Corruption’s many hues

 

There is a gigantic anti-corruption wave in the country and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is riding on it. AAP has jolted the old established political parties such as the Congress and the BJP by their electoral success in the state of Delhi.

AAP’s aam aadmi, who happens to mostly belong to the so-called ‘middle class’ of this country, is now seeing visions of May 2014 — capturing Delhi in the real sense and ridding this country of corrupt practices. Getting rid of corruption is a laudable goal indeed. No one wants a repeat of CWG, 2G and the coalgate. However, in this context, it may be worth pondering over what is corruption and why does it take place.

Whenever I drive for some work early morning, I meet several vehicle drivers driving at break-neck speed who keep on overtaking not only me but several other vehicles from the left which obviously no one is supposed to do. Sometimes the going ahead has little meaning, because they just happen to place themselves just one car length ahead of me; they meet their kind of drivers in front of them. Before the traffic police can assume morning duty, there are traffic lights functioning but most vehicle drivers pay no heed to them and there is a huge chaos at the intersections – despite the signals. It is terrifying, to say the least.

We do not have the luxury then of analysing if that is corruption or not. Saving one’s dear life is more important at such instances. On a milder tone: Haven’t we seen several people cutting the queue ahead of us; after being told so, they may just ignore or just gesture and continue to violate the queue. All of them ‘aam admis’, of course. Isn’t this a form of corruption?

Taking a bribe is one type of corruption. Breaking accepted rules and regulations is another type of corruption. Inconveniencing others by one’s selfish actions is one more type corruption. Similarly, not doing one’s job properly is the other kind of corruption. If a minister dillydallies on a clearance or otherwise of a project or proposal, if a senior bureaucrat delays taking action on an issue, if a clerk delays working on a file, if a sweeper does not clean the floor properly, all of these if they are acts of negligence or dereliction of duty, they constitute corruption.

If a private firm manufactures items that are not of good quality, if a builder builds a building that does not meet quality requirements, if a service is delivered with half measures, all these constitute corruption; because, one is not doing what one is believed to be doing. One is taking short cuts when one is not supposed to be taking them. On this count alone, India could very well rank high in the hierarchy of ‘corrupt’ nations.

Lack of quality

Indian manufactures have lagged behind in the global market. Our manufacturing exports are insignificant on a global scale. The primary reason has been the lack of quality of our goods. Producing top international quality requires an attitude of dedication, sometimes transcending self, a deep empathy or concern for the customers, self-discipline, and an outlook of deriving pleasure when serving others – all the qualities always claimed by us Indians to belong to our ancient Indian culture, but seldom practiced.

The ancient cultural traits are indeed a part of a distant historical past. It has little relevance to today’s ‘grabby’ India and particularly its so-called ‘middle class’ which has in the last over two decades has seen increased opportunities to acquire material goods. The economic growth has only seen an insatiable greed – a ravenousness growing faster than the economy – among the class or category of people who have considerably benefited from the growth.

Some among them who are in a position to catch the levers of power are going for huge grabs. The scams started at hundreds of crores, then became larger at thousands of crores and then exploded into lakhs of crores of rupees. Large or small, th corruption has the same germ viz. take short-cuts and grab before the other fellow does.

We squeal when the other cookie grabs a big chunk and it really hurts us. That other fellow has to be now stopped and punished if possible. Our fight against corruption is limited to the obvious money corruption and is always against the others. We think ‘we’ don’t do any wrong; it is the other person who is all wrong or bad or vile. The entire onus is on the ‘other’. By punishing the other, we hope to eliminate corruption.

We see corruption as a ‘them’ phenomenon and not as ‘us too’ phenomenon. The reason is: it is very comfortable to do so. Therefore, even in stopping corruption we find means where we get our water and electricity bills reduced by half and try to get our outstanding debts nullified as is being done in the Delhi durbar of the current chief minister of Delhi. How it will affect the others, whether the other half of city-dwellers would be left to suffer further more is none of our concerns. The government plans to train the Delhites to do ‘sting’ operations so that the ‘others’ are caught. Thus, the local government itself has put a stamp of approval on the ‘them’ and ‘not us’ phenomenon.

Unfortunately, corruption cannot be fought by catching others. It can only be eliminated by disciplining oneself. Reflecting inwards is the principle always emphasized by our ancient culture. The wise and enlightened sage Basavanna has cautioned very aptly: “Tanna vichaarisa lolladu; Itara vicharisa hogudu ee manavu” (The mind examines others and not oneself).

-S N Chary

The writer is a former professor at IIM, Bangalore.

Courtesy: Deccan Herald newspaper,14th Jan 2014

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