Professor Leslie Palmier taught sociology in Bath University, England, and was a Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford. His special field of study was, and is, corruption in different countries. For some time he was based in Delhi. We saw quite a bit of each other then and have kept in touch now through letters. He sent me an article published in the July 2006, issue of Asian Affairs. It is largely on corrupt practices prevalent in Indonesia, but also refers to other Asian countries. His conclusions make interesting reading.
Although corruption is a world-wide phenomenon, some countries like the Scandinavian nations and Switzerland have very little, some more but manageable (like Japan, Germany, France, England, Canada and the United States) and in others it poses as a serious problem to the administration and the judiciary.
Corruption has no racial or religious bias. This is evident in its preponderance in Asia, the Middle East and Africa; Japan (which is Buddhist and Shinto) is the only country of Asia to rid itself of corruption. China, in its earlier days of communist enthusiasm, had cut it down drastically but has let it creep back. In other Asian countries like the Philippines (Christian Catholic), Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, those in the Middle East and North Africa where there is a mix of Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians, corruption flourishes. Nor has race any bearing on corruption. Mongoloid, aryans, semitic or negroid — they are tarred with the same brush. “The current joke is that in China corruption is under the table, in Indonesia it is over the table and in the Philippines the table is part of the deal,” writes Palmier. In India, corruption has dimensions not known in other countries. Since family ties are stronger and families include distant relations, nepotism (kumbaprasthi) is all-pervasive; so is sifarish (recommendation). Taking money is limited to outsiders. With the sole exception of Manmohan Singh, all our past prime ministers patronised their relations and friends.
Believe it or not, though religion has miserably failed in curbing corruption, political faith has done better. Committed communists are less corrupt than people subscribing to other political creeds. In China, communists wiped out corruption when they first took over the country. In India, the CPI (M) is markedly less corrupt than other political parties.
One thing is evident that where there is great disparity of wealth and income, corruption is inevitable. In corruption-free nations there is not much difference between the standards of living between employers and employees, common people live in comparative comfort. In countries like India and Pakistan there is wide disparity in the lifestyles of the rich and the people employed by them. Even civil servants live in bungalows with spacious gardens, while their servants live in one-room quarters, sharing latrines and bathrooms.
Will we ever be able to get rid of corruption? Not in the near future, if at all. Giving and receiving undue favours is in our blood. We have to live with corruption and live in peace with it for a long time to come.
The Urdu word for obsession is khabt. If you are obsessed with anything, they say ‘khabt savaar ho gayaa’ — he is ridden by an obsession. I am often ridden by khabts and pester people with questions to which I can find no answers. My present khabt is about the origin and meaning of three words which have become common currency: Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram. Are they found in the Vedas, Upanishads, Adi Shankara or any other sacred text? Satyam is, of course, truth, Shivam can be Lord Shiva or God. Sundaram which literally means beauty can also be Lord Shiva — not in his ascetic form, but as a handsome divine dancer. I have been badgering everyone to enlighten me. So far I have drawn a blank. Can any reader get me rid of this khabt and throw light on the subject for other readers’ benefit? The only reward I can offer in return is to publish his or her name in this column.
A wonderful escape route had Punjab and Andhra shown.
Every eight hours a farmer kills himself in Vidarbha alone.
So that his debt may also be cremated along with his body.
Our GDP is growing at a break-neck speed.
Our Sensex is at its peak, indeed.
And we don’t have food enough for our people to feed!
We are going to be a super-power in two thousand twenty.
And our farmers are committing suicides,
Hourly, regularly, daily !
It’s an age of prosperity and plenty.
A golden age of globalisation.
So why should we mind a few thousand deaths by starvation!
And since we are so proud of our peasantry,
They should naturally die for the country.
(Courtesy: Kuldip Salil, Delhi)
The same in ‘Umreeka’
Santa went to the US and got a job as a truck driver.
After a few months he returned to his village for a vacation. His friends asked him “Didn’t you have a problem with right-hand driving rules in Umreeka?”
Santa replied: “No problem at all! I drove in the middle of the road.”
(Courtesy: Anup Singh, Meerut)