Corruption is an extension of Indian social habits. Can we change them?
To change something, we need to first see it clearly in our mind. One can’t even change the spare wheel of a car unless one has a clear mental picture of how it is fitted together, and how one should carry out the entire procedure using various tools.
India Against Corruption activists are talking about removing corruption. We are demanding a change in the way people in government at all levels conduct their business. But do we ourselves understand the depth of this change we are demanding? Do we understand that we are asking people in power to change the very same social behavior that makes the whole Indian society function in a certain way? We want people in government to break all the unwritten rules of Indian social behavior – the very same rules that prevent Anna Hazare from publicly questioning Baba Ramdev’s tall claims and eccentric behaviour.
Jan Lokpal Bill is just the thin edge of the wedge, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh knows it. It isn’t going to stop there. What we really want is the government should move away from a whole way of life! We want the entire ruling class to disregard decades of social ties and friendships, and dump anybody who crossed the fine line of Administrative Dharma, and used government machinery to benefit his friends, family and himself.
We want Manmohan to give CBI a free hand to closely examine the business dealings of Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel, and investigate how their assets multiplied every five years of their political careers.
• Sharad Pawar’s asset declaration: http://tinyurl.com/Sharad-Pawar-Assets-2010
• Praful Patel’s asset declaration: http://tinyurl.com/Praful-Patel-Assets-2010
Please understand how hard this really is for Manmohan, who may have known these persons socially for decades. Their relationships would encompass hundreds of interactions, and probably, dinner at each other’s homes every now and then. Pawar and Praful don’t have to bribe Manmohan; it is Manmohan’s natural inclination to think of them as good chaps, and to overlook their excesses. He cannot function as a social human being otherwise!
You see, the main thing about corruption isn’t bribery, it is social relationships mixing with political power, privileged information, influence and contacts, and a chain of relationships. Manmohan is a friend of Praful, who is a friend of Vijay Mallya.
Yes, Praful “Aviation” Patel and Vijay “Kingfisher” Mallya are good friends. At the semi-finals of the World Cup – the India-Pakistan match — they were sitting in the stands together and their camaraderie was on national television for all to see. Praful’s wife and Mallya’s wife and children have possibly gone shopping and vacationing together. It is human tendency to mix business with pleasure, especially over dinner and drinks. So, if there is a conflict of interest between Kingfisher Airlines and the Aviation Ministry, Mallya can naturally expect Praful to sort it out so that Mallya does not suffer heavy losses.
Therein lies the problem. Because Kingfisher and Air India — which Praful was until recently looking after as Union Aviation Minister – are competitors in some ways. And so, we the people of India should be anxious about whether Praful neglected Air India just a tiny bit so that Kingfisher Airlines could get ahead. An Air India that makes losses and has union trouble is good for Kingfisher.
Turning to Sharad Pawar: The problem is not that Pawar is a bad man, or that he takes bribes. The problem is that he is a good father to Supriya Sule, a good father-in-law to Sadanand Sule, a good uncle to Ajit Pawar, and a good friend to Ajit Gulabchand of Hindustan Construction Company (HCC) – the entity that built Lavasa. Like all of us, Pawar discreetly puts the interests of family and friends above those of the nation. Aren’t you and I doing exactly that in our daily lives?
Lavasa has run foul of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF). And Pawar is a friend and colleague of Jairam Ramesh, who is the minister for MOEF. And so, Pawar can have a friendly word with Jairam over dinner and drinks, and Jairam just might decide to go easy on Lavasa. Is this something you can complain about to the Lokpal? I wonder.
BIG-TIME CORRUPTION IS IN PRIVILEGED INFORMATION
Many of us equate corruption with obvious bribery. For example, a cop, government official or minister takes money to do his duties without causing delay i.e. speed-money. Or he takes money to protect someone engaged in illegal activities i.e. hafta or protection-money. Or he is on a businessman’s payroll, secretly representing his interests from inside the administration. Or he takes money to give the businessman a lucrative contract, even though he is not eligible for it. All this, my friends, is small-time corruption.
The big-time corruption is happening in the domain of social give-and-take of information. It is happening in the use of privileged information. For example, Praful Patel, as a minister, gets to know where a new airport or industrial corridor is being planned several months in advance, it is quite likely that Mallya will be among the first to know. And so Mallya will know many months ahead of you and me and the rest of the India public where to buy land and property.
• Look at Kapil Sibal’s various property holdings, spread around the country: http://tinyurl.com/Kapil-Sibal-assets-2010
Do you suppose Kapil would have made all these investments without availing friendly guidance from his government colleagues – both ministers and bureaucrats — about where various projects were coming up? And if he came to know about places where land was likely to sharply appreciate, isn’t it probable that he would have shared his knowledge with friends and family, so that they too could invest?
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SOCIAL TIES & CORRUPTION
All this friendly sharing of information – are you going to call it corruption? And if indeed it is corruption, do you suppose we can provoke Sonia and Manmohan to come down hard on Kapil, and expel him from the ministry and the party? I think that is a bit unlikely, because they all are bound together by social ties.
Are these social ties wrong? Remember, these are the same rules that force you and me to tolerate a corrupt office colleague or brother-in-law. And the same social rules dictate that Anna won’t ask Arvind Kejriwal any tough questions about how he runs his NGOs Parivartan and PCRF, or Shanti Bhushan about his land holdings.
For that matter, you and I are prevented by the social rules from asking how it is that Anna Hazare’s ashram in Ralegan Siddhi earns a fair amount of revenue by acting as a training-centre for government officials. Even asking such a question is a mark of disrespect to Annaji, right?
All of Annaji’s followers and colleagues are forbidden by the same unwritten code of conduct, and they cannot bring themselves to ask how it is that he stays in Government Guest Houses and Circuit Houses wherever he goes in Maharashtra. Not even the most outspoken one among them will ask why ministers, secretaries and governors of Maharashtra keep dropping in every few days at his ashram. If anybody asks, he will undoubtedly be met with stony silence and complete disapproval. He will be shunned and banished from the inner circles. Am I correct?
But if we expect Manmohan and Sonia to attack government corruption at the social and familial level – then all of us will have to start discarding these unwritten rules ourselves. We will all have to accept higher levels of transparency, and we will have to cultivate the habit of encouraging our friends and peers to ask us tough questions.
Are We the People of India ready for this? Are we all willing to let go of the social conditioning that is the root-cause of big-time corruption in India?