Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Robbing Hoods. Why are we so Corrupt?

Image Courtesy Arbaaz Khan

By Gaurav Parab

Dabaang is full of moments where Salman nonchalantly wears his corrupt nature on his sleeves. The audience, interestingly, loved every moment unlike yesteryear when heroes with multiple bullet wounds got applause only when they spewed venom against the evil Munim Ji or died as virgins courtesy Amrish Puri. As Dabaang showed, the hero policewalla no longer lives on Behen ka pyaar and Maa ki Roti.  Chulbul Pandey kicks ass and he celebrates his honeymoon in the middle-east.
If we can’t have heroes, then we manage with anti-heroes. If work is getting done, the nation is all right with corruption, perhaps more than it accepts bloggers asking people to subscribe to their blogs. For a country grappling with more scams than Pakistani cricket captains, corruption is a way of life, if some good comes out of it.

Ok, lets start on an honest note since this piece is about corruption.  I did not see Dabaang in a theater. I was forced to bear with a pirated copy on the Neeta bus service.  But the point is the audience’s wild applause reverberated in the dodgy tape. The CD was so realistic, that apart from physically being there, I was in the theater. And I felt the audience loving every moment of this unique film.

So, I thought:
  1. Why are we so corrupt?
  2. It could have been worse. They could have showed We Are Family (Missing article, anyone? We are a Family for god sake. Or, We are the family)

Back to question number 1.  Why are we so corrupt? Before answering that, let’s accept we are not the only corrupt people in the world. If you go by the Corruption Perception Index released by Transparency International, India is number 87 out of 170 odd countries. At the midway point. A half full or half empty glass depending on the way you look at it. But a glass exists nevertheless. Corruption is everywhere. The ranking, with scientific terms like Index and Perception, is clearly not perfect. But what is undeniable even if we ignore the flawed methodology is humans are universally corrupt. For every Chandraswamy that brokers deals, there is a Jack Abramoff.

If one believes that the Japanese only love blow up dolls and no bribes are entertained, one is mistaken as much as believing that American Generals and politicians are not influenced by lobbyists. If you trust the Chinese politburo to dedicate its life to zero tolerance of corruption, you are wrong.

Ah But, If you think SRK (Suresh, Raja and Kapoor) are going to get away with their deeds – then you are not mistaken. You are right. They will get away with it. And you and I cannot do a darn thing about it.

And that is why it hurts. The fact is you can be a pickpocket and the law will put you away for good. But if you steal the entire pant, you are going to get away with it. The corrupt Indian is a magician. One moment there is money. The next it is gone. Sometimes, there is no money. But it still disappears. And then the magician’s assistants – the CBI, the CAG, and the ED or what I call LOL for short, come in and try to sweep the mess under a carpet so dirty that the trick gets cleanly completed. 

To be fair the CBI, CAG and other agencies are not incompetent. In fact they are really efficient as is evident from how they have fearlessly nailed the guilty in some investigations – but they are turned impotent by a slew of jurisdiction rules that place all the strings in the hands of the Government. The CAG can only audit and has no clout, the CBI needs Home Ministry Sanction and the numerous JPCs are more often than not barter exchanges for brokering power. Like the reclusive Arun Shourie says, “With great respect to the opposition this is not the right demand at all. There is a record of JPCs. There was a JPC on Harshad Mehta...JPC on Bofors. What happened? Nothing happened,” 

As far as this Government is concerned, the buck stops here.

Image Copyright Gaurav Parab

Remove the blaring sirens and crisp Nehru suits – and you get a thief who knows he is going to get away with it because the house owner can at most call the police. And the police report to him. It is not a scam - it is the Joules’ Perfect engine.  With corruption institutionalized, we may as well drop pretenses and allow these chaps into our homes, ask them to take what they fancy, and not bother messing up Prime Time Television every day with their breaking news.

Recent examples from Karnataka or New Delhi don’t point towards a trend of increasing corruption as some political commentators state. The truth is corruption never went away from our midst. It is just being reported more often now days. The RTI and increasing digitization of Government records is only helping journalists’ piece together stories quickly. 

But with increased focus of the media, the modus operandi has also changed. Today, the general design is to loot as much as possible when given a chance, and when caught – resign from an inconsequential post or ask for an inquiry which will drag on for decades.  Party coffers across the political spectrum are being filled by chief minister and union minister alike, for who knows what the next election will cost and where it will take them. It is like crashing a Punjabi wedding – where the food is irresistible and the cab is waiting. You just tuck in as much as you can.

If we believe that the leadership of different parties was unaware of what was happening in Adarsh, Bellary, or New Delhi – we are no different from the average PC Sorcar audience. Everyone knew, for everyone is in the game. The scams broke out because some insider blew the whistle when a cut was not paid. For the leadership, the trick is to stay aloof, and if the heat gets too hot then make scapegoats to give a semblance of propriety.

The West may be as corrupt as India, if not more, but when you are caught – there is at least hell to pay. Self-respect and an unwritten code of conduct forces those caught in other nations in scams to step down or even apologize. Not because they really feel sorry, but because public opinion still counts for something.

Can you, in your wildest dreams imagine a Raja to apologize? It is a thought so ludicrous, that if he does – the nation will burst into orgies of happiness and India will overtake China nine months from the day of even a simple sorry.  

In more developed societies, the chances of running for public office are as good as gone if you are perceived to be dirty. You cannot invoke the favorite chant of an Indian politician caught with his hand in a jar – “I am the victim of a political conspiracy”. Or worse, I am a Dalit so the Non- Dalits are persecuting me – or I am an Upper Caste, so the non-upper caste folks are persecuting me. The truth is to win an election in a developed nation your second name or caste does not count as much as your actions and vision for the future.

And that is why I guess the answer lies. Why are we so corrupt?

We are so corrupt because we get away with it. Plain and simple.

We may justify the corruption within us by the usual excuses like the system is corrupt, and I have no choice. But these are excuses. Not all Congressmen are corrupt. Not all Police Officers are corrupt. All Babus maybe inefficient, but not all corrupt. If honest men can still survive in gold mines, the whole argument of corruption being systematic falls apart.

Sure, there is peer pressure when the door to temptation is open, but a thief steals not because other thieves are stealing – but because he sees them getting away with it. And so he does it again and again. Like a psychopath who gets off not on the benefits of crime, but on the actual act of committing and getting away with it.

Another favorite argument of people who advocate cleaning up the system is to VOTE for the right candidate. Your candidate is you, they shout. I am sorry but I disagree.

My first ever vote was against a particular party, and my candidate won. He soon jumped parties and joined the very party that I had voted against. The second time around, I voted for a clean candidate and he got trounced. The third time, I voted for the same clean candidate, and in spite of a clear wave against the corrupt incumbent –  he still won because he got the caste arithmetic right.

I am not saying I am going to stop voting. But this time, I will be more scientific and thoughtful in my approach. Iiny Minny Miynni Moe.

And then we come to the only feasible solutions.

  1. Rajnikanth (Hey, he is the flavor of the season)
  2. A truly autonomous investigative cum prosecuting agency that constitutionally does not need to seek permissions to move against anyone, including the Prime Minister or a Supreme Court Judge. The agency can use the existing infrastructure and resources of the CBI but with zero political interference in appointments, transfers, and most importantly jurisdiction. It should not be called into inquire; it should have the power to start investigating in public interest sumotu. It should be called BAAP just for effect.

Once the guilty is convicted, the courts should proceed swiftly to recover the dues to the people. For even a prison term defeats the main purpose of an investigation, if loss to public money is the crime. The penalty is no ways different from a Windfall tax that governments levy on companies that make above average profits due to unique economic conditions. After all, the windfall that SRK enjoyed needs to come back to the treasury. At least till the next time it is looted.

On a more serious note, corruption is not as harmless as it seems. Most of the times, it trickles down to a situation where innocent lives may be snuffed out. Take the recent Delhi building collapse for instance. A similar situation can, and will arise in a few years due to the much taunted CWG infrastructure built in the capital. Then these thieves who looted a nation and dragged its pride through mucky toilets, will end up with blood on their hands. Then what? Nothing I guess. Public money is plenty, public memory is short. And the worth of a common man’s life is a compensation of 1 lac.

This is the point in the piece where I quote an expert to add credibility to this angry rant about corruption. I quote Professor Shateer Deemag from Arindham Chaudhary’s think tank. “Nobody touch the tap. Someone open the hatch. This tank is dark.”

In other news, The Indian Stammers’ Association has taken offense to Shreyas Talpade’s portrayal as a person who stammers in Golmaal. As I write this, they are in the middle of sentence challenging the filmmakers to a court battle.

Oh come on! Don’t send me stinkers on this one. I am a short guy, you don’t see me join the Indian Short Guys association and complaint about Paa, do you?

Be good. Don’t be corrupt. Subscribe to this blog and Join the Facebook Page and please don’t ask for money when I am in Delhi even if I am from Suresh’s home town. It works the other way round. 


Vinay Garg said...

Good Read. peoples' voice does not make impact because it is ephemeral. We do not protest to bring the change but to sound 'intellectual' or entertain ourselves. Month back evryones rage against Kalmadi & co. is diluted amidst rajnikant jokes . No body, Nobody cares now. We people who laugh at Lalu's jokes or 'The indian jugaadu way' , are nthng but laughing at ourselves.Shame on us.

Anonymous said...

When i read your opinion pieces, I think you should be contributing to slate or other progressive sites that combine insight with humor. A genre so difficult that only rare talent like you can pull off.

When i read your poetry - i think you should be made a poet laureate or something.

I work at a leading ad agency and if the dorks at my workplace were half as creative as Gaurav Ullhas Parab - then this place would b so much better.

Stay the same. Stay real. Dont turn into the creative types.

D said...

I am not following all the news these days. But I dont really agree with you. Its easy to point fingers and comment on corruption. But will you really take a stand when it is really burning your house? Simple example(human corruption) - your mom is having fever of say 104. Severe but not fatal. You go to a hospital. There is a queue for registration. You see a friend who is at a position where he can get your mom immediately admitted. Will you tell him that u will wait till the queue recedes and let your mom suffer?? Another one (financial corruption) - you have an onsite opportunity you badly need. You dont have a passport. If you are not too crazy about onsite, think of desperately requiring a driving license. An agent will get you the reqd document in few thousand rupees. You will definitely not get it in stipulated time by normal procedure. Will you refrain rom going to an agent? (Yes, the agent always bribes the officials!!) Now, my last example (I know u were with Infosys, hence ...) - How many times have you prepared for an audit, just one day before the audit? How many times have you really really reported daily activity report with no external push(or kick)? How many times have you created a report with not a single figure manipulated? If someone else has manipulated their own daily activity report, how many times have you refused to create the report because you know that the data is incorrect? How many times have you stored non-project related data in your office machine or sent personal mails from your official e-mail ID? I know people who say that this is not corruption. If you say that too, then IMHO you have lost the right to write the article condemning corruption.

Aruna said...

I agree with Anonymous and D both. They both have expressed my sentiments and views.

Farina Kidwai said...

I loved it!!!
Gaurav Parab says and man he says it so wisely!


Anonymous said...

Well written and great comments.

@D :- in your example of human corruption, where the Q is long, consider for example everybody in the queue are severely suffering. Now in such case will they allow you/or-your-mom to break the queue? And if they wont then what will be your next action? search some other hospital (may be costly/posh) or join the queue? And btw, everybody don't go through Agent for passport or driving license.
All I am saying is that corruption is the shortcut to reach some destination but its not the only road to take. In fact, the longer road is always better for long term or broader vision as it prepare ourself better for such problems.

Gaurav Parab said...

@ Vinay: You are right. There are issues one is passionate about, and then there are some which one shares a opinion just for the heck of it.

@ Anon1: When some one writes such a nice and sweet comment, one is so eager to put a name to the words.

Thanks. I have the 'creative' types.

@ D: Sincerely appreciate your opinion. The example that you present is hard hitting and totally relevant.

@ Aruna: Thanks for dropping in.

@ Anon2: Thanks for contributing. I look forward to a name.

Gaurav Parab said...

I meant, I 'hate' not 'have' the creative types. If you know what I mean.