Friday, June 17, 2011

Our fight against corruption and Anna Hazare

Probably we all are now aware of the recent uproar against corruption in India. People are angry. If anyone providing them an outlet to vent their frustration they readily grab it and participate in such “mass movements”. Our news hungry 24x7 media is more than happy to oblige anyone with an agenda. Everyone seems to be in favour of such movements. Naturally there is a huge market for it. Even corporate houses sponsoring some of the events. It is really surprising that if everyone is so against corruption, why we have such an extensive and intense corruption in almost every field of life there! The answer may lie in another observation. An office clerk joins Anna Hazare in the evening after taking bribe to protest against A Raja's 2G scam, a student after cheating in exam, a teacher after completing his private tuition evading his  teaching duties in the school, a doctor after prescribing some useless tests to unsuspecting patients and so on.

In reality, Indian society never learned what is democracy, what justice means since long; long before we got independence, long before British occupied the land. It is so contrasting if we think that a king, Gopala, in the Indian state of Bengal was among the first few democratically elected kings in the world (around 750 AD). One wonders how such a society reached its current state! That is not limited to political governance but present in every field of life. We need to analyse the problems more critically to find out suitable solutions.

It will be pertinent to understand how Indian society evolved. It is a largely accepted fact that general people from southern India are less corrupt. It coincides with the fact that north India had to face repeated foreign invasions, mainly from Muslim invaders who had very different social, religious, ethical and legal concepts as compared to the locals. South did not face that so often and so intensely. Those foreign invaders, first by the Middle Eastern or Central Asian Muslims and then Europeans (mainly the British) imposed a drastic change on our ways of lives. Many people, mainly men, used so many excuses to hide our own inability to protect our culture, our women, our ways of lives. Many such excuses took shape in form of religious dictates, distorted version of "tradition" and more awfully in the name of peace. Spread of “pardha” among women (which was present only among very few warrior communities like Rajputs, before Muslim invasion), imposing all sorts of rules (in the name of religion and tradition) to deter people asking questions, to curb personal freedom and our senses of justice; in short- to destroy of our own value and education system. Remember Nalanda university, one of the first and great organised universities in the world? It was destroyed by Bakhtiyar Khalji around 1200 AD, signifying the start of decline of Indian education and society.

It also changed our perception about corruption. We all witnessed that ruling class do not obey laws that are imposed on others. Different set of rules are applicable to different people, depending on caste, religion, closeness to ruling class and so on. Since then breaking laws was (and still is) equated to power and a sure sign of the socio-political elites. When a common Indian breaks a law or manage any special privilege, s/he feels proud and get satisfaction (may be temporary) to be equated as an “elite”. General Indians forgot that laws are for them, to keep them safe and disciplined. Agreeability and sycophancy, instead of critical thinking and logic, became the rule to climb both social and professional hierarchy. That practice gradually eroded the social shame factor, the best and most effective deterrent against corruption in any country, in any society. We started accepting corruption in the name of reality. Gradually we lost the sense of justice and honesty. University professors, scientists, doctors, bureaucrats, teachers, police and many others from India, in India or abroad (with or without foreign degrees) are as corrupt and dishonest as any illiterate person. It affected our ability to make or reform laws in post-1947 India. Still more than half of our current Indian laws (both civil and criminal) were introduced by our colonial British rulers to rule, not to "govern", their “native” subjects. Most of these laws are highly ineffective today. Some are even anti-national. Recent prosecution of noted social activist and reformer Dr Binayak Sen under British introduced sedation law is one such example.

Not many policy decisions in India are well planned. Not even the much hyped economic liberalization in 1991. That was a mere compulsion after mortgaging 67 tons of gold in the Bank of England due to years of misrule and closed economy. We were desperate to save our economy from total melt down. We could not reform our civil governance and judiciary to match the requirement of a free market, liberalized economy. We naively wished that everything will fall in place due to so-called open market economy and privatization. We conveniently forgot that true “open market” (even in US) is as utopian as communism. Greed of a very small section of our population increased exponentially but we could not protect majority others, the common man (“amm admi” as per popular politicking) from the greed that allowed massive, extra-constitutional manipulation of the system. Those social “elites” include not only businessmen and industrialists but also politicians, bureaucrats, corporate managers, scientists, professors, doctors and other professionals. It simply added to the already high level of corruption (due to socialistic quota-license raj regime of pre-1991 era). Magnitude of recent scams are good indicators. 

We practically ruined almost all (if not all) of our democratic institutions. Universities and institutes start resembling party offices. Internal control mechanisms were effectively destroyed. That’s why none of the recent high profile scams were detected and/or prevented by the internal control mechanism of respective departments or ministries. All the scams came to light due to outside private (by people like Subramanium Swamy) or 24x7 media or Supreme Court interventions. Not a single high profile current office bearers could gather the courage or honesty or both to support the services by people like Binayak Sen or the ongoing anti-corruption movement initiated by Anna Hazare, a class 7 educated gentleman (in real sense of the word). It says a volume about our current society. Our political masters initially gave in to the demands of Anna Hazare in the wake of many state assembly elections. Once the elections were over and government started negotiating with team Anna, the real intension of our “elected representatives” started becoming clearer. They were more interested to discredit team Anna or “civil society” or anyone who raises voice against all pervasive corruption, than any meaningful discussion to draft an effective Jan Lokpal bill. Does it take much intelligence to imagine the level of cooperation and desire of our elected representatives to pass an effective Lokpal bill in a parliament where about one forth of the members (154 to be precise) and 10 cabinet ministers are having criminal cases pending against them (civil litigation that include financial crimes are not included)? It partly explains why the government drafted, much less stringent Lokpal bill failed to pass in Indian parliament in last 42 odd years.

In India, collective decision making hardly exists. That trend is also evident among many Indian professionals, managing a group of people under them, in India and abroad. Most of the meetings or negotiations are used mainly to inform (rather than discussing) others what few people, so-called higher authority (or "high command") already decided. Feudal nature of decision making, lack of taking responsibility is rampant in every section of our society, starting from the highest level of government to private companies to the lowest level of family issues. Remuneration and/or promotion is not always based on performance but one's ability to please higher authority. Many times the credit for a good job and blame/responsibility for a sloppy work goes, rather imposed, on other people (not the person who actually deserve it). We generally try to gloss over any past mistakes, avoid fixing responsibilities and forget to learn from that. We prefer to "move on" and end up doing the same mistakes, again and again. We build new universities, institutions to improve quality (of research and higher education) or crate new ministries to improve governance without analyzing and learning why our old institutions or ministries failed. That ultimately give rise to the "chalta hai" mentality, tendency of shifting responsibilities, as we often witness among Indian professionals (both in government and private enterprises), in India and abroad. We probably can not afford to care how to build a motivated group.
That attitude helps spreading the culture of mediocrity, erode our productivity and quality of work in the long run, in every field of life, starting from research to business to civil governance. "Success" in such situations depends more on one's ability to use the existing corrupt practices and loopholes (of our system) than on taking responsibility, improve productivity, adhere to professional ethics and, more importantly, desire to change the system that can enable us to do better, enable us to dream to become the best.

That systemic failure makes many able people frustrated who ultimately become aloof. Provokes many to seek justice or other avenues to address personal grievances. This is one of the major factors for not only fast spread of extremist movements like naxals but also for huge brain-drain and very low quality reverse brain-drain or "brain-gain" as some call it (going back to India). Many of our better quality manpower, established abroad, prefer not coming back and settling in India. Some do prefer contributing from abroad. That allows them to speak the truth while insulating themselves and their families from retaliation, as we often see against people like Satyendra Dubey.

Our political parties are no exception. Not a single political party has internal democracy to attract, groom and promote people with true leadership quality. All are run like dynasties, feudal kingdoms (barring the communists, so far). That’s one of the reasons for increasing tendencies of common people to take laws into their own hands. If an able person is discriminated against and can pinpoint the responsible person or authority, it is almost impossible to gag or stop him to seek "justice". Such people eventually find their ways. That may or may not be so constitutional, neither do they care.

Many feel that India probably need or will soon have an Egypt-Tunisia type revolution. They probably do not understand that Indian corruption has a democratic twist, unlike Arab countries. It is true that there is a strong selection pressure to promote people without any sense of justice, honesty and courage (to speak out and remain honest). But if you have the required qualifications, you can join the select club to enjoy the fruits of corruption and lawlessness. That extra-constitutional rights are not limited to friends and relatives of the king or social “elites”, unlike Arab countries. That safety-valve eases a lot of pressure from the cooker and prevents it from bursting early. That’s why rise of common-man politicians like Laloo, Mulayam, Mayawati did not have much positive impact on Indian society, despite of a huge initial promise, so far social equality, corruption in public lives and transparency in governance is concerned.

We also need to understand that staging a revolution is not the same or end of reforming a society. In fact, that is just the beginning of a multi-act drama. Later stages are more difficult and need much longer term, more intense preparation. We need to figure out whom do we think would fill the gap, in case of a successful revolution, as many hopes for. We do not have enough, qualified and, most importantly, honest people to replace the existing lot. That vacuum is not limited to politics but present in every field, every occupation in India. Our "test score" culture kills both natural leadership quality and scientific/technical ability. Over-emphasis on database type information, occasional fascination with knowledge do not allow us to become “wise”. We pathetically lack the ability to ask questions, solve problems and generate novel ideas- be it technical or scientific or social issues like corruption. In short, all of our professionals (be it politicians, police, scientists, professors, lawyers, doctors, engineers and so on) are coming from the same society, from the same pool of people with almost same education and grooming. We must not expect to make any sustainable change with such bunch of (mostly) mediocre and corrupt people. Our task becomes harder considering the fact that not a single country in the whole world with considerable period of foreign rule ever became a developed country, so far.

What is the way forward? Or should we keep on marching the same path and expect a divine miracle to become a “superpower”, “developed” country in future, as many Indians dream against all realistic logic?

I think the solution lies within. We cannot expect everyone to become honest but ourselves. Majority of us support corruption (in the name of "reality") when it benefits us. We start shouting only when we are at the receiving end. We fool ourselves. We must understand that we can not eat the cake and have it at the same time. Our homes are the best place to start that crusade, if I may say so. We need to teach our kids to have some sense of justice and honesty. We must allow or force them to face consequences of their actions, from very childhood. At the same time, we must not force them to accept corruption in the name of "reality" or "practical sense". That is more important than some rote memorization and test-score based “education”.

I do acknowledge that its not only very hard but also dangerous to oppose corruption in Indian situation. Many of the time the official complain goes to the same person against whom you are complaining! This is systemic. That's why the rate of prosecution by India's "premier investigation agency", CBI, is so poor (particularly against influential politicians and bureaucrats); that's why so many politicians are opposed to include Prime Minister under Jan Lokpal bill (as proposed by team Anna). We need to be little careful here while speaking out against corruption. Sometimes we may have to become “anonymous” to voice our concerns in more formal settings, in offices, in societies and so on. That is doable in this age of internet and 24x7 media activity.

Lastly, we must bring back the social shame factor, the best and most effective deterrent against corruption. It is our responsibility to make those openly or known corrupt people feel ashamed and socially outcast. If we have the desire, we surely can avoid making any matrimonial relationship with a known, unacceptably high (relatively speaking) corrupt person or children of such people. Generally a tamarind tree does not produce mangoes.

Again, we need to remember that social shame is the best deterrent to minimize corruption in any society and very effectively used in western societies. Can we do that to start our dream of a better India, while joining rallies and praising people like Anna Hazare in public forums?

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  1. It will be important to know what one of our CVCs think about corruption:

    Almost one-third of Indians are "utterly corrupt" and half are "borderline" , the outgoing head of the country's corruption watchdog has said, blaming increased wealth for much of the problem.
    Pratyush Sinha, who retired as India's Central Vigilance Commissioner this week, said the worst part of his "thankless job" was observing how corruption had increased as people became more materialistic.
    "When we were growing up I remember if somebody was corrupt, they were generally looked down upon," he said. "There was at least some social stigma attached to it. That is gone. So there is greater social acceptance."

    Source: The Pinoeer (8th. Sep 2010) and The Telegraph (UK).

  2. Any of the "Baba" or "Ma" (e.g. Baba Ramdev) should ask his/her disciples to take oath, keeping their hands over gurudev's head or over Gita (in guru's presence) that they will not take or give any bribe or knowingly take part in any corruption. That will be more honest and effective way to contribute their part in the fight against corruption.

  3. 'Remember not only to say the right things in the right place,but far more difficult still,to leave unsaid the wron thing at the tempting moment',were the words of Benjamin Fraklin,but is acted upon some personalities like Anna:that the country has elected as many as 153(tainted) members is true,but still it is a famboyant move for people like Anna against their corruption!
    Both Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare,though with disparities,yet have been able to call for a tsunami of support,thus wrecking people.
    Controversies,confutes will always persist,but being responsible having a will for the same is worthy of appreciation,thus trying to hold the reins!
    So We are The Change and The Change Shall Continue for the Good:)

  4. Anonymous10:02 AM

    Majority people who were born and spent their early life in India and then migrated to US-EU and became professionally successful as doctors, professors, scientists, Cxx of companies or any other professional do show that typical feudal, hierarchical and irrationally oppressive attitude to their students/juniors/women/non-white subordinates. Such people do not hesitate to break laws if that give them some benefit or some social prestige, and if the chance to get caught is low. Their “education” and “experience” could not rescue them from moral and ethical bankruptcy despite of their living in those developed countries for long. Mentality of second generation Indian-origin people (children of those people) are far better.

    I personally know many such morally bankrupt professors, doctors, scientists in Europe and in US. I was not surprised at all when some India-born doctors (now America citizens) actively helped another influential Indian and convicted (in a court of law) for "domestic violence" for regularly and brutally beating his Indian wife, in US to evade justice. Such convicted and often not-convicted criminals also occupy higher positions in majority of Indian cultural/social organizations that claim to uphold Indian culture and values!!!!
    It is really hard to get an Indian or Indian origin person with decent sense of justice and honesty. More so in foreign countries.

  5. Anonymous11:36 AM

    I do not know if incidents like selective abortion or killing of girl child is any indication of moral and social corruption. If yes, here is a fact that indicates "more educated and rich" people are more corrupt in India.

    "Surprisingly, the decline in girl to boy ratio is more in better-educated and richer households than in illiterate and poorer households". ( 1, and 2)

  6. Anonymous1:40 PM

    Our perception about corruption has changed so much that less corrupt people become "honest" these day. A classic example will be our "honest" prime minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh.
    Here is a Times of India News, published on 18th July, 2011:

    Swami Agnivesh, a core member of the Hazare team, sought to question Singh's honesty, saying that he was elected to the Rajya Sabha after being shown as a resident of Assam after renting a room in the house of former chief minister Hiteshwar Saikia.
    "You (Singh) got elected from Assam saying you are a resident of the state. You are not from Assam. You are from Punjab. Prime Minister talks about honesty. What is this, honesty?"

    I am sure Congress party, may be in collaboration with other political parties, will now try to discredit Swami Agnivesh, implant some fake scandals, make false CDs against him. How dare him to question of undisputed honest PM!!
    Birds of same feathers flock in our Parliament.

  7. Here is a CNN/IBN, CNBC poll report on corruption and the Lokpal.
    Apart from corruption itself, a very disturbing trend is emerging that more people now (2011) support strikes, demonstrations, "bandhs", "gheraos", "hartals", as compared to 1971.

  8. BB Goel6:07 PM

    I am so encouraged with young people (and some older folks) today that I am now little more optimistic about future of India. Indian government and ruling party, Congress, probably could not judge the mass support Anna Hazare enjoys now. These political parties find it so hard to fill a small venue with paid volunteers, with so many freebies yet this old man can motivate so many without any money!

  9. Anonymous6:39 PM

    It is easy to blame the "invaders" for things, but it is the "invaders" who built the most famos monuments of India today being used for tourism and as icons of India... it is their drainage systems still being used by "modern" india... it its their contructed railway systems which is sluggishly being developed by "modern" india... with 300 million people living below $2 a day (more poor than African continent!) and singing praises of 'shining india', persecution of minorities with full state support, it is easy to talk about "invaders" while the hindus of india were also "invaders" at once upon a time to the indus valley.

    Secondly, you forgot to mention the most evil corruption which was the 'pride' of india, how human race was forcibly divided into castes, an utter primitive racism which broke human aspirations and quelled their dreams of upliftment and this inhuman caste system was interwined into the religion of hinduism which still shows its effects in hindu culture and daily lives... inspite of the centuries of efforts by the "invaders" to eliminate these inhuman practises (although the invaders were able to remove oppression such as SATI and child marriages, devdasi prostitution etc).... india was one of the richest land and 25% of world exports went from India when it was ruled by those "invaders" while under British and 'secularism /democracy' it has gone from a rich powerful land to a decayed, selfish, immoral and a society which prides on its buildings while 30% of its population struggles to get their daily bread...

  10. Dear Jay,
    Are you the one said on BBC "most indians (in India or abroad) have no sense of honesty or justice"?

    This is exactly is my "opinion" (I claim as truth).

    Please confirm if you are the one. I have been so disappointed over the last few years that I have started hating everything associated with India-- including my relatives!

  11. Dear Javid,
    Yes, I am the one. If you read my blog, other posts here, you may understand that in more detail.

    But I do not "hate" anyone, although it makes my work harder. There are Indians who are much better person. I agree that the probability to find such a person is becoming rarer, mainly as you search among socially, politically and professionally mobile ("successful") people from/in India.
    It is also the question of whom do you meet, how you advertise your own "values", present yourself in social gatherings and how you explore that beautiful country with some excellent people still there (just like any other country in the world).
    Type of birds you attract depends on where you spread the seeds and type of seeds you spread!

  12. B. B. Goel11:32 AM

    Sometime ago it was said that BSP leader and current UP CM Mayawati is the champion of “social engineering”. She brought upper caste and lower caste together to bring a positive change in highly divided society in India’s largest state, UP. Other political parties who take strength from “dalit” politics also wanted to take advantage of Mayawati’s “social engineering”. (RJD to adapt Mayawati's social engineering) . That was 2007.
    Now in 2011, the situation seem to have changed. Recent wiki-Leaks revelations shows that, “Mishra (BSP general secretary and Rajya Sabha MP Satish Chandra Mishra) himself was beginning to doubt the sincerity of Mayawati’s vision of social equity.” ( Maya has a penchant for personal corruption, her top aide told US. Indian Express, 6th Sep. 2011). Such news not only shows the true colour of our politicians but also indicates an effective way to deal with corruption.
    I think the most effective way to fight corruption is openness and transparency. Wiki-Leaks has revolutionized the way in dealing with institutional corruption and forcing many governments, including mighty US government to become more transparent. Remaining honest government officials and common citizens can also take help of such methods to bring transparency, which surely will help brining justice and rule of law back in our society.

  13. It is now proven what Jayanta said in his excellent blog, "Generally a tamarind tree does not produce mangoes. This Times of India article says- A study has revealed that cheating really does run in the family, at least as far as men are concerned .

  14. Anonymous3:00 PM

    Excellent article. Just after finishing this article I noticed a news in Hindustan Times (2nd. November 2011) that says, "India ranks a low 134 among 187 countries in terms of the human development index (HDI), which assesses long-term progress in health, education and income indicators, said a UN report released on Wednesday. India's ranking in 2010 was 119 out of 169 countries" . Every year India seems to slip down in global HDI ranking.

  15. Anonymous11:03 PM

    As I posted the previous comment, I just came across the next exciting news in the same line.

    Gender bias: Only Afghanistan fares worse than India in South Asia.
    New data shows the country's Gender Inequality Index (GII) worsened between 2008 and 2011, and India now ranks 129 out of 146 countries on the GII, better only than Afghanistan in south Asia.

  16. Dear Jayanta
    Social shame factor which you are suggesting is a very good thought and actually that is only way our society can get rid of this corruption in long term.
    But right now we are no way near to it,in fact corruption is getting social accepted in our social life.If u try to be different or honest u get branded as in-competent and theorist.
    Its very sad to say some of my IIT passed out friends proudly boast that they will get 1 crore as dowry as he is IITian.Many rich fathers of brides will of course be proud to get their daughters married to a guy who among the most intelligent lot of the country,with their black money to gift them.
    The purpose of education is demolished when our system failed to impart the basic moral value that marrying for money is sick.
    That to from a institution which we consider pinnacle of Indian technical and scientific excellence.
    Nice article and an analysis which is out of mainstream.
    At last,Your thought about honestly becoming rarer is pan-global problem,not only confined to India.

  17. Bonku8:27 AM

    Indians are the largest depositors in banks abroad with an estimated 500 billion US dollars (nearly Rs 24.5 lakh crore) of illegal money stashed by them in tax havens, the CBI Director said today. 53 % of the countries said to be least corrupt by the Transparency International Index are offshore tax havens, where most of the corrupt money goes. The tax havens include New Zealand which is ranked as the least corrupt country, Singapore ranked number five and Switzerland number seven

  18. Anonymous7:19 PM

    Sir - I saw your suggestion of utilizing the shame factor on the BBC website and think it is most appropriate, in a variety of contexts. Relying exclusively on government does not make sense when government is ultimately composed of people who are after all prone to mistakes themselves.

  19. Blackmoney: Indians have stashed over $500 bn in banks abroad, says CBI- Indian Express, 13th Feb, 2012.
    Indians are the largest depositors in banks abroad with an estimated 500 billion US dollars (nearly Rs 24.5 lakh crore) of illegal money stashed by them in tax havens, the CBI Director said today.

    If we seriously desire for a corruption-free society, decent political atmosphere, have to put genuine commitment at our own end - as you know most of the communities (such as Bengali or Telugu) in this sub-continent are clutched by ‘Culture of Poverty' (hopelessness), irrespective of class or economic strata, lives in pavement or apartment. Nobody is ashamed of the deep-rooted corruption in this society by heart, decaying general quality of life, bad Politico-Governance, poor work place, weak mother language, continuous consumption of common Social Space. We love to become parents only by self-procreation (mindlessly & blindfold supported by lame excuses) depriving their(the children) fundamental rights of a caring society, fearless & dignified living. Do not ever search for other positive alternative gesture/values to perform human way of parenthood, i.e. deliberately stop giving birth to any child him/herself here till it improves up to the mark, co-parenting children those are born out of extreme poverty, instead. All of us are driven only by the very animal instinct. If a pure freedom is desired, from vicious cycle of poverty, rotten capitalism need to involve ourselves in 'Production of Space' (Henri Lefebvre) movement, one big passion to override our inherent ‘hopeless’ mindset, quality Politics would certainly come up. – SB, 16/4, Girish Banerjee Lane, Howrah -711 101.


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