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Cleo Paskal

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Weeding Out Corruption In India

Posted: 11/04/11 05:05 PM ET

This is Part Two of a two-part series on the roots of corruption in India, and some of what is being done to weed it out. This first part looked at causes of corruption in modern India. The second part looks at how the battle against corruption in India is being waged, and why winning that fight is critical not just for India, but also for global security.

Why Now?

Indians from all walks of life have been the real heroes of the modern anti-corruption movement in India. However, for a long time there was virtually no national-level civil society in India -- most activity was regional, language or religion-based. Much of the media, which could have acted as a national unifier, is owned by some of the same large companies that have benefitted from the existing system. As a result, there was no real challenge to the arbitrary misuse of power.

But several things have changed since the time of Nehru. And key among them are:

  1. Economic liberalization
  2. Positive effects of globalization (including a growing awareness of other ways of doing things)
  3. Increased use of English
  4. Social Media

Economic liberalization.

Until the end of the 1980s, most of the big companies in India were run by the public sector. This large economic turnover offered equally large opportunities for the misuse of funds by the 'corporate' sector and their political overseers. (As a side note, this is the current situation in Iran, where the Revolutionary Guard runs large sectors of the economy.)

Things began to change in 1992, with the economic liberalization policy of Indian Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao. Public control of the 'commanding heights' of the economy was diluted. At the beginning, those personally closer to key government officials developed faster.

During this period of 'influence-based capitalism', many well-connected companies expanded quickly. Naturally, they also used their influence to get changes in policy that favored their businesses. The result was that the growth was often based not on business efficiencies, but on favorable policies.

Devesh Kapur, director of the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania, describes how that affects the Indian middle class by saying: "This middle class is less about 'what the state can do for me' than 'the state is preventing me from doing what I want to do.'"

In the mid-1990s, there was a growth breakthrough in sectors unconstrained by regulations. For example, the vast regulatory system was slow to catch on to the IT sector and service industries. As a result of this blind spot, both sectors grew exponentially, and quickly became global players.

This has resulted in the creation of a new class of business people who have succeeded not through corruption, but in spite of it. While previously, industry grew through influence/corruption, the new private sector finds corruption not an asset, but a hindrance.

Positive Effects of Globalization.

This new globally competitive business sector is largely fluent in English and social media savvy. They see how things are being done elsewhere and want the same efficiencies and freedom from corruption at home.

And it's not just the business sector. The number of people with a vested interest in an honest system has exploded. From the newly educated middle class to those in rural areas, people are becoming aware that the local corrupt officials are part of a larger system that is smothering the country and stealing the future from their children.

Through the common use of English and technological innovations like cheap mobile phones and Internet access, a truly national Indian civil society is coming of age. It has seen that corruption is not necessary. For example, not long ago, something as simple as booking a rail ticket or flight could require a bribe. Now it can be done cleanly online. Before, getting a phone line put into a home or office took months and a pay-off. Now you can get a mobile phone and SIM card at the corner shop.

Times have changed. And, when it comes to corruption, the Indian public isn't going to take it anymore.

What now?

As understanding grows that corruption isn't fixable in a one-off solution, those who have been tracking and analyzing these issues for decades are stepping forward. On October 14th, India's newly formed Action Committee Against Corruption in India (ACACI) held its first official meeting. The Committee's core team consists of many key members of the brain trust who have been guiding the movement since the early days, and is a who's who of the anti-corruption wars.

Some of the members:

The Committee is chaired by Dr. Subramanian Swamy, a Harvard professor and former Indian government Law Minister. Firebrand Dr. Swamy has a track record of bringing to book some of the biggest political players so far caught up in the corruption scandals, including a government minister.

Prof R. Vaidyanathan, from the Indian Institute for Management Bangalore, has been systematically looking at the issue since the mid-1990s, producing groundbreaking research on the causes and reach of the challenge.

Journalist M. D. Nalapat wrote a series of columns in the 1970s condemning public sector illegalities and was forced to quit as editor of Mathrubhumi newspaper as long back as 1988 because of his anti-corruption coverage. When he was finally hired by the Times of India in 1989, his first story was about how the Chief Minister of Karnataka was giving away expensive land on the cheap to favorites. Another series on corruption in 1999 finally got him pushed out from the Times, as well. Nalapat turned to academics and column writing. In a sign of the changing times, Nalapat recently returned to a staff position in journalism, becoming managing editor for the Sunday Guardian.

The Committee's objectives include analyzing, and proposing counters to, the root causes of corruption in India. A main goal is to give information to Indian civil society.

For many, social activist Anna Hazare, recently arrested and released in connection with his anti-corruption fast, has become an important symbol of the anti-corruption movement. However, there is growing concern that, in spite of his best intention, and those of his followers, his single shot solution (an anti-corruption superagency that itself, despite the best of efforts, risks becoming corrupt) may not be enough to inoculate the system from the debilitating parasite of corruption. The challenges are too complex and embedded. There is a growing need and demand for systemic solutions. Which is where the new Committee comes in.

While many brave individuals have been fighting the anti-corruption battles for a long time, they have been largely voices in the wilderness, until recently.

However, as these experts combine forces with the new wave of courageous, aware and engaged Indian civil society, there is a chance that the hold corruption has over India may start to weaken. Through the efforts of Indian civil society, India as a nation is truly coming of age.

This is something that will benefit not only India, but also those who are her partners. It's crucial for the West to understand and appreciate the monumental struggle now unfolding in India -- a critical ally in the fight for worldwide democracy, prosperity and secularism.

The post has been modified since its original publication.

Go here for the first part in this two-part series.

 

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