Editorial: Taking Pot-Shots at Corruption

Easiest target, empty bullets

Corruption is the use of public office for private gain. The prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 defines bribery as “a public servant taking gratification other than legal remuneration in respect of an official act; a public servant obtaining a valuable thing, without consideration from the person concerned in proceeding or the business transacted by such a public servant; and criminal misconduct”. Typical bureaucratese, we know, and requiring more than one read to comprehend. Meanwhile, since Sikkim appears to be pursuing a record of sorts when it comes to making weekly corruption-related arrests, this would be as good a time as any to discuss this, as many have called it, necessary evil. Speak to anyone on the streets, and they will insist - and one speaks of the country and not just the State here - that work just won’t get done if there was no graft involved. Most would have us believe this, but is it really so? It shouldn’t, but it is. And this is because the two common interpretations of corruption are skewed. First, let us take the example of how political parties see corruption. Corruption for parties the world over is something that the opposition does. Since in most democracies the reins of office change often, parties in Opposition will blame those in power and since the opposition is invariably a former government [or a government in waiting], graft charges become convenient ploys to pin down opponents. This is not necessarily because there are too many instances of corruption [given India’s dismal track-record of convictions, there appears to be too little corruption in higher places], but because corruption allegations demand no substantiation. The people will believe the corruption charges because according to them everyone is corrupt and because the investigating agencies are controlled by the State, the investigations can be made to stretch ever longer and then the courts can take up more time. Few expect corruption charges to stick, but it at least keeps an opponent occupied on another front. Examples abound, the Hawala scandal, the Bofors issue, the coal and the 3G cases and while on it, also the steady march of Sikkim’s leaders in-waiting making frequent trips to Delhi with corruption charges against the present dispensation. And the list keeps growing longer with still more cases, still more allegations still more complaints. The bottomline however is that corruption charges are just sticks with which to whip up headlines or witch-hunts depending upon who holds the whip. Now, let’s see how the people understand corruption. For most, it is something that gets their work done. They feed the monster to make their own lives better. That said, they still see themselves as suffering because of the corruption, not as cogs of the nexus. Many who make a noise about corruption are either politically motivated or are offended because someone else benefited from the graft when even they were in the race. This then is a corrupt practice as well. It goes without saying that corruption cannot survive without political patronage, but blaming politicians alone will not suffice. Since it is the electorate which made them powerful enough to sidestep rules and hoodwink due process, it is also the electorate’s responsibility to keep them honest. No politician will continue being corrupt or continue looking the other way if the voters send out a clear signal that they will not tolerate it. Okay, maybe they won’t turn honest overnight, but will at least begin by toning down the flamboyance with which ill-gotten gains are flaunted at present. Even that would at least be a beginning and from there could start the process of addressing corruption in more practical terms as against the rhetoric [which inflames passions but does not resolve] or the equally disconcerting chest-beating which speaks of corruption in comparative terms [as if being less corrupt was a virtue of some sorts]. One needs to accept that corruption cannot be graded since one is either corrupt or honest and there are no in-betweens. It is not about being less or more corrupt, because once someone is corrupt, then the scale of the scam is decided by the opportunity available and not the sensibilities of the corrupt person. That said, crackdowns cannot take refuge behind this argument because at least the authorities need to have a better sense of proportions so that the resources at their disposal are deployed for the best ‘returns’.