Before we begin talking about corruption in India, let us first define what is corruption? To keep it brief, I will quote it from a paper from Management Systems International (MSI), Washington, DC:
Corruption is misuse of public (or private) office for personal gain, including but not limited to:
· Influence Peddling
I would like to add that corruption also includes willful disregard, negligence and disrespect of the work or the job for which one is duly assigned and compensated for.
|Corruption breeds poverty and poverty breeds corruption. They are intertwined like the helix of a DNA.
I have often said that corruption is rampant in India. It has permeated in the very fabric of the society. There are corrupt businessmen, teachers, engineers, doctors, bureaucrats, politicians and others. If this is the case then why do we single out the politicians and the bureaucrats as the culprits? After all aren’t they essentially elected samples of the society?
Let us dig deeper into the infrastructure of corruption and its impact on the nation. To keep the subject focused, let me divide the society into 4 major groups:
1. Private empowered (businessmen, high end professionals etc)
2. Public empowered (politicians and bureaucrats)
3. Private marginally empowered (teachers, low end professional, shop owners etc)
4. Un-empowered segment
The un-empowered, often called the poor, are those victimized by (data from MSI):
1. Low income
a. Lack of nourishment for sustenance
b. Lack of shelter and clothing for sustenance
2. Low education
3. Lack of sound health and health care
4. Vulnerability to any outside influence
5. Powerlessness in shaping their destiny
In our country, a whopping 400+ million people are un-empowered. Most of them live in villages and are farmers and farm labors.
When corruption takes place between the private empowered, public empowered and amongst each other, these groups have the resources to deal with its ill effects and survive from it. There are actual examples of the economy even benefiting from this kind of corruption. Human greed is often a powerful motive force toward economic productivity. Unchecked capitalism is an example of that. However, I do believe that even more thriving economy can be created by controlling this kind of corruption through proper systemic restraints. Corruption in any form will eventually run wild and cannot be condoned. The corruption that we see in the western world largely falls in this category. The recent Wall Street fiasco of 2008 is an example of that. The private marginally empowered segment is sometimes victimized by this kind of corruption. The un-empowered are not a participant in this game and therefore are not directly and immediately impacted.
The un-empowered, largely depend on the public empowered (politicians and bureaucrats) in their efforts to rise above the suffocating grip of poverty. This is where the most heinous form of corruption takes place denying these people their fundamental right of a citizen to lead a basic dignified living and eventually become a productive participant in creating wealth for the country. Whatever little social welfare trickles down from the corrupt politicians and the bureaucrats is soaked up by the marginally empowered in a last ditch spectacle of corruption. The right analogy will be from the planes of Serengeti. The carcass is first devoured by the lions, then by the hyenas, the jackals and eventually by the vultures. The helpless simply watch from a safe distance to pass the poverty on to the next generation.
Now, let us look into the relationship between these un-empowered people and the politicians. To begin with let us categorize the politician in four groups:
1. Competent and honest
2. Competent and corrupt
3. Incompetent and corrupt
4. Incompetent and honest
I would not talk about the fourth category. It is almost inconsequential. It would be fair to state that in our country a large segment of politicians fall into second and third categories. We do have competent and honest politicians but they are a small minority and do not have the courage to take on groups 2 & 3. Instead they try to do their job as well as they can and look the other way when their colleagues engage in corrupt practices. Therefore, it can be effectively stated that in the current state of affairs the category one politicians are also inconsequential for the country.
In our nation, the political class has methodically created regulations and laws that practically shield it from any prosecution. The Indian constitution has systemic restraints built in it to prevent corruption. But these have been deliberately and methodically made ineffective through numerous bills and amendments in the parliament. This has been done shamelessly and elaborately so the politicians in general - and category 2 & 3 in particular - can engage in their self serving corrupt practices without any fear of punishment. This is unique in India. The western democracies do not have this.
So how do these corrupt politicians get elected by the public in the first place? If we don’t like them and feel that they are the rogue elements, why do we elect them to begin with?
To answer that, we need to look at the large electoral base of the un-empowered. They invariably turn out in large percentage to vote in every election compared to the empowered and the marginally empowered. They are largely uneducated (certainly not well educated) and prone to manipulation and exploitation. They can be exploited on the basis of caste, ethnicity, regionalism, religion, language and what have you. Their votes can also be purchased for small favors. The recent spectacle of offering home appliances or cash to purchase votes in Tamil Nadu assembly election is an example. You do not see any such spectacle in the western democracies. Again, the deterioration of systemic restraints (built in our constitution) by our politicians has made all this possible. Our election laws are still ineffective and campaign financing laws are virtually non-existent. With a large 35% of the population with consistent heavy voter turnout combined with marginal interest from the empowered and marginally empowered in the election process, the formation of governments at national and state levels is largely influenced by the exploitable un-empowered.
So what we have here is a case of strange bedfellows; the un-empowered and the corrupt politicians – the exploited and the exploiter – existing in a symbiotic relationship. It is in the interest of the corrupt politicians to keep the un-empowered poor and uneducated who in turn depend on these politicians for small handouts, favors and empty promises.
Corruption breeds poverty and poverty breeds corruption. They are intertwined like the helix of a DNA.
I once saw a National Geographic special where a mother Cheetah captured a young fawn and brought it to her young cubs to teach them how to kill. The cubs were inexperienced and started playing with the fawn instead. The fawn would wander away at a distance out of sight of the mother cheetah but then instead of hiding and lying still in the tall grass, she would come back to join the company of the cubs because she had developed a false sense of security in being with them. This is the ironic nature of the symbiotic relationship between the poor and the corrupt.
The private empowered and the marginally empowered are the ones visibly frustrated with the wide spread of corruption. However, they do not participate significantly in the election process in the first place mostly because they see the whole process being hijacked by the corrupt exploiting the un-empowered. The Anna Hazare movement gave a rare glimpse of this social behavior in action. Most of the supporters of the movement came from these two segments. The modern electronic media including facebook, twitter, email, electronic news and television brought them together into one effective large movement to support Anna Hazare. What was needed was a just cause, a focus and an honest self-less leader to ignite the movement. The un-empowered who form the core electoral base for the corrupt were largely uninformed, uninterested and uninvolved during this movement.
There are those who argue that a civil movement, such as Anna Hazare movement, effectively blackmails the democratic system. I do not buy this argument. In a democratic system we have freedom of expression and speech guaranteed to us under the constitution. Anyone can voice his/her grievances through peaceful means and even go on hunger strike for its remedy. If the people of the country relate to the cause and feel that they too are victims of the same grievances, they would support such cause. If there is a mass movement from this, it is fair and legal as long as it is peaceful. The constitution and the government are by the people and for the people. The ultimate sovereign is the people. They have the right to exert any pressures they feel justified (including a voice in drafting the regulations), through peaceful means, upon their government to act with urgency. Ultimately, it is the Parliament that would have to approve or disapprove it. The government cannot claim its sole right for sovereignty and exclude the people from the same. They cannot hide behind the constitution. After all, they are the ones who amended it and made it ineffective to fight the corruption. The constitution is not the property of the Parliament. It belongs to the people.
Finally, we can look at the political corruption in India with another example. The right analogy will be to compare the Indian nation with a body of fresh water such as a lake. Left on its own, the lake with all its imperfections, in due time strikes an ecological balance with the natural elements around it and brims with life and beauty. The corruption from the government is like sewage being dumped into the lake. It affects the behavior of all constituents of the lake. They become deformed and demented as they struggle to survive in the polluted environment. Eventually the lake dies ecologically. On the other hand, as has been documented in actual instances, if the pollution is stopped from its principal source, the lake, in spite of all its deficiencies, working with the natural elements starts cleaning itself and makes a miraculous recovery.
It remains to be seen how the empowered and the marginally empowered unite to use Satyagraha as a tool to rid the ills in our government. It will require focus, commitment and perseverance to make things happen. What is most significant is that Anna Hazare has demonstrated to this generation that what Gandhi did two generations ago still can be done.