Corruption – The Core Of India Is rotten?

Corruption has always felt like a permanent part of our politics and Government. And the recent exposures have revealed the extent of the spread of this disease. It almost seems like India is a patient terminally ill with the cancer of corruption – it has now spread everywhere – Commonwealth games held in the name of Indian pride and Sportsmen, Adarsh land scam in the name of War widows, Spectrum Scam, Land scams in Karnataka involving the CM and some ministers, and powerful moneyed Delhi lobbyists like Nira Radia who seem to be influencing things from what articles are written to which ministers are appointed and to which PSU chiefs are appointed!

These are gut wrenching stories that show how every aspect of our system of Government and democracy is compromised. Most disturbing is the extent of media manipulation that has been explosively exposed by the shenanigans of Delhi lobbyists like Nira Radia.

All these remind us of how much we are declining as a country. It’s ironical that these images and stories are being put out for all Indians to hear and read, just a few days after President Obama’s famous visit to India – where he proclaimed that ‘India is not emerging, but has emerged’. It sounds like a comical statement seen in the context of all these exposes. Our emergence seems to be more as a Banana Republic.

That corruption is enabled and caused by the Government and Political leadership is without dispute. There is no point blaming the odd bureaucrat or small fish. The system stinks today because the people at the top cause and enable the stink, helped along with their cosy and illicit relationships with Business interests and Businessmen. There is an interesting circle of life being played out in Delhi and various state Capitals. Politicians enrich Businessmen, who in turn, use money to capture public policy, politics, media and other institutions in turn to influence politics in turn to enrich businessmen, and the circle continues.

As Raghuram Rajan, former Economist of IMF and currently Advisor to the Prime Minister pointed out recently – almost all of the billionaires created in India have created their wealth ‘because of their proximity to politics and politicians’. As an article in the Newsweek pointed out, India has the world’s third largest number of Billionaires, most of whom are coming out of areas like infrastructure, real estate, mining - all of which are heavily influenced by Government and Politics. Importantly, white collar crime in India never seems to get punished, i.e., corporate criminals (a vital player in every scam) hardly ever get punished – Compare Bernie Madoff in the US who is already in jail on a 150 year sentence, while in India, Satyam Raju, who was nabbed about the same time, still roams around between hotels and bail.

India has grown in the last decade. It is clearly far wealthier and confident because of its wealth and standing in the league of nations. However, somewhere along the way, all of us have been carried away by the slick spin of this Economic growth, without asking questions of the nature of the growth and consequences of this type of growth. One of the worst things that has happened – and the media is responsible for blindly following this – is to blindly accept that the economic growth is simply about these bland numbers of 8.5% or 9% etc that gets put out by the Government and echoed blindly by the Business community.

There is a real curse and underbelly to our growth story, and it’s this: The Government’s increased spending budgets and sectors like real estate, construction, mining, PPP infrastructure projects are actually big reasons for our Growth numbers. All these areas have significant corruption associated with them – which, in a sense, implies that the current economic growth model has the cancer of corruption built into it. In a lot of ways, economic growth has caused Government to have more revenues, and therefore, the Government to spend more.

This year alone, the Government’s budget is 10,00,00,000 Crores (Rs 10 Lakh Crores) and if the late Rajiv Gandhi’s analysis of only 15 paise out of every Rupee reaching the people is right, then the leakages (a polite word for the Corruption cancer) is of the order of Rs 8,50,00,000 Crores (of which Raja takes 1,76,000 Crores!).The lack of any action by the Government to prevent this corruption can only lead us to believe that Corruption is an intrinsic consequence of this model of growth.

It is hard, even for the most cynical Indian, not to be angered by these examples of criminal corruption. And exploitation is what these cases of Corruption are.

Exploitation because, every rupee that a Political decision gives to a Private interest is a rupee removed from the Public budget and is no longer available to you and I. These seem to be victimless crimes, but actually all of us are victims. When this kind of transfer (or robbery) of wealth from the Public/State to a private interest runs into Lakhs of Crores – then you can start understanding why 60+ years after Independence, over 400 million Indians still suffer from acute poverty and destitution, why our health and education services are still substandard or not available to all, Why our teachers, Doctors and police aren’t paid enough, Why the veterans of our Armed forces still need to fight for their pensions, Why our public services are still sub standard and why Political leaders and their families suddenly become wealthy and rich!

As I write this, there are cases of Public Sector Bankers being nabbed for giving loans for bribes. Again, Taxpayer money being given away and is probably a reflection of the old saying “Yatha Raja, Thatha Praja”. Why blame the officers for corruption when their political masters are making hay!

I wish we would all get angry! It’s time for all of us to get angry!

There is much to be shameful and embarrassed about, especially in the Political class. I can tell you that many of my colleagues in Parliament are suffering from acute cases of embarrassment and shame – and for sure feeling the hostility that’s building up around the country towards the political class. A senior and much respected Parliamentarian told me with genuine anguish – ‘I didn’t work all these years in Public life to see India become this!’

There are changes required in the way Parliament oversees Government spending and financial decisions.

Let’s take this current JPC standoff. I believe the JPC is a legitimate tool of Parliamentary oversight. Given the background of the need for better Parliamentary oversight on Government, a JPC demand is legitimate and justified given the magnitude of the losses arising out of this particular Scam.
Given the propensity of current Governments to reduce Governance to a form of legislating and spending - i.e., to have big sounding legislations and programs with little or no outcome definition but big budgetary allocations, and secondly, to enter into very valuable PPP contracts where public assets are in play for private interests - Sound Financial oversight of the executive and Government is critical – not just by Parliament but by media and civil society. Government spending and contracts today are black holes into which taxpayer money/assets is shovelled with little or no outcome accountability. This kind of outcome-less and unaccountable spending/contracts is the breeding ground for corruption and nepotism. Better and more effective Oversight of Government finances/Contracts by Parliament will also create a ‘value for money’ and ‘we are trustees of public money/assets’ cultures within the Government. It is critical for credibility of Parliament and Parliamentarian.

I hope the PM and the leaders of the ruling UPA coalition also feel this way and this leads to a new wave of Governance reforms. I hope the debate and spotlight moves there and remains there till we get the changes we want.

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