[Cartoon by Keshav, The Hindu, 6 Dec]
The month of November revealed too many ugly faces of Indian democracy. Close on the heels of the Commonwealth scandal came other scams of similar magnitude from Bangalore and Mumbai, and the 2G spectrum scandal as well as a grave suspicion against the media. We were quite familiar with the nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and the corporate sector. Hence many of these scandals did not shock us, perhaps. But the Niira Radia episode which pointed the needle of suspicion at eminent journalists jolted some of us at least. Who do we put our trust in? Will sting operations too end up as bizarre farces perpetrated on us by the media in collusion with some villainous politician?
The Global Financial Integrity report published in Nov says that India lost hundreds of billions of dollars, since the liberalisation of its economy, due to corruption, tax evasion and trade mispricing. The amounts involved in the present scandals are shocking: Rs 70,000 crore in the Commonwealth Games, and Rs 176,000 crore in the 2G spectrum affair. We may contrast these figures with the amount involved in the Bofors scandal that shook the nation once upon a time: Rs 63 crore.
The current figures, high though they are, don’t seem to rattle anyone. We, the Indians, seem to have accepted corruption as part of our daily life. After all, don’t we see every day doctors who charge us through our noses [congested noses, perhaps] for consulting them and then make us pay for medicines and tests which we may not need at all? Don’t we pay bribes to policemen at the traffic signals or traffic check-points? Aren’t we familiar with chartered accountants who evade taxes and help us do the same? Don’t we know lawyers who are plain liars?
It is naive to expect any remedy for this from our politicians. The latest issue of Frontline [Dec 17], with cover story on “Corruption, Inc”, says that it costs a politician Rs 1 crore to contest an election to the Bangalore Municipal Corporation, Rs 5 crore for an MLA, and Rs 30-40 crore to try to become an MP. How do these politicians get back their investments with satisfactory interest? The answer is obvious. Obvious too is that such politicians will only jettison any effort to clean up the system. For example, the Lok Pal Bill has been pending in the Parliament for about 30 years. Or take the example of N. Santosh Hegde, Lokayukta of Karnataka, who was forced to resign when he tried to clean up the system in the state. Later he was reinstated due to public pressure. But not all the demands he put up for taking up the post again were accepted. He wanted absolute power to question any higher officers and politicians. He has been allowed to question only the officers, not the politicians! The politician is the king above the law.
In the pre-liberalisation License Raj, the corruption was limited to bribes paid to the politicians and bureaucrats for the licenses. Now the problem is that the politician, the bureaucrat and the corporate have joined hands together. Consequently, the economic policies are determined by this nexus whose leader is the corporate player.
Frontline quotes S Suresh Kumar, Karnataka’s Law and Parliamentary Affairs minister. Kumar says that lobbyists from sectors such as construction, liquor, real estate, etc who used to fund politicians earlier are now in politics themselves. They are the elected policy makers. Whose interests will they look after? Wealth is the only value they know, wealth at any cost, at anybody’s cost. As S P Shukla, former bureaucrat and member of Planning Commission says in the same issue of Frontline, “They have just stopped short of legitimising (corruption).”
Yet India has recorded an economic growth rate of 9 percent, you protest. Yes, India has. But in which sectors? In agriculture, the growth rate is 1 percent. And in manufacturing, it is 3 percent. It is mining, real estate and construction that have buoyed up our economy. And all these sectors are in the grip of corrupt politicians and corporate jackals. How many ordinary Indians are benefited by such an economic growth?
Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Rajya Sabha MP and former president of FICCI, says in an interview [Tehelka, 4 Dec]: The “truth is this growth is distorting our wealth creation and creating a small club of billionaires while 480 million of our people still live in sub-Saharan conditions.” He also says that when we are celebrating India’s present economic growth, we are in fact “celebrating an economic model whose inside story is about robber barons and crony capitalism.”