Monday, August 29, 2011

India Against Corruption. Really?

Scene 1: Borim Bridge Toll Plaza (when toll was still being collected)
Actors: X, a well-to-do businessman, driving his car; my father, the co-passenger.

X pulls out a small chit from the glove compartment that resembles the toll ticket, holds it up through the windshield and without rolling down his window tries to convince the ticket agent that it is in fact a return ticket he had purchased earlier in the day. After all, he asks my Dad, why pay the princely sum of Rs. 6/- for a confounded toll?

Scene 2: ~1998, Goa
Actor: MBA from IIM-C, Regional Sales Manager for Goa for one of India's largest pvt-sector enterprise, talking to his Dad over a phone call

"Aur haan, Daddy, yahan pe driver license chahiye hoga; ek karvake bhej dijiyega" (And oh, yes! I think I'm going to need my Driving License here; please process one and send it to me)

Scene 3: 2007, Conference Room, One of the Largest Pvt. Sector Banks in the country
Actors: Sr. GM - Technology and his cohorts, me and two of my very senior colleagues (including our own GM)

Under CCL from EMSL's Album
(I mentioned the year and "Technology" so you understand the significance of what I am about say). We - about 12 of us - are all seated and awaiting the Sr. GM. He walks in 5 minutes later and to my shock (and that of my colleagues), everyone in the room except my 2 colleagues and I, stood up when he walked in, waited till he sat down and then seated themselves. In 2007. In the technology function. I later found out this was the culture in the Bank across lines, across functions.

Scene 4: Hyatt Regency, Mumbai
Actors: CEO of a small but professionally-managed company, couple of his colleagues, me - off for dinner

There is a security blanket in effect with all guests being asked to pass through a metal detector. CEO assures the guard that he is carrying no weapon and walks around the detector, past the people waiting in line.

Scene 5: Any day in any city in India
Actors: Anyone you know - possibly including you and me

Parking across a gate or in a no-parking zone or driving up a one-way street because I am doing it "only this time" or I am in default "for only for 2 minutes" or because "there isn't really any traffic that will get affected by it". And the same goes for (not) complying with civic laws when building a house (protruding the gate on the footpath as a small example), sense of cleanliness when discarding garbage, standing in line at a Passport Office. The list goes on. (With a sense of guilt and shame, I will admit that I have once parked blocking a gate because I needed "only two minutes" to sprint across the road to pick up something and the next parking lot was a good 100 metres down the road.)

Cut to the present day.

Little else - other than our victory perhaps over Sri Lanka in the Cricket World Cup - has polarized the nation or galvanized it onto the streets in recent times as has the "Anna Hazare" movement (barring of course, His Holiness the Imam of Jama Masjid of Delhi for whom Islam appears to be above the nation and the noble Mayawati who wants reservation in the Lokpal. I wonder why we haven't yet exported these two natural resources of ours yet). Anyway, possessed by the moment, I too - like every other well-meaning Indian - have mentally joined and wholly support the cause.

I too hate corruption and nepotism and its ugly under-belly. I too hate a state of anarchy where money and power rather than order and scruples drive action. So clearly - even ignoring many of the concerns I have for the practicality of what the Jan Lokpal is stipulating and the extent to which enforcement will actually happen - it is a great victory that we will have some Constitutional mechanism to check corruption.

But contrary to the celebratory mood, much as I am an optimist at heart, I am not rejoicing. At least, not yet.

Rather, I pause to ponder and reflect.

I ask myself, are WE THE PEOPLE, really AGAINST corruption?

That power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, is as much as a truth of life as the fact that we will get hungry and thirsty, that we need companionship, that we need sleep and so on.

So what's the point I am getting to?

Simply this: yes, we need to rid ourselves of the scourge of corruption and nothing short of a mass movement and shock treatment will galvanize the machinery into accountability, but are we - we, the People -  truly, really ready to rid ourselves of "corruption"?

Alas, there I have some doubts.

For, "corruption" isn't the mere act of demanding money - or some benefit - to get a task done; irrespective of whether that "task" for which the bribe is sought is a duty in the first place or whether it is to bend a rule.

To me, "corruption" is a larger scourge. A larger problem. It is about dereliction of duty. It is about willful abrogation of a code of conduct. It is about willfully subjugating the right in favor of the convenient (often, sacrificing larger good for personal gain). It is about willfully - and often without proper justification - abdicating oneself from rules and order while holding others accountable to it. And then, paying to get away with it all. Or expecting to be paid to turn a blind eye.

None of the examples I have cited above has involved a single bureaucrat, politician or thug. And hence I ask again: are we as individuals ready to moderate and even relinquish our "power"? Will we use the "power of our freedom" responsibly? Are we willing to be unconditionally subject to the same rules, the same order, the same integrity, the same accountability that we want to hold others accountable to?

Will our respectable businessman pay the toll? Will the MBA ever acquire a sense of right and wrong? Will that Sr. GM be ready to and confident of establishing his authority through true leadership than a cheesy show of feigned respect? Or will he feel threatened without that show of strength? Will my humble CEO friend subject himself to the same rules that other non-CEO citizens subject themselves to? Above all, will I park properly, file my taxes diligently, dispose off garbage responsibly, abide by the law wilfully and wholly without finding reasons, excuses and justifications to circumvent it?

While I hate pretty much everything our politicians embody and the fact that many of our current-day political figureheads are but common thugs and scoundrels of dubious character, when I reflect upon these scenarios and ask these questions, I find my righteous indignation wilting away.

I believe there is some truth in the saying "People get the Government they deserve". Never mind the role of lobbyists, corruption, vested interests and political agendas. At some level, and to a limited extent, I believe a lot of the nonsense that exists in the system today is there because we have allowed it to be there. For, corruption is a universal and global phenomenon, but there are perhaps few other democracies in the world where it has caused the rot it has in our Motherland. And thus, the Minister who wants special treatment at an airport, in a plane or at a mela, is a reflection of the adulation we seek for any position of power we occupy. The lack of enforcement of rules is a reflection of the exemption we seek because our situation is "truly" an exception to the rule.

At the same time, I also believe the winds of change blowing across the political landscape now - law catching up with (Chief) ministers, the increased thrust on e-governance and constructive programs (no matter how poorly administered) - is a reflection respectively, of the growing intolerance for such nonsense and the growing recognition of the need for development, systems & order. Most importantly - and most gratifying - a growing ACCEPTANCE of the need for systems & order.

In conclusion: I am more enthused by the India Against Corruption Movement because it signified the willingness and ability of the nation to rise collectively and concertedly against nonsense than because it helped push the Jan Lokpal Bill through.

It is a sad reality that corruption has eaten away the fabric of all our public machinery such that any and everything requires palms to be greased. There is no justification and no excuse for that and we must mercilessly go after the scoundrels and break the legs of the parallel economy that corruption has spawned. I do not think NOT paying a bribe is a still a practical path to take, but that is not the point of my post.

The point is that we can only truly rid ourselves of corruption if WE, THE PEOPLE, will - in the words of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi - "be the change we want to see in the world". Only if the functioning of a Constitutional body like the Jan Lokpal is supplemented by a chance in OUR attitude and mindsets. Only when we put community, society, state and nation above ourselves. Only then - like Rabindranath Tagore said - can India awake into that heaven of freedom.

As these thoughts poured through my head, my eyes rested upon this apt reminder on the IAC website for each of us. Starting with me:

I intend to do my bit.



Subodh said...

Well written Mr. Mallya. Here's an account of my own. Its 1am, I'm driving home from work, a very long, tiring, frustrating day. I get pulled over at a "naka bandi". Cops are trying to smell my breath for liquor, upon finding none, and seeing my phones, ask me to step out of the vehicle.

Then they ask me to blow into the alcoholometer, which of course is not working. So they politely tell me I need to go to the police station to run a test, or I can pay 500 bucks and avoid all the hassle, after all "aap achhe ghar ke lagte ho".

With all this anti corruption thing going on, I say hell no, aap test karva dijiye. So I sit in the police vehicle, go to a station about 20 mins away. Guess what the machine there isnt working too.

I'm sick of this crap, so I tell myself its 500 bucks, but I still dont relent. So then they tell me aap ko Bhagwati Hospital jaana padega for a blood test. I agree, on the condition that I get to take my car. They say sure, a cop will accompany me. I DRIVE ALL THE WAY TO BORIVALI FROM BANDRA (30 kms) supposedly having consumed alcohol.

On the way I ask the cop accompanying me, so he says "saab ko aaj koi driver mila nahi, is liye ye naya tareeka hai". So we reach the hospital, and now being convinced that I am going through with this, and seeing that I am a GoI employee, they decide its gone on for long enough, and at Kandivali, they ask me to go home.

Moral of the story, I might repeat the same thing in the same situation again. But asking me to do this three four times, I'm not sure if I have that kind of moral fibre.

Suhas M Mallya said...

Attaboy, Subodh! I'm proud of you. I am sure I would not have had the fortitude to do what you did and certainly not after a long day's work.

Unknown said...

ok i see the point..
will petition to try and include Suhas under the Lokpal... And Subodh.. lets go for a drink...

Suhas M Mallya said...

Oooh! Bimmer-boy has become voracious!