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BLOG: Fighting corruption with technology in India

Zafar Anjum | Aug. 26, 2011
More important than wholesale and retail corruption is the third dimension of corruption—moral corruption—that has to be checked. Corruption can only be stopped if we are ready to suffer by not giving bribes. Indian citizens have to go through that painful phase.

This suggestion might sound a bit moralistic but if you think of it, why is it that India is in such a state today despite having all the institutions in place? The chalta hai attitude, the jugaad culture, the bribes for chai and paan has totally eaten into India's moral fibre. Anna's honesty, fearlessness and fighting spirit is an exception in today's India. People might wear 'I am Anna' caps but are they, really?

Middle class morality

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must be a baffled man at this time: India's middle class has stood up against him. It is the same middle class that was midwifed by his financial reforms 20 years ago. This middle class has given him the epithet of Dhritrashtra-the blind king of Mahabharata who presided over the epic war, oblivious to the wrongdoing of his own people.

Manmohan Singh's economic reforms were justified by invoking the trickle down theory. The theory was a Trojan horse to implant neo-liberalism. Today, the same theory is known as voodoo economics. Among the many things, India's liberalisation has also created Indians with oversized ambitions and the gap between the haves and have-nots has only widened. Capitalism and neoliberal values have unleashed a fountain of aspirations in India. People will do anything to get by and get hold of shiny, material objects advertised on TV. The result is greed and moral decadence. No one wants to cut his coat according to his cloth. No one wants to live within his means, according to his station in life defined by his wage and profession. There is a rush to be seen with wealth, no matter how ill-gotten.

We are all in it

When we talk about corruption, we often refer to our politicians and bureaucrats, the big and small government servants. We have to bribe them for every little transaction-from getting a birth certificate to getting a passport. This corruption has been going on for ages: questioned but tolerated. Why? Because no one wants to suffer. We are all in a hurry to get our work done. There have even been demands to legalise bribe giving in India. It has been supported by respected entrepreneurs like Narayan Murthy, the former chairman of Infosys, one of India's biggest outsourcing companies.

Former Infosys CEO, Nandan Nilekani, now chairman of the newly minted Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), has interesting terms to describe corruption in India: wholesale corruption (like the Commonwealth Games scam, the telecom scam) and retail corruption (corruption that occurs at the points of citizen-government official interaction).

Wholesale corruption can be checked by strong institutions that are already in place. If the Lokpal becomes a reality, it can certainly focus on weeding out wholesale corruption in India.


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