During 2010 to 2014, one after another scam tumbled out from the Indian Government’s closet in very sensational manner. But corruption was woven in our political fabric ever since the Indian politicians started having the taste of power.

Corruption is bugbear of India’s political economy ever since the British passed the mantle of governance of the country to our own leaders. It is unfortunate that corruption became a way of life strangely legitimized by public tolerance.

Transfer of power started much before 1947 after the enactment of the Government of India Act 1935, under whose provisions ministries were formed at the Centre and the then provinces under the overall control of the Viceroy. Our politicians had the taste of ill-gotten money even at that time.

Seeing rampant corruption at that time all around, Mahatma Gandhi was so disgusted that he wrote in 1937, “I would go to the length of giving the whole Congress a decent burial, rather than put up with corruption that is rampant.”

But the other great leaders simply raised their tolerance level so high against corruption under compulsion of political expediency that they just brushed it aside as a problem of the least importance and corruption started thriving under their very nose.

It spread fast throughout the fabric of governance and soon got institutionalized. Thievery of public money became an art. The common man simply accepted the folklore that where there was power there was bound to be corruption and they too started accepting it with a sense of resignation.

A system of corruption was woven around the system of governance in such a manner that every delivery system of government leaked openly. Anti-corruption laws were like the proverbial cloth around the emperor’s naked body.

Mahatma Gandhi was alive at the dawn of Independence.  By then he was the father of the nation without the authority of the father.  He gave many warnings, all falling on deaf ears. His warnings sounded like laments. Mahatma was a lonely man when he said, “Corruption and hypocrisy ought not to be inevitable product of democracy, as they undoubtedly are today.”

Ironically, these became the traits of modern leadership. When he said, “It is the duty of all leading men, whatever their persuasion and party, to safeguard the dignity of India. That dignity can’t be saved if mis-governance and corruption flourish,” Did our pragmatist politicians pay any heed to it?

In the same article (The Hindu, 7.12.1947), he lamented, “I have it from trustworthy sources that corruption is increasing in our country. Is everyone then going to think of himself, not at all of India?” The situation became worse later.

In another article in The Hindu on 27.1.1948 he warned that ‘Indifference (in regard to corruption) will be criminal’ and further said, “This requires moral and extreme vigilance on the part of those who are free of the taint.”

Has the scenario improved in India after 2014? Massive scams were unearthed during the previous regime and the perception is that since no such major scam has been reported of late, corruption has vanished from governance.

But corruption is not only scams. According to Transparency International, it is the country’s ‘perceived levels of public sector corruption, as determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys.” The CPI generally defines corruption as “the misuse of public power for private benefit”.

The report of the Transparency International is revealing.

India’s ranking in the annual corruption index 2017, released by Berlin-based Transparency International (TI), slid to 81 among a group of 180 countries. The Corruption Perception Index 2017 also singled out India as one of the “worst offenders” in the Asia-Pacific region.

In 2016, India was in the 79th place among 176 countries. India’s ranking in the index had plummeted in 2013 and 2014 in the wake of the spectrum and coal scams. The ranking has improved since then, but not dramatically as it should have been.

Demonetization was aimed at reducing ill-gotten hidden money into scraps of paper. But it never happened. All the ill-gotten money got legitimized through corrupt practices and the whole exercise was a massive failure crippling money economy.

In 2018, India inched 3 places upward to 78th with still a low score of 41 in a scale of 100.

The global average score comes at around 43. India’s score of 40 in 2017 and 41 in 2018 puts it below the global average.

Transparency International in its 2017 report had said, “Philippines, India and the Maldives are among the worst regional offenders in this respect. These countries score high for corruption and have fewer press freedoms and higher numbers of journalist deaths,”

Cosmetic dressing up cannot make India a clean country if probity is not interwoven in political behaviour.

Harekrishna Deka is former DGP of Assam and a renowned critic and poet. He can be reached at: deka78@gmail.com

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