Editorial: Back to Corruption

In hopes of walking propriety back

Diwali, which had become more about sound & noise instead of the Festival of Lights that it was originally celebrated as, has been reclaimed to some extent. This happened in Sikkim before the firecrackers were also burnt out (partially) of celebrations elsewhere. Also noticeably missing from the Diwali build up this year is gold, snatched out of homes by a liquidity crunch and runaway inflation. Now, since extravagance has hobbled out of Deepawali, so we take this opportunity here to walk back some talk about wealth of the ill-gotten type. Corruption in the context of this piece is the one which involves 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”. As in India, so in Sikkim too, corruption has become the most effective shortcut in the journey from rags to riches. A State where (local) industrialization is negligible and where trade & commerce do not generate enough employment, corruption has turned out to be the least risky route to social influence and affluence. Lack of private enterprise has also led those on a treasure hunt to the plunder of the State treasury. It’s actually a catch-22 situation. If the State was to pull away from its current role as the largest consumer of services (by way of contracts and supplies), then there would be no commerce either and if it is to continue, then so does the plunder. What one should bear in mind is that it is not just the bureaucrat-politician combine that is corrupt. Also in the nexus are private people. From the truck driver who siphons away bits of the consignment, to the supplier who inflates the invoice and short-supplies on the order, all are guilty of plundering the State treasury. Agreed, there is a much bigger game afoot in bigger projects which one does not even hear of, but fact remains that the plunder goes on at every level. Every Sikkimese who uses her contacts to win the award of some free GI sheets for her greenhouse is guilty of contributing to the corpus of corruption. In doing so she also dulls the right to protest against corruption unless willing to also share the blame/ punishment. It goes without saying that corruption cannot survive without political patronage, but blaming the politicians alone will not suffice. Since it is the electorate which makes them influential 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 if the voters send out a clear signal that they will not tolerate it. Okay, maybe they won’t turn honest overnight, but they will at least begin by toning down the flamboyance with which ill-gotten gains are flaunted at present. Even that would be 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].