It is universally recognised that the current protests against corruption in high places is a reflection of the deep popular disgust against the various scams that are unfolding. While an effective lokpal is essential to be institutionalised, it is important also to try and understand why such mega corruption is surfacing like it is.
Corruption has ancient roots. Hence the fight against it has to be both tenacious and continuous. Recollect a short story of our primary school days. A king, once testing the morals of his subjects, asked everybody to bring a mug of milk to be poured into a cauldron at the palace.
Alas, at the end of the day, he found the cauldron full of water as every subject presumed that his mug of water will go unnoticed in the milk that others will pour!
However, the corruption that we are witnessing today is of an entirely different character. While all manifestations of corruption need to be fought, the current scams are directly linked with the liberalisation process that has opened up hitherto unknown avenues for large-scale loot.
This has elevated the corrupt businessmen-bureaucrat-politician nexus to a qualitatively higher level. The reform process has unleashed a murky morass of crony capitalism in India. Crony capitalism is nothing but the theft of people’s property.
Capital, in its urge to maximise profits, invariably seeks to bend, if not violate, all rules and regulations. Nepotism in awarding contracts, sweetheart deals in disposing off public properties and creating illegal and new avenues for money laundering and looting public resources are some of the forms that crony capitalism takes.
The capitalist State puts in place certain rules and institutionalises regulators to ensure adherence to these rules in order to provide a level playing field for the capitalists. However, given the fundamental nature of capitalism, where the big fish eat the small ones, these rules and regulations are pushed to the limits of violation.
Capitalism inherently breeds cronyism.
In countries like India, late entrants into the global capitalist system, (particularly when it embraces the neo-liberal economic trajectory of globalisation) such cronyism becomes all pervasive, trapping in its web governmental institutions and, indeed, the entire government itself. Every single scam that has come to light reflects this.
In a comment that stunned the practitioners of neo-liberalism and international finance capital, former editor of the Daily Telegraph, the biographer of Margaret Thatcher, Charles Moore said: “I am starting to think that the Left must actually be right.”
Moore went on to suggest that the ‘free market’ actually accords freedom only to a super rich mobile elite able to shift its resources at will and influence policy to maximise its interests. It is this latter aspect that enlarges the scope for large-scale corruption and loot.
The last two decades of globalisation led by international finance capital saw the leveraging of the global economy leading to the current recession and financial turbulence.
Such was — and is — its dominance that unbridled avenues for crony capitalism are being opened up particularly in developing countries like ours. We can protect ourselves from such loot only by a disciplined regulation.
The cries, therefore, for greater reforms such as the deregulation of the financial sector will only spell further disaster and will exponentially enlarge the avenues for loot.
In the larger context, such a shift in the direction of policy trajectory must be brought about in order to check corruption in high places. Simultaneously, new laws and institutions must be created if such corruption has to be tackled in right earnest.
First, of course, is the institutionalisation of an effective lokpal. The second is to establish by law a mechanism to tackle corruption in the judiciary, like the National Judicial Commission. Thirdly, radical electoral reforms that will minimise, if not eliminate, the growing dominance of money and muscle power are most essential.
To begin with, the country must seriously consider the banning of corporate funding for political parties. Finally, effective laws must be put in place to tackle the menace of black money and to bring back the monies illegally stashed in tax havens abroad.
To tackle crony capitalism, the fountainhead of such corruption, we need to go further. Since this thrives on the theft of people’s property, the first measure that needs to be taken is to protect people’s properties from being privatised.
Crony capitalism is also leading to the loot of our national resources, like seen in the instances of large-scale illegal mining. This must be prevented by the nationalisation of all exhaustible resources and the operation of all mines must be the State’s responsibility. Likewise, strict regulation to break the land and real estate speculation through proper legislation is essential.
All these may sound contradictory. On the one hand, the struggle is against crony capitalism and its attendant corruption and, on the other, we are talking of regulations and controls to be implemented by that very State machinery which is promoting crony capitalism in the first place.
This apparent contradiction can be resolved only when we simultaneously implement the package of measures that we are talking about, including legislation against corruption. Clearly, therefore, in this situation, the focus on creating an effective lokpal, however necessary, alone will not be sufficient to tackle this menace of corruption.
Needless to add, this package needs to be implemented in its entirety, within the constitutional framework of our Republic. The Constitution is the social contract upon which the modern Indian State is founded and it can’t be overturned by the wishes of any section, however mighty and strident they may be.
We need to, therefore, fight to eliminate such mega corruption continuously fed by crony capitalism through such a package of measures.
(Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP. The views expressed by the author are personal)