There is an all-pervading corruption in our socio-economic and political structure and this has not spared even our own family life – such is the rotten state of India. A degrading value system as advocated by the followers of power mongers distances us from our sense of duty, morality, honesty and, above all, our cherished mantra – Satyameva Jayate. Ironically, during the golden jubilee of our Independence, we find our nation to be figuring among the ten most corrupt countries. Are we enslaved again? Our “new Satyagraha” as Mr. I. K. Gujral, our former Prime Minister, termed it, has already been declared against the treacherous enemy destroying us from within.

Scene of corruption

In almost every aspect of diurnal activities corruption comes up in one of its many avatars – in the electricity or telephone office, hospital and even in educational institutions. Scams pile one upon the other and corruption at high levels has become routine of the day. Newspaper reports of officers arrested while accepting bribe or the picture at a policeman extorting money from a truck driver are gulped down with our tea. In addition, the recent suicide of a promising youth in Calcutta after he was reportedly insulted by the staff of telecommunication department for not meeting their illegal demand for extra money has made us aghast. Yet, every government clerk continues to ask for ‘under-table transactions’ as his right before opening the file. The situation reminds us one of Dickens’ symbolic analysis of London in Bleak House: “Fog is everywhere”. Such is the deteriorating state of affairs that it requires more than the fire of Khairnar, Hazare and Alfonso to instill new courage against the rising cases of corruption.

Major cases

Our Constitution makes us the supreme source of power but the trust we are keeping in our leaders, as some cases show, is repaid in the most treacherous terms. Large amounts are siphoned off for personal gains, relatives and friends are favoured and the public is kept in dark. While a former Prime Minister stands accused in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha bribery case, a Chief Minister’s involvement in the fodder scam has given our democracy a great jolt.

The cases that have surfaced and are entangled in judicial procedure continue for an infinite length of time. The Bofors pay-off case and the Jain-hawala case have triggered a series of resignations and the cases are yet to be concluded. The Deputy Director-General, Ms. Runu Ghosh was arrested and placed under suspension, along with Mr. Sukh Ram, for unduly favouring a Hyderabad-based Telecom Company. The Rs. 950-crore fodder scam prompted CBI enquiry and led to the resignation and arrest of Laloo Prasad Yadav. The photograph of sword brandishing Laloo Yadav, however, exposed the utter lack of responsibility towards his electorate. Accountability and probity in public affairs have become ‘mere fossilised expressions’. The major cases of corruption are listed below:

Recent ScamsAmount received
  Ayurvedic Scam(Rs. in crores) 26.00
Telecom Scam34.68
Bofors pay-off Case64.00
Letter of Credit (Assam) Scam112.00
Urea Scam133.00
Animal Husbandry Scam950.00
CRB Financial Scam1200.00
Bank Securities Scam9130.75
The Anti-Corruption Laws – their effectiveness

The enormity of disease seems to make all hopes of recovery rather bleak though there is no dearth of drugs and physicians. The Central Bureau of Investigation was set up in 1963 which has been entrusted with the task of exposing the truth and various laws have been enacted to prevent the spreading of this cancer.                                                               

Laws/Institution                                                           Year of Formation
1.The Prevention of Corruption (Improved in 1988)  1947
2. The Santhanam Committee1964
3. The Administrative Reforms Committee1966
4. Delhi Special Police Establishment (merged with CBI)1941
5. Central Bureau of Investigation1963

Yet, a yawning gulf exists between the intention of law-makers and its effective implementation. The Santhanam Committee had recommended the “resignation of a minister if a prima facie case existed against him” which is rarely heeded until extreme outside pressures compels the political figure to quit. Mr. Joginder Singh was transferred from his post as the Director of CBI which caused immense furore and then Mr. S. C. Sharma was appointed as the new chief in a shamelessly foul game. P. N. Luthra in “How Long for Spring? Will Corruption Ever Be Eliminated?” (The Statesman, June 5, 1998) shifts the blame from ineffective laws to the appalling situation where ‘government policy is to shelter the organised and criminal political leadership.’

A respected columnist like A. G. Noorani questioned the validity of Justice S. P. Bharucha’s judgment in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha Case, that MPs and MLAs, despite being public servants, cannot be prosecuted for accepting bribe. Luthra concluded his argument with a relevant quotation from Kaifi Azmi:

“The last flower dropped off the branch asking how long will the spring take to arrive.”

However, the despair and disgust would serve only to heighten the urgency of the situation and an introspection along with analysis becomes imperative.

The past experience

The withering, though most prominent now, is not an entirely modern phenomenon. As early as 1000 B.C. Manu spoke of confiscating the property of the official taking bribes. However, the picture of India under Buddhism and Jainism shows a moral sublimity and Ashoka preached his ‘dharma’ comprising ‘satyam’, ‘dana’, ‘daya’ and ‘sanyam’. The itching palm has made the official from low to highest rungs turn a deaf ear to these ideals as they chose to overlook Hiuen Tsang’s praise that Indians ‘are of pure moral principle’. The utter inhumanity which Ala-ud-din Khilji displayed in bribing the Afghan noble for support after murdering his old uncle in 1296 marks the gradual contamination of the body polity. The East India Company used Chanakya’s art of using bribe to weaken the enemy against the Indians themselves and Clive, who enlarged the Company’s coffer and also his, could not help lamenting the ‘anarchy, confusion, bribery, corruption and extortion’.

The mad rush towards a more comfortable life and a higher socio-economic status may be seen as the basic force behind the frequent adoption of the shortcut way. The corrupt official with a diseased mind is more a patient than a criminal, because corruption literally denotes decomposition; we can eradicate the disease only after its thorough diagnosis. A psychologically vulnerable man claims an indifference to morality under the charm of wealth who and sacrificing honesty, honour and conscience begins sinking deeper into the quagmire. The deviation from the ideal code of life and a refusal to adhere to the ‘plain living, high thinking’ view has complicated our societal existence. How anachronistic seems Sir Henry Wotton’s depiction of an ideally happy man:

“This man is free from servile bands Of hope to rise, or fear to fall;

Lord of himself, though not of lands; And having nothing, he hath all.

Night’s Worn, And the morn

Rises from the Slumberous mass.”

– Blake

Indians have been shaken out of their complacency and winds of change can already be felt, confirming the hope that Indian can gain ‘Total Independence’ from the cursed disease. The present government is headed by A. B. Vajpayee – a person of international stature with a proven record of having a clean image. In a recent landmark decision, the Supreme Court in December, 1997 freed the CBI from any restraint in investigation of corruption in high places and also raised the post of the director above petty politics. Moreover, the Lok Pal Bill which brings even the Prime Minister within its purview is to be given a final shape so that complaints of corruption against important public figures can be investigated impartially. Laloo Prasad Yadav was asked to surrender before the CBI-designated court in the fodder scam case, but the country’s highest court has granted him bail and let he has been elected to Rajya Sabha too. Look at the crores of rupees, collected through coercion by his hordlums, he spent on daughter Rohini’s marriage in May 2002. Apart from legal steps, the fight against the deadly assassin is taken up by the media to spread the message far and wide. The stirring film Hindustani made a sharp contrast between the pre-independent and post-independent era where “every patch has become rotten and infected with the bacilli of corruption” (Competition Success Review, June, 1997). The examples of Kiran Bedi, T. N. Sheshan, Khair have ignited a million hearts.

The message is thus loud and clear and the final pull in uprooting the fast-spreading weed is to be given by the individual who has been a prey and also by the former apostles of corruption. The desire for a better life may be largely fulfilled by the recommendations of the Fifth Pay Commission. However, the time has come to bridle the excessive greed, apart from external checks like stringent laws. In his typical mixture of idealism and practicality, Nehru, in his Discovery of India, had declared that the Western spirit of acquisitiveness continues to remain alien to the innate Indian outlook: “The possessor of money may be envied but he is not particularly respected or admired.” Along with a synthetic approach to knowledge, we should resuscitate the true Indian ideal of virtue, principle and morality and march forward in that ancient quest for truth: ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’.

Promethean Era and the Destined Hour

Indians have displayed the resilience to resist and overthrow all external and internal forms of tyranny. The enormity and depth of the problem of corruption undoubtedly makes its eradication a challenging task but the purging has already begun. In Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound the immortal hour of Prometheus liberation and overthrow of tyrant Jupiter comes only after one demands from Demogorgon:

“When shall the desired hour arrive?”

Our journey towards such a Promethean era has begun but a more dauting task is the preservation of the new society and the new penception of honesty and dignity of service which we will certainly achieve soon.

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