FIGHTING A HYDRA-HEADED MONSTER

 

 

 

At the Crosswords book store in Mumbai, in the same building as OIOP itself, a meeting was held a few months ago to discuss the book “Memoirs of an Unrepentant Babu” by Mumbai’s eminent citizen, civil servant and my friend, J.B.D’Souza. Most of the members of the panel thought that sadly, although not unjustifiably, there was an air of pessimism which ran through the entire book. Corruption had corroded the soul of India and was to be found in every sphere and in both high and low places in the economic and political life of India.

 

How to fight this hydra-headed monster?  None of the participants in the discussion and in fact no one in the media this year or in previous years has pointed out that the countries that appear at the top of the list in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index are all prosperous, developed countries – and all that appear towards the bottom of the list (India’s number was 72 in a list of 100 countries) are developing countries.

 

I must admit that I do not share the prevailing feeling of pessimism. In fact, I think that the answer is simple – if one takes the trouble to understand the nature of the beast. In my opinion, there is no use merely relying on passing legislation and attempting to enforce it, which is the principal way we have tried so far. Attempts like regulation of election financing are undoubtedly important but corruption in India is much too pervasive, much too well-entrenched and now much too resilient to be tackled satisfactorily in this way alone. It’s got into the system.

 

 My analysis of the problem would be as under:

 

1.  a full 70/75% (the figure is approximate) of corruption in India is because of a mismatch between the demand for goods and services and the supply of them. Remember the premiums that needed to be paid for new motorcars and new telephone connections. You now have car manufacturers and telephone companies chasing you as purchaser.  Watches don’t have to be smuggled any more, import licences are a thing of the past, airline seats are plentiful and electronic apparatus doesn’t need to be stealthily got past Customs. So wherever there are shortages, we have to devise ways of increasing supply. This means increasing use of the tools of modern commerce and industry.

 

2.  the remaining 25/30% I ascribe to the kind of people we are or rather, the kind of people we have got to be. In developed countries, most people find it demeaning not only to receive a bribe but more importantly, even to offer one. They wouldn’t know how to do it. It doesn’t occur to them. They don’t think that way. They go by rules and regulations. (forget for the moment about Enron, Worldcom and the like, I am speaking about the people generally.)This is what happens when a country is built on the platform of modern science and technology. You build human capital in the process. It’s the only way, there isn’t any other. But just how this process works and how we in India should go about it, we are obliged to leave for discussion to a later column.