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No honest brokers

Indians are accused of being corrupt and dishonest. There is a solution to correct our global reputation. But is the PM willing to take the big risk? Sagarika Ghose asks.

india Updated: Mar 06, 2011 13:52 IST
Sagarika Ghose
Sagarika Ghose
Hindustan Times

'Culture' 'DNA' and 'values' have entered the debate on the spot-fixing controversy. Several cricketers have expressed the belief that dishonesty exists not just in Pakistan cricket, but in the very DNA of the subcontinent.

Ricky Ponting believes that the values of cricket are simply not upheld in certain "cultures". Mathew Hayden remarked that it's not in the Australian DNA to cheat. Michael Atherton said that the root of all evil in cricket can be traced to India and Imran Khan stated that when a society says you can get away with all crime, what's a little no-ball?

The spot-fixing controversy is not just about Pakistan, but it's also about the growing global assumption that Pakistanis, Indians and subcontinentals in general are a cheating and corrupt people whose level of personal dishonesty is very high.

Are we, South Asians, a congenitally corrupt people? Do we have no sense of right and wrong? Is our society based on thievery and lies and personal criminality? And is our culture itself uniquely forgiving of personal dishonesty? There can't be another society today that shows such textbook characteristics of a pervasive moral and spiritual crisis.

The dishonesty on display at the Commonwealth Games has created shock, helplessness and hopelessness. The filthy money deals, the shady crony capitalism, the unabashed favours to the few, the wilful blindness of those at the top, the numbing, bewildering, indeed horrifying daily scams have left many patriotic Indians facing a sudden loss of self-belief about India.

The government seems powerless to act. Cabinet ministers are accused of systematic dishonesty and still ride around with their 'Z plus' security. Right To Information activists, acting on a legislation that is regarded as a showpiece of our democracy, are being murdered. State governments are taking over public land not for public use but to hand over to builders for windfall private profits.

As economist Raghuram Rajan writes in his excellent book Fault Lines, the License Permit raj has been replaced by the Land Mafia raj.

As institutions like health care, judiciary, media and education are in danger of destruction, the only avenue left for survival is connectivity or the ability to use connections in every situation. The ability to pick up the phone and dial a number and get things done is often the only way a service can be delivered at all
levels of society.

If connectivity becomes the only ticket for survival, soon India will be converted into a land controlled by a gang of 2,000 super-connected warlords, or oligopolists or individuals who combine in their individual personages immense political and money power and rule their individual empires with no truck with the State or the State's arms like the judiciary or police.

This 'profusion of well connected billionaires' that Rajan alludes to is a neo-zamindari system in which ordinary Indian citizens will have to scramble to stay connected to the warlords in order to ensure delivery of services and the wherewithal of life.

Too cynical? Sample Rajan: "India is a country with the second largest number of billionaires. And the dubious wealth comes from land, natural resources and government contracts or licences, not from competitive or free entry sectors like software. Thus it is proximity to government that is still the source of enormous profitability in India."

The overwhelming bulk of big money is not a product of an open and competitive economy but is secured by government favours which directly influence profitability. Corruption is thus embedded in the current India dream.

The degradation of religion is also one of the reasons why we have become personally dishonest. The founders of modern India were deeply secular and pluralist yet came from a society which drew strength from an un-self-consciousness religiosity.

Not religion defined by hatred of others, violence and noisy political ideology, but religion defined as an old quiet traditional faith that provided an unobtrusive moral compass. Today, multi-crore events like dahi handi show that religion is a stage-managed artificially euphoric extravaganza that is failing to create role models of passionate honesty and courage.

What can we do to create an Indian moral renaissance and a moral revolution? How can we send a shock wave through our society? Here's a suggestion from your humble columnist. It's a suggestion that begins with the prime minister because it is an initiative that must come from the very top. Manmohan Singh, call to your office ten of India's finest most upright officers.

Ask them, on the basis of the voluminous insider information that must surely exist, to prepare a list of the 100 most corrupt grandees in the country, i.e. all top ministers, high-ranking officials, tycoons, who have serious corruption charges against them.

Once the list is made, summon a press conference and in full public view, name the top offenders (however Very Very Important they may be), shame them in public and by all the powers vested in you by the Constitution, the tricolour, and the spiritual power of a land where the spirit of Brahma, Buddha and the Prophet once breathed, send the worst offenders to jail right there and right then and announce your decision to the public. Let your legacy be one, wherein the tradition of the valorous Sikhs, you sent the corrupt and the powerful to prison.

Your political career could end, Dr Singh. Your government may collapse immediately. But remember how you once risked your government for the nuclear deal? Maybe it's time to risk your government for the real deal. You will lose power, you will be ridiculed. But you will win an eternal crown: the hearts of every Indian. You would have struck a lightning blow of moral transformation down the line and you would have brought god back to our blighted land. Summon that press conference, Dr Singh, and kickstart the morality revolution.

Sagarika Ghose is Deputy Editor, CNN-IBN. The views expressed by the author are personal

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