Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How Greed breeds modern Leaders

Corruption first creeps in slowly and quietly into individual brains. If we retrospect our childhood days, we would know how we – or our siblings and friends – snatched from others whatever we liked, no matter who the rightful owner was. A loving and caring elder always stepped in and quietened those he could but helplessly gave in to the more stubborn who would not stop crying until his whims were met. That was how the first software of corruption was chipped in our personal systems. We grew up with an obsession of whims and pre-conceived notions that gradually took command of our behaviour.

Today we have reached a stage when nothing attracts us more than figures and statistics. We all feel greedy to have more – whatever, whenever, wherever and however! After all when you have more than your neighbour, you earn his envy. ‘Life is no good unless I have an edge over others’- we seem to think even when we have enough to lead a normal life. Accumulation of assets gives us an expanse to gloat over with a sense of triumph in a world that is racing to grab more. Of course, far from being sinful, honest pursuit to earn and create more resources in life is a highly desirable activity and ultimately it benefits the society. What is harmful and dangerous for the society is acquisition of resources and privileges through dishonest pursuit and machinations. Spread of such a culture vitiates the atmosphere and promotes unfair competition, rivalry and crime.

The quest to excel, however, has different meanings for different people. The fear of being left behind in the race forces us to ignore the fundamentals of life in the fiercely competitive environment. We find parents boasting of their kids getting as high as 99% marks. Teenagers attend school, tuitions, coaching for competitive examinations with no time for societal chores, nature watch, hobbies, games, outdoor adventures and so on. Care is taken to enrol into those Tutorials where the student’s teacher has commercial interest. The aim is clear: to get highest possible marks, no matter how. And so we know why teachers perform perfunctorily in class room teaching but do their most in ‘tuition’ sessions out of the school. Every year we also witness how question papers are secretly fished out and sold for hefty amounts a few days prior to the date of the examination. And the malaise is no longer confined to Boards alone, it has now become a high paying furtive business eating into the country’s most prestigious competitive examinations like JEE and other UPSC controlled or institutionally conducted examinations. And yet, universities and colleges too joined the mad race to rake in students who are in the highest slot of the cut off percentage set as high as 98 and, in some cases, 100%. Is percentage of marks obtained by students the only measure of their worthiness for the institution, society and the nation? Who would look for the more vital attributes in personalities the country and society need like aptitude, vision, character, disposition towards social/national issues and so on?

Next mile stone in life is the career which also is measured not so much from the job content but from the figurative assessment of the salary package. Campus placement carries its own stress and glory with multinational companies (MNCs) offering enormous salary packages to youngsters striving to subsist on frugal pocket allowance and hostel expenses paid by parents who kept tab on their expenses. Once in the job, they quickly develop their own networks in the corporate world and weave their way up the ladder. Notions like ‘organisational loyalty’ have no stopping power in their job hopping culture to reach out for more. Terms like ‘thousand’ and ‘lakh’ no longer impact us the way they did our parents. Four figure, five figure salaries that used to be lofty heights a few decades ago have no meaning now. Now they come part in cheque part in bundles – a happy mix of white, grey and black. Yet, the race to get more is not only continuing but becoming fiercely faster. The illicit money paid as kickbacks in the Bofors scandal of yester years which involved India’s Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was valued at Rs 64 crore, an amount that looks so tiny when compared with today’s illegitimate gains of A Raja and his accomplices causing a loss of Rs 176,379 crore (US$ 39.33 billion) to the national exchequer.

Dreams and castle plans we build are enormous. No salary package is plenty enough to cater for fulfilling all our aspirations in this world no matter how hard we work and how much we earn. Indians are objects of envy for their abilities and untiring capacity to work all over the world. Tough competition, long working hours and vagaries of hectic routine in life do not seem to deter this generation. What does is when they find the undeserving has the cake and eats it too. Hard working, sincere, ambitious and fully aware of their rights, these people get angry when their genuine dues are withheld or when they find someone who supersedes them illegally and gets ‘special favours’ through bribing. It pains them even more when they discover a sinister nexus where the corruption vine runs all the way from clerk’s window to the minister’s table. Who will attend to your complaints of injustice in such a scenario? Tired and frustrated in a hopeless situation, people give up and reconcile to the harsh realities. Since they have money but no time or intent to get into hassles, they pay their way out with angst building in their guts though!

Anna Hazare’s arrival on the scene had an electrifying effect on this generation that had already become highly inflammable. Anna’s protest fast at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan made India rise in unison against corruption – obliterating conventional lines of cast, religion and region. Full of anger, all able bodied and daring, yet epitomes of a highly responsible citizenry, remarkably peaceful and tolerant, thoroughly adherent to rules – the agitating masses set new standards of mass movement show-casing a shining example of how protest rallies can be organised without needing police, causing harm to life and property or inconvenience to public so commonly witnessed in our political rallies. Patriotic songs like ‘Dil diya hai, jaan bhi denge, aye vatan tere liye…’ and slogans like ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ rent the air boosting a new found nationalistic fervour all over India – even abroad. India united and surging behind a fasting farmer, Anna, whose simplicity and diminutive bearing hid his enormous moral stature, simply bewildered the political class.

What is indeed reassuring is that the earning generation of modern India is still largely imbued with high morals even though they are capable of manoeuvring through corrupt corridors of government machinery. Now they realise the seriousness of the malaise called corruption. Their cool rallying up is more than just a silver lining in the dark clouds. There is though a need for a solemn self-cleansing effort to introspect and change course so as to build up a mass aversion against corruption in every form. Keep the difference between fair and foul; ‘sincere quest to earn more through honest, fair pursuit’ and ‘greed to grab and hoard by hook or by crook.’

The public outcry has been catalysed by bad governance where corrupt officials get away with arrogance, callousness and inefficiency leaving the public largely disappointed. The politico-bureaucratic-criminal nexus has become a potent force that threatens India’s national security from within. Ironically, figures and statistics in respect of this category (politicians, bureaucrats and criminals) perform quite differently when compared with those of the working masses. For example, unlike the exacting norms of admissions and job placements for the law abiding career oriented youth, there are no mandatory qualifications for an MP or an MLA. Also, no matter how fast the hardworking executives climb to richer returns; our politicians have devised techniques to clock a higher growth rate faster that beats all. For instance, the average growth rate of wealth of India’s parliamentarians was 300% as per reports recently published in the newspapers. While a manager or an engineer can be summarily fired and a military man (officer or jawan) can be summarily tried and punished, our bureaucrats hoodwink the system projecting their ‘transfer’ or ‘suspension’ as punishment for their misdeeds. Little wonder that while we often read news about transfers and suspensions, no convictions or summary dismissals come to light. In fact, the country is left to mutely watch uninterrupted ascendance of the corrupt right up to the very top. Akhand Pratap Singh and Neera Yadav both managed to reach the highest posts in their service despite their highly tarnished service records. PJ Thomas who became India’s CVC despite his baggage of corruption in the past mentioned in his affidavit filed in the Supreme Court that all the other IAS officers shortlisted for the prestigious post had similar tainted past.

Earlier, the criminals used to work for their political bosses. Now it seems they have become politicians themselves. Two very highly reputed organisations, ‘Association for Democratic Reforms’ and ‘National Election Watch’, have discovered that while there were a total of 128 MPs with criminal records in the 14th Lok Sabha, now there are 162 (excluding A Raja and accomplices) in the 15th Lok Sabha. The number of crorepatis (multi-millionaires and billionaires) has doubled to 315 in the 15th Lok Sabha from 156 in the previous. Another interesting phenomenon that emerged from these analyses is that the chances of winning an election in 2009 were directly proportional to the money power of the contestants, ie, 0.43% with assets under Rs 10 lakh to 32.65% with assets over Rs 5 crore.

If reward of earnest pursuit by the competent, honest and sincere citizens of the country is inferior to and at the mercy of the corrupt bureaucrats and politicians who create mountains of illicit wealth through corruption, there shall be mass resentment against the unholy nexus among politicians, bureaucrats and criminals because it is injustice and denial of fair way to the people in the world’s largest democracy. Institutionalising a single authority like Lokpal (Ombudsman) on the lines proposed by Team Anna certainly appears to be a way out. Care must be taken to keep it simple, straight and free from ambiguity. Creation of different institutions to control corruption at different levels like higher bureaucracy, subordinate services, members of Parliament, Judiciary and so on will only serve the corrupt who will find plenty of escape routes in the labyrinth of institutions because acts of corruption can be – and almost always – based on collaboration spread across these categories. It is therefore logically necessary that cases of corruption are handled by a single authority having freedom to enquire and pass appropriate orders without having to refer a matter to another agency half-way through. Such a measure will only help corruption.

Post retirement positions assigned to judges and bureaucrats is also part of corruption because in their twilight years, they greedily survey and unfairly lobby to get appointed in such positions. It should be simpler, fair and more effective if appointments now earmarked for ‘retired’ judges and officers are filled by serving incumbents through a fair selection process. They should serve and retire as per existing service norms without any extension of tenure. Even for various enquiry commissions and other agencies like Human Rights Commission, all office bearers should be found from those who have enough service to serve the required tenure in these agencies before superannuating as per their service rules. This will put an end to a temptation among judges and officers looking for post-retirement positions, a practice which is more of a reciprocal exchange of favours and goes to fortify the unfair nexus.

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