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Politics Is The Fountainhead Of Corruption


Saturday 28 February 2004, by SHARMA*Nagendar

The Cabinet Secretary who worked under three Prime Ministers, and also acted as the chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh, and more recently author of Journeys through Babudom and Netaland on how the people can try to get rid of corruption.

The Full transcript of the BBC Hindi special programme, Aapki Baat BBC Ke Saath with the former top bureaucrat of India, TSR Subramanian who served as the Cabinet Secretary under three Prime Ministers, was the chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh and has recently written a book, Journeys through Babudom and Netaland. The topic of the programme: Why is it not possible to eradicate rampant corruption from public life in India?

BBC: Is there any way to eradicate the rampant corruption in public life ?

T S R Subramanian : You have asked a difficult question to begin with. I am a natural optimist by nature, but to be hopeful on this issue at the moment is difficult. There is no doubt that corruption is on the rise and incidents, instead of coming down, are showing an upswing. Having said this, let me tell you by my experience that the common man in India is honest, this is due to traditions and culture, but certainly there is no driving force to check corruption.

I have no hesitation in saying corruption is a way of life in India today; common man has accepted it as fate. Politics has become a big business, a spreading one, which has assumed gigantic proportions, and is giving entire patronage to all sorts of corruption today.

BBC listener from Aizwal : Corruption today is a way of life, public representatives in scandals - the list is too long from Bofors, Hawala, Tehelka, Taj corridor to fodder scam ... the list is endless. But people do not have any choice, so much so that the President of the country had to mention in his Republic Day address as to how could India progress with so much corruption. But can anything be done or do we just keep on talking?

T S R Subramanian : I think before talking about eradication, if we concentrate about its roots and its growth that would help us to move in the right direction. Political patronage of corruption has led it to spread its roots in administration. Three-four decades back, there used to be cases of minor corruption at the lower level, now one can see it easily even at the top level. Similarly, business houses now know how to get their deals through. Coming to eradication, the solution would have to be found at many levels.

Firstly, judiciary would have to play an active role, at the moment it is not doing so in dealing with the menace of corruption. The quality of investigation and trial of cases would have to improve and show a sense of urgency.

Secondly, we need an open and transparent administration, keeping in mind the welfare of the country’s citizens.

Thirdly, there is the role of watchdogs in democracy which includes you - the media and the intelligentsia.

But all these can be done if and only if there is political will. Is there any single force, any segment of population, that has directed its energies on corruption eradication - politicians, bureaucracy, industry? As I said earlier that the honesty level in India is high, what is required is public awareness. Once a people’s movement is launched, I see the order of the day reversed in not more than three years.

BBC: Mr Subramanian, you said that the judiciary has not been able to play an active role in eradication of corruption. Has its independence been undermined?

T S R Subramanian : See I do not wish to make any adverse comments against the judiciary. I also do not wish to pass any judgemental comments on any politician. But how is it that the cases of corruption against Laloo Yadav, Amma (Jayalalitha) Sukh Ram, Antulay etc. continue for years and decades.

In any of these cases, you do not have to find the evidence outside the country, it is all there in the country itself, then how is it that the cases are never decided? It is so because the quality of investigation is poor, the investigation agencies are not free from political control, even the person holding the office of CBI director cannot claim to be free from political control.

Similarly, the judiciary is not active in dealing with corruption. I do not wish to criticise the judiciary, but it is unfortunate that this extremely important pillar of our democracy has not so far shown the energy to eradicate corruption as it should have. Once the judiciary gets activated, the quality of investigation would automatically improve. If the public is not told within six months or maximum within a year, whether a particular leader is guilty of corruption or is innocent, how do we expect them to believe in the system?

BBC listener from Agra : It is the politicians and the bureaucracy who are to be blamed for the present mess. Isn’t it a joke if any political party today says it would remove corruption? Don’t we need an independent commission - like the Election Commission - to get rid of this situation ?

T S R Subramanian : I do not wish to blame any particular political party, it is not my intention. The reality is that political parties live and thrive on black money. They contest elections with black money. Then why would they even try to remove an evil which keeps them alive, especially without any public pressure? Therefore this huge and widespread problem, which has inflicted an irreversible damage on the body politic cannot be checked by the formation of any commission. It can only be done by the people of India, who would to build pressure on politicians to be accountable.

BBC listener from Firozabad : In the past public representatives, even MPs, could be seen travelling by public modes of transport. Today we do not expect even the sarpanch to be doing so — they also travel by private cars. Isn’t the hike in perks of MPs, MLAs, giving rise to corrupt practices? Shouldn’t their salaries and allowances be cut down so that only those genuinely doing social service enter this field?

T S R Subramanian : You have raised an important point, but I go a step further. This is not restricted merely to salaries and allowances. A couple of years back, the issue of a portion of MPLAD (MPs Local Area Development Fund), being used by MPs personally, in the name of MP’cut was highlighted. Similarly, whether the MPs should declare their assets, and also of their immediate families, their criminal background - all these questions are raised time and again, but see all political parties contest elections against each other, but when it come to issues I have raised above, all of them are one, they do not want such contentious issues to come out, they feel that the public should not come to know about all this. That is why I say that till the time there is transparency in public life, where all things come out, no solution would be there.

BBC : You are talking about public awareness, in a country where there are still big problems like illiteracy, poverty. You have worked under three Prime Ministers as Cabinet Secretary. Why has the bureaucracy been sitting silently ?

T S R Subramanian : Bureaucracy has been under tremendous pressure. The saying is - public follows the ruler; it is similar in the case of bureaucracy - it follows the ruler. I have written in detail on this issue in my book Governance in India, which might anger my tribe of bureaucrats. But I have no hesitation in saying that during the last 30-40 years, unfortunately corruption is now deep-rooted in bureaucracy. It is of two types - intellectual corruption, which does not involve money, and the second is more dangerous, of the direct type which involves huge amounts of money. The reason for this is bureaucracy being under direct political control.

Tell me what can a bureaucrat do if one is transferred four-five times a year? One can adjust to a couple of transfers in a year, but not that many. After all, they are human beings, they have old parents who require medical attention, then there is the children’s education, and the wife says: "Listen you are not Mahatma Gandhi, why can’t you live like others, shut your eyes and mouth."

BBC listener from Saudi Arabia : Sir, corruption in police, other offices is there, nobody doubts it. But what to do when the departments made to check corruption are themselves corrupt?

T S R Subramanian : It is the public that would have to take steps. I know that the people have a clear perception of police and other public services being corrupt. But what they need to be told about is the relationship between corruption and development — meaning till the time there is corruption, the country cannot attain the path of development. Once the countrymen are convinced on this point that it is the system that is corrupt, this evil would be weeded out in five years’ time.

All the major pillars of democracy - whether it be executive, judiciary or legislature — are not responsive, they are not truly accountable because they know that there is no public pressure. It is for the public to do this, and they could only do it when they are aware that it is corruption that is hampering the growth of their life. Therefore when public wrath against corruption rises, then only would the political system respond to the strong stimulus.

BBC listener from Allahabad: When young people prepare for civil services, they study many things about the country and the world, but what they do not have to study is morality. Why not include moral education as a subject for main exams of services, whether in public or private sector?

T S R Subramanian : The problem is much deeper than this. I say with experience that the quality of Indian youth is very high. But what can they do in situations such as seen in Maharashtra and Punjab, where the state Public Service Commissions, — the authorities to recruit young men — found their chiefs totally corrupt. One shudders to even think of such a situation, but this has happened.

Secondly, when a young person is newly appointed to a job, they are honest, but within five-six years, when they begin to understand the system, they learn to live with the already existing malaise. They come to know that they cannot swim against the tide and fight corruption, therefore they begin to swim with it. It is a systemic failure of the system that needs to be changed.

BBC : But how would the system change ?

T S R Subramanian : It would have to be the impulse of the people. What is the pressure on politicians, judiciary and the bureaucracy to act? My answer is no pressure at all.

People of India are aware of corruption being a problem, what they are not aware is about the solution. They are not aware about how to bring a change. This is missing in India, and I say that the change would have to be brought about by the people. It would have to be the people’s pressure on all wings of democracy.

BBC listener from Bihar : I feel that corruption in India has been because of status quoist forward caste rulers. All attempts would be made to arrest Laloo, but only emissaries would be sent to Veerappan. Is it not a fact that it is the manuvadis who are responsible for corruption ?

T S R Subramanian : I would not like to make a comment on the polemics. My understanding of the situation is that politics is the fountainhead of corruption in India today. It is to be addressed and that can only be done by the public because politics relates with the people.

BBC listener from Barabanki : I feel that it is the communication gap that is responsible for corruption. It is the controlled communication that we have in India, and its flow is one way from politicians and bureaucrats to the public, reverse flow is not there. Is it not the major reason behind institutionalising corruption?

T S R Subramanian : Absolutely, transparency has to be the fundamental point if we are to remove corruption from public life. I feel that immediately the Official Secrets Act needs to be amended, so that the people of the country know what decisions are being taken by those elected by them to work for their welfare. People of India are entitled to Right to Information.

Administrative reforms are important for open transparent functioning, if those ruling India want the public to trust them If we want the people to have faith in the system we need an open administrative system — we are living in the computer age now, remember? This closed and secretive style of functioning in India has to go, and I feel that the time for this has come now.

Therefore I say whether corruption would increase or decrease in the future would depend on us, the public and our pressure on the political class. A beginning can be made during the coming elections. All political parties should be asked for public reforms. By reforms I mean that four-fiver main points can be identified and put forward before the political parties by the electorate that these are things to be done on priority by the new Parliament.

Why can’t a corruption case be decided in six months, three months for investigation and other next three for trial, so that the people know whether a particular leader is guilty or innocent?


Outlook India, Thursday, February 26, 2004.

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