Sunday, February 6, 2011

Corrupt Individuals or Corrupt Polity?

Today it is a cacophony in the public space; important people scream judgments about each other and the rest of us sit by and watch a tamasha, confused and disillusioned… Scapegoats are hounded in the name of getting at the root of corruption; actresses are made to pay the price to save face of the political fraternity. It’s a game of pulling everyone into the mud…

Let’s take corruption, it is apt to hound Raja to solve the problem… the noise is so loud, one is not allowed to get to the root of the problem. Can we rise above the din? Where is the root of the corruption? How do we hit it and hit it hard?

In this second of the five article series, we look at corruption being at the root of the system; it is not a sporadic phenomenon…

(Click here to return to summary)

The 2G matter can be objectively seen to consist of two questions, i) how big is the corruption? ii) Is it truly a loss?

Taking the second issue first; the 1.7lakh Crore is indeed a loss; but it is a loss merely to the Government coffers. If that money had gone into the government coffers then, with whatever efficiency the government has, it would have done some good to the people. (15% as a former Prime Minister pointed out… probably better—can we say 25%?) Instead of going to the government the money went to the telephone operators and it went to the general public through reduced costs of telephony (and that boosted businesses they say!).

In both instances, if money has not gone out of the country, it is still floating in our economy, and therefore it is a loss to the Indian Government but not to India as such. However if there has been corruption and people have parked money abroad and foreign companies have been favored, then there is indeed a monetary loss to the Nation.

As for the other question regarding the size of the corruption it is too obvious that Rs 1.7Lakh Crore is not that amount. Nobody took 1.7 lakh Crore. What could have happened is that if all the licenses were sold for ’X’ then about 1% to 25% of that amount could have gone as bribes, presuming that that is the going rate if at all corruption takes place.

There is another way this could have been done; float a benami company, give it a license at a low price, get the license auctioned to a third party later for a high price and pocket the difference. In this case the profits of the benami company could sky-rocket and it is anybody’s guess as to how much profit has been made and by whom.

In truth, that scary figure of 1.7 Lakh Crore only makes it sound huge; the corruption is smaller—but significant none the less…

So then what is the issue of concern here? That several tens or hundreds of Crores of rupees have been probably swindled by a certain minister and his friends or that there is a system that encourages the likes of him to do it?

The question that we need to ask here is why all that money? If at all something has changed hands under the table, where did it go? What purpose does it serve?

Interestingly if it only had to do with a corrupt individual who needs to be made to pay for his faults through the rule of law it would have been easy and of no great harm to society. But ‘bribe’ money is an index of much more than greed of individuals in today’s public life…

The question one needs to ask here is why all that money? If at all something has changed hands under the table, where did it go? What purpose does it serve?

Let’s not put our heads in the sand and play ostrich here: following are some facts in the public domain which are indicative of what the real inside story is…
1) Why are certain Ministries called plum Ministries…? One reason is that there is could be prestige; the substantial reason is that there is greater scope of controlling funds.
2) Industrialists are known to shell out cash and favors but would they, who count the pennies in order to make profits, dole out of their tight pockets without seeking Governmental favors in return?
3) The men of means who are in politics for such a long time… are they truly shelling out of their deep pockets…? are their pockets so deep that they can continue to serve the nation generation after generation with just the salary that they get in parliament?
4) If their friends are supporting them, then is it a truth that they just give good wishes in return to these friends?

How naïve can one get? Everybody knows that it takes a lot of money to run a large party and still more money to fight elections. Is all this possible without collecting money from people who want favors in return?

At this point we enter the zone of amorality. Every government contractor ‘knows’ how much ‘cut’ is ‘normal’ and for whom. If he does not pay he can easily be punished for it. Except for those that are scrupulously honest, most operate on pre-determined ‘margins’.

Truly speaking, this 2G episode is only a reminder to the fact that, despite the best intentions of the founding fathers, we have landed ourselves with a polity that essentially breeds corruption. Despite all the good that comes out of it from time to time, the fact remains that the political class as a whole lives by corruption, is sustained by corruption and sustains corruption in order to survive. Does this harm the nation…?

Probably significantly so...

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