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Backstory, anyone?

The media shouldn’t just expose corruption. It should reveal the causes behind it, Dilip Cherian writes.

india Updated: Apr 27, 2011 21:20 IST

It is clear that the solutions to deal with corruption are scarce. It’s worth drawing parallels between today’s India and the America of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That was an age when railroad and other industry barons along with politicians built corrupt partnerships. Corruption during this period reached such levels that various journalists began to investigate the murky wheelings and dealings between politicians and industrialists. They were termed ‘Muckrakers’ by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 when he first warned journalists of the dangers of always keeping one’s attention trained ‘on the muck’.

Nevertheless, the dirt exposed by journalists then galvanised civil society, which responded with organised protests and focused on breaking the corrupt nexus between politicians and industrialists and reforming federal, state and municipal governments with an objective to increasing efficiency and accountability.

But there are many differences in India and America of the late 19th century too. In America, representatives were elected to facilitate economic growth, to protect individual freedoms and ensure law and order. India, on the other hand, had a well-established civil service at the time of Independence. It also had a huge population, widespread poverty and little infrastructure.

In the case of India, some of our major faultlines were created when our political masters opted for the socialist model of growth. The word ‘socialist’ implied authoritarian control at the administrative level as opposed to free market enterprise. This is where India was — on a slippery downward slope — a few years ago when it was virtually bankrupt and had to hock its gold. Prodded along by international pressure, PV Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh then started the process of economic liberalisation, but not before the strongly authoritarian socialist system of governance had done its damage to the body politic, establishing bad precedents that even today continue to subvert.

Overcoming this damage will require not just 24/7 TV ‘muckraking’, fasts-unto-death by individuals or a single bill to address corruption at the administrative levels. It will require more than a single-point agenda, as there is sadly more than just one faultline. I think our Muckrakers need to segue into true investigative journalists and do some ‘meaningful’ digging. It’s not enough to expose wrongdoings but to reveal the faultlines underlying these. Only then can they can be repaired and the body politic attempt a more fundamental healing process.

( Dilip Cherian is former editor, Business India and a policy analyst )

The views expressed by the author are personal