Editorial: Corrupt Practices

To stem the wrong, people need to step up Corruption, most accept, is a necessary evil. Work just won’t get done if there was no graft involved, many would like to believe. 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 the government sees corruption. Corruption for regimes in power the world over is something that the Opposition does. In a democracy, this Opposition is almost always the former government [of a government in waiting] and graft charges are the most convenient ploy to nail 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, more recently the Rafale murkiness and while on it, there has always been a steady march of Sikkim’s leaders in-waiting and leaders past their prime 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 a stick in the hands of the politicians to whip up a witch-hunt with. 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 [as the slew of dismissed PILs in the Courts will bear out] or are offended because someone else benefited from the graft when even they were in the race. This perhaps is the crowning corrupt practice of all. Does that mean that things cannot be changed? That cannot be so. Democracy cannot fail the people so hopelessly. Of course things can change, the Right to Information Bill was one step towards that end. The powers-that-be will keep trying to wrap it in reams of red-tape, but it is bound to unspool ever so often and will stay empowered from the day the people realize that it is their right to know that matters not their right to be informed. To illustrate this point further one needs to look at the history of information in Indian history. In the immediate years after Independence, the nation produced personalities who were undoubtedly “genuine leaders” - leaders who did their homework, were committed to the people and exposed scams in the Parliament. Those leaders did the job for the people, they kept them informed, built public consensus, followed up on it and demanded justice. Then Indira Gandhi happened and the coterie raj began. Leaders became yes-men and politics failed India and reached its nadir with the two-year Emergency. Then, the fourth estate stepped in and took on the role of informing the people. Almost all post-80’s scams were unearthed by committed journalists. But the media scene has changed since, tokenism has replaced commitment and the people have failed the media too; how else does one explain the irony of the most consistently pathbreaking newspaper [read Indian Express] not even figuring in the circulation race and losing out to publications that seek to primarily entertain. Fact remains that if corruption is to be stemmed, the people have to believe they are empowered and then exercise that power to guarantee probity in public dealings.