So now that the Lokpal Bill will almost certainly be passed, is it alright to expect that corruption will be rooted out? Will our babus, ministers and in equal measure, the aam aadmi, suddenly become honest and clean? I am very certain nothing will change because of this Act per se. To remove corruption, one needs to change the fundamental causes that lead to its existence in the first place.
But first let’s remove one of the common perceptions that we have about corruption. We believe that corruption exists only in public life.....in the government sector. Nothing could be more untrue than this. The truth is that each and every one of us has become corrupt ( and I am not talking of simple bribes......I will explain this later in this note). In fact, one of the problems I had with the present campaign that Anna Hazare led was that it had a sense of self-righteousness about it (the other of course was the bully attitude). Those who supported him were the good guys. Those who had a contrarian view were the bad guys (some would even call them evil!). Even poor Harish Salve was silenced when he pointed out the several follies in the proposed bill.
Let’s look at where all corruption exists in
. Let’s look at how all of us self-righteously ignore our own corrupt practices. India
For starters, let’s look at some of the followers who made up the audience at Jantar Mantar and other places. I was aghast to see big film stars supporting the anti-corruption movement. Isn’t it our common belief that these people are perceived to have stashed away loads of undeclared wealth? In fact, Priyanka Chopra was being investigated recently for undeclared properties? Then let’s take the many businessmen and women who were present. How many of them honestly declare their incomes? Why is it that there are so few income tax assessees in
? Because people conceal income with any means possible. Let’s take the doctors who were present. How many doctors issue bills to you when you go visiting them? And we know how much money even a common GP mints. None of them pay taxes honestly. There would be owners of chemist shops in the audience? How many cut bills when they give you the medicines? What about kirana store owners? Hardware stores? Diamond merchants? Property brokers (not builders)? Private college clerks? I am sorry but each and every one in civil society (especially in the business community) is party to this mess of corruption. These are not examples of common bribes; these are examples of proper corruption. And these have not even been induced by a babu or a politician. These are voluntary acts of corruption with the intention of making a quick buck. Of saving taxes. Sure, people who avoid taxes are confident that they will get away if they are ever caught by bribing the government babu. But very few people are even caught in the first place. All of those who are not caught get away with outright corruption every single day and every single year. Are they suddenly going to become a clean? I doubt it. India
What about corruption in the private corporate sector? There are so many instances of corrupt marketing heads doling out contracts to vendors willing to play along. A lot of the schmoozing that happens in the corporate world...... is just corruption in a stylish swish manner. What about corruption in the media sector?
But why does corruption continue in our country? Because we have a shortage of goods and services and the well off are willing to pay extra to get them out of turn. Corruption benefits the middle class and the well-off people. They may complain that they suffer from corruption; but in reality, they are the biggest beneficiaries of corruption. The ones who suffer are really the poor. None of you who is reading this post is poor. When you don’t get a railway ticket on merit, what do you do? Do you wait for your turn to get the ticket? No.....you most likely bribe and get the ticket. Who suffers? A poor person who was entitled to it in the first place.
Let’s come back to the question I raised at the beginning. Will corruption stop if the Lokpal bill is passed? I don’t think it will stop unless a few other things are done:
1) Reduce the size of the government: The more the governmental interference, the more the corruption. Over the last 20 years, the corruption faced by a common man has reduced because we deal less with the government now. Since the telecom sector became privatized, the bribes we paid to the MTNL/BSNL guys have reduced. Ditto with the postal department once courier services started. Since the License Raj was removed, much of the corruption generated in that area has reduced. The government must get out of more and more areas. And limit itself to policy areas. It should give up running businesses (there is still a lot of corruption in BSNL but it now happens from the vendor side).
2) Increase the salaries of MPs and babus to attract good talent. The PM, the Chief Justice of India, the General of the Army, the MPs, the Cabinet Secretary.....cannot earn just Rs 1 lac per month (Forget the lavish houses and the orderlies they are given.....they cannot take them after retirement). This is a joke. In an environment of consumerism all around, many of these people will fall to the temptations of better life. Worse, it keeps the better people out of government. The government sector thus gets mired in inefficiency and corruption.
3) The election funding must be made more transparent. In fact, the government should substitute the current education cess with an election cess; government can then provide a bulk of election funds so that contestants don’t necessarily have to become corrupt. This will also encourage people like us to fight elections. Election funding from corporate houses must be encouraged. If required, it should be made tax exempt provided all declarations were suitably made.
4) Election reforms: Of course, minimum qualifications must be laid down for contesting elections. Maybe a graduation must be compulsory. No criminal charges of a serious nature (you cannot stop minor charges....simply because our judicial process is so slow that most people in politics would be eliminated!).
Once all this is done, the Lokpal may help reduce corruption. Why do I say “may” and not “will”? Because, I am worried that we ourselves may not remain that enthusiastic about it after a while. If common people are also arrested and put behind bars for their acts of corruption, then there could be a public resistance to it. The biggest challenge before the Lokpal is not the politicians and the babus. There are only a few thousand of them in the country. It is the many millions like us who are equally corrupt who pose the biggest challenge. I hope that changes.
The real truth is that even if a good Lokpal Bill is passed, it is only a small beginning. It would be naive to assume that the Bill is the remedy for all our ills. A lot more needs to be done before corruption can be rooted out. The biggest change will have to come from common people like us......will the middle-class in India make the same self sacrifice that Anna Hazare did????