empire, Youdhisthir, separated from the affairs of the state in the jungle, said that it would be “Adharma” to do so. However, once on the battlefield, the same Yudhisthir lied to Dronacharya when asked if Ashwathama was dead. Thus, tales like these have reinforced the belief that politics and statecraft require certain compromises on morality.
However to believe that politics and ethics are irreconcilable would be taking a very narrow view. Even in ancient times, we have examples of Kings being the fountainhead of justice (e.g. Raja Vikramaditya). It was Ashoka who conquered the world, not by war and politics but by his heightened morality and his Peace missionaries. Mahatma Gandhi was able to capture the imagination of people by his moral ideas of truth and nonviolence. Leaders like Lal Bahadur Shastri who took up the moral responsibility and resigned as Railway Minister because of the train accident went on to become the prime minister of India.
Ethics can be sustained in politics with the right electoral reforms, enlightened citizenry, tools of accountability, and attracting better peoples to politics.