Monday, February 14, 2011

Open Letter to India

“The accomplice to the crime of corruption is frequently our own indifference.”
Bess Myerson

A social revolution is afoot around the globe. People, who have been stepped on, downtrodden by top-down economic prosperity that never trickled down to them and brow beaten into years of giving up their hard earned wages to corrupt officials and wretched politicians, are saying no more. Granted all the current unrest is restricted to the autocratic and dictatorial regimes in North Africa and the Middle East but mark my words that this phenomenon will spread to India, China, Russia and Brazil. I know people will consider it sacrilege that I would dare to compare the deeply democratic systems of India and Brazil to the shams that mask the authoritarian ones of Russia and China. But I feel compelled based on the extent of corruption that exists in all these countries today. The lack of rights of the common man is equal in all, and justice is an ideal that seems confined to the pages of history books or gathering dust in law journals, for all practical purposes. Today, money can buy whatever kind of judicial outcomes one seeks, if one can pay. I understand that I paint this picture with very broad brush strokes but such is the need of the hour. In my mind this crisis in India is dire, and it is a crisis. Unless we wake up and take control of this cancer, it will destroy our country and everything that our grandparents shed their blood for and died giving us.

I long ago gave up the notion of getting rid of corruption in this world. Where there are human beings there has and always will be corruption. Even the Western world is not immune to corruption. So having corrupt people is not the issue but the degree to which corruption has increased, in India, with liberalisation is what gravely concerns me. I have been away ten years and in that time the level, depth and pace of corruption has not only increased dramatically but more frighteningly it seems to have become acceptable and almost legalised as a means for not only doing business but going about day to day life. It has spread from politicians, public servants and the bureaucracy to a societal cancer that is rapidly destroying our soul, blinding and eroding our essence. I no longer believe that economic prosperity will help lift the poor and instil a sense of patriotic duty in the rest of us. I can no longer close my eyes and bury this harsh and ugly reality under some fantastic rate of economic growth or the hype the media feeds us every day. We can no longer justify it simply because we are told that this has been our way from time immemorial and that is why we should accept it. We can no longer stand idly by while we sell our country to the highest bidder.
 
My critics will point to the 2005 Right to Information Act and even the social audits that have been instituted as part of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) but I argue quoting Mr. Wajahat Habibullah, India’s Chief Information Commissioner; when he told the Wall Street Journal that people requesting information have been threatened and even murdered to protect the culprits. "The number of murders has been mounting, and that's a cause for grave concern." (http://on.wsj.com). Even during the NREGA audits there have been numerous instances of intimidation and official interference like a senior Congress party politician in Nagarkurnool, elbowing his way onto the dais to try and take control of audit proceeding to defend local politicians and contractors (http://www.nytimes.com). Ultimately, it does not matter how many transparency laws or right to information acts are passed if there is no protection for the people trying to exercise this right. And when the people meant to uphold and enforce the law can also be bought then where is the recourse for the aam aadmi? If we believe that by simply passing more laws we are making progress towards a cleaner government, then I contend that our democratic ideals are no longer high enough or worse yet we are deluding ourselves.

I am also fully aware of the realities and know that is easy for an NRI to say we should stop bribing the policeman, the motor vehicle department employee or the electricity board. But I believe that if a person in India is to stand on principle, today, they would have to live without electricity, the ability to drive and probably without food and shelter. It is fast becoming impossible to be an honest person. I am told you even have to bribe someone to receive your tax refund! If this is progress then we were better off living in the era prior to liberalisation. Today, not only are the politicians amassing vast amounts of wealth but also cutting every corner on the delivery of projects simply to make even more money. They are not only looting the nation but raping it by delivering sub-standard services and infrastructure. The recent Commonwealth Games, 2G and now the ISRO's spectrum scam are examples of how corruption has now grown into a nexus with the private sector. Even our great army has been sullied by the Adarsh Housing scam where flats meant to be allotted to widows of the Kargil conflict were given to everyone but a single widow. This Congress government has demonstrated that they are without a doubt the most corrupt in our history. It seems our current leaders have taken a page out of Machiavelli’s book when he said, in the Prince; “since love and fear hardly exist together if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.”

If 2010 was the year of uncovering scams, as the Times of India and Outlook have declared, then it is equally the year of our politicians no longer displaying any fear, shame, or professing any sense of remorse because they are all complicit and all above the law. If the Congress party is serious about prosecuting corrupt officials then why did it take Sonia Gandhi more than a month to say anything on the 2G issue? And why was Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister, silent? In my book only the guilty stay silent because the innocent have nothing to hide, and therefore no reason to wait to proclaim their innocence. Why are the accused, other than having resigned their posts, still smiling? Because they know that there will be a prolonged investigation by some agency whose chief has been appointed by the government and it will drag on just long enough for the public anger to dissipate and people’s attention to move onto the next scam. Nobody will ever be prosecuted and life will go on. This time we should all say no more - and demand real transparency and meaningful accountability. Nobody should be above the law.

I still believe the vast majority of our country is honest and hard-working, but there is a small and very powerful majority that has become completely corrupt. Consider this a plea from India’s most vocal cheerleader, her greatest admirer, optimist, and eternal patriot. I believed in her and saw her potential much before anyone else. I believed she would become a global economic powerhouse during her darkest days and the lowest ebbs of the license Raj. And never stopped believing in her despite the tremendous odds and the contrary viewpoints of every expert. Today I feel she is dying. If we do not act now then it will soon be too late to act. Because GDP growth rates, new highways, bullet trains, a rising SENSEX, industrial productivity and the number of Indians on Forbes rich list won’t matter - when the aam aadmi decides that he would rather die fighting for justice and equality, than let his hungry children watch the corrupt official slap him one more time.

2 comments:

  1. My dear gentleman,
    I couldn't define if Bess Myerson is your name? Please do not take offence.

    I have full sympathy to you since I returned to India after spending some odd ten years abroad & landed up in this messy affair; though no regrete
    since it was my concious decision.

    But if you do not take it otherwise, my sincere advice to you (1) do not think of returning to India sentimentally. Patriotism will change the meaning you come back here. Nobody will give a damn. (2) If you are in business, make corruption a part of your business if you want to be successful in India. Remember - nothing succeeds like success. Ideals are better to preach but practice the ideal of corruption and bhai bhatijaavad if you want to be a Rahul Gandhi
    who need no other qualification than a son of a most corrupt dynasty. Forget it. Half of the elite force of Indian literate community are behind them and will pounce on you if you utter a word against them. Congress means Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

    Be happy wherever you are and carry your sentiments with you there because you will have to forget your this language in this post if you want to survive here. I have learnt it the hard way.
    God bless you
    Dr. O. P. Sudrania

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  2. My Dear IndoPhilos, ( there I just made up a word for friend of India--is there not a word like Fracophile for India?)

    Your first commentor has lost hope, as others have because there is no human connection, no compassion for others. The only goal is: How can I succeed no matter what it does to other people LIKE ME and their families. There can be success in this world without the destruction and demise of others in acquiring one's great achievement.
    The connection will have to be consistent and it's never too late to start connecting. It will be a long term process (does anyone even know of this concept anymore?)
    So lets all get off this $#*! computer and start connecting with our children, our spouses, our neighbors, our teachers, our colleagues, even those who hurt us the most. Only then we will see a difference for our future.
    May the force be with us ALL!

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