India’s C curse

Corruption, the worst C curse, jumped in the last five years

By Dr N. Janardhan (Plainspeak)

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Published: Sat 29 Mar 2014, 9:16 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:39 PM

India’s chaotic political, social and economic system is a victim of the C malaise — corruption, casteism, communalism, Congress, communism, crime, consumerism, Central Bureau of Investigation, crass capitalism (now, crony capitalism), and ‘chamchagiri’ (favouritism and nepotism) among others!

These Cs mean more Cs. Rather than be clean, the governance structure is often cosmetic and clumsy. There is plenty of competition without competence, which has led to immense misery for the public. An old joke is that India grows when the government sleeps!

The only saviour in recent years, ironically, is another C — courts, the Supreme Court in particular, which has served as the conscience of the nation.

The worst of the Cs is corruption. A Lowy Institute poll in late 2013 revealed that 96 per cent Indians felt that graft is the biggest factor holding back the country. Further, 92 percent opined that it had particularly increased during the last five years.

This links with another C — the Congress party. The absence of a viable alternative made the Congress-led coalition intoxicated by power. It let corruption spread its tentacles to such an extent that Time magazine in mid-2011 rated India’s telecom licence scandal second in the “Top 10 abuses of power” list, after the 1974 Watergate scandal in the United States.

Part of the Congress’s problem has been its inability, both in idea and intent, to abandon its dynastic mooring. It is absurd that the world’s largest democracy’s most successful party is dominated by one family since 1947. The critical fallout has been the absence of an alternative vision for India.

On the one occasion that India had a non-Nehru-Gandhi Congress prime minister in P.V. Narasimha Rao, combined with Manmohan Singh as finance minister, the country’s economy changed irreversibly. But that infusion of ideas never materialised during Singh’s last 10 years at the helm because of the government’s remote control remaining with Sonia Gandhi, a power factor absent during Rao’s reign.

Moving on to a third C, it is time to initiate a debate on whether corruption or communalism has been the bigger threat. For those arguing that communalism undermines the constitution, the counter-argument is: Does the constitution sanctify corruption?

If the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is accused of pursuing communal politics, equal blame should be aproportioned to the Congress, not just for its role in the 1984 riots, but for consistently encouraging religious divisions as part of its vote-bank politics.

The Congress is also guilty of facilitating Narendra Modi’s rise. The fact that Modi has emerged as an alternative, despite his 2002 baggage, is the ultimate sign of dissatisfaction with the Congress.

In such a milieu, supporting Modi and his party does not necessarily reflect communalism. How does the feeling of disgust over corruption reflect erosion of the largely secular credentials of India and Indians? There must be confidence in the resilience of India’s secular foundations, that one Modi and the entire BJP and its affiliates cannot decisively change the Indian system as some fear.

What alternatives lie before us? Communism?

Sadly, the greatest contribution of leftist ideology in India has been its intellectual and rhetorical input to political and secularism values and debates, and, sometimes, to the cerebral world of media and academia. Even communists have been remained untouched by capitalism and corruption, which was evidenced when a member of parliament from Tripura was found lying on a bed of currency notes in 2013. It is unfortunate that communists and their ideology have stagnated, even regressed on occasions, in the evolutionary process and realm of practical politics.

Citizens, not just the government and the corporate sector, are equally culpable. For decades, the politically knowledgeable but indifferent middle class ranted and raved but did not vote. The youth particularly kept anything political at an arm’s length.

But this is beginning to change. Consistent improvements in voter turnouts indicate that Indian democracy is reinventing and adjusting itself to changing times. The middle class, youth and even the rural masses are stating their preferences and claiming their due.

Historian and author Ramachandra Guha said a few years ago that he desired a political dispensation with the Congress but without the Gandhis, and the BJP without the Sangh Parivar. The new developments include the Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement and Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that has captured the imagination of people, especially in the urban areas. The AAP — notwithstanding the 49 days of turbulence in Delhi — could still evolve into a viable alternative after the election and serve as an antidote to some of India’s C curses.

Dr N. Janardhan is a UAE-based political and internationalaffairs analyst

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