Pervasive cancer

Ratan Tata’s disclosure that it was a Rs 15 crore bribe demand from a minister that stymied the group’s plan to enter the aviation business would not be disbelieved when corruption has become an established fact of life in the country. It is immaterial which minister had sought the bribe. The Tatas wanted to set up a domestic airline and to buy a stake in Air India. It was not just political opposition but the personal demands of politicians that grounded the plans which the group persisted with for many years. The credibility of the Tatas would vouchsafe for the possibility of the demand for bribe, against the poor record of politicians, and it is not important to prove the truth of the demand. When it is so difficult to prove even the taking of hundreds of crores of bribe, how can just a demand, which was not fulfiled, be proved? And the proof won’t make any difference too.

But the pervasiveness of corruption, small time and big, evident anecdotally and otherwise, will hamper the country in all sectors of life. We don’t need the figures of Transparency International to know that we are world leaders in the business. It is also no comfort to be told that China is not much better than us. Corruption is not a just moral problem but an economic and political hazard which weakens the country and makes it so much more difficult to achieve national goals. It directly flows from the poor quality of governance and deterioration of the institutions that should regulate individual conduct. A recent report had shown that almost all bribe demands came from government officials, including politicians in office. The unhelpful situation is that while the role of government is paramount in a poor country, its very essential nature gives the power to those in it to feather their own nests. While we are outraged by the big amounts made public, it is also not realised that the small amounts which are involved in the deals and engagements ordinary people have with the government are cumulatively much higher. That is why poor people are hurt more by corruption.

The new attitude of brazenness and defence of corruption on the ground that others too have indulged in it is even more dismaying. It legitimises misuse of power and immorality and obliterates the line between right and wrong. It is still more dangerous to accept it as passé.

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