It’s something that has happened to all of us at some point. A police verification for your passport, a form to be collected at the tax office, a clearance for property — you have done all the paperwork but cannot get your hands on the all-important document. You approach the official concerned who hems and haws till the penny suddenly drops. You have not proffered that all-important cog that keeps India’s officialdom on the move: the baksheesh. Now let’s be clear, baksheesh is not a commission for services rendered, it is plainly and simply a bribe. Now along comes a division bench in Mumbai that says that this is legit, and the giver can even claim it as business expenses. This may not mean that that the baksheesh you gave the linesman to doctor your meter will knock off a chunk of your tax; the court ruling seems to apply to large businesses. This opens up interesting possibilities.
Had this judgment come much earlier, Bofors would have been dead in the water and old Ottavio Quattrocchi would not have had to make tracks the minute he heard the footfalls of the dogged CBI. The JMM bribery case would have come to naught and our assorted political worthies who are not averse to the odd bob or two to move files would no longer have to do all this furtively. In fact, the ruling could well haul in foreign investors in droves. It is said of the Japanese that they are heartwarmingly prone to receiving bribes. But having partaken of the largesse on offer, get the giver’s work done. Here we do things a little differently. We ask for our palms to be greased and then look the other way when the hapless briber demands his pound of flesh. Of course, the shape of baksheesh could go beyond the mere exchange of filthy lucre, as several sting operations have shown. A few bottles of the good stuff and a shapely lass or two also helps enormously to galvanise the receiver into action. But you have to give it to us — we are never so crude as to actually ask. In fact, on being offered a consideration, the bribee will strive with might and mien to reject the offer. ‘I am just doing my work,’ is the standard phrase.
But the experienced briber is not fooled by any of this. He will press, he will plead, he will implore and reluctantly, the money will be accepted. It is a quaint Indian ritual called giving a little something for chai pani. The sums, however, can get much more than a warm cup of tea or a cool glass of water. So let’s rejoice, we no longer have to meet in dark alleys for money to change hands. We can do so openly. Bribery and corruption will no longer figure in the list of bad words. Chak de Corruption.