India and Kleptocracy: Are we a Nation of Crooks?

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Why is India so corrupt? An old license and rule-bound with cumbersome procedures and processes with the lack of transparency aided and abetted by unscrupulous henchmen, who have been elected are said to have landed us in this mess. From driving license to LPG cylinder cards, everyone takes a cut. No doubt. But if we choose not to pay up for services that should be rendered as a matter of right and stood firm would we not have taken the fight right into the rank and file of the corrupt? Despite our much-applauded baggage of philosophical thought, of Dharma, the Bhagavad Gita and whatever, we are in all probably the likely descendants of a past that must have been, to put it mildly rooted in ‘jugaad’. How else do you explain the gallery of the corrupt that dons our national space? There is corruption in every  but not every ’s leaders steal to feather their own nests in the kind of scale as they do in our . Sadly India’s corrupt reads like a who’s who. On the list are Union Ministers, Chief Ministers, children of Chief Ministers, HODs and the like. It not only defines us as a nation of crooks, it describes us as a people, who are themselves dishonest. Do we not vote/appoint them into power knowingly? History tell us of betrayals, under-cuttings, and treachery by our ‘desh-vasis’ that allowed the foreigner access to our innermost sanctum of sanctorum for a few acres of land and a handful of silver? We are only concerned with I-me-and-myself. And despite the general brouhaha regarding the current definition of nationalism, we are a people, who completely lack national pride. Sreelata takes a hard look at Kleptocracy, in India, in the backdrop of the problem globally, exclusively for Different Truths.

Donald Trump’s surprising win seems to have turned all prediction pundits into liars. Nobody but nobody barring a few commentators ever came even close to guessing the results that appear to have unnerved America and the rest of the world. And now pouncing on whatever they can get, most anti-Trump supporters are hell bent on trying to find anything – whatever he might have said or not said and done or not done to discredit him and see that he does not become President. And if he does take an oath, as he did last week, they are come hell or high water trying to see he does not continue. Helping them in the endeavor are from his own country and a large part of the world’s media. Unfortunately, what is done is done and the US of A as with the rest of the world has no option but to accept the verdict. Yet what we see today is a concerted effort to try and second guess his administration even before he takes charge. And among the various definitions thrown up in recent days, one particular word derived from the Greek term ‘Klepto’ which means ‘to steal’ appears to lead the chorus.

A recent op-ed in by Paul Waldman in the Washington Post went so far as to even say ‘Welcome to Trump Kleptocracy’ thereby indicating that the Trump administration would in all probability be a government for Trump by Trump and of Trump and maybe his family of cohorts.

What exactly does Kleptocracy mean? The wiki defines Kleptocracy as a ‘Government or State in which those in power exploit national resources and steal a rule by a thief or thieves’. Was the author then suggesting that Trump was going to steal from the government? Oh yes! ‘In fact, says Waldman ‘we could see the president enriching himself and his family on a scale that we normally associate with post-Soviet kleptocrats and dictators.’

Be that as it may if the American public see him, a rich businessman – whose job it was till then to make money by running his business successfully – as a probable thief, the moment he runs for office, where would that leave our own Indian leaders/politicians, who it would appear are only in the business of making money when elected or chosen to occupy high positions in government? Would that by any chance define our Democracy of six decades and ten a Kleptocracy too? It would appear so if we were to go by the glut of cases filed against people in the top echelons of power -with some of them being helped to indeed vamoose before they are caught- apart of course from the slew of articles in the press defining India’s Kleptocratic traditions. ‘Bofors was the first major theft of public money for private gain, and it was the first time that the trail of bribery and corruption led all the way up to the Prime Minister of India and his friends’ says journalist Tavleen Singh, attempting to put the Gandhi family, as is her wont, in the dock (Indian Express, March 13, 2016, ‘When Kleptocracy began in India’). But later monetary shenanigans by various political parties and their supporters make Bofors –which was actually never established – a mere pittance.

Among the current crop of countries where Kleptocracy reigns Russia’s seems to head the list with a host of East European, African republics and other despots, who have made it their business to loot their countries. In fact, it does appear that there are no countries in the world where corruption among administrators does not exist. Even the UN is not exempt. These Kleptocrats apparently make and protect their money in numerous ways. Through charities, fake accounts, donations, offshore accounts with judges, civil servants and even the police in the loop. India’s alleged Kleptocrats also seem to be in good company.

India’s entitlement programs and social spending schemes are among the main contributors to this corruption, which apparently include Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and National Rural Health Mission. That the transport industry is forced to pay billions of rupees in bribes to numerous regulatory authorities is an openly acknowledged fact.

The police another source of corruption in high and low places with fertilizer, coal, defense, mining, aviation, and even the medical and real estate coming more than really close. The secreted millions in Swiss banks defies logic when the ordinary man isn’t allowed to own anything let alone keep a rupee outside i.e. in the normal course of course. And less said about the Indian media the better. Touted to be owned by politicians and industrialists for whom corruption is a byword they no longer carry ‘unpaid’ news.

A 2015 Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index report ranked India 76th out of 168 countries with Bhutan (27th), Bangladesh (139th), Myanmar (156th), China (83rd), Nepal (130th), Pakistan (117th) and Sri Lanka is at 84th position.

Why is India so corrupt? An old license and rule-bound bureaucracy with cumbersome procedures and processes with the lack of transparency aided and abetted by unscrupulous henchmen, who have been elected is said to have landed us in this mess. From driving license to LPG cylinder cards, everyone takes a cut. No doubt. But if we choose not to pay up for services that should be rendered as a matter of right and stood firm would we not have taken the fight right into the rank and file of the corrupt? Alas, our very character is such that we choose not to do so!

Despite our much-applauded baggage of philosophical thought, of Dharma, the Bhagavad Gita and whatever, we are in all probably the likely descendants of a past that must have been, to put it mildly, rooted in ‘jugaad’. How else do you explain the gallery of the corrupt that dons our national space? There is corruption in every country but not every country’s leaders steal to feather their own nests in the kind of scale as they do in our country. Sadly India’s corrupt reads like a who’s who. On the honor list are Union Ministers, Chief Ministers, children of Chief Ministers, HODs and the like. To name them would be to not them but us – there are so many. It not only defines us as a nation of crooks, it describes us as a people who are themselves dishonest. Do we not vote/appoint them into power knowingly?

History does tell us doesn’t it of betrayals, under-cuttings, and treachery by our ‘desh-vasis’ who for a few acres of land and a handful of silver allowed the foreigner access to our innermost sanctum of sanctorum? We are only concerned with I-me- and-myself. And to hell with our compatriots! And despite the general brouhaha regarding the current definition of nationalism, we are a people, who completely lack national pride. The ‘ahum’ (I) and ‘Swaha’ (unto me) is more important to us than ‘twam’ (you) or ‘vayam’ (we). How to get the better of the next person is our creed. We live by it.

So maybe, just maybe, we see corruption differently and not as the Western world defines corruption. Imposing their morality code, their ethics and ideas on a diverse people with diverse ideas that are solely engaged in the purpose of how to get rich quickly is not Kleptocracy as far as we are concerned. To call us thieves would be their notion of Kleptocracy, not ours. It is as our leaders may believe their ‘entitlement’. Why else were they elected or posted to high places!

They are only taking what is due to them by virtue of their high place in the food chain. And since we as a people are devoid of all scruples, we have no sense of guilt. We come alone, we go alone. We live for us and ourselves only. So there is no such thing as the ‘common good’ unless you are a benign Maharaja – whose place has now been taken by the people in governance without the wherewithal. Hence the desperate need to make good while the going’s good. And genuflecting before the rich and powerful is built into our psyche as well. That is why Kleptocracy could be an alien concept.

But there is hope. Since we look to the West for most things, the idea of Kleptocracy and its true meaning may well percolate down to our grassroots voters. Maybe in time, they will be prevailed upon not to vote criminals in. And maybe, just maybe, the corrupt will be forced – not to stand for election – once they know they won’t win. It might also sink in gradually that a career in high places without having to steal is to live a life of honor and is a better option. While the process may be slow not every country’s corrupt are indicated either, as is evident from the long list of people recently charged in India – with arrest for corrupt misdemeanors. Every government comes with its own acolytes and this must be so today as well. Yet recently our  of Law Ravi Shankar Prasad claimed on television that there is no corruption anymore among the echelons of power in Delhi. A fairly tall claim that. Nevertheless let’s hope transparency comes to roost, as does honesty and India no longer leads the corrupt.

©Sreelata Menon

Photos from the internet.

Sreelata Menon

Sreelata Menon

When computers hit the scene, life changed for Sreelata Menon. A Masters in History (Mumbai University) she was with the Onlooker and world Trade Magazines before teaching History to undergraduates and doing a stint in an advertising agency. A web content writer, she wrote blogs on freelance writing, and current happenings for online and print publications. Author of ‘Freelance Writing for the Newbie Writer’ her books also include Guru Nanak and Indira Gandhi for Penguin-Puffin.
Sreelata Menon
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