Materialism breeds corruption
Although corruption is rampant in India, definite measures are being taken to control and even eradicate the rot, says NOEL G DESOUZA.
A society that judges a person’s worth on his or her assets, family connections and influence, is a materialistic society. Such societies rate individuals not on personal character and achievements, but rather on the display that the individual or their family puts on show such as a grand palatial house, a fabulous wedding celebration and expensive clothes. These are the hallmarks of a materialistic society. When people compete to build the trappings of wealth and put these on display, corruption could become rampant.
A society which glorifies the fruits of materialism inevitably sows the seeds of corruption. Over the years there have been some major claims of corruption alleged in India. We are currently seeing a spate of such allegations which are neither restricted to any one political party nor any one region. Is India become a materialistic society whose values are no longer those that propelled it to independence?
The independence struggle produced leaders who suffered for a cause: they were imprisoned and underwent deprivations and laboured to see the birth of a free country. We now have the spectacle of the recent Bihar election where news reports suggest that over half of the elected legislators have criminal convictions.
Recent corruption allegations concern large-scale events like the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and the Indian Premier League (cricket), as well as local schemes like land distribution for army personnel and for civilian use. Persons holding power have been accused of having family members and close relatives become beneficiaries of valuable urban land. Other alleged scams involve granting lucrative mining concessions and mobile phone spectrum licenses.
The Western world, which has a penchant for creating indexes and ratings, has developed a Corruption Index devised by Transparency International. As usual for such indexes, the Scandinavian countries, Canada and Australia top the list by seemingly having ‘low corruption’. Iceland, which was the first to be affected by the Global Financial Crisis, is rewarded with being rated at number 11!
The USA is ranked at 22. Could the Global Financial Crisis have originated there without the grand scale of corruption in its banking and financial sector which are so well documented?
India, as usually happens in ratings by these self-appointed agencies, is placed somewhere in the middle at number 87 (out of 178), after Malawi and Morocco at 85! China, despite its reputation of severely punishing corruption, does only somewhat better at 78. Pakistan (143) and Bangladesh (134) do not do well at all.
The USA is ranked at 22. Could the Global Financial Crisis have originated there without the grand scale of corruption in its banking and financial sector which are so well documented? Likewise, could Britain (number 20) have landed into its present crisis without any corruption, whether legal or not? The same applies to the financial woes of Ireland (ranked at 14!).
This very dubious Index has been severely criticised. It is based on simplistic surveys such as asking people whether corruption is a problem in their own country and whether they trust their government. It is, at best, a perception index. There have been demands for its abolition from within the organisation. However, criticism about these rankings should not detract us from the good work done by that organisation.
Transparency International India (TII) does commendable work by raising awareness and by collaborating with private corporations to eradicate corruption. India does have the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 but that was unfortunately often used against very minor staff which prompted the Supreme Court to ask the government: “Why do you come to us frequently against labourers, khalasis, and chaprasis? Do you have the guts to take on IAS/IPS officers?” (Times of India, June 2010).
The Government has listened. The Chief Secretary of a large Indian state was recently convicted for inappropriate allotment of plots in a development authority. Cases against top officers are being spoken about daily, as India seeks to clean up its image.
Karnataka Lokayukta (ombudsman) N. Santosh Hegde believes that corruption is all-pervasive in India. Last year the Supreme Court observed that “Day-in and day-out, the problem of corruption among public servants is on the increase. Large-scale corruption retards nation-building activities. Corruption is corroding like cancerous lymph nodes, the vital veins of the body politics, social fabric of efficiency in the public service and demoralizing honest officers”. (TII newsletter).
Corruption, present in all societies, is not uniquely Indian. Prof Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University, a renowned economist, speaking in the presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, recently said that it is easy to exaggerate corruption in India. Modern democratic societies have built-in legislation to control corruption but loopholes are often found by the unscrupulous, and governments constantly need to legislate to close such loopholes.
If India is to attract large-scale foreign investment for its infrastructure and industry, it needs to prove that the days of license-raj and influence buying are truly over.