The IPL spot fixing issue has brought back a question that I’ve asked often, mostly during the Anna hunger strike two years back. In those days, I used to look at all those protesters and wonder how many of them were not guilty of the same acts of corruption that we were accusing politicians of. The IPL scam, more specifically the apparent (though not proven) involvement of the CSK owner/BCCI President, is distasteful. What is even more distasteful however is my question: Is there anyone in India who is non-corrupt?
Before IPL, we’ve seen Pawan Bansal’s nephew fixing Railway Board appointments (or at least masquerading as someone who could fix them). We still don’t know if Pawan Bansal was involved or whether his bragging nephew fixed him. We’ve also seen Nitin Gadkari invest ill-gotten monies into a whole bunch of companies. Where did the money come from? Why did it all get invested in such a benaami way? There’re corruption cases against all politicians belonging to all parties.
What really irks me is the double standards of our society. We point fingers at politicians as if they were our society’s lepers. As if they were monsters from the outer world who have somehow invaded us good, clean, honest people. The fact is that politicians are just a reflection of all of us. We are all corrupt to the core, “all” being the operative word. It is as difficult to find an honest Indian as there is finding an India-loving Pakistani politician. Each one of us pays bribes to get our work done faster, to get a wrong admissing into an engineering or medical college and to get off the hook. At least the politician has an excuse for his corruption – he has to fund his elections. Why are so many of us corrupt?
It’s not as corruption is the preserve of the government sector. Corruption infests even the private sector. I have heard of senior professionals taking money, getting caught and wasting an otherwise rich career. Virtually anyone who is in a position to “purchase” anything for his company is a prime target of anyone who is called a “seller”. Almost all private companies that deal with the government or bureaucrats in any way are used to paying bribes. There are even innovative ways available to mask the bribe and make it look like something innocuous. Private companies get bills from vendors who convert want to convert their black money into white. Free foreign trips to senior decision makers, lavish Diwali gifts, “the recruitment racket” (where one spouse funnels candidates to the other’s company to pocket the recruitment charges) and much more….it’s all there in the private sector.
We’ve even figured out a way to keep it all under wraps. Even give it an honorable description. During a recent trip to Kolkata, I asked my cabbie if the corruption of traffic cops had reduced after Mamata Banerjee came to power. His answer: No. It’s the same. Then he said something that I have never heard before. It even put a whole new spin to corruption. He had no angst against the corrupt cops. The way he saw it, they had “invested” their money into securing their posting; now they were just getting the “returns”. If it hadn’t been so sad, it would have been funny! It’s not too difficult to imagine that this cabbie would be willing to bribe a PSU bank official (sorry invest in him) to avail of a taxi loan. Maybe all such spends should be called investments; then maybe India’s 36% investments rate would become much bigger!
Corruption has even entered spheres that should never have been penetrated. It is common knowledge that the judiciary has its corrupt elements. Corruption in lower-rung judiciary is massive. Even the High Courts are not spared. There are also allegations that SC judges are corrupt. It’s equally true that members of civil society are corrupt. During Anna’s struggle, Kiran Bedi was caught with her hands in the cookie jar (airline ticket fraud). We saw that the two Bhushans were beneficiaries of the UP government’s cheap land handouts. We saw Kejriwal unable to explain why he was never transferred out of New Delhi’s profitable Income Tax office. If our judiciary and civil society are corrupted, we have to recognize we are in a deep pile of crap.
If we the common people get off our high moral high horses, we may still be able to extricate ourselves from this mess. The first thing we should do is accept the truth: that we’re all corrupt. We need to cleanse ourselves first.
In my view, we should agree on a “cut-off date” (say April 1, 2015) beyond which we will not tolerate corruption. Yes, everyone should be given amnesty for everything they have done in the past. The witch hunting won’t help. Once the cut-off date comes, we should have a “zero tolerance” towards corruption. The guys who indulge in even small levels of corruption would have done it with full knowledge; they would have no excuses, no explanations for their misdeeds. Our politicians – all of whom publicly express their keen desire to remove the scourge – should be forced to make new laws in the interim period until the cutoff date. Laws that treat corruption like treason; an attack on the country. At the same time, we should increase the pay scales of government servants to levels that are at least half reasonable. We cannot expect bureaucrats who are worth crores in annual salaries in the private sector to work in government jobs for a few lacs (note: even the Cabinet Secretary, the seniormost guy, “takes home” less than Rs 1 lac a month, a salary an MBA with 5 years experience makes in the private sector). If this needs reducing the size of the government, so be it (we needn’t sack people; we can let natural attrition do its job). We must also remove “reservations” from critical departments which handle corruption – the CBI, the parts of the police that handle corruption cases, the judiciary.
We also need a lot more transparency. Aadhar cards must be made compulsory. No entitlements should be allowed without them. Bank accounts must be compulsorily opened; even if there are only small balances in them. Centuries-old laws should be amended and made simple and logical. Much of the corruption emerges because common people don’t know how to wade through the complicated maze of such laws. Stupid laws should be abolished. Take the “drinking permit” required in Maharashtra. The permit costs just Rs 10 a day, but most restaurants don’t have enough of them to give to their patrons. If the police swoops down, so many people are liable to be jailed. Money changes hands to avoid that. All processes should be simplified and put on the net. Take passport issuance, which is so complex you need to go to a tout. The process should be simple and clear. If the UK can issue passports via remote submission of documents, why can’t we?
The real truth is that the solutions are readily available. Corruption doesn’t exist only in India. The developed world has seen enough of it. And overcome it in the most part. We can learn, adopt and adapt. Provided we want to. And provided we acknowledge we are all corrupt. Each one of us. With no exception….Are we up to it?