Atanu Dey On India's Development

Congress, Nepotism and Corruption

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Congress, Nepotism and Corruption: The Eternal Rotten Braid

The three — corruption, nepotism and the Congress party — form India’s most enduring triumvirate. It is hard to think of one without thinking of the others because they characterize India’s politics and political landscape like nothing else conceivably can. The Congress party is the fiefdom of one family — being part of that confers the inalienable right to be the boss. Nepotism gains a whole new meaning in the hands of the Congress. Chronic, acute and pervasive corruption at the highest levels of governance India could only have been engineered by the political party which has held the reins of power for practically all of India’s existence since 1947. So it was with incredulous wonder that I read two news items yesterday.

The Times of India reports that there “is a wave of resentment in the Congress against sons and daughters of leaders jockeying for party tickets to contest the October 13 assembly elections.”

Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) general secretary Hussein Dalwai confirmed that there was large-scale anger among the rank and file of the organisation. “The workers are asking if their job is to only stick posters. They are opposed to the growing trend of `gharanashahi’ (family rule) in the state. The central leadership has been apprised of the sentiments of party cadres, ” Dalwai added.

What is the world coming to when Congress workers are questioning the value of nepotism — the key defining characteristic of the Congress party! What next — question the right of the Nehru-Gandhi family to rule India into perpetuity?

The irony meter has overloaded and crashed. That’s a pity because how would we now measure the degree of irony embedded in this other news flash: “Corruption retarding India’s growth, says Indian PM” (Telegraph.co.uk).

Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, has said that corruption is the single greatest threat to the nation’s economic prospects.

In a speech given to an anti-corruption corruption (sic) in New Delhi, Mr Singh described the damaging effect that bribes, extortion and fraud have on all levels of life in India.

He said that graft meant infrastructure projects were late, over-budget, and often poor quality, while labeling India’s opaque business practices “a fertile breeding ground for the evil of corruption.

“The pervasive corruption in our country tarnishes our image [and it] discourages investors who expect fair treatment and transparent dealings with public authorities,” he said.

See what I mean — how on earth can you measure the irony. He’s a public official in charge of all the other public officials in the country, and he moans and bitches that the public officials under him are corrupt and that corruption is the biggest threat to the economy’s prospects. Is he blatantly admitting his absolute spinelessness and ineptitude or is he not?

This is par for the course for him. He has no idea that the position he holds is powerful enough to fix the problem which he speaks so pitiably about. It is true that he was appointed to that position for his loyalty to the ruling family (loyal lapdogs do get to sit around in the living room) but he could have at least pretended to be his own man once in a while. At the very least, he should stop drawing attention to his ineffectiveness and spinelessness. But no, the man does not have that basic sense.

Anyhow, Mr Manmohan Singh is apparently not smart enough to have figured out what the genesis of India’s corruption is: governmental control and mismanagement of the economy. Perhaps Gareth Price, head of the Asia programme at Chatham House, a foreign policy think tank, could clue him in. Here’s what Price is quoted to have said in the Telegraph piece:

“The fastest growing sector of their economy is IT and that is the only sector that is completely outside the government’s control.”

He said that the history of graft in India was the product mainly of three things. “Firstly, the British bureaucratic legacy to the subcontinent. The British created so many rules that anyone could be shut down if, say, a factory inspector found that a bucket of sand was missing, making the place a ‘fire hazard’. So the inspectors would be bribed simply not to shut the place down.

“Secondly, after Independence India had a Soviet-style system of quotas, in which the licences that you received permitting you to produce a quantity of something basically determined how profitable you would be. So the government would be bribed to hand out licences.

“And the third thing is that the tax system is extraordinarily complex and condusive to corruption. Recent attempt to simplify it met with resistance mainly from business who were afraid they’d end up paying more rather than less.”

The mind simply boggles that the prime minister of India displays publicly his complete and utter lack of comprehension of a matter that is so crucial. Granted that he cannot fathom the issue but could he not pay attention to what others who have pondered the matter at some length are telling him?

Here I list a few things that the government should do:

* Dismantle the legacy bureaucratic system that the British created. Their objective was to extract and exploit the economic system. They put those controls into place. The government of a politically independent India must not have the same objective as that of a colonial power.

* Punish the corrupt — starting at the top of the heap. There is no point in going after lowly milkmen or lecturing little kids about the evils of corruption.

Start at the top — because that is where the rot starts. Criminals are over-represented in India’s legislative bodies. They make laws. Criminals making laws is beyond mortal comprehension.

Heed T.S.R. Subramanian, who retired as India’s most senior civil servant in 1998. Beckett quotes from TSR’s book, “GovernMint in India”: ” “Since no part of the Establishment has an interest in punishing corruption, trying for a more sweeping solution quickly leads into the realm of blind hope.”

Suspend politicians facing criminal charges, as civil servants are suspended pending trial. Establish a fast-track court just for government officials so that cases are resolved expeditiously. Persuade judges to make an example of a few political wrongdoers as a public flogging for the rest.

[Link: Solution to India's Greatest Failure. ]

I too approve of public flogging of high public officials. (Near the end of a pretty long October 2005 piece, titled “The Ownership Society“, I argued why.) You have to hit them where it hurts — their dignity. I am happy to note that Kautilya had a similar view. According to this March 2006 article in the Economist:

Kautilya, writing 2,300 years ago, offers a helpful observation: as punishment for the theft of public property by government servants, he recommended smearing the offenders with cow dung and ashes.

Anyway, corruption in India is here to stay as long as the corrupt rule the roost. India is corrupt because the people choose to elect the criminally corrupt. That you can lay at the doorstep of democracy as practiced in India. The only hope of reforming India lies in reforming Indian democracy. But more about that later.

  • anup

    One of the recent achievements in the area of Corruption Prevention is discussed in this article below.

    http://www.blogs.ivarta.com/Saddening-case-Indian-Bureaucracy/blog-238.htm

    “In the recent winter session of the parliament, on December 28, 2009, that which lasted for a meagre of [13 minutes], one of the bills passed was for amending the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA). The bureaucrats all over the country, specifically those facing allegation of corruption, fêted over its passing. This was because the amendment bill was in every sense a “triumph” to bureaucrats all over the country as they were no more answerable to “pesky” investigating agency.”

    The earlier law had said that “If a government official, by corrupt or illegal means, obtains for himself or any other person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage, he or she is said to have committed an offence of criminal misconduct.” It includes awarding contract to any person with the above said motive. “Now” says Justice Hegde, “the bureaucrat can award any contract to anyone and no one can question it!”