The root cause of corruption

The root cause of corruption

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One thing for sure, corruption is not new in India and nor is it unknown to those western countries which shamelessly point to us whenever the ‘C ‘ word gets taken. I recollect that famous Akbar Birbal story about how no one could prevent a minister in Akbar’s court from taking bribes.(Click here to see video).  Needless to say, the corrupt have continued to prosper at least till the long arm of the law catches up.

Like in the rest of the world even India has largely been under feudal rule when it was normal to hide income and wealth away from the king, to prevent it being usurped. Thats why gold was important – shove it under the nearest banyan tree and it remains as is for generations ! With the emergence of democratic politics, even the courts recognized the need to differentiate ‘tax avoidance’ from ‘tax evasion’ – thereby a tacit acceptance of the ordinary citizen’s rights to do anything legitimate and save taxes.

Colonization made corruption almost acceptable: It was following the highly and ruthlessly usurious Mughal rule and European colonization did corruption come to be embedded into the psyche of the ordinary Indian. By the end of this foreign rule, stealing from the government was almost acceptable and with time,  even came to be seen as a mode of resistance. Somewhere down the line we completely forgot the moral stigma in corruption. Whilst rulers squeezed their subjects , the people did everything possible to hide their wealth out of the sight of these invaders and colonial masters lest one gets called up to finance a battle, which merely sought to keep their (usually) hated rajahs, nawabs, lords and masters in place.

Therefore, stealing from the government was almost patriotic !

However, with independence came political freedom from British colonial rule (Picture on left: James-Gilray-William-Pitt-and-Napoleon-carving-up-the-world-c.1800-©-British-Library) but it was the establishment of  “adult franchise” which ushered in political and economic populism. Every politician from the small insignificant to the tall and mighty, all had to keep yielding to pressure from their so called ‘vote banks’.

Have you ever wondered why the army is invariably kept out of civilian tasks? Well, look at friendly neighborhood Pakistan and you will get your answer ! It is that, single fact which makes for the difference between a corrupt, mercenary band of gunmen and a patriotic, professional army.

Similarly, does involvement of government in business result in corruption. The politician gets direct access public resources.

It was the nationalization of industries and banks though, ( that is not to say that, the public sector has not contributed to our country’s development) which actually reached the politician’s hands into the pockets of the ordinary citizen.

Political control over banks gave them unbridled leverage over lending decisions, leading to loans being extended to their cronies for political and personal benefit. It merely requires a fleeting glance across the list of top 20 borrowers in NPA list, to agree with what I am saying.

The job of legislature is to raise matters of national interest, debate and legislate on them. The bureaucracy has to execute and enforce these policies under the watchful eye of an independent judiciary.

Most politicians, especially those emerging out of democratic  adult franchise are rarely equipped for managerial roles. They are neither trained nor equipped for the operational aspects of running businesses let alone monopolistic public utilities and enterprises of great national import. However, with power they become dangerously deluded into believing that, they can fit into any role. Imagine the plight of highly qualified professionals in utility corporations who are coerced into reporting to uneducated politicians – could it be a surprise if these utilities get stuck in the dark depths of revenue deficits, technological redundancies and show utter disregard for customer service standards? Siphoning funds to serve politicians personal interests seems unavoidable. And if the bosses can do it, why should the bureaucrats hold back?

Is it any surprise to see the drop in quality of our politicians when we compare the current crop with that in our first parliament?

At the beginning, the politicians needed help from unsavory elements to do their dirty jobs but as time passed, these elements soon realized that, its better to be rulers than their underlings; resulting in the criminalization of our political system.

Air India which now is making news headlines, possibly makes an excellent case study in mismanagement of public resources. The entire hypocrisy of our pseudo-socialism which actually is little more than jingoism aimed at fooling the have-nots with the singular motive of retaining political power – provided us with supreme justification for pushing our economic ills under the carpet – “in interest of the poor”.

Do not get fooled by the need for a ‘national carrier’ argument or some other such noble reason for allowing Air India to continue drag itself around. One has to travel on one of their flights to realise why the babus and netas are fighting tooth and nail to keep this huge fiscal black hole going on. This political concubine costs of over Rs 9,000 crores of tax payers money. 

Can one even imagine getting any takers for the Ministry of Airlines (or by whatever name it is called) without an Air India to exploit?

Which is the reason Mr. Arun Shorie seems to have famously said, “if one wishes to disinvest from Air India, we need to pull it out of the clutches of the Airline Ministry and have it report to a ‘Disinvestment Ministry”. Having said that, I am greatly encouraged by the Modi Government’s decision to place this ailing elephant on the block. I am sure it will not be easy because there will be many within his own party and his political opposition who must have already begun looking for ways to scuttle this reform.

One has to only visit the passages of North Block to see serving and wannabe chairmen of public sector banks bowing, cringing and crawling to save their jobs or get a new one. One look at it will tell you why and how these banks have built up those huge piles of bad debts. I can never forget the infamous ‘Loan Melas’ of the 1980s Click here to know what our politicians are capable of when it comes to winning elections and filling party and personal coffers at the tax payer’s expense. This is corruption of the highest order.

Divesting the public sector banks will make Air India divestment seem like a walk in the park. However, this is critical if we as Indians are to get a responsible government which ensures that, tax payer’s hard earned money does not get burned in finance fiscal profligacy or still worse goes to enrich political parties, politicians, bureaucrats and their cronies.

For India to be free of big corruption ( here I don’t mean the “chai-pani” type) it is critical to get the government out of business. This way our politicians will move away from taking action directly with their vote banks in mind and concentrate on doing what is their job ; to debate and legislate. Not doing so will perpetuate this conflict of interest. 

God (at least the Indian one) did not create our laws and taxes and hence the God fearing Indian is never concerned when depositing his money into a temple hundi, when asking for more of it from where ever it came from; and nor does the idea of paying for the nation’s underprivileged  ever appeal to the exceptionally tiny percentage of India’s tax paying population because they naturally resent being the only orange being squeezed.

We should therefore, stop attempting to appeal  to Indian religious and moralistic sensibilities  and look for structural solutions to end this menace.

There is an Arabic proverb which says something like ” A fish begins rotting from the head” .

Looking at the earnest manner in which he has gone about dismantling the corruption infrastructure, so painstakingly embedded into our lives over the past 70 years – I have no doubts that, Prime Minister Modi understands this despite being a devout vegetarian.

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One Reply to “The root cause of corruption”

  1. even after independence,as far as pyt. of taxes are concerned,we still feel we are ruled by foreign country – therefore,it’s OK to evade taxes. And taxes are not God made – therefore, no papam (sin). Jai Bharath !

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