Monday, December 19, 2011

Across the Globe, Corruption is the Issue; Will It Defeat Us, or Will We Defeat It?

The rupee falls to a new low, industrial output drops by as much as 60 percent in some sectors, coal production nosedives for the third month in a row, fears of economic slowdown rattle corporate India – and how does the Government of India tackle the national crisis? It takes Ajit Singh into the cabinet. As if that isn't enough, it gives him civil aviation, a key sector already wrecked by a series of manipulative ministers.

Good for Ajit Singh. In a nation of rolling stones, he has been rolling with every party in the field – with various Janata formations, then with the Congress, then with the BJP, then Mayawati, then Mulayam Singh. Along the way he got Industry Ministership under V. P. Singh and Food Ministership under P . V. Narasimha Rao – and all attendant benefits thereof. But the most important point about Ajit Singh is that, after all these years of rolling, he is exactly where he started. He is not even a UP leader; he is only a Western-UP leader. Even within that restricted geography, his appeal is confined to Jats.

So what wonders is he going to perform for the Congress Party in the UP election? The decision to take him as a partner is supposed to be the brainwave of Rahul Gandhi, so no one within the party will dare raise the question. Only if the brainwave fails to produce results will the party find someone to pin the blame on.

What stands out here is not just the atrophy of a party, but also a bankruptcy of ideas. Everyone's horizon ends at the next election; the mind cannot see beyond. Attention is therefore focussed on deals and shortcuts that can gain a seat here and a seat there. A man with a half dozen members in Parliament becomes worthy of purchase even if he is a serial fence-jumper with a negative track record. In the process feelings of despair grow among the people.

Parties resort to gimmicks because they are unwilling to fight corruption, the biggest issue of our times. They actually give the impression that they have an interest in continuing corruption. Even the latest anti-corruption initiatives approved by the cabinet look more like diversionary manoeuvres than the real thing. The BJP is in the same boat with its record in Karnataka putting even Congress transgressions in the shade. The parties are merely shadow boxing to mislead the public.

They won't succeed because 2011 has become a historical turning point in terms of corruption worldwide. When we saw Greeks and Spaniards protesting against corruption, we thought it was just an offshort of the Euro crisis. The Occupy Wall Street movement in the US finally proved that a global phenomenon had developed against the abuse of capitalism and the rich getting richer at the expense of “the 99 percent”.

This has now gripped even Russia. Vladimir Putin, now in the throes of returning to the President's post, has been publicly booed and the vote share of his party reduced. Don't forget, Putin is still the most popular leader in Russia. The Russian economy is doing well, too. Oil prices are high and foreign currency reserves flattering. There has been improvement in roads, schools and hospitals as well.

So why are the Russian people restive? Because they see the government set up as highly corrupt. People are much better informed today because of the internet and the general perception is that Putin's party is a “party of thieves and swindlers”. We are familiar with that kind of perception and can therefore understand why there is unrest in Russia.

The implications of the unrest in India are more serious because, failing to understand the public mood, the ruling class is trying to suppress criticism. That is the surest way to let corruption defeat us instead of the other way round. At Sonia Gandhi's and Manmohan Singh's level, there is stubborn silence. In a crisis, silence is not leadership. It's betrayal.