Hum agar rishwat nahin lenge to khayenge kya— Josh Malihabadi
Now that the Anna Hazare agitation has subsided, the time has come for some rational, scientific analysis of the problem of corruption.
There is no doubt that there is rampant corruption in Indian society at almost every level.
In Western society, too, there is some corruption, but it is only at a very high level, and it ordinarily does not affect the common man. Corruption there takes such forms as multinational corporations giving bribes to top politicians, generals or bureaucrats of underdeveloped countries to get contracts, etc. But in North America you cannot offer a bribe to a policeman if he catches you violating some traffic rule. If you attempt to do that it will be a second, more serious, offence. Similarly, you cannot bribe an income tax official or other officials there. But in India corruption exists at every level, for example, in registering a sale deed, getting mutation in revenue records, getting an FIR registered, getting permission from a municipality to build a house, tax matters, etc.
Everyone is harassed by corruption in India, but what is to be done about it?
Anna Hazare’s movement, in my opinion, was only an emotional outburst, but serious problems cannot be addressed in that manner. A scientific analysis of the problem is required.
I submit the following: first, corruption is the normal feature of the transitional period when a society (such as India’s) is passing from a feudal, agricultural stage to a modern, industrial stage. Second, it is only when the transition is over and the country becomes a fully industrial society, like that in North America or Europe, that things will get relatively stabilised, and corruption will be considerably reduced. This, in my opinion, will take about 15 to 20 years more in India.
This needs to be explained.
Feudal, agricultural society is a relatively stable society, with everyone knowing his place, with stable social and ethical values. In contrast, when the process of industrialisation begins, things become topsy-turvy. In this transitional period, before the process of industrialisation is complete, two things happen. First, old (feudal) moral values disintegrate, but a new moral code does not come into existence. Second, prices start shooting up, while incomes are broadly stagnant (or rise much slower than the price rise). For both these reasons, corruption becomes rampant. To maintain one’s lifestyle and to keep up with the Joneses, one must supplement one’s regular income, and this is only possible by corruption. Since the old moral code has largely disintegrated there is little check on one’s conscience to prohibit taking bribes.
I am not trying to justify corruption. I am only presenting a scientific analysis to show that corruption is inevitable in a transitional society like India in which industrialisation has commenced, but is incomplete. Historical facts support this conclusion. For example, there was rampant corruption in England in the 18th and early 19th centuries when industrialisation was going on but was not complete. Sir Robert Walpole, who was the first prime minister of Great Britain (from 1721 to 1742), openly used to say that he can purchase any person, including members of parliament. John Wilkes and Junius attacked the corruption of the governments of the Duke of Grafton (1768-1770) and of his successor, Lord North. Similarly, in America too there was a lot of corruption in the 19th century when the process of industrialisation was going on. The administrations of Presidents Grant, Harding, etc were notoriously corrupt.
It is only when the process of industrialisation is broadly completed that society once again becomes relatively stable and corruption subsides. A new ethical code has emerged, and people in the West are relatively more honest in their dealings than people in underdeveloped countries. Anyone who has been to the West and has interacted with people there can bear this out.
In view of this analysis, I submit that corruption will continue in India for another 15-20 years, but will considerably disappear when the process of industrialisation is complete after this period.
The writer, a former judge of the Supreme Court, is chairman of the Press Council of India(Published in The Indian EXPRESS on 08th August,2012)