Dr Jay Dubashi
I often wonder why we Indians rarely, or perhaps never, rise against our useless and corrupt rulers, like, for instance, the Arabs did or have been doing against their dictators all these months. We never rose, as a nation, against the Moghuls, and though we did manage to shake up the British in 1857, things soon reverted to normal, and life proceeded as before for almost another century.
Now, of course, we don’t really have to rise, for there are elections every few years, when we troop to the voting booths to cast our votes, and often elect the same useless people who have been looting us for the previous five years. We complain against the Congress junta and end up voting for the same corrupt junta, though we have a chance to throw it out. There are a few people like Anna Hazare who try to raise the temperature once in a while, and though some people do respond, things never quite reach a boiling point. It has perhaps some thing to do with our character, or may be our shortsightedness, or even our selfishness, but the fact remains that we Indians are far too patient with our rulers, and make our peace with them all too quickly.
This simply won’t do. We cannot say that our politicians are corrupt and then go and vote for them, because we need some favours from them. We seem to have raised our entire political system on the premise that only professional politicians can run the system, and all we can do is to let them run it, even if the politicians are corrupt, which many, if not most of them, are. We have built the entire system on compromises, compromise with politicians, compromise with corrupt bureaucrats, compromise with corrupt traders and businessmen. And it is this surrender to compromise – the so-called coalition dharma – which has so corrupted the system that it has become unworkable.
The Manmohan-Sonia outfit is going to be thrown out in the next poll, no matter what you do. The question, therefore, is not “how” to throw them out, but what to do after you throw them out. You don’t have to make any effort to throw them out, just as the Germans didn’t make any effort to get rid of Hitler and his barbaric government, or as the long-suffering Russians played no part – no direct part – in getting rid of the rascals in the Kremlin. The governments fell of their own accord, as do rotten fruit at the height of summer. All that the people had to do was to sweep the rotten fruit aside and start again. And this is also what we have to do.
But getting rid of Manmohan-Sonia duo, or rather the Gandhis, is only the end of one problem and beginning of another. It is all very well to go out shouting “Throw the Rascals out”, but what do you do when the rascals are out of the way and you are in power, or you think you are in power? People may get rid of the corrupt duo, but that does not mean they will put you on the throne, unless you are able to convince the voters that you are up to the job.
I am sorry to say it, but I do not find any evidence that the opposition has been able to convince the voters that the opposition is up to the job. In fact, the voters are still in two minds about throwing the Congress out. These are two big issues at stake, one, corruption, and, two, administration. And unless the voters believe or are persuaded to believe that the opposition is better placed in tackling the two issues, the votes will not go their way.
Take the manner in which corruption is handled in the United States, which is not a lily-white country most of us believe it is. But it has its anti-corruption systems in place, and they work efficiently, or efficiently enough to strike terror in the hearts of would-be corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. Two years ago, a man called Bernard Madoff who was a big shot in the investment industry, and was at one time the president of NASDAQ, was involved in a huge fraud involving billions of dollars. He ran what is known as a Ponzy scheme in which you cook up accounts and play with millions of dollars to keep your investors happy by paying one set of investors from the accounts of another set.
There are scores, maybe hundreds of such crooks in India, but they are all in the good books of politicians and are never caught. Madoff was not only caught but tried and sentenced to a hundred years in jail for what was billed as the crime of the century. And all this happened within a period of just six months. His huge house has been attached and sold, his sons, who helped him in the fraud, have been jailed too, one of them has died, and the man Madoff himself, who is in his seventies is in jail will never come out.
There is another case, or rather two cases. In one case, a Sri Lankan called Raj Rajrathnam, was tried for what is known as insider trading – that is, making money in the share market on the basis of information obtained by bribing company officials or directors on the inside – he was an habitual offender and became a multi-millionaire in ten years with the help of his friends in the industry. Rajrathnam is now in jail, serving a sentence of ten years, after which he will be barred from working in the stock market or any financial industry for life and will have to report to the police on a regular basis.
The second case involves a friend of Rajrathnam, a man of Indian origin called Rajat Gupta, who too was accused of being involved in insider trading. Gupta is a very special kind of individual and was director of two top-tier companies like Goldman Sachs, which runs the biggest bank in the United States, and Proctor & Gamble, a huge multinational company, said to be the largest multinational company in the US, larger than Unilever, and many oil companies. Gupta, an IIT alumni from Delhi, was managing director of McKinsey & Co, a big consultancy, and on personal terms with several US presidents. Rajat Gupta has been found guilty of several charges, and will be sentenced in October, possibly for as long as 25 years, and may not come out of jail alive. He is now 64 years old.
The point to note is that the two cases were tried within a period of less than six months. And so have been many others. In the United States, even presidents are tried – though not in courts – and several high officials as well as top businessmen have been tried and sentenced over the years, in trials that last only a few weeks, and the crooks sent immediately to jail.
Why can’t this happen in India? Every party says that it will overhaul the justice system but does nothing about it. I have seen opposition leaders appear religiously on TV programmes every evening and bemoan the incidence of corruption in the country without suggesting any solution to the problem. The entire justice system, which has not changed a bit since the British introduced it two hundred years ago has to be recast but this does not seem to bother anyone. Opposition politicians – I shall restrain from naming them – cry hoarse every evening on television, but I have not seen a single politician offering a solution.
The second burning issue crying for attention is administration. This too was introduced by the British two hundred years ago, and like justice, continues to this day. The country has changed, the number of people has grown, the problems have changed, but we continue to be administrated in the same lethargic way we used to fifty years ago. The distance between the rulers and the ruled has increased to such an extent that there is no dialogue between the two. And unlike the British times, the rulers rarely visit the ruled in their own homes or villages, as they consider themselves superior to the hoi polloi – and will not break bread with them.
The result is that the system is incapable of delivering the goods except through corrupt ways. The government has in fact stopped functioning. Nothing seems to work unless you lubricate the machinery through bribes. You cannot get a passport unless you bribe the clerks, you cannot get a driving licence or, for that matter, your payments through the bureaucratic rigmarole unless you know how. You will never be able to get this country going unless the bureaucratic machinery is overhauled to bring it in line with current needs.
I lived in England for seven years after the war. It was a terrible time as the country had just passed through a debilitating war which had brought the country to its knees. But the government did not stop functioning. Buses ran on London streets and the trains plied across the country, though there were fewer of them. We had very little food but whatever we had was distributed efficiently. I got my ration book on the very first day, with out bribing anyone. I never had to buy any thing in the black market, for there was no black market. The country was poorer than it had ever been but it functioned admirably though there were shortages of this and that from time to time, but even the Prime Minister’s wife queued for her rations with an old shopping bag that had seen better days.
It is no use just going around saying that we should improve our administration unless we actually get down to it and overhaul it completely and modernise it. You may draw up the best plans and programmes you can think of, aided by batteries of computers and e-mails, but unless you are able to implement them, they will be worse than useless.
Look at our performance in the London Olympics. A nation of 1.3 billion people cannot manage to win even a couple of gold medals. Medals don’t fall from the heavens. All countries, even a country like the United States, train their athletes, spend millions on them over years, and nurse them like Nobel prizemen. In our country, we have Kalmadis and God knows how many others for whom such games are just another opportunity to make money, for that is all they know about, or care for.
Let the opposition parties come forward with a plan or plans to modernise the administration from top to bottom, make it more people-oriented, and thus more effective. Why are our government offices so filthy and stink perennially of urine? Why do we never find any official in his office? Why do officials wives and children use government vehicles for their private use? Why is the entire government machinery, from peons and clerks to vehicles, used for private purposes?
Corruption and non-functioning government are two issues that are keeping this country down. Let the opposition parties come out with programmes, real programmes, not just blah-blah, to deal with them—on an emergency basis. Why can’t we have special courts to try corruption cases and hand out summary punishments? Why can’t we have another set of special courts to deal with the huge backlog of cases instead of forcing poor people to pay lawyers for years?
Let the opposition parties approach the voters with practical plans to deal with these two issues – just these two issues and nothing else – and see how the voters warm up to them.
All countries have problems, just as we do, but the difference is that they make an honest effort to solve them, and we don’t. It’s no use crying hoarse about corruption and non-performing governments as if God had created them. The Manmohan – Sonia outfit is like a rotten fruit about to come down with a thud, if only we can present the voters with a practical, down-to-earth effort to shake up the tree and get rid of the rot!
(The writer is a well-known economist, author, former editor of India Today and a senior columnist).