Need to rid us of the canker of corruption

Need to rid us of the canker of corruption

IN PERSPECTIVE

A commentator once tartly said that if larger numbers of people root for a rogue, a thief, a wanton criminal to hijack power, to perpetuate a wicked, criminal regime and thwart the beliefs and convictions of the rest of India, so it shall be! Because, that is democracy. Unscrupulous, corrupt politicians have long been voted to office because they manage to exploit caste, communal, regional and social divisions.

The mandate of the 15th Lok Sabha elections should have raised hope because the mandate was decisively against divisive and partisan forces, which come to power exploiting petty parochial interest groups. But did it?

The instance of some guilty corrupt British MPs made to step down (and others being made to repay the misused expenses) finds no resonance in India because we have lost count of how many times our corrupt MPs have been let off the hook, mostly on account of lack of evidence. We heard stories of scam-ridden politicians like Lalu Prasad Yadav, or those massively ostentatious politicians such as Jayalalitha and Mayawati and a number of criminal and corruption cases pending against many of Indian politicians.

The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) has done an analysis based on the affidavits MPs filed when they became candidates, examining 533 candidatures out of 541 declared winners. It found out that 150 MPs face criminal charges -- 22 more than in 2004. As many as 20 MPs accused of murder, 24 of attempt to murder, three of robbery, seven of dacoity, two of simple kidnapping but five of kidnapping in order to murder – not to speak of forgery and cheating, among other charges.

Small wonder that according to a recent global survey — Global Corruption Barometer — by international corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) across 69 countries, Indian political parties and their elected representatives are found to be most corrupt in the country. As many as 10 per cent respondents said members of parliament and legislators indulge in corrupt practices, while the executive and not even the judiciary were above board.

Not meaning to be cynical, a caveat must be entered as the new Lok Sabha is yet mint-fresh. It is time to see why the tenets of welfarism runs aground, why funds allocated for rural employment, electrification, sanitation, public distribution, education and infrastructure, to cite some random examples, fall short of their target beneficiaries. And to ensure that it does not happen again.

Scams and kickbacks
We have a chequered history of scams and kickbacks. Governments come and go but little is done to root out the culture of corruption. We get to hear not only of corrupt politicians, ministers, IAS and IPS officers but sadly even of corrupt judges, professors, doctors and NGOs.

That corruption in India, as elsewhere, has a bureaucratic core is true in the sense that a vast bureaucracy, instituted to control every aspect of economic life creates the incentives for individual and institutionalised corruption.

Thus the bureaucracy is subservient to the “democratic” political system which wheels the bureaucracy to extract ‘rents’ that are used for fuelling the vast political machinery. Companies buy favours and licences to do business from politicians and bureaucrats giving rise to crony capitalism.

In a jubilee poll of Indian Independence, corruption was rated as the greatest national evil, far above unemployment or inflation. Citizens pay ‘facilitation fees’ to the police and petty officials to get access to services. Even the wretched homeless in some cities have to pay for the right to sleep on the sidewalks.

Is bribery an efficient mechanism for rationing goods and services in short supply? Could we dispense with the need of ‘speed money’ at various public offices? Could we stop paying a few extra bucks for installing or repairing our telephone line? Could we demand to know how the scale of ‘donation’ for admitting our ward into a school is determined? Could we register our car or a piece of land without paying any bribe?  Could we demand fair medical practices that protect us from the throng of unnecessary tests geared to fleece us? The rub is, in India, the state focuses on economic control while neglecting basic tasks like literacy, public health, administrative and legal justice, accountability and transparency.

Corruption has been made to become a way of our life, irrespective of the government we are being ruled by. After more than sixty years of our tryst with democracy, corruption has been firmly institutionalised in India. We hope in our nation, the entry and passage of a new government does not remain as routinely unmoved by the canker of corruption as others.

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