Hallelujah! In a recent survey conducted by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC), India stands proudly as the 5th most corrupt nation in the world. Needless to say, our political and business class is making serious attempts to ensure that we come on top of the list. Unfortunately, this view does not distursturbed most of the Indians at all and they do not seem to care as to what others think of them; so long as the existing systems and practices would allow them to make money and get things done in one way or the other. It seems the virtue of integrity is all but nowhere. So, how bad is corruption in India? Yeah right, and how deep is the Indian Ocean?
It does not shock us anymore to know that not only the politicians or bureaucrats are corrupt, but even the 'humanitarian' professionals - judges, professors, doctors and NGO organisations - are. Corruption is no longer a phenomenon limited to the rich (who are greedy in spite of possessing enough) but is also rampant amongst the poor. With politics and the judiciary, and now even business, having become the playground of criminals, the crusade against corruption seems to have finally failed in India. We have become victims as well as beneficiaries of the phenomenon, making sure it thrives incessantly and becomes a way of life.
The most disquieting aspect of the widespread corruption in India is the fact that it is not anymore confined to politicians or the government machinery alone. It is prevalent amongst almost every section of the society at every level. Political corruption grabs headlines and popular attention, and reinforces the false belief that the society at large is shielded from the fangs of nepotism. But headline corruption does not convey the full picture. When we look beyond government officials, we would uncover the same in key areas such as the business sector, media, the armed forces, public healthcare and religious institutions.
Those holding the most significant offices in the country and its states should possess the wisdom to realise the potential dangers that our corrupt society can unleash. Our representatives cannot be people who would compromise with governance for the lure of remaining in power for a few more days. In a corrupt government organisation (pardon the redundancy) there are no half measures. It is not like only the babu was corrupt. Usually, the entire organisation, right from the peon to the babu right up to the top brass, has a stake in the underhand dealings. How much to be paid to whom for what is usually an open secret.
Corruption is an assault on the collective conscience of India, made legitimate by the 'chalta hai' attitude that has now come to best define our mindset. Much as we would like to (and I include myself in 'we'), we cannot dismiss corruption as something which happens everwhere and so is acceptable. This can never be an excuse for allowing it to happen here. We realise that corruption is amorphous and is a shape-shifter; it comes in many forms and sizes. Worse, the measures being adopted, if at all, to fight this menace are inept and temporary at best.
Sending a few politicians or bureaucrats to jail (presuming that enough evidence against them is available) can at best be a temporary expedient. Such an event would make the headlines of the day and would, in all probability, be forgotten in no time. Nobody, save the insatiable 24x7 news channels, would benefit from this. Another remedial plan contemplates major overhauling on the administrative, legislative and societal fronts. It includes abolition of red-tapism and insistence on statutory declaration of assets. But these are long-term measures, and who would ever expect anyone to pass legislation that is against their own interests? Several cases remain pending and are seldom probed or scrutinised with a sharp eye.
The situation, it therefore seems, is hopeless. Call it survival instinct, social subsidy or social engineering, corruption is here to stay. So should that be another reason for us to throw our hands up in the air and learn to live with the status quo? We can decry it, we can condemn it, we may moralise over it, but corruption continues to exist. We feel that if we had good politicians and bureaucrats, India would be a better place to live in. The real change, however, can come only when we start demanding accountability and the government is forced to respond. Then it would not be easy for the government to go astray.
We must pledge to never tolerate a government which tolerates injustice and accepts corruption as a national value. We must rid the country of political abuse and misuse of power, even if it means cleansing the political cesspool and massive overhauling of our systems. The support and ownership of civil society is crucial, as is the realisation that corruption is an innate psychological aspect of our mental make-up. Once this appreciation come, maybe we could find ways to tackle it.
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