This is a guest post by Deeksha Sharma
‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. This famous quote by Lord Acton might be an interesting starting point to study corruption in India; however, it goes no more beyond that. And I clarify this right at the beginning because the purpose of this piece is not to highlight the cancer like corruption in India but to explore solutions to fix it. It yearns to do this because this piece is about anger and frustration of the common man and the need for action, and not just words and mere symbolic gestures.
Commonwealth Games were organised for the first time in India. Everything happened from roofs leaking to bridges collapsing. A country with about 75% population living on less than a dollar a day afforded a pompous expenditure of $2 billion (10,000 crores) in the name of development and globalisation. A certain Mr. Kalmadi was tainted beyond imagination. We waited with bated breaths for action. And what happened? Well, as the ‘high’ powers ‘assured’ action, we saw his secretarial position being stripped off. Ok what next? Something more substantial should have happened right? After all it was the public that had been cheated and it is but a gruesome act in public sphere! Well of course, something substantial happened – the brilliant news of Mr. Kalmadi holidaying in Monaco!
A nation’s expectations were betrayed. Taxpayers were cheated. And once more with our extremely short public memory – we forgot! Well, that is not really new in Indian public sphere. But beyond that normal routine of our public affairs something more deep and depressing happened. A wrong example was set.
And does that even matter? All this has been happening since years innumerable.
Let’s recall some recent examples: erudite scholar Dr. Tharoor had his name come up in the IPL scam- only enough to have his junior state ministerial position taken. A. Raja who robbed the country off its $37 billion (which is 1.5 times India’s annual military expenditure), has now left the Congress government’s ‘aam aadmi’ (the common man) shocked and scarred. And the recent food scam of $50 billion only goes on to expose our deeply rotten state machinery- where from the top to the bottom, most people take it being in public position as their ‘privilege’; a passage to move up to the higher rungs of the ladder of social mobility for their generations to come.
What is then a fair starting point in the journey to restore the public’s faith in our leaders conduct in public sphere?
A mere ceremonial removal from position is surely not enough! It might just be a starting point but to clear the cancer of corruption what is needed is a stronger axe which has multiple blades. And this piece advocates a two-fold solution. First, is ‘practice what you preach’- an exemplary solution, based on the model of community contribution. Our corrupt netas and babus should be made to serve with and for the people, in areas most gravely hurt by their corrupt practices. For instance the sight of our not so dear Mr. Kalmadi working for construction workers on highway projects and urban face lift plans or Mr. Raja walking with our linemen will be one that will bring cool respite to many a sore hearts. Or else they can contribute to city cleaning, slum development and even rural healthcare services by being with and amongst the people who need multiple working hands. A lot needs to be done and they all had promised that. If they fail to live up to their duties, let the punitive measure get them to do it. In this way the ‘aam admi’- people of the country can see justice being done in front of their eyes. In this way it can be made sure that we set the right example that corruption is still a shameful disease and not the fruits of a privilege by virtue of position in the Indian society.
The second part of the solution lies with us. Corruption is a two way process. And our silence flares up its excruciating flames. Next time when a babu in a government department asks for money, adopt the technique of ‘inducing embarrassment’. As our very own Shekhar Kapoor suggests, ‘sing the national anthem loud at that moment’ (or any other technique that you wish). Hundreds of Indians singing the national anthem over and over again in government offices can then be followed by community organizations in cities, of people getting together with photos of such incidents, blogging about it, spreading the word everywhere from schools, colleges and offices to supermarkets- the start of a new revolution by us and for us. As an optimist I would say that unless we put methods to trial; we might never know what sweet weapons we had in our common man’s armoury to take on the demon of corruption.
And this is the call of one Indian to all others – a call to our ‘aam admi’ to come together and join hands in what can be probably our second most tough battle after the freedom struggle. And mind you this is a ‘battle’ and not a ‘struggle’ like that one – lets take it head on!
Deeksha Sharma is a DPhil student in law at the University of Oxford and blogs at The Silent Noise.