New Delhi: In the Mid, 2014, voters in India hoped the new government would continue the fight against corruption.Earlier the country had been languishing at the bottom of the Transparency International list of among most of the corrupt countries in the world.
Narendra Modi’s BJP was got to power in May 2014 after pledges that they would stamp out corruption.
But in spite of this, old scandals disappear to be replaced by new ones and there is little sense of institutional change or reform.
The investigations signify nothing. They are enacted like a shadow play and in fact leave the corrupt untouched.
In fact there are a few trends one has begun noticing about corruption as socio-drama that are intriguing.
Firstly there is a banality about corruption. People take it as natural and expected, consider it part of the repertoire of citizenship and politics.
Corruption is seen as a part of competence and the more corrupt one is, the more one fits the logic of electoral politics.
Once upon a time, a police commissioner has just retired and had sent his batman to renew his car license.
The clerk asked for a commission and the batman asked him “Do you know whose license this is?”
The answer came with alacrity “It was his turn earlier, it is mine now.”
People sense that corruption cases never reach closure. Lower level bureaucrats in fact expect a transfer before they return in full glory.
Electoral change virtually foreclose major investigations. In fact this very necessity of corruption brings new invidious distinctions.
One of the most fascinating of these was pointed out by the veteran journalist Panneerselvan who hinted at a distinction between what politicians call “conspicuous corruption versus “sustainable corruption.”
Attributing this idea to some old DMK dons, the journalist explained that politicians see corruption as both necessary and evil.
But even corruption demands restraint, a ritual of limits, hence sustainability as a term mediating between political need and political greed.
This sense of normalcy of corruption also leads to jokes.
There is almost awe at the scale of corruption.
A journalist comparing BJP and Congress styles of corruption remarked, “Congress is full of 2G and 3G while BJP is replete with Sushmaji, Rajeji. Everyone is part of the same club.”
The other thing social scientists notice about corruption is what they pompously call trophicity.
Trophicity is usually a process where a variety of species from man to birds to the dung beetle live on the same band of energy.
It implies a chain of being rather than one individuals activity.
Corruption almost becomes a form of social solidarity, a network of connivance where say in Customs and Central Excise Department the Inspector connects to the Assistant Commissioner and the Commissioner.
Money travels from the lowest to the highest each claiming his appropriate bundle of currency.
When corruption is seen as a social fact and when the quality of the social acquires such solidarity and range, where corruption involves an entire termite hill, focusing on the individual will not do.
Corruption, as involving elaborate scales of being, needs a different response. Society is implicated in corruption almost in a grammatical way.
Sometimes even the language, the categories, the subculture of a society seem to aid corruption.
When Sushma Swaraj or Raje were accused of helping Lalit Modi, they claimed they were helping a family friend.
Friendship and family loyalties created social capital which allows for social mobility and political consolidation.
Family loyalties also create a sense of nepotism frowned on in public spaces. Yet the elite operates tacitly in terms of such tacit frameworks.
Clubs, patronage who scratches whose back follows this nepotistic grammar. VIP cultures follow this same code of priorities.
Given such subcultures one wonders whether the elite will ever be transparent about corruption. What is seen as a helping hand, a sense of benevolence, even noblesse oblige in one frame is subject to parliamentary scrutiny in the other.
Private and public have never sorted themselves out in India.
Corruption as a process has been subversive and inventive in India. It appropriates and reworks a society from the informal to the most formal levels.
In fact, instead of reading corruption as deviant, or pathological we should look at how corruption has colonised us such that a man resisting a bribe, or seeking reform is seen as the odd man out, an isolate to be ostracised.
Hindi movies capture this by showing that a personal, individualised code of ethics is not enough to battle such evil.
The good cop, the good father, the good and fair teacher gets eliminated before the interval, before violence battles out against the villainy of the corrupt.
But the narrative shows there is a limit to the power of such violence. One can eliminate the symptom but never the causal chain of corruption. This makes reform difficult.
We target individuals, treat corruption as a transaction, seek to create tactics of deterrence or incentives when we are confronting systems and structures.
India today is at the threshold of such a process where political parties offer a choice of corruptions. It is an ironic movement and has to be dealt with care. This is the real challenge before us.