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Why the Lokpal Bill alone is not enough

April 18, 2011 16:44 IST

The war against corruption needs to be a three pronged attack: one that addresses personal frailties, rectifies systemic defects and roots out faulty leadership, says Vivek Gumaste.

Dusk had set in and dark nocturnal shadows of the trees outside were lengthening as the Bangalore-bound express train rattled through the dense forests of Alnavar in northern Karnataka. I sat fidgeting nervously on the seat by the window along with my mother, 81, the thought of making my frail mater sit upright all through the night was troubling me.

We had boarded the train earlier that afternoon with a tentative RAC (Reservation against cancellation) rather than a confirmed reservation and were waiting expectantly for the conductor to provide us with sleeper berths for the night. I had made umpteen trips to request the TC to grant us seats only to be staved off for a later time. Once he asked me to sit down, leafed through his clip board officiously and launched into a lengthy explanation about the complex dynamics of a seat adjustment only to conclude that no decision could be made till we reached Hubli at 11 pm: our last chance.

At no time did he ask me directly for 'an incentive' but his body language and his actions were ample evidence of his intentions or so, I surmised. As 11 o'clock approached my level of tension grew and for a fleeting moment I toyed with the idea of taking the easy way out by giving the TC 'a little something'. I even justified my intention with the defence that it would be a one-time misdeed and it was for a good cause. But I knew that these were mere excuses to temper my guilt. Fortunately at the last moment I checked myself. Things did turn out well with the new TC who took charge at Hubli promptly giving us sleeper berths without any hassle.

I narrate this incident to emphasise the individual element in the rigmarole of corruption: how we as common individuals facilitate this process by our propensity to take the easy way out while all along projecting ourselves as hapless victims of a warped coercive system that entraps us into wrongdoing.

But are we really the victims we claim to be? How many times have we made the slightest attempt to stem the tide rather than going with the flow? And in nine times out of ten weren't we willing partners in such wrongdoing? We need to introspect deeply.

What we require is a change in mind set at the individual level: one that exhibits a wee bit of moral fortitude, one that offers resistance to bribery at all levels small or big and one that is willing to tolerate a little transient hardship for a better tomorrow.

Moving one level higher in the hierarchy of corruption one encounters the much maligned and perverted 'system' that attempts to transform the abnormal to the norm like the incident narrated to me by the import-export businessman whom I met on my flight back to India. He explained to me that that graft has become such an intrinsic and accepted part of the interaction between government inspectors and businessman in his field that it is apt to be mistaken for a normal legal transaction.

The ubiquity and draconian reach of governmental control is a major determinant of corruption prevailing in a nation. For example in the incident narrated above the presence of excessive government control allows inspectors the latitude to extract illegal gratification.

While some rules and regulations are inevitable, keeping these to a bare minimum would greatly minimise the extent of corruption.

Finally sitting atop this mountain of corruption are the kingpins of this sleaze: the political leadership. The current United Progressive Alliance government by its brazen and reckless attitude has redefined the degree and scope of corruption carrying it to heights never seen before as exemplified by the Commonwealth Games, telecom and Adarsh housing scams; a new high for even the traditionally corrupt political class.

Corruption is the intentional abuse of public power for private gain. Corruption is a canker that perpetuates sub par standards, encourages an arbitrary distribution of resources and saps economic and social development, especially so in an emerging nation like ours. It needs to be curbed.

The biggest drawback of the Lokpal Bill is that it is not preventive in its design. It is a punitive measure that kicks in after the crime has been committed and assumes that fear itself would be an adequate deterrent. Even the most robust governments in the world know how difficult it is to restore the monies siphoned off by corrupt practices despite nabbing the culprit. Nevertheless the Lokpal Bill is one step forward in this war and must be supported whole heartedly.

The problem of corruption is far bigger than what the Lokpal bill envisions and intends to resolve. It is a multifaceted issue that germinates in an individual, is perpetuated by a system and guilefully exploited by the political leadership. The Lokpal Bill addresses only the latter.

The war against corruption therefore needs to be a three pronged attack: one that addresses personal frailties, rectifies systemic defects and roots out faulty leadership.

As long as there are 'bribe givers' there will be 'bribe takers' creating a deceptive win-win situation even as the country plummets inexorably towards self-destruction. This cycle must be broken. Each of us (the common man on the street and the affluent industrialist included) needs to make one single-minded resolution: we will oppose one corrupt practice that we personally encounter in our day to day life over the next year regardless of the hardship that this may entail.

The crux of the solution, however, lies in devising and implementing systems that are relatively impervious to graft; that is the real panacea and that is where our focus should be.

Vivek Gumaste