Corruption as Culture: systemic perspectives

We have all been witness and an audience to the political theater on our screens, every single day since August the 16th.  Its been more thrilling than a Bollywood potboiler or a prime-time TV soap. Anna Hazare, a man of enormous integrity is still on a fast and frenetic back channel negotiations are going on, for a middle ground on the Ombudsman legislation. It has galvanized the nation into a national consciousness only seen during the Kargil conflict in 1999. There are very few issues that bind Indians together apart from Cricket, Bollywood, Faith and territorial conflicts, not necessarily in that order. There have been impassioned protests on the ground through out the nation,  and online movements on Facebook and Twitter, drumming up sentiments of curing the cancer of corruption once in for all. In my opinion, this has been India’s first post liberalization revolution.  The fuel is provided by the media and intelligentsia and the oxygen is the sheer sense of frustration on the part of the middle class in this war against graft. The cascade of corruption scandals has germinated a sentiment for change when they see multi billion dollar scams such as 2G and CWG.

An Ombudsman bill is a good beginning, this agitation is hopefully the beginning for a more aware electorate, which will do an entire generation of voters a whole lot of good, even if it is a minuscule minority of educated youth. Make no mistake, this movement is a middle class initiative. It is the middle class who cannot avoid corruption, for simple bureaucratic chores like getting a document or pension through a government office. The poor cannot pay, and stay the way they are, the rich treat corruption as an opportunity to hasten up their priorities.  This Jan Lok Pal legislation will be a source for fear factor in the minds of government workers, sword dangling above their heads. But it is the middle class too, who pay donation to get their children a seat in professional colleges and to settle a case with law enforcement, when ever they are deep trouble.

Corruption is cultural in India. Corruption is the modern day version of the ‘bakshish’ system. A culture of sycophancy and patronage taken be institutionalized and scientified.  Its a systematic malaise which has to be solved slowly from the roots via incentives and checks  & balances via policy innovations. The Public Distribution System  for food grains is a prime example. Remove the bottle neck as afar as where people can buy the grains from instead of a fixed shop and the motivation of the dealer undercutting the consumer will be done with. The Subsidy should be provided at the point of purchase.  Installing better systems to measure malpractices via fraud analytics is one approach. Nandan Nilekani, the Chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India and Co-Founder of Infosys, pointed these aspects in his interviews to media outlets a few days back.  Laws in the books look pretty, but have to be implemented to make the system better. Corruption is behavioral in character; its up to people whether to pay a bribe or to go through the long cumbersome process. The Power is in our hands as the animation series – Captain Planet said.

Let us think beyond legislation, think strategically, think systemic. A law is good but this sentiment is gradually turning towards  anti governmentalism and regime change. Well, that’s another issue which will be decided at the ballot box in 2014 or earlier.  Lets change ourselves by not trying to pay or receiving the ‘box of sweets’ on a Deepawali or Dussehra first. My best wishes and prayers are with the brave people behind the Jan Lok Pal movement, it is a start, a start for reform-needed by a generation who need it the most.


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