Is it correct that every fourth Indian pays a bribe to get his legitimate or illegitimate work done legitimately or illegitimately? Is it correct that India ranks as the 18th most corrupt countries today in the world? This is what the anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International, has to say based on its last annual survey. A report in this regard was carried by The Hindustan Times in its December 7, 2007 edition titled "India No 18 in Global Graft Index". Whatever may be the truth behind such an assertion, there is no denying the fact that corruption is the worst enemy of society and spreading itself in our psyche as an integral part of the Indian way of life.
The Times of India in its Delhi edition dated November 26, 2006, published a survey on "How Indians view god". The survey report claimed more than 92 per cent of Indians are god-fearing. The survey had taken into account people of all faiths, and both urban and rural. Being 'God-fearing', one believes, refers to those who would fear providential retribution for doing an act that is immoral or illegal or that would not be appreciated by the large majority.
If more than nine out of 10 Indians fear God and, by extension, believe in Him, it perturbs me to think how "godly India" can be considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world? Why are there lakhs of corruption cases pending in the courts? Why is it that corruption is taken to be a fact of life in everything that we do? Many more questions emerge. What is the total volume, in terms of a realistic ballpark figure, of corruption in this country? Is there any quantifiable impact of this corruption? Why is it that in India, a nation which has always commanded respect from the Western world on account of its inherent spirituality, people readily resort to corruption even in the name of God? Do our parents teach us corruption? Is it part of our collective legacy? Do we glorify corruption? And do we bask in the fruits of corruption?
Hardly does anybody try to find an answer to these questions. We readily accept that corruption is rooted in our society, even perhaps in our genes. It is taken as a given, almost like second nature. Not only do the vast majority of Indians condone corruption, it is also lauded and appreciated in many cases. An honest man is often taken as an oddity, and sometimes made a subject of ridicule. If you say you hate corruption you stand the risk of being called stupid or inane.
A few concrete facts on corruption provided by former Chief Vigilance Commissioner N. Vittal some time in the year 2001 are worth the mention here. In a speech delivered at a college in Haryana he said, quoting a report by the PHD Chamber of Commerce (a reputed body of financial experts), that the Government of India was losing revenue to the tune of Rs 63,800 crore every year on account of corruption. This figure was roughly thrice the entire foreign direct investment made in India that year. Needless to say, the corresponding figures for this year could be much higher.
Mr Vittal estimated the quantum of unaccounted money at that time to be anywhere between Rs 350,000 crore to Rs 750,000 crore, more than the combined revenue earnings of the Centre and all state governments. With this as the benchmark, it wouldn't be surprising if the figure now crosses Rs 1000,000 crore.
There are countless instances that can be cited from everyday life to highlight the magnitude and extent of corruption in India. But it will be a futile exercise because most Indians are all too familiar about it. If media reports are to be believed, exporters spend 1% to 15% of their earnings to grease the corruption machinery. Social worker and journalist Madhu Kishwar's path breaking magazine Manushi had conducted a survey in 2001 on Delhi's rickshaw-pullers. The results were shocking: That year the police and MCD officials collected Rs. 10 crore from rickshaw-pullers in the Capital to allow them to ply their trade without harassment. Rickshaw-pullers are one of the poorest of the daily wage-earners, and a most visible part of the unorganized sector, providing a crucial service to a large segment of the population, particularly women, children, the old and the infirm. Yet they continue to be exploited by the police and civic officials ostensibly because they are responsible for the congestion on the roads.
Corruption costs street vendors in the National Capital Region about Rs. 480 crore every year to keep their trade going. About 20% to 30% of the quoted figures in all government tenders change hands illegally to secure the same. The figures are equally horrifying in all Indian cities, small and large.
A survey conducted amongst a section of NRIs in the United States, quoted in The Hindustan Times in July 2007, claimed that 81% of them had paid a bribe at some stage or the other in the course of doing business in India. The same newspaper also quoted another study that said 25% of teachers of government primary schools draw their salaries without taking a single class.
All of us have experienced, first-hand, what corruption is. Its omnipresence in our system need not be proved nor do I intend to pile you with statistics here. Statistics may not always be accurate and often stand the chance of being far off the mark, and on the lower side. The enormity of corruption cannot probably be presented correctly in statistical format.
Corruption, thus, is a very real and tangible menace that comes in the way of the country's progress at all possible levels. To deny its existence, even without statistical confirmation, would be preposterous. We feel it every day every where; at railway ticket counters, in the courts, corporate offices, on the roads, at police stations, PDS shops, government offices and departments, schools and colleges … the list is endless. In the absence of any formula on how to deal with corruption, and since in most cases protest does not get us anywhere, we mostly give in or acquiesce meekly.
Even the educated and socially more empowered amongst us have a love-hate relationship with corruption. A journalist friend of mine spent most of his working years writing a plethora of reports about corruption. One day in the summer of 1998 I had accompanied him to New Delhi Railway Station to buy tickets, soon after covering the JMM MPs' bribery case trial at Vigyan Bhavan. It was a terribly hot afternoon in May, when the sun was at its cruelest in Delhi. My friend was not carrying his "Press" identity card and so could not queue at the special counter for journalists, senior citizens and others. He had no option but to queue up at one of the "ordinary" counters with about 60 people ahead of him.
After about five minutes a young man came up to him and whispered if he would like to have an instant ticket for a price. My friend asked, "how much?" "Just Rs. 200 extra," he was told. Without any hesitation my friend handed over the extra cash and got the ticket of his choice in five minutes flat. "What a relief," he said as we left the station. When we later discussed the bribe that he had paid, my friend claimed that it was not an act of dishonesty on his part. "It would have been stupid to let go of the opportunity. The boy who collected the money and the staff who issued the ticket for a bribe were the ones who were corrupt," he said. He sincerely believed in what he was saying.
"No, this is not a bribe, this is just a tip," says Bharat (name changed), a clerk at Tis Hazari - whom I have spoken of earlier - who charges around Rs. 50 for every file made available for inspection. He says, with a straight face, that "this is not corruption". This, he claims, is the reward for the "extra pain" he takes, despite his pressing schedules, to dig out the file for an advocate to inspect. Not once will he understand, or at least admit, that this is a part of his duties too. Incidentally, whenever someone wanted to see a file for free he would promptly say: "Sorry, I have no time; come back at 3 o'clock". But just one fifty-rupee note makes him scurry with the file unfailingly with a smile and a salute.
Bharat has his own set of reasons to assuage his conscience. He has a family to run, his son studies in a good school, lawyers mint money through their clients … so what's wrong if poor clerks like him make an extra buck? One day I asked him, "Would you teach your son to do the same as you?" He literally came up with a speech in reply. "I will never be happy if my son becomes a clerk like me. I hate corruption. See, this country is being destroyed by corruption...."
Some time back a police officer was caught taking a bribe inside a government office in a sting operation. Another officer, who was sitting in the next room when this happened, saw the entire episode of his colleague being caught in the act on television. In a spontaneous reaction he heaved a sigh of relief that it was not his turn that day.
We are unanimous in agreeing that corruption is one of the greatest impediments to progress in any civilized society. Whenever we talk of corrupt people, the first group we refer to is the political class. Bureaucrats, businessmen, policemen and government clerks and petty babus come next in descending order. To simplify, I have categorized on a whim corruption into three classes named: Fat Corruption, Mat Corruption and Rat Corruption.
Fat corruption: This is corruption involving politicians, businessmen and policy-makers. This forms the biggest chunk of all the illegitimate transfer of wealth (read: corruption) that occurs in the country. We know how the government's family silver - PSUs, land, offices, mines, hotels, state undertakings and the like - is being sold for a song. Fat corruption is corruption involving policy matters wherein the top business classes benefit through unfair means from the government of the day. Fat corruption involves huge sums of money and gratification given without it being reflected in any manner in the incomes of politicians and other recipients. Politics, especially electioneering, involves considerable expenditure and investment. Using their high offices, politicians try to accumulate enough money so that they can fund their elections and also stash away more than they will ever need to survive in the trade of politics. Election victories often depend on how much money is spent in the campaign. Though in elections in India the general mood of the citizen gets reflected in the outcome on a larger canvas, money and muscle power does play a role and can influence the verdict in most parts of the country. When a politician spends money to get himself elected, he deems it an investment. Those who fund his campaign do it in the expectation that he would become an MLA, MP or minister and return the favour in a big way. Hence elections in India always involve big money, big business and big projects. The ordinary citizen, in whom is vested all power according to the Constitution, is thus taken for a ride most of the time.
Mat Corruption: This is corruption involving bureaucrats and businessmen. Mat corruption refers to direct cash transactions between politicians and businessmen with the active involvement of bureaucrats. While aiding and assisting politicians in the discharge of their functions, a cohort of bureaucrats and high-level officials in various government and private departments do their bit to get their own and their bosses' palms greased, and greased well. It is interesting to note that both the politician and the bureaucrat are well paid in terms of salaries and perks including accommodation, conveyance and other benefits. Yet, politicians and bureaucrats take more than a fair share of their pound of flesh while discharging their duties. This illegal gratification comes mostly from businessmen and those who require favours from the government. On most occasions these officers serve as conduits between politicians and businessmen. Huge sums of money change hands through below-the-table transactions. Businessmen bribe politicians for tenders and favourable deals and try to earn this "investment" back by passing on the costs to the consumer or the common man. Incidentally, the most corrupt businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats miss no opportunity to attack corruption in public fora.
Rat corruption: Rat corruption involves lower level government employees, small-time politicians and brokers, clerks, police officials who take money for whatever they do. For them charging money is the norm or practice for what ever they little they do which they think as matter of favour.
Some observers attribute corruption amongst the salaried class to their low salaries. The salaried middle class works hard to save enough to educate their children, dreaming of giving them a head start in this competitive world. They need money for all this. These needs grow. Their children play with classmates from more affluent families and seek the same levels of comfort as their richer friend. In a social system where the inequalities are glaring, people with moderate or low salaries are always ready to resort to any means to earn that extra buck. This mostly comes by way of bribes which go under a clutch of euphemistic names such as "tips" or, more grandiosely, "incentives".
Perhaps I will not be wrong to say "tips" is branded as "upuri" in Bengal and Orissa. Government and municipal employees charge money for doing a particular work which happens to be part of their job profile and for which they are paid for through their salaries. These people make their work conditional to ensure their "upuri" of the day and this is treated as an accepted practice.
I was explained about this term "upuri" by a retired Bengali teacher some time in February 1992. I had put up at Chowringhee Hotel in central Calcutta while on a two-day visit to the city. I cannot speak Bengali fluently though I understand the language well because of its close phonetic ties with my mother tongue Oriya. I was feeling terribly handicapped when I could not speak to the local Bengalis in their language. I came across a retired school teacher Basuda (as he was being referred to) who helped me on the first day when I was looking for a room to stay. We shared an instant rapport and befriended each other. In the hotel room, I had a long chat with him on a variety of issues including "upuri". He had an interesting story to tell. In the case of a marriage proposal in a middle class family, generally the representative of the girl side would ask how much the prospective bridegroom earns and if he is making anything 'over and above' his salary. The word "upuri" in Bengali means over and above. Then Basuda said this practice existed in Bengal till the seventies. Thank god, things have now changed, he said.
Basuda may have spoken of the scenario in Bengali marriages, but I am sure that this has been the case in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa too. Many middle-class marriages involve grooms employed in salaried services in government offices. In fact, such grooms are highly sought after in middle-class families.
This speaks volumes about the mindset of the common man in most parts of the country. It is also part of the mindset that the income of such salaried government servants can be expected to be supplemented by a bribe or two. It is almost accepted practice, and hence we do not react adversely when we see a petty or middle-level babu taking money for a favour. Though at the lower level the amount of illegal money exchanged is comparatively lesser, it is quite visible. Policemen collecting money from buses, hotels, vendors and liquor shops is commonplace in all cities. If we try to install a close circuit TV in court rooms, we will find that in all courts clerks take bribes either from lawyers or litigants. No, this not the case with only Tis Hazari, go to any part of the country and you will witness this. The Tis Hazari example is one of thousands. My intent here is not to malign the clerks of Tis Hazari but only to say that we tend to ignore such practice although this action is illegal. In almost all parts of the country, clerks taking money for doing a favour is accepted practice. We call this Rat corruption.
Some may argue that these bureaucrats and pretty clerks and policemen take to corruption because they are not adequately paid. But this serves as merely an excuse for the corrupt. Does an inadequate salary bring with it a licence to indulge in corrupt practice? Why then do we blame a poor thief for breaking into a rich man's house to steal? Should such an act be excused, condoned, glorified the way we do with corruption? I believe penury has nothing to do with criminality. Criminality is a reflection of the mindset, and is the outcome of perverse thought.
Corruption is an act of criminality. Corruption begins with the individual motivation to acquire something beyond one's legitimate right. This acquisition is usually money or something that can be translated into wealth. In fact, our babus know that there are lakhs of officials in the country taking money in lieu of a favour. How many of them are caught? The figure must be abysmally low, not even 1%.
I remember tuning in to a programme some years back on a TV channel where they debated that the degree of corruption would come down if salaries are raised across the board. Psychologists would call this a myth. One of my professors at Utkal University, Dr Fakir Mohan Sahu, had once said long ago that "if a thief sits in heaven there too will he indulge in thieving". In fact this is exactly what happens. Government salaries were handsomely increased by the Fifth Pay Commission. Corruption level, however, did not go down. We cannot punish all corrupt government officials. It is a common argument in India that those who work against corruption are themselves corrupt. Some also call for severe and exemplary punishment against the corrupt. In heated discussions I have heard some people say, with feeling, that the corrupt should be hanged. This may provoke laughter and derision in India but this actually happens in countries like Singapore. But going by the extent and enormity of corruption in India, the radical punishment of hanging the corrupt will not be successful. In such a case you may have to hang simply too many people, many of them probably our lawmakers themselves.
Another very intrinsic aspect of corruption is that it reflects one's perverse and bestial thoughts. The innate zeal for acquisition and possession of material wealth is latent in everyone's consciousness. Despite the enormity of the craving, ways to fulfill the same are, logically, only two: 1) through legitimate enterprise; and 2) the quicker route offered by crime, graft and manipulation.
This leads us to another question. If the pay and perks of those who fall in, or at least are believed to belong to, the first category were raised, would it deter them from taking to the corrupt. Would this steer those who have opted for the second route back to the honest path? Will the corrupt stop being corrupt with a few hundred rupees more in their pay cheques? Definitely not. Corruption breeds corruption, and the craving to possess more than one does is almost always insatiable. The corrupt, if better provided for, will only seek an even bigger share of ill-gotten wealth.
What is, in summary, the general effect of corruption? With our infrastructure glaringly inadequate, most Indians take the short cut to graft to get work such as securing access to a file or obtaining a railway ticket or a job done. Largely, corruption hits our national exchequer and turns the system of equity and fairness upside down. The undeserving pip the merited to the post by virtue of their ability to pay more. But sometimes the consequences of corruption could be far worse than that. If a security guard lets a terrorist into Parliament House or a school or hospital or munitions dump in exchange of a bribe, how much blood will he have on his hands for that single moment of greed? What happens when a driving instructor grants a licence to a man who has not learnt to drive and the same man loses control of the wheel in front of a school?
All monetary transactions and business and pecuniary enterprise are founded on the edifice of contractual law. Corruption, to put it simply, is an illegitimate contract. It rewards the undeserving, deprives the genuine claimant, and leads to inefficiency and mismanagement. Public administration and governance is denied fairness and equity. Development projects may be derailed from the implementation plan. At its worst, security is grossly compromised by corruption.
It is the common man who becomes the biggest victim of corruption. The Rule of Law which governs our day-to-day lives is besmirched. If a corrupt policeman takes a bribe from the accused, where does the complainant go? Is there any guarantee that the courts will not allow corruption to come in the way of securing him justice? We may glorify our legal system but the fact remains that the common man has very little faith in it. I will be dishonest to myself, as a practicing lawyer, if I say that the Judiciary is the best and most honest institution in our country. After all, the judges who form the apex of the judicial system are drawn from the same society which throws up the most corrupt amongst us.
Let us look at a few media reports. A man in Assam spent more than 50 years in jail without a trial with nobody having any clue as to why he was arrested in the first place. In Bihar in late 2006 a 7-year-old child was named an accused in a case of attempted murder and rape. If this is not a miscarriage of justice then what is it?
Instances of the law being violated with impunity are too innumerable and too familiar to all of us. In Delhi we spot a giant statue of Hanuman striding a busy traffic intersection constructed on land that is part of the protected Ridge and near a historical monument. We regularly see temples sprouting on the environmentally fragile Yamuna River Catchment Area in violation of a slew of laws. There are a million unauthorised constructions. When law enforcers go to demolish an illegal property, the commonest refrain is "why did the civic authorities allow the building to be built in the first place? Why did they then accept a bribe to legitimise the act?" There is reason enough behind their angst. All illegal constructions and extensions were possible only after handsome bribes were paid to a host of government officials and cops. It suited both parties; the man who made the illegal construction got an extra room or annexe and the police and civic officials got some extra cash. The Rule of Law, in the process, is reduced to a mockery.
Delhi is an excellent example of a city where corruption thrives. Corruption here has acquired a pedestal; it is an institution, a fine art. People indulge in corruption even in the name of God. A senior barrister practicing in Delhi High Court once told me with élan: "You Oriyas offer only a diya as bribe (this is the exact word he used) to Lord Jagannath in Puri. That is why you are poor. Look at us from Delhi. We offer the God no less than Rs. 500/- each time we visit the temple and obviously the returns are greater". A lady journalist (name withheld) was present. She agreed with the barrister, saying "we must move with the times".
The barrister went on to say that if one wished to survive comfortably in Delhi one has to cultivate contacts, and it is these contacts that fetch work, money, jobs. Most professionals in Delhi thrive on these contacts, which is referred to by the vernacular jugaad. Interestingly, I remember that not once in the animated monologue did the barrister refer to merit as the keystone to success.
This reminded me of a very popular joke on jugaad. A Japanese automobile engineer was travelling on Delhi's roads in his car, which was of a brand yet to be introduced in India. The car developed a snag in Daryaganj. The Japanese wondered where he could find a mechanic. A young man in soiled clothes came up to his window and offered his services. The Japanese engineer wondered if this unimpressive-looking young man could really be of any help. The man opened the bonnet, eyed the engine curiously and said: "Foreign parts are not available in India but we have jugaad". The engineer was curious. He asked the Indian to get the work done with this jugaad. The latter brought out some used motor parts and fixed the car. The car developed another snag in Agra. There too, another young man in soiled clothes offered him his services and said the same thing regarding jugaad. But this time he explained jugaad as "roadside engineering". The Japanese came across this jugaad again in Jaipur and Chandigarh, with similar results. When he returned to Tokyo he was understandably all praise for India's miraculous jugaad. The Japanese Prime Minister was curious about what this jugaad actually was. So he asked his Indian counterpart. The Prime Minster of India replied with a straight face: "I cannot disclose the secrets of jugaad since it is this technology that helps me run my 14-party coalition government. Hence it is a state secret."
In India it is not one's labour, merit or dedication that delivers. I do not blame this barrister for his ideas on jugaad. Jugaad in the Indian connotation means contacts and resources. The more jugaad you have, the more powerful you are.
In cases of government tenders, more often than not there is actually no bidding. The contractors simply bribe the bureaucrats and politicians involved. The one who bribes the maximum gets the contract, usually. If bribes are paid over and above the tender amount, the bidder tries to recover the same during the execution of the contract. He, after all, is doing business and not charity (though charity too is a big, and corrupt, business in India today). But in the ultimate analysis the quality of the work suffers and the common man is taken for a ride. Do you not read about newly constructed houses, bridges and dams, built by tender, collapsing or cracking up? While the money spent for its construction was collected from us through taxes, dishonest contractors greased sarkari palms to secure the contract and then used inferior material to make up for the bribes.
Delhi saw a colossal boom in real estate in recent years. When a property is sold, the registration papers continue to quote the old, pre-boom prices while huge amounts of black money change hands. Most property dealers in and outside Delhi have played a role in this artificial escalation of prices, while the government gets only peanuts as stamp duty.
An NRI litigant had invested money in a big real estate venture and bought a plot on the outskirts of Delhi. When he went to take possession of the land after making the full payment he was informed that the property had already been sold to another party and that he could either take back his money with interest or choose another plot. The NRI moved the consumer court. The real estate company reiterated that they were ready to pay the money back with interest. The NRI wanted to retain the plot but the consumer court urged him to accept the money offered. The consumer court did not raise any questions about how realtors inflate prices while at the same time going back on their promises.
Some time back allegations of favouritism were levelled against a reputed medical college in the matter of appointment of doctors. The best among the lot were denied the posts. Most of those denied the posts moved out of the country in frustration. In this case the nation lost out on a clutch of competent doctors due to debilitating corruption.
In fact the jugaad that I had discussed boils down to a form of favouritism that even honest people won't mind giving a try. In his brilliantly written essay "Long live the Sycophants" in the book "In spite of the Gods", Edward Luce writes: In Delhi "if you are rich and important, you rarely pay. If you are poor, you usually pay through the nose and there is no guarantee that you will even get what you paid for."
An even brighter instance is given by V. Raghunathan in his book Games Indians Play: "Take the case of the demolition drive in Delhi in early 2006. How is it that we first allow illegal constructions to come up for decades and then one fine morning wake up to the fact and wage a war on such structures overnight? Even when the drive is on, how come the properties of the powerful are rarely touched? It is not as if these deviations are unknown to the authorities. But once these authorities receive their illegal gratification, any deviation is there to stay. For some reason, giving a bribe, particularly when you have no choice, appears to be less of a defection than taking it. But in realty, is it? Isn't it a collective thing? If there is no giver, there will be no taker. But who will take the initiative?"
The way I look at it, corrupt activities impair our economy and efficiency. Corruption is destructive. It is unproductive. It leads to inefficiency. If corruption is rampant, the consequence is that businessmen, contractors, clerks, politicians and officials will only think of serving their own interests with the common man getting short-changed.
If this trend continues, organizations may very soon seek manipulators and miscreants for their posts. Consider how corruption can wreak havoc in institutions such as the Army and the Judiciary.
Tell me, dear Campaigners, is corruption not a symptom of a severe illness that plagues our society? Corruption is just not about an amount of money changing hands; it is the mindset. The mindset that encourages us to promptly resort to corrupt means to get one's work done instead of taking recourse to the tedious due process of the law. The problem is so rampant that putting a few corrupt men behind bars would simply not be enough.
If our leaders are themselves corrupt then solutions will obviously not be immediately forthcoming. The entire system will collapse after a point. Corruption in all its forms is one of the major causes of poverty, under-development and terrorism. There is corruption at the decision-making levels because those in power are greedy and encourage corruption in every which way. For such people, money is their sole motivator. They are not bothered about the needs of the aam admi. Nor are they worried about the poor roads, inadequate infrastructure, lack of potable water in villages, shortage of schools, colleges and hospitals all over the country. Only money drives them, and more money makes them crave for even more of it.
As I have repeatedly said, corruption is a reflection of the state of mind of the corrupt. There exists only a minuscule section of society that has managed to stay insulated from the poison of corruption. Though they are not able to make much of a difference on account of their numbers, they do prove a point: It is possible to shun corruption.
I too believe that the virus of corruption cannot be eliminated altogether from our system. But I more strongly believe that it can be controlled so that it does not deny our children the true legacy of Bharat that they rightfully should inherit.
Given that corruption is a state of mind, I feel that it can be forced to stay suppressed in our subconscious like many other bestial traits that we possess but do not allow to surface. A human being regulates or suppresses his or her negative and destructive qualities so that these do not get the better of him and invite sanction from the law or from society.
Corruption is an illegal act. It invites punishment under law. But the law alone has not proved an adequate deterrent mainly because of the level of percolation and pervasiveness of corruption. Unfortunately, in India we have acce-pted corruption as a matter of practice. We have to attach a bad name to corruption. For this we have to have an atmosphere around us that can create a sense of overwhelming hatred against corruption.
Accumulating power and pelf is always a pleasure. But immoral ways of acquiring them gives more pain than pleasure to those who think it is sinful. One suppresses the urge to steal because of his upbringing, education, conscience and moral faiths. There is no religion which gives sanctity to corruption. Therefore, in the courtrooms a witness is asked to take the oath in the name of God to speak the truth.
Why do even the corrupt hate corruption? It is due to the inherently robust moral value system that we inculcate in childhood. The above observations are not merely from conjecture. I sought the views on corruption of dozens of courtroom clerks whom I have known for nearly a decade. I spoke to policemen, who often glorify corruption with the excuse that they collect hafta since they too have to cough up bigger amounts to their superiors. I spoke to officials of government departments including Customs, municipalities and educational institutions. They feel corruption is the most inevitable part of life (Corruption nahi rahega to desh kaise chalega?). But there was one strain of thought common to all of them: they do hate corruption. Why? Their answer is that their parents taught them to be honest and imandaar.
Almost all of us have taken part in mass prayers during our student days. This practice continues even today. These prayers always stress the need and importance of building character over everything else. They say it is important to be a good man rather than a rich and powerful one. These prayers are at imbibing the best values in the child; after all, the child is the father of the man. These values always stressed honesty, hard work, and patriotism as the prerequisites of 'character'.
But once out of school, these prayers are forgotten. Struggling to survive in the rat race, most of us either forget these values altogether or push them back into some cobwebbed corner of the mind to be dusted out only when our children go to school. And the wheel comes full circle.
While honesty is a matter of practice and self-discipline, corruption is a reflection of one's mindset. It also involves a considerable degree of intelligence. After all, the corrupt go about their game while ensuring that they are never caught in the act.
Corruption is a dangerous virus. Haven't you come across viruses that infect your computer and bring it crashing down? You are then required to reboot the machine and scan its innards thoroughly. Eliminating corruption necessitates such a comprehensive step. The most palpable consequence of corruption is terrorism and all other forms of anti-national activity. The government has brought in several laws to curb corruption but it is yet to do something as comprehensive as rebooting your computer for kicking out that virus.
Let us go back to the age-old Indian system of governance: village panchayats. One form of punishment meted in the olden days to individuals found doing an illegal act is to ostracize them. Though panchayats as an institution have been grossly abused over the centuries, this practice reflects the firm edifice on which social justice was based in India. It also gives us a beacon light for a reformed future; since such a form of complete segregation deals effectively with perceived social evils.
Nobody is going to listen if we shout from the rooftops against corruption. Instead, there will be more frequent and more alarming reports of how the fruits of development do not reach the targeted poor. Or how the lion's share of money sanctioned for public projects gets embezzled. Corruption is being discussed a million times everywhere every day in this country. But do we try to find a tangible, practicable solution?
But can we say that the answer to all problems of corruption, and by extension a host of other national problems, lies in ostracizing those who are corrupt or anti-national? This is not practicable either. We cannot hang the corrupt overnight; they are simply too many and too powerful. We cannot beat them up. Legislation too cannot bring about its end.
If we cannot keep the corrupt away, can we not ask honest people to come together, asks my lawyer friend Nishant Dutta? But can it happen? I feel that many of those who we believe are honest may not actually be honest. Some of them may be afraid to be dishonest while harbouring the desire to the same. There are people who have been honest for decades before greed caught up with them, and then there was no going back.
This country does have a large number of people who are honest and incorruptible. Can we not reach out to them? The answer is certainly yes, if only we would know who they are. My Campaigner friends are optimistic when they talk about building a mass movement against corruption. Shanmugha wants to get going at the earliest.
Nishant wants us to focus on the young, our citizens of tomorrow. They must be taught to follow only those honest and dedicated people who have devoted themselves to the cause of the country. I agree with Nishant.
Sudha Passi believes it is all a question of mindset. "We have to cultivate a mindset that can distinguish between the good and the evil, the right and the wrong, the fair and the unfair."
But how does one distinguish between the good and the evil, the right and the wrong, the fair and the unfair?
Says Sudha: "I got the answer from former Prime Minister Chaudhury Charan Singh. In a television interview given by his daughter, she quoted him to say that the right thing is that which you feel proud of doing and want to share with others. And if you feel that an act of yours has to be hidden from others, then you have done something wrong, unfair and incorrect. This answer has been etched in my mind for so many years. I realise that the most difficult and complex answers have the most simple and straightforward solutions; only, we should have the courage to face them and live with them."
India is at heart god-fearing. People of all religions bow before god, whatever be their method of doing so.
Let us combine all these forces: honest people plus clean-hearted students plus worshippers of Krishna/Allah/Jesus/Buddha/gods of all faiths plus lawyers plus bureaucrats plus all who believe at least to create a sense of hatred against corruption. Let this huge force of people work in the interest of the country. We all know we cannot eliminate corruption. We can hate corruption. Can we not ask them to join us in our method of hating corruption? If they do so, such a force will be invincible.
But how do we unite? What could be the touchstone for this unity? Is it culture, language, or faith? What is that magic band that can bind all such people?