As we argued earlier, Kejriwal’s antics and rhetoric have damaged not just his electoral prospects but, more importantly, have harmed the entire anti-corruption cause for years to come. Anyone promoting this hereafter would have to pass the sanity test, hypocrisy test and the sincerity test.
It takes more than one party or individual
We would like to believe that eradicating corruption requires a multi-phase, multi-faceted, multi-year (even multi-decade) effort that is sustained as well as pragmatic. Globally this has been the case. What this means is, one party, simply cannot do it alone, even if it comes to rule every state and the center and if it is sincere in its purpose and firm in its actions. No one in their wildest dream sees AAP doing this in foreseeable future.
This brings us to Anna Hazare’s approach, that is to stay outside and try to force existing players to change their ways. While we may question his medicine (Lokpal) or his methods, that is far more workable because it does not depend on one party capturing power and lasting long enough to make a difference in a vast, diverse country like India, surviving 5 year or shorter election cycles.
But this also means existing players, or at least the relatively incorruptible among them, have to be shown sufficient respect, encouragement and support instead of tarring everyone with same black paint. Kejriwal’s ‘my way or highway’ approach and his tendency to dub anyone and everyone questioning him, including journalists, as corrupt, simply enhances hostility, hardens stands and reduces whatever little chances of success there is. It also sets ridiculous standards for AAP’s own behaviour and conduct which it fails repeatedly to adhere to.
Break the problem down
Like in any business situation, to solve a problem, one has to first break it down into manageable pieces and tackle them one by one. Each piece may require different solution and priority. Some may even be ignored for long time to come.
For example, we may break down the corruption problem into a few components, each having different dynamics and require different solutions.
- Petty corruption that harasses ordinary people – bribes to get driving license, vehicle inspection, birth or death certificates, caste, land title deeds, register FIR etc. There are thousands more, too many to list. Here the beneficiaries are government employees at various levels, but rarely does the money trickle up to ‘neta’ level.
- War-chest for future elections. Like any democracy, elections are costly and happen too often in India. Here the leader is not seeking to pocket the money but use it for the ‘war’ effort. Obviously many netas cream a lot off this too for their personal benefit, but the primary purpose still remains building war chest and not personal enrichment.
- Red-tape License-permit raj related corruption that holds up or spoils big ticket or more importantly, small and medium size investments. This is where the neta-babu-lala nexus skims money, fixes tenders and contracts, keeps the loot within their circle, delivers poor quality work or even gets paid for doing nothing. Here practically everyone is involved, at almost all levels.
- Personal enrichment of the YSR, Madhu Koda, Imelda Marcos, Suharto kind where the leaders accumulate thousands of crores of wealth, which goes far beyond any election related cost and is simply corruption for the sake of accumulating wealth. This is crime, pure and simple.
This is just a small list and I am sure one can list a few more categories of corruption with further research. The point of highlighting them is that each one of them has a solution that is different because the stakeholders are different and the scales are different too.
It requires a great deal of maturity, intelligence, sincerity and effort to handle each one of them and produce desired outcome without making things worse. For instance, a crackdown on lower level government employees to tackle the first item, will lead to chaos, strikes and violence, easily derailing the government’s entire agenda. Solving it by paying everyone decent money (if that is the reason) may deplete coffers. To leave it untouched hoping the top-down approach will trickle down to lowest levels may take decades to do so and voters don’t wait that long!
See the big picture
A related issue is to analyse if corruption is indeed the biggest issue facing the nation, and even if so, there are other issues that require equal urgency such as investments, infrastructure, border peace, communal harmony etc. A Prime Minister or any minister only has so much time and bandwidth and has to spread his bets to show results.
It could be argued that many countries are very rich and still corrupt at some level or perhaps even at many levels. Japan is a very good example. Here petty corruption is uncommon, but until very recently, corruption in high levels was not. Same goes for numerous other rich societies like Italy. Even in the case of USA, corruption was thriving well into 60s and 70s involving policemen, politicians and others. The Las Vegas gambling and mafia in other areas were cleaned up not too long ago. All these countries achieved per-capital incomes well over $20,000 despite all this – levels of prosperity we may not see for 40-50 years even with sustained growth!
Closer to home, many Indonesians still feel nostalgic about the Suharto era which was totally corrupt but had stability and growth. Even in Tamilnadu, it is very common to come across voters that say ‘So what if he creams some money off, he is a good administrator!’.
Obviously, this is not an argument for corruption, certainly not for the kind seen in Nigeria, Libya or Indonesia. It is a question of priorities. It is a question of ensuring that the entire economy is not burnt to ashes in the attempt to solve the bed bug issue of corruption.
There are any number of issues that need urgent handling, that may make a 3-5% difference to economic growth and job creation, which don’t have anything to do with corruption. Or at least, with a few ‘categories’ of corruption that we listed earlier. With growth comes a educated, open minded and politically mature citizenry that automatically leads to lower corruption.
On the flip side, there are examples like Cuba and Venezuela which, though run by supposedly incorruptible socialist leaders, are stuck in poverty or see their economies going down the drain because of wrong policy choices. In India itself, it was the super-clean AK Anthony who as Defense Minister, sat through decision making and policy paralysis. He has probably done much more damage to Indian Armed forces and its interests than LET/JEM/IM could hope to achieve.
Strengthening internal security, power sector reforms, ports and other basic infrastructure and so many other areas that can make a huge difference to the economy are waiting for action. A single minded obsession with corruption may not make any difference if ridiculous and outdated economic policies are pursued by a non-corrupt but 50s style Stalinist thinker.
Agenda for action
So what should be the approach? We would suggest careful analysis of the problem in greater depth, and solutions that are short, medium and long term implemented in conjunction. Each of these and every one of these steps should take sufficient care not to destroy what has been built or achieved.
Simplification of procedures, reduction of paperwork and red tape, pursued intelligently can (and already has) made a huge difference to reduce several types of corruption
Electoral reforms and funding reforms can reduce neta-level corruption except for the odd case of personal enrichment by looters, and vast majority of sincere politicians who go with begging bowl to industrialists and businessmen simply to survive the next election will feel relieved. They will be then in a better position to take on the looters.
Economic liberalisation, pursued intelligently, communicated clearly and articulated logically to unconvinced masses, can also make a huge dent in corruption. Obviously the recent mining, telecoms and other scams have given a bad name to the entire liberalisation story but this need not be the case by default. Giving out juicy entitlements, be they telecom licenses or mining leases without tender and due process has nothing to do with liberalisation per se and we don’t have to go back to Coal India and Indian Airlines of 60s to fix that. It can be done properly. It takes leadership and administrative as well as political will.
It should be obvious reading this, strong leadership is a key factor in the entire process and this is what the nation has been lacking all this while. Even though power is scattered across center and states, a strong Prime Minister can make a world of difference, as PVN, Indira Gandhi, ABV have shown on more than one occasion.
Electing an anarchist leader stuck in the petrified ideology of 50s flushed down the toilet by more successful nations like China, will only makes things much worse. It may solve corruption because there is no economy left to be corrupt!