India's Fight with Corruption

By: Navyanjali Bajaj

“Mr. D’Mello used to say a nation is known by its gutters. He lived for these gutters, he died for these gutters. His last words alas were…..gutters”. 


An ordinary dialogue delivered by Mr. Srivastava, a corrupt police commissioner in an ordinary movie called “Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro”, yet it single-handedly portrays the entire bureaucratic system of our nation. The gutter here means the rotting structure of the bureaucrats and government officials who abandon their responsibility. In the movie, Kundan Shah, the director, represents that as gutters are required for the efficient functioning of a drainage system, so are these government officers for our democracy. This 1983 comic release talks about corruption in such a hard-hitting gag-ride way that it becomes inevitable for the viewer to contemplate the country’s position regarding the same.


Between corruption and democratization, the bob of our country’s pendulum oscillates. The farther the bob goes onto democratization, the higher is its return in corruption. Between these two positions lies our civil participation. India is one of the largest democracies of the world with hundreds and thousands of people employed under the bureaucratic system. But first, to understand corruption, we need to diverge into the socio-politico-economic history of our country and tackle its roots.


India became a free country in 1947, after which Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru lobbied the importance of a socialistic form of society. It was clear to the economists then, that a democratic country with a socialist economy would be plagued with corruption. Thus, a mixed economy, socialism intertwined with capitalism, was established. So, what happened? Where did it all go wrong? What factors were left unnoticed that led us to this state? The major turning point was not when the mixed economy got established, but the reforms of 1991. 


As proudly as netizens use ‘liberalization’ these days on Instagram to flaunt their ideologies, what we don’t understand is the history of India attached to it. India liberalized its economy in 1991. It was believed that after liberalization the resources of the country, rather than being in the hands of the government, would be with the productive investors who could impede growth. However, the result turned out to be disastrous. Corruption reached a commanding height. The economy, which was once in the hands of an unskilled government, was now in the grasp of corporate houses monopolizing, privatizing and accumulating wealth in their own pocket. The failure of these policies even three decades later makes us think whether a drop in corruption rates is merely a mirage or a practical fight. 


Another important aspect is that corruption cannot be stated only as a socio-economic problem. As we move forward with an epistemological perspective, corruption turns out to be a flaw in morality. In other words, it is a legitimate pursuit of self-interest to gain higher dominance. So how do we tackle this? How do we make policies that alter the morality of those in authority when morality itself is a liquid term? Thus, for any realistic notion of corruption applicable in present-day, liberal democratic politics should recognize that politicians and corporate houses cannot be expected to feel motivated solely by the concern for public interest.


Coming down to it, there is no other way to put it than to blame the transparency laws of the government. More than half of the people in India pay bribes to state and local officials because ‘it was the only way to get work done’. From the 2G spectrum scam, the coal allotment scam, fodder scam, etc. to giving extra money to a visa officer, corruption is present at every level. Bureaucratic corruption in India thrives on red tape, complicated procedures and discretionary power. This, in clear words, is an indicator of the failures of various governments in power over these years. 


“Acche din”. On May 26, 2014, Narendra Modi was sworn-in as the 15th prime minister of India with a promise of making India less corrupt. On 8 November 2016, our Prime Minister changed the monetary system of our nation without the expertise of skilled economists. "Every now and then we get missiles fired by the government unilaterally. Demonetization was just such a missile where there are reports coming in of hardships and suffering though it is not quite clear where the missile has landed," Amartya Sen, a renounced economist said in an interview with The Hindu. It is said that this scheme turned out to be a failure solely because the government fought corruption at the wrong place. However, the past incidences of government involvement in such cases make us question the legitimacy of this scheme. Was it ever aimed at the rich industrialists? Was it ever meant to stop the flow of black money? These questions remain unanswered. Whatever the past might be, the present and future of this nation still are in grave danger against this never-ending fight.


What’s frightening is that when one tier of a foundation falls weak, others too do not remain unaffected. The legislative and judicial bodies of our country are independent yet not exclusive. The fall of the judiciary and prejudice with favoritism in legislature creates a scene straight out of a dystopia. ''Even after his impeachment process had been completed in January 2018, reminders by CJI Misra and CJI Gogoi went unheeded by the Centre”, an Indian legal bureau reported. Instead, Shukla, for two-and-a-half years, enjoyed the government’s hospitality, security and maintenance for himself as well as his immediate family. What does it signal when a government, which promised zero tolerance of corruption, fails to even impeach an HC judge accused of corruption? Donations come with implied pressure on the legislator to act in accordance with the wishes of the donor. They steal government funds, steer contracts to particular individuals or corporations in exchange for kickbacks, provide employment, create ghost jobs, projects, and schemes to obtain severance pay for terminated employees, and use staff and resources to run private businesses.


Another question that we must ask is what lies ahead? Money laundering through crypto-currency, untraceable off-shore companies, cronyism and hidden patronage, etc. are yet to be acknowledged as corruption, let alone be fought. We can only hope that the government starts holding bureaucrats accountable for scams and stops further abdication of responsibility.


One of the most horrific realizations when your government gets hijacked from the inside by corruption is that there is no official whom you can turn to.  It’s an unanswerable question whether we will move towards growth and prevention of corruption or not. It’s an unanswerable question whether we will be able to remove it from every level, every strata of the society or not. It’s an unanswerable question whether our government will hold corrupt officials accountable or not. What’s frightening is that we are leaving the future of our country on a bunch of unanswerable questions. So what does it say about us and our nation?  Only time will tell.