A crime of calculation
Sharrom Yezdegardi, 25, is an anti-corruption 'crusader'.
But he is not a flag-waving, chest-beating and sloganeering type. He did not even visit the MMRDA grounds where activist Anna Hazare sat on a fast in December 2011 for the Lokpal Bill. Instead, the young MBA, who works for a travel company in Mumbai, is itching to pen an anti-corruption song and start a campaign to inculcate the right "value system" in primary schoolchildren. "Bribery is a tradition in this country. It is now in our DNA," says Yezdegardi forcefully.
Like Yezdegardi, young India, as the 2012 HT Youth Survey shows, is very much alive to the challenge of corruption. "Many among us followed the Lokpal Bill debate keenly. After all, most of us have had to pay bribe at least once in our lives," explains Aditya Bharadwaj, 22, a student at the School of Planning and Architecture, Bhopal.In 2011, Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index ranked India 95th out of a total of 183 countries that were surveyed.
According to the HT survey, over two-fifths of young Indians (42%) have paid a bribe and the proportion is more or less the same among men and women. Among the cities, there is very high incidence of bribing (more than 75%) in Ahmedabad, Chandigarh and Hyderabad and very low in Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata. "This shows that if systems are in place (like in Mumbai), people don't feel the need to bribe even if they are willing to do so," says Santanu Gupta who teaches economics of corruption as part of a public-private partnership course at XLRI, Jamshedpur. "The willingness to bribe is high in Delhi and Mumbai because people flock to these cities for opportunities." Says TR Raghunandan, a former civil servant, and now with www.ipaidabribe.com, a citizens' initiative which is trying to uncover the market price of corruption in India: "Corruption = monopoly plus discretion minus accountability."
Interestingly, while the young are serious about the issue, they don't shy away from downloading pirated software or films. "Every individual is a creature of opportunity and in a dysfunctional system like ours, people will do such things," explains Raghunandan.
While Raghunandan agrees with Sharrom that bribing is a widespread phenomenon here, he doesn't attribute it to a lack of a value system. "Human beings are conformists by nature. People follow what the majority do. In India, we are yet to achieve a critical mass of honest people. Once we do that, corruption will decrease."
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He believes that India's anger against corruption is following a predictable trajectory: thanks to India's colonial past, there was a fear of the government. But now with economic growth, citizens have become confident and realise that corruption is stopping development. Corruption, says, the former babu, is a crime of calculation. "Economic liberalisation and political competition might reduce it in the long run because both tend to limit arbitrary exercise of monopoly power".
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As for the impact of corruption on India, 80% of young Indians feel that it is making the system inefficient while 50% believe it is a necessary evil. When it comes to punishing the corrupt, 29% of the respondents support public shaming of the corrupt and seizing their properties and 18% are for better laws.
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Raghunandan, however, feels that strong laws alone cannot stop corruption in an evidence-based judicial system like ours. Instead, the country needs to deepen systemic reforms, unveil strong anti-corruption and monitoring plans (even Mongolia has one), and implement policies that disincentivise corruption.