It seems that with every day that passes, corruption grows like a cancer cell, draining the Indian taxpayer and public of money that rightfully belongs to them. The list of scams that have taken place in the past decade are numerous, so I won’t allude to them. What I need to highlight here is the reason for such rapid growth of corruption and the cause of it. It’s much easier to solve a problem when the question is framed correctly.
Anybody who is mistakenly under the impression that corruption is the domain of the rich and powerful is surely in for a surprise. The reality is that most of us have our hands dirty at this point of time. There are a large number of Indians who don’t file their income tax returns, a large number of Indians that would not mind bribing the cop for that one instance of skipping the traffic signal, and a myriad of instances in which the common man does not mind being a part of this problem that he wishes could be rooted out from the country.
You see, India elects its representatives. This only means that the people elected to positions of power are nothing more than a mirror image of the society that put them in such a position. A large portion of the electorate finds their vote to be less important than a couple of hundred or thousand rupees (or some domestic appliance) and we wonder why we elect who we elect.
A thriving commerce scene is essential to get the engine of the economy running. But as I write this article, among all the nations of the world, the ranking for ease of doing business in India stands at an abysmal 103. A large number of businessmen and individuals with high net worth dissatisfied with the way things are, either choose to shut shop, or to take their business elsewhere. It only makes sense that wealthy Indians take their capital abroad where it can be put to better use. A word with mid-level entrepreneurs will give you the idea that you still need to bribe government officials to get your work done. Money that should go into the production of quality goods and services, finds its way into the hands of an undeserving bureaucrat. No wonder, we find it hard to convince our citizens to buy Indian.
It’s often said that petty thieves are sentenced to punishment and big thieves promoted to public offices. The question that should stick with us, however, is, who exactly is a thief? One person can be a number of things to a number of people. What you may believe of someone, I may not and vice a versa.
During the festival of Dussehra effigies of Raavan are prepared and then burned down. People delight at the downfall of evil. Much as we like to villainize Raavan, let’s not forget the story from the point of view of the person inhabiting Lanka. As a matter of fact, he was the most revered person for the people of Lanka.
A large number of our public officials who have been elected to parliament have allegations of criminal cases against them and have a large number of assets that are not proportional to their income. Yet we cannot forget that these are the same people that the electorate themselves put in power. So why exactly did that happen to begin with? You see, India, for a large part of its history has not been an economically egalitarian civilization (and quite likely, still is not). Being born below some certain economic strata has always conferred disadvantages toa large number of people.Before the country ever had a parliamentary democracy, a large portion of the population did not have its voice heard. Now that they do, the official who elected them is nothing short of a God to them. Even if corrupt politicians might seem like the Raavan that the General public wishes to see burned down, they are highly revered by the people whose life he made easier.
People who were living in slums, were now given a promise at living in buildings with the possibility of running water and electricity. Land that was illegally occupied to begin with, is now turned to homes for those who occupied them illegally. Free housing is given to people who paid nothing for acquiring it, while the rest of the population struggles with their EMIs. The problem of corruption (whose cause always seems to be evil politicians) is not so much about governments but is a larger fight between those that have and those that do not.
The process of elections is not so much about serving the public, rather than getting elected. What better way to get elected than pitting the interest of one against the other?
While the good news is that more and more people are coming out of the poverty line and finding employment, the bad news is that this is not happening fast enough. So long as such a wide economic gap exists in society, there is always an opportunity to be exploited. And what better place to do that than at the ballet box?
The divide between the ‘haves and have-nots’ may not always be the cause of corruption. There is the question of making certain harmful goods illegal. While certain goods are banned in public interest in some areas (for example alcohol, gutka, etc), the black market for the same is always thriving. Yet, these goods are kept illegal and not available for taxation.
While it is true that there is hardly a nation on the face of the earth that may not be free from corruption, the extent to which it is taking place in India is alarming. A large amount of public money is not reaching the public it is meant for.
If corruption is the disease, then the cure for the same is transparency. Putting more power in the hands of auditors who are free from political pressure is the beginning.
The public and the judiciary are the hope for now. What will happen in the future, is a story that is yet to unfold.
A poet and an aspiring writer working a day job, Kunal Kher occasionally writes on matters of grave importance.