Bad news is everywhere. Spiralling cost of food. Terrorist strikes. Police atrocities. Maoist attacks. New bridges collapsing. Scams where thousands lose their life savings. Poaching in sanctuaries. Human rights violations. Farmer suicides. Awful tax laws. Vanishing species. Attacks on schools, colleges, hospitals. Vaccines leading to deaths. Students taking their own lives. Shrinking jobs. Fewer investors. Growing insurgency. Staggering urban poverty. Dangerous pollution levels. Match fixing. Corruption in the army. Mangroves destroyed by builders. Trains blown up.
Crime, sleaze, insurgency, poverty, violence, they all start from one source: Corruption. But the Big C is the only thing no one wants to discuss any more. It’s so all pervasive, so deeply entrenched that we have all come to believe we have no choice but to live with it. So we are busy trying to tackle other issues. Rahul Gandhi is trying to bring the rural poor back into our political reckoning. Pranab Mukherjee wants to offer us a new tax code. Manmohan Singh is talking about bringing back the billions stashed away by Indians in tax havens overseas. Chidambaram wants to involve the army in the war against Maoists. Jairam Ramesh is keen to rewrite our environment policy. Kapil Sibal is tinkering around with the educational system. Murli Deora is obsessed with increasing fuel prices.
What no one figures is that at the heart of all our problems lies Corruption. If India can even tame this monster, forget slaying it, many of these problems will simply disappear. How did the Kashmir problem begin? With the frustrations of local people when they saw greedy politicians loot the State while the Centre turned a blind eye to their complaints. When they showed anger, they were called secessionists and the army was called in to silence them. How did the Maoists gain ground? Because the tribals kept losing their lands and means of livelihood as rapacious politicians drove them out. These lands were then handed over to the mining mafia with whom our leaders shared the loot. How did insurgency rear its head in the North East? Simply because every political party in power grabbed the money sent to develop those states and gave the people nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Corruption is a hydra headed monster that has grown so big, so all pervasive that we don’t even acknowledge it any more. Want to buy a train ticket? Pay a tout. Want a ration card? Pay a cop. Want a passport? Easy. Go to the passport office. There are guys hanging out there to fix it for you. Want an illegal water connection? Catch a BMC guy off hours. Want an electricity line? Your local slumlord will fix it for a fee. Anything you want, legal or illegal, has a price to it. Including, some say, the Padma Bhushan or a seat in Parliament– and ofcourse any deal struck with a Government agency. No, I am not saying it. The whole world is saying it today, making a mockery of this great nation.
What’s worse is that Corruption has reached a level today where it no longer stops at what you want. It involves even what is rightfully yours. Your electricity bill is wrong. Want to get it corrected? Pay a bribe. Your tax refund is due. Pay some speed money if you want your cheque. You have won a Government tender? Great. Now if you don’t want the minister to interfere in reversing the deal, go settle with his PA. The system has now started using corruption as a lever to harass us from getting what is rightfully ours. Pensions are held up for years. Fake cases are filed on frivolous grounds. Files mysteriously disappear from Government offices. Some universities don’t even give mark sheets for years. You have to pay under the table to get duplicates. Do you have any idea how much our policemen have to pay as bribes to get their postings and promotions? No wonder they try to extort you when they catch you.
I am afraid I can go on and on. As a journalist and an MP I have spent years trying to help people get what is denied to them by the corrupt. It’s not easy. Sometimes its even dangerous because the corrupt are brilliantly networked. You threaten one guy and twenty others elsewhere jump up and begin harassing you. Cases crop up from nowhere. Demands multiply manyfold. I am frustrated today because, earlier, like millions of other Indians, I had a choice. I had a choice to pay a bribe or not. If I didn’t want to, I could fight my way through. It took much longer but it was still do-able.
That’s no longer true. Our choices have shrunk. We are all prisoners of corruption today. If you refuse to pay a bribe, the whole system falls on your head as if to make an example out of you. If we can’t stop this right now, India’s problems will only get worse. So will yours and mine. There will be no peace until there’s justice. And there will be no justice till the honest are allowed to live honestly.