Recently in Andhra Pradesh, a criminal court ordered an FIR against a former Union minister for alleged corruption. In the central secretariat, New Delhi, some officers and the lower staff of ministries were arrested for leaking official files to corporate houses. The mukhiya of a gram panchayat in Bihar was caught in possession of 52 ATM cards, 175 bank accounts and Rs 1.58 lakh in cash. These show that the malaise of corruption is afflicting the higher and lower echelons of society.
Corruption had found mention in Kautilya’s Arthshastra. A study by CMS and Transparency International in 2005 showed that 63% of the people interviewed had paid bribes and roughly Rs 210 crore every year is paid as inducement. A World Bank report brought out that 3% of GDP in India was mired in sleaze.
Corruption has acquired multiple forms such as legislation fixing, policy fixing, paid news, cash for jobs, sexual gratification and vote fixing. Corruption inhibits economic growth and good governance, as economist Paul Maro has pointed out. It is a two-way deal between bribe seekers and bribe givers. Corruption will have a continuum and cannot be wished away as long as society is inclined to tolerate such practices. Hopefully, e-governance at macro, middle and micro levels may diminish the magnitude of corruption.
Corruption has been conditioned by social and economic stresses, ostentatious social customs, traditions, ceremonies of all sorts and high living. What compounded it further were greed, affluence, vulgar displays of wealth and consumerism-driven glamour. These resulted in a warped psyche. People whom we regarded as role models have taken to corrupt practices. Walter Bagehot had observed that the lower ones in society imitated the higher ones in what was called ‘social imitation theory’. Sadly, no stigma or abhorrence is attached to corrupt elements in society, which judged people by their wealth and not their morality. Thus, corruption implicitly received social acceptance.
Corruption needs strategic interventions. They may be (a) prior monitoring, (b) deterrent laws and stringent punishment, (c) proactive institutional, managerial mechanisms, (d) internal vigilance and ombudsman, and (e) system reforms.
Institutional mechanisms have been potent instruments to overcome corruption in Hong Kong and Sweden, the two least corrupt countries of the world. Hong Kong had set up a robust autonomous Independent Commission Against Corruption (IAC) in 1994. However, institutional and legal interventions and laws have not succeeded in weeding out corruption, which, far from being on the wane, is on a fast track. Human nature is, generally, undeterred by the fear of consequences. The following are imperative: Fundamental changes in the human psyche, defusing causative factors and economic inequalities, moral regeneration and recapturing ethical values.
Other than this, another subtle strike that has been lost sight of is laying a premium on honesty and stigmatising and ostracising the corrupt. An awakening social conscience must also spark revulsion against corruption, and it should be distinct from ritualistic outbursts.
This is something for which social activists, business leaders, the media, the ethical leadership and the proactive judiciary have to come forward and take part.
DN Sahaya, a former governor of Chhattisgarh and Tripura, is chairman, AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna.
The views expressed are personal