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Corruption makes us subjects, not citizens

November 25, 2010 15:24 IST

When citizens realise that things won't change, the lose faith in the system. That is the most dangerous thing to happen to a country, says Mahesh Vijapurkar.

The country is agog with talk of Ashok Chavan having being sacked for the Adarshgate, A Raja for the 2G scam and of B S Yeddiurappa nearly getting the sack for his propensity for cutbacks and nepotism.

In fact, now there is a fear in the United Progressive Alliance circles that the first two -- Chavan and Raja -- were sacrificed far too quickly which gives the impression that the UPA was admitting its guilt and was strategically wrong. This means, corruption is okay but admitting to that is politically incorrect. That political strategy of not wanting to be found out as to the extent of the rot is the reason behind the refusal to appoint a joint parliamentary committee.

The short point is corruption is a political issue, of cuts and thrusts of political one-upmanship, not a matter of morality. This becomes evident when one hears rival political parties saying, via their savvy spokespersons sent to television studios as talking heads: 'Why are they accusing us of corruption? What about them and the dirty tricks they have played?'

In such a milieu, what can the citizen expect?

Nothing.

It is not because corruption does not touch him or that all the scams involve only the corporates, the influence-peddlers, the politicians, and the bureaucrats. The citizens cannot expect anything because the scams, that is the flavour of the season are the tips -- however big -- of icebergs and right beneath them, below the waterline as it were, are major corruption issues, not tackled at all making it appear that this republic has nothing to do with the citizenry.

Let me illustrate with a few points:

One: Recently I visited a district registrar of stamps where a document of a property being bought by me was to be registered. The office has now a cabin for the sub-registrar with an air-conditioner and there are a few more plastic chairs than there were when I had visited it in 2003. All, I am told, paid by the touts who encircle the office to an extent that without connivance with them, no one can meet the registrar. And these touts are the same people who collect Rs 2,500 in cash from each client of the state who wants to pay stamp duty. That grease money is euphemistically called 'scanning charges'. A cut surely goes upwards into the establishment.

Two: Visit the Mumbai City RTO's office. You are going to be greeted by touts who do everything for getting a licence, renewing it, getting car ownership changed and charge you for it. Till about 2 pm, one would scarcely find employees in the huge establishment. The touts complete all formalities that the employees are supposed to do. Their work is done by others and the citizen pays someone else to do that and a cut of that obviously goes up.

Three: A senior citizen who had to buy a tatkal ticket to Visakhapatanam from Mumbai by II-tier which costs Rs 542 had to pay Rs 900 to get it via a tout at the station because at the counter he was told there were no seats. The Rs 900 minus the fare, you can guess, went where.

Four: A driver caught for driving under influence of alcohol is charged, and simultaneously given a mobile number of a fixer so that he can get off lightly the next morning. The impression given is that the fixer would ensure that the offender gets of lightly the next day. The magistrate may or may not be involved but the traffic policeman does give the impression that there is a neat arrangement.

Five: There are stories galore about the way the poorest of the poor are short-changed of their dues after working in the employment guarantee schemes across the country and how many have been caught?

One can go on and on, listing from experience and from those who known, illustrating how deep the country has sunk into a moral crisis where government employees take their salaries which are forever improving and yet do their work only to make more. A whole new service industry comprising brokers, touts, fixers and influence peddlers who are forever developing newer options to make money. Newer ways of enforcing quid pro quos are constantly designed.

It is not that Adarshgate, 2G scams and Yeddyurappas are few and far between. It is only that these are known to happen all the time and when few are exposed, some action is taken but that is not deterrent enough because none of them go to jails. Nor do the guys of the ilk mentioned in the five examples here ever get caught because the citizen is convinced that when policemen take bribes, anti-corruption bureau functionaries are not above board and the CBI is a political arm of the government of the day, there is no salvation for him.

The citizen cannot ever expect to get his entitlements where big-ticket offenders cannot get drinking water in the lock-ups unless their kith and kin bribe the custodian.

One suspects that India being listed high in the rank of corrupt countries is on the basis of what the corporates pay as bribes and if the daily corruption at all levels are taken into account, then it would perhaps be so poorly placed that we would be a banana republic. The failure to arrest corruption is one thing; the ability to encourage it is a failure of the constitutional offices. If that means a failed constitution, then it is a law of the jungle.

Talk to a broker, a tout or a fixer and you would find out that there is a 'compulsion' to pay if you want your work done. This compulsion overrides all prescribed business rules where the citizen matters. That should tell you that we are not a nation of citizens but a country of subjects. If we are subjects, then even the democracy we practice is a sham – all form and no content.

No wonder when people read newspapers and watch current affairs television shows, they savour the fact that someone has been caught but are dismayed that things don't change. They lose faith in the system, which is the most dangerous thing to happen to a country.

I rest my case.

Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Thane-based commentator on public affairs.

Mahesh Vijapurkar