Sunday, July 29, 2012

Corruption in India

I can count some shifts in the Indian polity and social conduct over the last about four decades as I have felt and observed.

India till Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri was India of the old. Somewhat idealistic, enthusiastic, and hopeful. It then changed to India of Indira. With great grit and determination she eased out the old guard, centralized all sources of party money, and created and elaborate structure of 'Yes Men Congress'. Some would remember D K Barua's 'Indira is India, and India is Indira'. There was then JP movement - a quintessential Gandhian movement for Total Revolution - and it faced the might of CRPF and BSF. And, emergency. And, opposition coming to power. It was still a hopeful India. Indira came back with a vengeance in 1980 and the violence in the election of the time was shocking. Miscreants were often better armed than paramilitary forces. Goons came to power and ruled worse than goons would. Innocence and idealism was lost completely. Parliamentary practices were turned into joke and muscle power rubbed shoulders with money power.

As 'we the people' watched in dismay irresponsible, populist, and ever manipulative and colluding political dispensation caused the balance of payment crisis in 1991. The liberalization  then gave the economy some breathing space and India began to grow - in pace, in expertise, in ambitions, in maturity, in scale. Optimism set in and was corrected by scams in stock markets, communal and sectarian riots, terrorism, exhibitionism. Sanity came with electronic voting machines, entrepreneurial energy, global opportunities, periods of low inflation/low interest rates, legislation like Right to Information, Public Interest Litigation etc. India became trillion plus dollar economy looking to be a key player in the 21st century.

In this same period the bounty for politicians, bureaucrats, and businesses expanded dramatically and the dynamics of corruption underwent a sea structural change. Discretionary 'bakhshish' was replaced with obligatory 'percentage', police and investigative machinery became thoroughly politicized and complicit. The scams expanded in size to rival the GDP of the country.

This is no rise in corruption. It is an explosion and deep institutionalization. This has come to the point that the very integrity of state, judiciary, parliament, and executive is in serious question. This is a tectonic shift.

Worse, the press/media are corporate tools and can no longer be trusted. So, when Jairam Ramesh laments about Indian accounting for 60% open defecation in the world the press talks about a controversial statement. Media has become powerful, manipulative, sensationalist,and shallow.

Organs of democracy have stopped listening, remain unaccountable with impunity, and leave no choice for the citizenry to voice it concerns and be heard in civility and on the merit of its views and arguments.

This picture of India is frightening.

Yet, a movement like Anna Hazare shows hope. Sure enough Anna does not have all the answers. Nobody should be expected to have. But it has shaken the conscience of many and many have come forward to reclaim the integrity of India.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is the most academically and professionally accomplished PM of India in history. But he has presided over a culture of mega-corruption and has been silent, elusive, and possibly complicit.

If our generations do not stand up now for the essential integrity and soul of India we would be counted as the dud generation that let the country down with its indifference. And this would be the most catastrophic of all mistakes we have seen in history.

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