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AN ESSAY ON CORRUPTION

Recent visits by the author to both the US and China show what a long road India still has to travel. In fact, we had just started on this road before the current slowdown hit us smack in the face. There are those who would argue that we are still doing well in a relative sense. But given the absolute level of poverty still in India, and the wide gap between the quality of life of an ordinary Indian (per capita GDP $1,500) when compared to that of an ordinary American ($40,000) or even Chinese ($5,000), we cannot satisfy ourselves merely with relative constructs. As a nation we need to have absolute targets and no amount of slowdown and derailment in the rest of the world should cause us to deviate from our necessary trajectory of growth. Only rapid, sustained economic growth can take millions of our fellow Indians out of their hopeless destitution and poverty.

Faced with such widespread misery as exists in India, there simply cannot be any other alternative. Yet too often we find apologists and contrarian thinkers. There are those who believe still that we are doing enough on growth, that somehow growth will resume its higher trajectory, they delude themselves into believing that redistributive economics is more just and noble. It also of course wins elections. The fact that such redistribution can arise only out of faster growth and hence higher tax collections and that therefore this side of the equation needs to be fostered and encouraged too, is not as well understood. Those in power who do profess to understand it, justify themselves by claiming they prevent the implementation of even worse policies.

Then there are those who believe that our growth is skewed to benefit only a few, and that we are turning into a land of oligarchs and crony capitalists. And this is certainly true to an extent. We must circumscribe economic power but this must be done through the implementation of fair and transparent policies and policies to encourage the broad basing of economic growth, rather than limiting the capacity of those few who have a capability to exploit the system. By following even more restrictive policies, we will just cut off whatever limited growth we have, instead the attempt should be to get more participants to join the economic mainstream by allowing and actively encouraging entrepreneurial energies to flower more freely.

We, the educated middle class, have been the prime beneficiaries of the limited best that India has had to offer post-independence – an excellent higher education system such as the IIT’s and IIM’s, and the higher growth rates of the last 10 to 15 years. We have benefited through high quality subsidized education which has allowed us to compete with the best in the world, and through a more vibrant contemporary economy, we have had the opportunity to pursue more diverse interests.

I think now is the time for us to give back to India. For if we don’t do it now, at this point or in the near future, we would have let down our country and our fellow Indians. Many of us go overseas and settle down to find better opportunities and lifestyles for our children, but equally many of us stay back and there is certainly now a critical mass of such people who can make a meaningful difference to our societies and communities.

This does not mean that we have to leave what we are doing and start agitating, or even join politics although that clearly is a route that some should follow. There are many ways in which we can contribute – from starting entrepreneurial ventures, getting more assertive about the management of our communities, spending our spare time in non-profit activities, putting pressure on our politicians to perform better, forming cohesive networks to collaborate better, an generally making ourselves heard in a more rational, “non-Anna” way.

The time has come for us to take our country back. Take it back from those who are either incompetent, or corrupt, and frequently both, from those who think nothing of exploiting others, from those who have either narrow sectarian or casteist views, from those who only think about furthering their own vested interest, from those who believe that spending time in jail on corruption charges is an act of valour to be redeemed once out on bail, from those who hobnob with such people and still state that their personal integrity is untarnished, from those who do not understand what it means to lead this great nation with its great culture and people and who use the opportunity of doing so merely to exploit and aggrandize, from the corrupt bureaucrats who have submitted themselves willingly to the corruption around them, from the corruption inducing business people in India for whom making money at the expense of everything else is the only mantra, from the petty civil servant who has long ago lost the concept of civil service, and so on.

So what can we do? First, we must be more assertive. This is our country that is being taken away from us by all that is happening around us. By quietly acquiescing we become party to the corruption and moral degradation all around us. We must vote more often, we must write more to make our views heard, we must take part in local elections for our communities, we must support those who try to stand and fight such corruption. We must move the country to a more transparent way of governance, we must get the government out of areas it has no business being in, and we must individually oppose corruption wherever we find it.

But who is this “we”? It is all of us who read newspapers every morning and bemoan the fall of standards in our country, or the not enough rapid rise of India – for the two given our huge challenges of poverty are one and the same. The “we” is the ”I” that includes all of us. We must rise and do our bit for the country to pull it out of the morass that we have got ourselves into sixty years from our independence. And the rest of the world even with warts and all shows just how far we lag behind.

Source: Economic Times