Corruption, Indian Style

fistful of rupees

Corruption in India, like many places in the world, has risen to an art-form. A student of comparative politics might be interested to look at the way corruption is done in America and India, the worlds two greatest dysfunctional democracies.

The nature of that political dysfunction is quite different, of course. The American system has been utterly gifted to big-money corporate interests by apathetic citizens who either do not appreciate the beauty of the system they have inherited or are simply too fat-and-lazy to contribute to preserving it. India, on the other hand, is populism run amok. It is embarrassing to watch the alacrity with which Indian politicians pander to every group and sub-group of voters. (Hillary Clinton would be a rock-star over here.) To generalize, one could say that America suffers from a shortage of true democracy, while India suffers an excess.

What is fascinating is the way in which corruption mirrors the flaws in the systems. In America, we do corruption in grand, Technicolor productions, at the highest level of government, with stakes so high few of us can even comprehend them. Not that it is all hidden. The recent corruption scandals of Congressmen Randy “Duke” Cunningham, Bob Ney, and William Jefferson, and Senator Ted Stevens were as remarkable for their unsurprising nature as for the fact they were revealed. But the thing that makes America so day-to-day livable is that corruption doesn’t really touch most of our lives in a palpable way. We operate in antiseptic bubbles, even if those enclaves are floating in sewage.

India, true to form, has a hyper-democratized version of corruption. Anyone wearing an epaulette — whether his uniform is official or ersatz — will try to exact their bribe-for-service at every opportunity. This has a peculiar trickle-up effect: people have to pay bribes in order to land jobs that will allow them to extort from others. Corruption is a fact of everyday life in India.

Don’t get me wrong: this does not mean that the oligarchs of India are not enjoying the same well-larded privileges of dishonesty as those in America. India’s corruption works quite efficiently on both tiers. What does it take to make the “A-List” of India’s administrators who abuse the public trust and undermine the foundations of civil society? The same garden-variety venality as elsewhere. You can get a small sense of the extent of the mess by looking at the annual reports of the Central Vigilance Committee (CVC), which reviews complaints against Central Government Officials based on evidence discovered in Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) cases. The CVC is reputed to publish a list of the most corrupt public officials, but I haven’t been able to find any such thing on the web. (Anyone know where to find it?)

Yoo-Mi has posted a nauseating summary of the malfeasance of one public enemy on the CVC list: C.S. Khairwal, former Cheif Secretary of the Government of Pondicherry.

Each state in India has vigilence committees akin to the CVC. And every year, India celebrates the wonderfully named “Vigilance Awareness Week”, seven days commencing on 31 October in which corrupt officials are supposed to feel badly about taking bribes and citizen victims are entitled to feel even more screwed than usual.

Chandra of Desicritics has a simple scheme to end corruption by public officials: “Anybody who can provide solid evidence of corruption against a government official can lay claim to of half that wealth. On the other hand the convicted will be stripped of all his wealth and sent into life imprisonment.”

Not bad; but I have been pondering a proposal so crazy it might just work. The citizens of India should create a privately-financed investment fund to pay large, well-directed bribes to key government officials to influence them to act in the public interest. We could call it “Trust for Corruption in the Public Interest”. What my scheme lacks in practicality, it makes up for in delicious, perverse irony. Mine is the carrot to Chandra’s stick. MBJ’s Razor: the more subversive alternative is bound to be more fun.

1 Response to “Corruption, Indian Style”

  1. 1 leander 28 April 2008 at 8:20 am

    this is an excellent depiction of Indian Corruption. Without insulting the Indian society, this clearly brings out the situation there. The problem lies that corruption is within the society and if you can’t do it yourself, you cannot survive in that country. It is also to note that the police will also not act till it receives bribe so there is nowhere to go even if you want to take action against corruption.

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