Ranjona Banerji: Politicians will remain the same

Aug 02, 2017, 06:13 IST | Ranjona Banerji

No matter how CMs hop from one side to another, or how many fasts are held by activists to battle corruption, nothing will change

This is the sixth time Nitish Kumar has sworn in as the CM of Bihar. Pic/Getty Images
This is the sixth time Nitish Kumar has sworn in as the CM of Bihar. Pic/Getty Images

Nitish Kumar, now and forever chief minister of Bihar, has brought corruption back to the table in his dramatic shift from his old friend to old rival to long lost brother to chief corrupter, Lalu Yadav, and back to an old rival then long-lasting friend to new destroyer of India to new best friend, the BJP. That is, corruption of a particular political sort is back on the table.

We don’t have Lokpals the way we were promised, there are enough allegations of ministers and former ministers getting land and special deals for their families, and of certain corporate houses being favoured. The CAG reports, which tore into the UPA in its last term still appear with the same figures of misuse of public money but they are ignored. Anna Hazare has not been on a fast for ages.

Instead, Kumar suddenly discovered after two years in power together that Lalu was debarred from contesting elections because of conviction in a corruption case and he was very upset about some old corruption cases that emerged about Lalu’s family.

But, my concern as ever is about corruption in low places. We know in our hearts that politicians will not stop. We know that big industrialists and big businesses will carry on as normal. We know that merchant traders, big and small, will continue with the best ways to make money and hide it from the government, sometimes with official help and collusion.

We saw it soon after demonetisation was announced last year. Some fools threw away demonetised notes. Others picked them up and exchanged them for new notes, not minding the ‘commission’ they paid the converters. Now with the introduction of the goods and services tax, we see the same wizardry at work. Restaurants and shops are taking cash for goods and services and not issuing bills.

No point Nitish Kumar pretending that his conscience is suddenly all upset by Lalu Yadav’s children. What does he think is happening all over Bihar after he announced prohibition? Nothing like stopping the legal sale of booze to set up a whole profitable parallel economy: Ask anyone who’s done it anywhere in the world.

It’s like our current arguments on the right to privacy, especially with regard to Aadhaar. There is the huge argument about fundamental rights and invasion into our lives and the government prying into our lives. And then there is the everyday, scarier story - all those unwanted telemarketing calls we get no matter how many times we register to not be disturbed, all those apps on our phones, sharing our information with who knows who or what, all those social media sites that allow others to spy on us. We give in without understanding the consequences no one ever makes clear to us until it’s too late.

Meanwhile, I have a smaller, sadder story about how all-pervasive corruption is in our lives. We had some legal work as a family, which required a lot of running around to the local courts and local authorities in Dehradun. A certificate was required from the Tehsildar’s office. For that we had to first go and bear witness to a lower-level government employee.

He was a very pleasant gentleman, offered us tea and chatted away about sundry matters. As he painstakingly wrote out our certificate in Hindi - no computers here - various supplicants came by with papers and some speed or comfort or whatever-you-want-to-call-it money hidden among them. He was very gracious and promised everyone their work would get done.

Then he had a visitor on his side of the counter. He apologised to us all for the interruption and explained that he had applied for a passport and the visitor was a policeman who had come for verification. He then took out all the money he had received and gave it to the policeman, who was in plain clothes.

It sounds very funny in the telling and it was funny as we jaw-droppingly watched it happen. But, if you think about how a low-level government employee has to bribe a cop to get a passport, you know that no matter how fasts are held by well-meaning social activists and no matter how many chief ministers hop from one side to the other, nothing is going to change where it matters.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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