Action never taken report

It's not been a week into the New Year and we can hear an old sound that we expected to have receded into the background: the raucous sucking sound of a giant straw emptying coffers. Corruption - corruption in full public view, at any rate - seems to have made as emphatic a comeback as long sideburns and flared trousers.

But while every righteous voice, whether in public or private space, decries the preponderance of grubby hands, the core reason why such matters are likely to slide like water off the proverbial duck's back is frightfully simple: the lack of any deterrence. You don't seem to pay for being corrupt in India, especially if you're in high places. We certainly don't see any signs of anyone doing anything to rid us of our cynicism.

It's not as if we, as a nation, celebrate or look away from thievery. Trawl the internet and follow those nodding heads on television and op-ed pages, and you'll find very serious people being very seriously upset about rampant corruption.

But if we chuckled at Nitin Gadkari's theological defence of BJP chief minister in Karnataka BS Yeddyurappa, who's accused of bending rules to dole out public largesse to members of his family, the BJP president's distinction of the 'immoral' and the 'illegal' has become standard operating procedure all around.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is as clean as a whistle. But a scarecrow is as good as its ability to scare pilfering crows. The UPA's litany of grubby hands in its midst - whether pertaining to keepers of extremely dodgy ledgers during the run-up to the Commonwealth Games or creators of a massive vacuum in the exchequer's kitty during the allocation of the 2G spectrum - all point to authorities making their case that 'illegalities' are mere 'immoralities' and therefore not worthy of punishment yet, the 'yet' being an invitation to public forgetfulness.

The lack of internal accountability - not confined to governments, as seen by the latest case of frauds perpetrated by Citibank employees - points to a dangerous malaise. It is one thing to defend one's own from charges of impropriety; it's quite another to go out of one's way to not take any action and cover an accused 'fellowman' with an impenetrable protective cloak.

In such a situation, not only is there little or no disincentive to be honest in this country, but it can be seen as an open invitation to steal. The law can - and does - take its own time to prove a man innocent or guilty. But surely morality has its role to play in making the corrupt less wanted in organisations that effortlessly make moral claims?


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