Saturday, June 25, 2011

Corruption in India -2

The confused controversies surrounding Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev have made clear the low level of public understanding of corruption.
Ramdev’s fatuous proposal to force Indian “black money” to return from foreign banks should have won him instant expulsion from serious public discourse but that came only after his comic descent into infamy. “Team Hazare’s” proposal for a new supra-investigative body seems more sophisticated but its premise – that government malfeasance is central to corruption – does not bear close examination.
Corrupt politicians/judges/bureaucrats are indeed a key element of one aspect of the problem but they are more symptom than cause. Subjecting them to an independent public watchdog is unlikely to have much effect because the social dementia of which they are victims remains undiagnosed. To find a remedy we must identify the common denominators in the multiplicity of corruptions afflicting India (see list in the last posting).
The most obvious common denominator is the sense of impunity shared by the corrupt: the belief they can get away with crime. However, the reasons they think so fall into three categories.
Underlying the criminal manifestations of male and caste dominance, the use of child labour and the abortion of female fetuses, is the belief that State mechanisms will not or cannot implement the law. In contrast, gangsters and other low-life know very well that the State will actively pursue and punish them; their sense of impunity reflects the learned lessons of harsh predatory lives in which violence and bribery buy security. The calculus of the third category -- which now dominates our attentions -- is  altogether different: top politicians, bureaucrats and business figures believe their power and privilege will insulate them from detection and punishment. Their corruptions spring from cold-blooded decisions to betray the collective interest in pursuit of private profit. In key sectors such as energy, policing and defence, the injury they inflict is not primarily financial or social; they strike at the safety and security of the State.
These very different sources of impunity underlie different genres of corruption and a Lokpal would be largely ineffective in dealing with two of them, the massive social crimes that flow out of our history and modern organized crime. Even in dealing with crimes within the structure of government, the Lokpal cannot be, in that popular expression, a “watchdog;” for a dog can prevent crime and is immune from corruption itself.
The only preventive element in Team Hazare’s version of the Lokpal Bill is the severity of punishment: initially it required the death penalty for high-level offenders, now toned down to life imprisonment. (The government draft calls for a 7-year prison term.) Both versions of the Bill deal with corruption as individual malfeasance; they ignore its existence as a systemic disease with social, economic and political dimensions.
The next post will take up the social aspect, focusing especially on the genesis and coruptions of the caste system.

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