The dictionary meaning of corruption is “impairment of integrity, virtue or moral principle”. Its synonyms are “depravity, decay, decomposition”. In further elaboration, corruption has been described as “a departure from the original or what is pure or correct”. In order to charge a person with corruption it is necessary to refer to what is considered to be correct or based on virtue or moral principles. In many respects it is subjective. However, when society has laid down certain rules, procedures or norms, a deviation from that would be corruption. For example, when law lays down that a public servant shall not take illegal gratification, any recourse to bribery will be corruption. In this case it is objective and anyone indulging in such a practice will be subject to the punishment provided by law.
We in India fully understand what is corruption and when a corrupt practice has been committed. The problem is to prevent such corruption and to punish the culprit. In recent times this has been made more difficult because corruption has become all-pervasive. It has affected all sections of public servants at all levels. The number of people who object to corruption have become less and less. The sheer volume of corruption and the increasing number of corrupt people have made it well nigh impossible to prevent or control corruption. The problem has been accentuated by social acceptability of corruption in some cases.
Some incipient corruption was there even in ancient times. Many of these were not easily detectable. Chanakya said that “just as fish moving under water cannot be possibly found out either as drinking or not drinking water, so government servants employed in government work cannot be found out while taking money for themselves”. However, ways and methods are now available for detecting such crimes.
It is since the Second World War that corruption has proliferated in India. This is because the controls and the quotas introduced during the War spawned a section of government servants who misused their positions and indulged in corruption to make illegal money for themselves. Moreover, greed has increased so that everyone has started hankering after more and more goods and services for their own consumption. Since they were unable to obtain these out of their legitimate incomes, they searched out ways to augment their incomes. An easy way discovered by them was to go for illegal gratification.
Fifty years ago, life was relatively simple. People’s needs were limited. Culturally, Indians espoused the value of reticence. They feared that over- indulgence and immoral greed would bring retribution in the shape of punishment either in this world or in the next. These have now changed. Conspicuous consumption and the urge to compete with neighbours have become all-pervasive. Today, bribes have to be paid not only for wrongdoing but also for getting the right thing done at the right moment. This is where society has failed collectively.
Many institutions have been set up both at the Centre and in the States to deal with the menace of corruption. The Central Vigilance Commission and the Central Bureau of Investigation have been set up at the Federal level. Similar organizations have been set up at the State level. In many places, civil society has been active, and different types of organizations have been set up by them at different levels. Prosecutions have been initiated against many corrupt officials. Punishments have also been meted out in some cases. It has been observed, however, that proving corruption cases is a Herculean task. The number of cases ending in conviction is minuscule. Even judicial activism has failed in many cases. Only a revolutionary transformation of social values and all-out civil society activism can save society from corruption.
It is against this milieu that the duties and responsibilities of the younger generation must be considered. It is believed that young people are free from any pre-conceived ideas. Being in an impressionable age, they can be easily inculcated with the old values. If the youths are motivated and trained properly in course of time, they will become a force against corruption.
But many people feel frustrated because some of our youths start corrupt practices at a very early age. For example, some youths join the youth wings of one or the other political party not because they believe in the ideology of that party but because they are lured by monetary gains. What is more reprehensible is the fact that these political parties provide for augmentation of the pocket money of youths who are useful to those parties.
The Indian society believed that students should concentrate on studies and should not dissipate their energies on other matters. But the distractions of modern times have become so great that youths are attracted by bars, discotheques and Facebook much more than by libraries, sports fields and gymnasiums. There was a time when youths responded to the clarion call given by Mahatma Gandhi and joined the freedom movement. They were attracted by ideology. Today, the number of youths joining such noble causes is not many. Even Anna Hazare’s fight against corruption could not draw many young people.
I personally feel, however, that all is not lost. There are still a large number of youths who become scientists, artists, administrators, professionals and teachers. They learn the essentials of their trade the hard way. These youths imbibe the values of perseverance, hard work and excellence in the pursuit of knowledge. They become enlightened citizens. They are the followers of role models such as APJ Abdul Kalam. The civil society must concentrate on these youths and start a campaign to eradicate corruption from India’s body politic.
(The writer was Chief Secretary, Assam, during 1990-95)