Shortcut to Corruption::Ambitious Middle Class::

July 1999 – Victorious Operation Vijay and a Proud Nation:

Mr George Fernandes the then Defence Minister of India, was questioned whether the battle had inspired a feeling of patriotism, nationalism, faithfulness, and national integrity amongst fellow countrymen. Without batting an eyelid and resisting the temptation of bragging about his achievement as a defence minister, he replied,

“War is not the only time to be patriotic and feel unified as a nation. Any person who gives or takes a bribe, any government or semi-government(PSU) employee who doesnt report to work on time, anyone who violates or ridicules law with impunity displays lack of pride in the nation.”

Today’s Scenario!

In these heady days of street protests by the ‘common-man’ :: majority of the middle class India, what George Fernandes once said a decade earlier, clearly rings aloud in one’s head.

What today is touted as the great middle class awakening, courtesy Anna Hazare’s rather petulant crusade against corruption, is both shallow and hollow from within. For, corruption for the middle class is a matter of convenience. So rampantly are we corrupt that we seem to ignore our own corruption and are ready to point fingers at the politicians and bureaucrats.

Yes, the law is an ass, most of the times the law itself is an encouragement to break the law rather than bringing about justice. Best example is that every city or state has ‘DEVELOPMENT CONTROL RULES’ and not ‘DEVELOPMENT FACILITING RULES’. It is important for our babus and netajis to retain control over some things in order to keep their freedoms intact.

Our :: the great Indian middle class’ :: contribution  –  to the corruption that we so simply think is exclusively the domain of the politician, bureaucrats, police etc.

  • We still insist on buying goods in cash and do not demand a receipt but make do with a cash memo- no sales tax, VAT paid on the transaction.
  • We often break traffic rules while driving like nobody’s business and feel updated about currant bribe rates of the neighbourhood traffic cops, at desperate times we don’t hesitate to haggle our way through the underpaid civil servants…all of this to spare ourselves a trip to the local police station.
  • As much as we criticize the builders to be corrupt, we have no hesitation in enclosing balconies, flower beds, dry area and at times even take a lil privilege of having civil works within the enclosement of govt. planned buildings. These are not supposed to be enclosed as no one counts this as FSI(Floor space Index) and hence revenue loss to the government.
  • Rampant tax evasion by not filling tax returns or wrong evaluation of income.
  • At a hint of some action by a government official to impose fine or penalty for any wrong doing, we prefer ‘out of court’ settlement to paying of legitimate fine.
  • Taking help from ‘agents’ to get various things done like passport, property registrations, permissions etc-yes there is a cartel involved but equally for everyone. Hence, yes one can get ones work done without middlemen; it only costs us a little extra time and effort.
  • These may sound like little things but they do add up. Economic reforms have reduced the avenues of corruption like paying a telephone lineman to keep our phone working, but has created new opportunities. And since, sky is the limit of our dreams and our desires to join the new rich we prefer taking short cuts. These very short cuts that we resort to are feeding the corrupt systems
  • On a different scale, we throng the pandals and maidans during Dasera, Janmasthami or Durga Pooja celebrations, which are controlled and conducted by politicians of all hues. Two days from today hundreds of young men and women will vie for ever increasing prize money for breaking Dahi handi, or for getting the prize for best pandal. Any guesses where this money comes from???

These are but few examples of our complicity to the corrupt system. The system doesn’t force us to be corrupt. It is still possible to get work done without paying any bribe. It is still possible to fight a case against the civic authorities in court without being harassed. But do u know anyone who considered that option???

A relative of mine was asked to cough up a fine of 70 lakhs for illegal construction within his premises.(which he intended to sell to a MNC) He was neither served a notice nor an explanation was sought for it  in any written correspondence. He accepted his guilt and asked the officer concerned in whose name he should issue a cheque in order to pay his fine.

The officer tried to put forward his case about how such an unpleasant transaction be avoided if the client only pays half the amount in cash, under the table. But my uncle insisted on paying in cheque and receiving a receipt for the same. He did not ask for any reduction in the fine or any adjustment etc. He even asked the officer to demolish parts of the building which the officer thought had any illegal construction.

Three years to this incident, the officer hasn’t returned to take his bribe nor has he served the client with any notice of demolition and the building is now replaced by massive residential towers. It’s just an example of how bribe giving can be avoided by simply following the lay in its letter.

How many of us would take such a stand? How many of us will refuse to throng at Navratri and Dasera pandals where a photograph of the neighbourhood politician often lords over the lord himself?? How many of our schools would avoid inviting high government officials for their annual day celebrations?? How many of us won’t mind spending an extra day or extra hour to stand in a queue instead of going to agents?? How many of us will demand more transparency and less cronyism in governance? To achieve this how many of us will vote on the election day? Urban Delhi voted 48% in the last general elections (the reason is facelifting of slums and sub-urbs to urban territory – which again was done by our “chor” govt.)… much for middle class awakening.

Merely saying ‘Sab chor hai’ or ‘mera neta chor hai’ or Candle light marches and sloganeering in Anna Hazare caps is so much easier. It’s another shortcut to feel conscientious and holier than thou and sweep our sins under the carpet. The shortcuts are unfortunately getting shorter and the shadows of the corrupt are getting longer.

We need not jump into active politics, need not fight elections, we should just respect the law as it is meant to be. Anna Hazare has done the same, many millions in our country do the same. That may well be a good first step to eliminate corruption from the system.

A Lokpal or a Super Cop is so much of a Utopia!!!

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