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Corruption as vested interest

WITH EYES WIDE OPEN

D. N. Bezboruah

One of the reasons why corruption is so rampant and all pervasive in India is that it has become one of the most powerful vested interests are right under our noses. No matter what political leaders have to say about steps to counter graft, there are many more politicians who are busy looking for new avenues of corruption and more sophisticated ways of using corruption to achieve their goals. So, every time a newly elected group of politicians qualify to form a new government, there are promises to tackle corruption. In fact, the rhetoric of the politicians in respect of tackling corruption would make people think that the eradication of graft is at the top of their agenda. This is far from being the truth. It does not take very long to discover the new areas of political activity that provide rich soil for new styles of corrupt practices.

One of the main reasons why it is going to be extremely difficult for the tion to tackle corruption is that most people have begun to believe that there is no way of making our society free of corruption, and therefore, it is far more pragmatic to accept most of the corrupt practices that are in operation around us while not losing any opportunity of paying lip service to the need to tackle corruption. In fact, it is this duplicity that serves as the best armour for those who are supporters of this powerful vested interest. A constant verbal attack on corruption has the effect of giving the impression that the person concerned is truly against all corrupt practices and would be prepared to lead any crusade against corruption.

One of the main reasons why it is so difficult to uproot and elimite corruption is our belief that corruption can be tackled in bits and pieces. This is a myth that is beginning to get the strong hold on our society. Unfortutely, the only way of tackling corruption is to go the whole hog and attack all aspects of it together. The piecemeal strategy is bound to fail because by the time we have maged to tackle one small aspect of corruption, the hundred other forms of it that remain to be tackled will swiftly undo any good work that might have already been done in trying to tackle one small aspect of corruption. Another reason why most anticorruption measures fail is that many people tend to dismiss some manifestations of corruption as practices overwhelmingly adopted by our society in general and practices that deliver some benefits to our own families. One problem with corruption is that there is a general tendency to link corruption or corrupt practices only with money and the improper use of money.

One can begin with what does not even look like corruption to many people. I have in mind the corrupt practice of nepotism. Our compulsive urge to provide jobs for our near and dear ones in devious ways that bypass competition and selection procedures very often blinds us to the fact that nepotism too is a form of corruption that most of us are often inclined to regard as no more than an acceptable deviation from a system that insists on merit and competition. This is evident in most of the recruitments of lecturers in colleges. What is a familiar practice is for one member of the governing body favouring the candidate of another member for a lecturer’s post, and the governing body member so benefited seizing the earliest opportunity to return the favour by helping in the selection of that member’s candidate at the earliest opportunity. I have come across some of the most outstanding candidates for teaching jobs in private colleges being rejected by the governing body merely because some member of the body had a candidate who had to be accommodated. So, merit and competence go for a six, and a far less suitable candidate is appointed to the post. I know of a case where one candidate was head and shoulders above all the other candidates in terms of qualifications. The selection committee rejected the candidate as being “overqualified”. What passes my understanding is why the selection committee did not unimously choose this candidate, considering that an overqualified incumbent would have been an asset to the college and a source of inspiration to its faculty members. This sad aspect of nepotism is that this is not even regarded as a corrupt practice mainly because so many decent people are resorting to it all the time. This is a way of concluding that if an objectioble or unlawful activity involves a large enough segment of the population, the activity is no longer to be regarded as a corrupt practice.

As I said earlier, much of the holier-than-thou stance of many politicians might impel us to believe that they are genuinely opposed to all corrupt practices and want a clean government like most common people. That this is far from being the truth should be evident from what happens whenever an officer initiates action to tackle corruption in a big way. The present State government of Assam has repeatedly asserted that it is determined to fight corruption. After 15 years of a highly corrupt Congress government, people were hoping that the new government meant what it said. That this is not so is now evident from the State government’s action in transferring Mukul Saikia, SP, Law, Vigilance and Anti-Corruption as SP (Border I). This has happened because Mukul Saikia was actively investigating the large-scale corruption in the Social Welfare department and a few other departments were corruption was rampant and involved politicians as well as senior bureaucrats. Mukul Saikia had occasion to interrogate a large number of officers and some ministers involved in widespread corrupt practices. It is a well-known fact that there was large-scale corruption in several departments during the 15-year-long Congress government of Tarun Gogoi. There are no proper and acceptable records of a huge sum of Rs 12,000 crore, and most of the government departments have submitted utilization certificates to the Centre that are clearly ucceptable because most of them are incomplete. Any good government must mean what it says and say what it means. The uncalled-for transfer of Mukul Saikia came when he was doing excellent work in probing several high-profile corruption cases particularly related to the Social Welfare department involving a sum in excess of Rs 2,000 crore. Any kind of tom-tomming about what the present State government is doing to strengthen the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption department can only lead to one very pertinent question: “But why has the government transferred a capable and committed officer who was doing excellent work in unearthing corrupt practices in the Social Welfare department at this point of time?” Where does such a perverse act of transferring an honest, capable and committed officer leave the present State government and its promise of fighting corruption? In fact, what the State government has done rather effectively is to weaken and hobble the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption department at a time when there should have been all possible initiatives to strengthen it. What seems to have happened is that the State government itself has initiated measures to block all anti-corruption activities. This unholy message will now go across to every corner of the State negating all claims of tackling corruption head on. This is indeed an unfortute thing to have happened to a government that has claimed from the beginning that it will root out corruption.

About the author

Ankur Kalita