Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Frying the Corrupt: A Citizen’s Prayer

Today, as we stand in the cusp of corruption – CWG, AdarshG, 2G – only one thought assails the mind: never perhaps in one’s fallible memory of corruption past has the issue reached its acme as it has today. While corruption has been endemic in our everyday governance and society, the cluster of recent diabolical scams has kicked up enough muck to bring the issue of corruption centrestage.

Like every other year, India continues to languish low in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI). The CPI 2010 of Transparency International places India at 87th place in a comity of nations of 178. With a CPI score of 3.3 against Denmark and New Zealand’s 9.3 (the nations at the top of the table), we should be abashed.

But we aren’t. On the contrary, we are least surprised and fazed that a scam or two keep lurking behind every event or non-event that involves government spending. The reason is not far to seek. Look, this has nothing to do with procedures, rules and processes. They are by and large well-crafted and in place. It is only in the execution by the managers and administrators that fail us. This is where the quality, morals and ethics of these public servants kick in. And this is exactly where the sanguine motivation of these public officials is missing.

People who delude themselves that the public servants aim to serve the nation are living in the ivory tower. Take one from the politico-bureaucrat-businessman nexus – the civil servant. Very few joined the civil service to serve the common man. Most are neither civil nor servants; they are the rulers! They joined to make a decent living, because a civil servant had a high social perch in our feudal mindset and pecking order created by the British Raj, because regardless of one’s pedigree it endowed social respectability and ensured rapid social mobility and sanskritization in the otherwise taut social structure of a government-controlled economy. On top of it, it brought goodies, freebies and largesse – perks of the sinister kinds – in its wake. Not to forget the escalator-paradigm that carried them up and up the totem-pole in their career. Result: their every act is self-regarding, prompted by that primeval instinct of a rational man acting in a self-interested way in a stinking marketplace of governance.

Liberalization and privatization, far from arresting corruption, have unwittingly acted as catalyst for elevating Mammon to a veritable God. Not only financial corruption, it embraces moral and intellectual that subsume nepotism. Multinationals ingratiate themselves to top bureaucrats and politicians with high salary jobs for their progenies; the MNCs, NGOs, and corporate houses with retired bureaucrats on the rolls luxuriate. It has unleashed an environ of material gain and magical empire for Mammon; a madcap consumer paradise of immediate gratification and online delivery, of hot images and cool gadgets, of designer jeans and eugenic genes. The limitless possibilities of cybercracy that has shrunk the world as no other invention has ever had, has had its instant approbation and deleterious effects.

Whither morality you could ask? Does it have a place in the kleptophiliac India we live today? A jog down the memory lane from Kautilya’s Arthashastra to Machiavellian devices through to the Mughul mansabdari system to Warren Hastings’ impeachment to the East Indian Company’s loot and plunders, serves as no emollient for modern India’s egregious departure from conventional morality. Government money be damned because unlike a living entity that grimaces when in pain, the no-one’s impersonal government winces not, makes no such excruciating gestures. When the fence is bent upon eating the crop, whoever can help?

That is all the more reason for the civil society to sensitize itself against corruption and the damage it is causing to the society in general and the individual in particular. I reckon most people would like to live in a corruption-free society where their life is social, easy, uncluttered, and comfortable. If only they knew that the tax they pay is going to be used for their own benefit and that the service they render is not going to be appropriated by one or a few for the personal good of ‘a’ or a ‘small’ number of people, will there be sincere honesty of purpose and action on their part.

The purported scams of 2G, CWG, AdarshG et al that keep tumbling out of the closet with quotidian monotony should act as an exemplar for the common man if only the guilty are punished and meted out exemplary treatment. It is good that the Supreme Court is monitoring the 2G Spectrum scam. It is indeed going to be a test case for all the agencies to learn from this experience as the media keeps up its unrelenting focus on the so-called scams and scandals and the common man waits with bated breath to see the outcome.

More than preaching what civil society wants today is action. These scams are acid tests for India’s morality and perhaps the last chance for establishing the credibility and effectiveness of the many vigilante outfits tasked with the job of investigation. There would be stonewalling and filibustering, lies and more lies peddled to whitewash truth, ingenious and grotesque logic to justify the heinous and defend the indefensible, but at the end if the civil society wills so, truth shall prevail. If indeed the culprits are nailed and fried, deep and long, and handed out their just dessert will it set an example and benchmark a standard that shall hold good for times to come. If it fails and follows the time-worn beaten path of past inquiries and investigations, it would succeed in further entrenching corruption in India’s body politic that shall ring down sinisterly the corridors of Indian democracy.

Up until such time the jury comes home from the outback with its findings, the common man shall nurse a gnawing sense of hurt and neglect – that kleptomania has rendered him hors de combat and an anachronism and an outrage in his own bailiwick called India.

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