Corruption: Misconceptions about the Disease and the Medicine

It is necessary, at the outset, to correct some misconceptions about the issue of corruption. There is a certain pathological view about corruption, about the entire organ being diseased, about a canker in national character, a view which has no basis in facts. A corollary perception is that there is no solution within; that the solution has to come from somewhere, somebody, outside; that, it has to be at the instance of an external agent and that it cannot be an internally induced thing. Since we are talking about finding a corrective for the disease within the traditions in our own culture, I shall mention one of these traditions, that has a bearing on this issue of internal remedy. Jalam or water has two definitions in Yaska's Nirukta: Visam and Amritam, the poison of raging smoldering passion, and the emollient nectar that heals and cools. In yoga, one turns the heat of passions into nectar, by a process of internal acsesis. We have to deal with corruption in the body politic, drawing on its own inner strengths. Ethical conduct in Indian tradition is a process of becoming what we already are, but have forgotten.

Another perception is that corruption is only financial - that there are no other dimensions to corruption. Truly speaking, financial corruption is a symptom, and not the disease. The real malady is intellectual. This is obvious from the perception among us, IAS officers that, if there is corruption, one should adjust, one should accept, one should legitimize, one should try to circumvent, but one should not really deal with, corruption. It is one thing to understand the factors of corruption. Having understood it, it is quite another thing to have the courage to change it. We have to therefore, determine the means for doing so.

An ounce of practice is better than tonnes of theory. Administration is the art of the possible, and, in determining the limits of the possible, we may like to remember, that, within the system, IAS officers have prerogatives and powers which they can use for public rather than private advantage. A strategy has to be worked out to understand the effective use of these powers in public interest.

About the nature of corruption:
Let me now come to the problems of understanding concerning various categories of corruption. We may also remind ourselves about the pointlessness of isolated initiatives here and there. Every one tells a story from one's own life, saying that I have dealt with this issue in such and such manner. But one is not generally willing to adapt a group approach. One has dealt with the so called system on an individual plane. One has to deal with it systematically, as an organized group.

Ideological Corruption:
There are deep ideological reasons for the suggestion that corruption cannot be dealt with by autonomous action within the Indian polity. Paul Hacker, the Vedantic scholar has suggested that the logos seed in the Indian or Nonwestern soil, cannot bear flower and fruit, until it is transplanted to the soil which is fertilised by the Judaeo Christian stream of thought. This comes out of a very old Oriental perception, which has a strong presence even today as a post colonial theory.

I feel that the incumbents in the IAS have to be exposed to the intellectual history of India and the world, in the last two hundred years. Hegel had announced that the Indian and Asiatic culture was a superseded stage in history; that, it had no intrinsic values that, it had to be appropriated and used. Its dross had to be taken out and discarded. This philosophic solipsism has to be dealth with. There is also a need for recapitulating the hermeneutic dialogue with philosophers like Heidegger and Mehta, who have dealt with this corrosive philosophy and shown it as hollow. There is a need for ideological equipping of the IAS.

Moral Corruption:
There is then this strong feeling that if one is not actively involved in corruption, one is not corrupt. Passive acquiescence is not corruption. And, enthusiastic facilitation, out of a complete misunderstanding of historical processes, is not corruption. If one is encouraging the destruction of bio-cultural habitats, total destruction of community economic systems, total homogenization of our culture, then also, it is not corruption.

Cultural Corruption:
There are then, several sophistries involved in abdicating our positions to cultural corruption. Dancing to Dhak Dhak, Ole Ole, Mast Mast is not corruption. Being a surrogate community, tied by umbilical cord to the western civilization, is not corruption. It is not corruption to only admire Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer. It is not corruption to gloat on a borrowed culture, to go gaga over Nintendo and such other Japanese games. It is not corruption. It is only fun. It is entertainment.

The last time I came in 1995, I saw that probationers were dancing awkwardly, to tune of 'Made in India'. They staged a fashion parade that could come, in terms of quality, out of a suburban college. I was horrified at the deterioration in the equipment and training in terms of the cultural base.

There is a deep malaise in the sense that culture has been reduced in our perception from a composite culture of life to a culture of bread and circus. The cultures of ecology, water management, therapeutics, forest conservation are surrounded by mythology, song, dance, ritual, and management systems. These cultures have been supplanted by the lowest common denominators of western song and dance. Most of the people do not know western jazz, western classical music and western blues. All they know are the gyrations of hips directed by a few film dance impresarios from Bombay.

Financial Corruption:
Take now the financial dimensions of corruption. One has to understand that what we are discussing in terms of retreat of the state, dis-investment, privatization, financial intera-mediation, liberalization, etc. are all happening anyway, because of the western teleology of history, which we have accepted without modification, and without taking precautions, before allowing it to engulf us, without sensitizing officers to the tremendous variety of composite cultural articulations in the country, which are directly linked with the rhythm of seasons and of life. The latest brand of corruption, it has been aptly pointed out, is to act as pimps in the strip-tease operations of dis-investment. To understand the financial processes, to regulate them and to keep away from the attendant temptations and not become slaves to them--this is what we should be able to derive from our training.

Now I shall address this unholy paradigm that we cannot change things.

About Patriotism:
During the first 50 years of this century, we had these wonderful people who were willing to die for the country. I went to the Andamans. I learnt about a small paper from Allahabad which contributed seven editors in three years to the Andaman cellular jail. They publish something and they are sent to the Jail. Again they publish and again they are sent. One inmate in the jail is tortured and goes mad. These things are not incandescent in our awareness. The sense of misery, deprivation, destitution in our country etc. are not conveyed by our training syllabus. Unless we create sense of involvement among the trainees, based on a sense of history, they cannot be moral, because they do not have many models before them today. There are all kinds of heroes, working silently in remote recesses of our country. Or, outside the country. People like Nelson Mandela. People like Dr. Sudershan working for tribal people in Tamil Nadu or Anna Hazare in Maharashtra or Chandiprasad Bhatt in the Garhwal hills. There is a need to understand and emphathize with their work. There also are officers within the IAS who have fought and lost in some instances, but have kept up their pride and self respect. Some cases are publicized while many others are not. In fact, most are not. There are hundreds of silent heroes in the service, who have borne the cross alone. Let's build their examples into training models.

I feel that we can still sound the clarion call for people who are willing to respond to the hour. Even today they are there. They are not fighting, because, they are not there for power and pelf. These are people who shed their blood, sweat and tears, only if the country is in mortal danger. The country indeed is in danger but not from enemies from outside, who can be identified, but from enemies within, whose face is nebulous, whose motives and strategies are amorphous, hidden by a cloud of double speak and hype.

About Independence:
We have been celebrating 50 years of independence. Should we only celebrate political independence? Should we celebrate only the departure of the British or are there other connotations of independence? Were we not independent before? Did we not ever have moral and philosophical independence? Did the British give independence to us? So, obviously, when we are celebrating independence, without clarifying that we are celebrating political independence alone, and that, as defined by the Judeo-Christian stream of thought, there is a problem. There is a need to understand the history of our thought, and the history of independence struggle, to put our celebrations in perspective.

There is a need to change the strategy rather than abdicate. How does one change the strategy? Here I am treading on thin ice. There is an IAS association. Associations are porous institutions. They are not always in our control. Even recruitment is not under our control. The age ceiling is not in our control. Democratization of standards for service and entry is not in our control. Enhancement in age, in chances and all kinds of dilutions in the quality are also ostensibly not under our control. These are not under our control because we have decided not to control these. There is need to re-stress the elitism of character and intelligence. When we are dealing with organized corruption, there is a need for guerrilla action. One needs a clear sight of the goal. The knowledge of lobbying and advocacy, the knowledge of people in Government, executive or legislative, PIL, inter-group division, the journalistic flair of who will flag and chase, what story where? Also, the skill and courage to act without heroics, without postures, without publicity, without shouting from the roof tops. Clean operation, clinical and surgical. When one is dealing with the rabid dog of corruption, one does not go on all fours or bark at it. One just hits it. And not from the front, but from behind. There are hundreds of case studies for this, that can be used.

Unoccupied Territory:
I have a theory of unoccupied territory. Every department of life and Government has unoccupied territories. Within the service, there are unoccupied territories. One should try to occupy the unoccupied territories. At the same time, the occupied territories should not be vacated without a fight. For example, if we do not deal with transfers, in a staff intensive department like Education, or Police, we would not be able to attain academic standards, because administrative disorder will erode academic standards or public peace. But, we have to acquire a sense of detachment, which comes only out of doing something useful, in an area which is not preempted, in the time that remains, from cleaning the debris or clearing the deck, or, from dealing with inessentials of individual recommendations. 

This unoccupied territory is also the vast hinterland occupied by the people of this country. In a 250,000 strong department, ten thousand employees may be unionized, another ten thousand may be recommendees, who may not work. But we have to look beyond them, even when dealing with them, to cater to the large silent majority in the hinterland, whose goodwill we can earn and to whom we can speak, over the heads of their leaders, and we can, thereby, become their leaders. Once we become leaders, we are able to move and galvanize people, in the service of the nation. 

Minor Mischief:
I should also discuss the principle of Minor Mischief, enshrined in the IPC. The captain of a big ship sinks a small boat because, otherwise, both will drown at a particular juncture. It teaches that small compromises are inevitable to avoid large sacrifices. Such compromises can only be made in the interest of the institution and not in the interest of the individual. I should not lobby to go to Indore district as Collector and DM rather than to Datia. I should not part and die to become the Principal Secretary of Commerce and Industry rather than Veterinary Services. As soon as this is clear, none can force me into wrong compromises. The right compromises become easy. This should become part of the case studies.

Then, there is the sense of custodianship. The sense of residuary responsibility and authority. This oath we take to the Constitution. How do we interpret the oath to the Constitution? Are we committed to this party or the other? Which are the goals we are committed to? The definition of residuary authority and responsibility is required in terms of the oath to the Constitution. The right and the responsibility, trotted out by Walter Bagehot for the British, to advice, encourage and warn, and, if I may add, to serve.

Anger and Compassion:
To carry this residuary authority without bombast, to discharge our residuary responsibility without self-promotion, we need to mix compassion with anger. I have seen people living in hume pipes in our cities. We ignore them. Because, we see them as a mass of sodden, faceless jelly. They do not matter. Mother Theresa was trying to help people not to live with dignity but to die with dignity. Even dying with dignity is a problem in a poor country. Under these horrendous circumstances, we have people in all echelons, who are consuming ninety percent of the provision, which is given to them for removing poverty. Should we not treat them as traitors?

There is a need for a steady throbbing anger. The purpose is not to get heart attack from the assaults of the goons. The purpose is to give them heart attack. It is not necessary to lose our shirt. It is better to be detached and squash poisonous insects. It requires strategy. In certain areas it is like a battle field. When public purpose men and women try to deal with bio-cultural pirates, they are in danger of losing their job, and sometimes, their life. When such persons are in a state of siege, what do we do? Are we talking to them? Are we networking with them? Do we share with them the deep, welling compassion, and anger in the face of suffering? If we do not, there is no way we can control corruption.

Routine and Revolution:
To day, to ask the routine performance, is to ask for a revolution. To ask a teacher to teach, a cooperator to cooperate, a policeman to police, or an officer to govern with charity and patriotism. There was a day, when, for an IAS officer to be upright and patriotic was routine. It deserved no special praise. Probably, the officer's dynamism, imagination, courage and initiative, in the interest of the people, entrusted to his charge, evoked some admiration. Today, strangely enough honesty is a matter of praise. Are we sure today, that, even when we deem ourselves honest, people who suffer and, who fail to receive attention everywhere else, can come, knock on our door, and, get a hearing, and relief?

To Get Right People:
There is a need for character, courage and compassion building training in probation. Probation is a powerful instrument. Probation should be extended if necessary. Probation should also be extended backwards to locate the ablest the finest, the most ardent, the most courageous in the classroom, in the rural backyards, among people who still do not have the strategy or technique to get into the service. Let us work out a way to get the right people into this service, people that this country deserves, by policy rather than by accident. People who, above all, love this country, love, like the love, praised in the Piers Plowman, 'Never lighter was love then they love was, when it took the flesh and blood of man, fluttering, piercing, like the needle point'.

We should discuss the modules on training inputs. It may not be possible to domesticate the instruction of ethics into certain graphs and models. The isomorphism of verbal and genetic codes, uncertainty principles, particle matter fusion, the corollary conjunction of via activa and via contemplativa, of theoria and praxis, of Prajna and Upaaya, could not be possibly be telescoped into graphic modules. Incitement of understanding about the tradition modernity continuum, even when it is converted into classroom language, has to be backed up by practical demonstrations and examples from life.

When Iole, Hercules's beloved, was asked, how did she know that Hercules was a God, she replied that Hercules was Victory Organized. With Theseus, she would want him to harness the horse, guide the chariot, take the sword, Hercules conquered whether he stood or moved. We are also, like Iole, talking about IAS officers who can conquer by the combined force of character and intelligence. To get such officers, the present system of recruitment, which only tests intelligence, has to be revamped, lock, stock and barrel.

There is also a need to reinvent training modules, most of the people, who are coming into the IAS, are engineers, doctors and scientists, who have a certain instrumental and mechanistic view, which has a limited relevance in the management of men and material. Then there are social sciences students whose entire terminology, borrowed from the west, also has a limited place. But, we have to transcend these disciplines, and reinvent our own interdisciplinary terminology and training modes. That has to be done in terms of our own culture, which is not instrumental in, but is constitutive of development.  

Dr K K Chakravarty belongs to the IAS and is a PhD from Harvard, author of the entries on Indian Art in the Grove Encyclopedia of Art. One of the most upright and outstanding civil servants in the country, he was asked to talk on what to do about corruption. This was at the National Academy of Administration, Government of India, Mussoorie


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