Ranjona Banerji: Systemic corruption is our reality

May 24, 2017, 06:08 IST | Ranjona Banerji

There are enough examples of nefarious deals in the government, but talking about it would be anti-national and, bizarrely, 'pro-corruption'

Arvind Kejriwal, chief of the Aam Aadmi Party, which is ironically embroiled in an unsightly mess over the cause it brought to centre-stage. File Pic
Arvind Kejriwal, chief of the Aam Aadmi Party, which is ironically embroiled in an unsightly mess over the cause it brought to centre-stage. File Pic

Don't we all have at least one uncle who boasts how they beat the system and cheated on their taxes? That's not corruption for many in the middle classes, it's a sign of crafty intelligence.

Practically all governments are corrupt at the top level. Or that is, politicians and bureaucrats are corrupt. Election funding, shady deals, corporations getting around laws, businessmen dodging loans and taxes and getting elected as president, conflict of interest, parliamentarians misusing their privileges - these are not limited to India.

This is not to justify corruption. But just to point out that it is a function of the human consciousness, which needs to be tackled more by respect for rule of law than by hysterics or, indeed, moral superiority. It is also a paradox of the human condition that those who claim to be the most moral can also be the most hypocritical. Look at just about any religion and you will find ample examples of impossible justifications for moral skulduggery together with bombastic claims of morality.

Even as corruption is back in the national discourse - ironically with the Aam Aadmi Party in an unsightly mess over the cause it brought to centre-stage - we are still stuck in the same old cycle of blame and counter-blame. For the BJP and its supporters, the Congress and its 'dynasty' remain the most corrupt of all. Then there's Lalu Yadav, so gleefully being targeted by 'patriotic' news channels.

Although there are enough examples of conflict of interest, corruption, nefarious deal-making within the BJP, past and present, but shhh... we're not allowed to talk about that. It would be 'anti-national' and make us Congress stooges and also, lo and behold, pro-corruption. It is not just religion that creates illogical leaps; it is any kind of faith at all.

Let's try and remember that after all the anger over the 2G spectrum scam, when spectrum was auctioned as per CAG recommendations, no telecom company paid the high rates that our national accountants had determined would accrue to the exchequer. And yet, there were no cries of corruption then. Indeed, the decision made by the Vajpayee government that spectrum was a national resource that would help in the spread of mobile telephony was a wise one. You may for yourself determine the wisdom of the accountants who wanted high mobile phone bills and slow spread of telephony by upping the projected cost of spectrum.

Did some politicians make money? Definitely. What we need are laws to catch and punish them. Will they still get elected? Of course, because for all the 'outrage' over corruption, we are ambivalent about it.

Where it hurts us, especially people living in the lower rungs of the society, is corruption at the lower levels.

Japanese politics is commonly accepted as corrupt, ever since the Second World War. Japanese corporations are known to be corrupt. But Japan is also a first world nation that makes and exports excellent products. Japanese trains run on time, Japanese cities are clean and the sheer organisation of Japanese everyday life is the envy of many.

India, instead, is the story of debilitating corruption and inefficiency and lack of respect for the law at the everyday level. Our cities and towns are crumbling messes of dirt and squalor. Our villages are worse. And yet, do we care to take this up at the civic level, or are we happy passing a bribe to a traffic constable to ignore that red light we jumped or to a junior engineer for an illegitimate water connection?

As we have seen recently, mob violence has become an everyday horror, and civil society is balking at discussions on the consequences. Any nation that does not respect its institutions and its systems is left standing with tatters of some manufactured 'nationalism' in their ha­nds. And we have scant respect for our systems, as a result of which our systems never work properly for us.

The brunt of this systemic corruption is borne by those who cannot survive without paying up or cannot afford to pay up. They are denied their basic rights, their access to government schemes, to health services, to education and to respect, because of the ingrained nexus that controls India.

So, rant and rave about corruption in high places, by all means. But remember that hot air has limited use. Listen to that uncle talk next time to know.

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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