There is a new evil in town that everyone is talking about – the corrupt man. But to focus on punishing the guilty, or focusing only on trying to reclaim his wealth is like scratching an itch; scratching may give temporary relief but may not cure underlying problem (and may end up scarring the morale of the nation). The demand for a Lokpal bill by Anna Hazare and agitation to get the black-money back into India by Baba Ramdev are all good, but are short sighted efforts. Hopefully the evil doers will be slain eventually, but what comes after that? There is no thought on how can national resources be deployed on the RIGHT THINGS, which may be a bigger waste probably than all of corruption scandals put together. But lets explore the issue of the corruption for now.
CORRUPTION IS NOT ABOUT MORALITY
Corruption exists when there is opacity in dealings, desperation on one side and disproportionate power in the other side. Most Indians have bribed some low level officer to get a file moving, or paid off a cop to get out of a minor traffic violation, or taken help of a tout to get some document processed through the bureaucratic machinery. But I dont think we need to beat ourselves down by thinking of ourselves as particularly immoral bunch of people with corruption running through our veins etc. We are probably one of the most moral, god fearing, conservative country in the world. The fault actually lies with the system which has been designed ingeniously to encourage such behaviour.
A visit to your local RTO office to get a driving license will educate in you how to structure such a system. Once upon a time in Mumbai, they started giving out smart driving licenses. All the employees made sure that the system failed, and now it is back to the ugly paper booklets for driving license. It didn’t last for long because it hurt all the employees working there – there was complete transparency with almost no scope of making extra money for anyone. The process now is convenient as long as you are willing to pay a couple of thousand bucks to a tout. Maybe less than a tenth of this probably goes as official payment to the government, the rest gets split at each of the 5-6 windows that you need to goto for completing various formalities. If you try going through that process legitimately, you will soon realise that it is not worth your time to stay honest.
IMPORTANCE OF PROCESS AND POLICY
Having honest intentions isnt good enough. A convoluted and deviously designed policy and processes can make you act in immoral ways. The obvious solution is the wrong solution – if we focus on catching and penalising the people at RTO we will never improve the system. We need to re-invent the process, maybe get back to smart cards, single window clearance etc and corruption will disappear on its own… even with the same people working there.
This is the same problem that we as a country face. The current government has made such a colossal mess of everything, and on top of that are the colossal cases of corruption being unearthed everyday, it needs to be removed immediately. But the alternative parties are as bad an option and we will basically get more of the same thing. The political system is designed to give the government and its ministers massive discretionary powers. The alternative is to set more laws, setup transparent process, and thus reduce the discretionary power of the politicians. But if their intervention is not needed anymore, if their signatures stop carrying the weight that it does now, how will they remain of any importance to their constituency? If process became all transparent, and the common man could live effortlessly and fearlessly, in complete confidence that he does not need ‘contacts’ to get through life, s/he may just grow in confidence and start questing their leaders for their rights. This isnt a path that politician will want to voluntarily take anytime soon.
But maybe there is another way. Maybe we need to acknowledge the failings of human mind – greed, self interest, jealousy, fear, etc and design a system that prevents us from doing self-harm. We need to revisit how we want to run this country of ours.
Political leaders are abusing the discretionary power they are given by India’s constitution on a colossal scale. If the country is repeatedly breaking down, the rules need to be revisitied. Maybe it is time we reopen the Indian constitution. Doing this is not easy since it needs approval of the same politicians to change it, in other words, we are going to ask the politicians to vote for giving away their powers.
I am not questioning democracy as an institution – there are no better alternatives to it, but we need to redefine the role that politics should play in running India. What are legitimate areas that should be at the mercy of democratic whims and compulsions, and which ones should be governed by immutable laws that are more rigid and designed by experts? How can tendencies of populist giveaways be curbed? How do we set limits and track sources of spends on political campaigns and running political parties – which may be the biggest reason for corruption in India? How can transparency become the core theme that we start pursuing in all government and political functioning?
We need some way to reset the rules of India, and there is no one within the system who can do it. India is ripe for its own Lotus revolution… and I pray for it to happen peacefully.