Corruption & Other “Indian” Evils

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

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Corruption & Other “Indian” Evils

Debashish Goswami | March 23, 2019 12:06 hrs


In my line of work as a strategy consultant to various government projects (usually technology enabled), I am asked a variety of questions from friends and family. The senior generations are usually curious about what it is I actually do – the idea of a grown man, giving advice for a wage is a rather confusing subject for most of them, if not downright “wrong” somehow. For younger generations, it’s an easier construct – convinced as most of them are that the government (whoever it may be) is ALWAYS in need of direction and advice – mostly from them, preferably!


Be that as it may, one of the direct corollaries of my chosen line of work (more on that later) is that I have to defend the government initiatives at random times and by random people (often related to me and yet…). Not something I am thrilled about. 


Most of the questions revolve around – 


Why is India not as good as the West in regard to facilities & public utilities?


Why doesn’t the government address theirissues (insert pet peeve or specific clique/group)?


Where is all this “Progress” (yeah, translate to Hindi)?


Why is India so corrupt???? 


That last question is the hands-down favourite for all genders, groups and ages. My answer is usually a question – Did you study history in school? Needless to say, I get blank looks. 


In the history of European thought, discussion of corruption in politics and the possibility of achieving non-corrupt politics immediately suggests the Greek philosophers, particularly Socrates and Plato, but also their immediate successors in the late-classical and Hellenistic periods, all of whom agonised about the corruption of politics and the corruptibility of politicians. This is further taken forward by Aristotle and his thoughts on human society. Much nearer home, Kautilya, the crooked one who defined statecraft and expounded on the importance of “artha” embraced the very concept as one of the cornerstones of successful government administration for leverage and manipulation to achieve intended targets. 


As I said, blank looks…..


Corruption (anywhere in the world) is part and parcel of the human state of being and intrinsic to the human condition – like cellular growth, one cannot completely eradicate it for as long as humans are involved. As Chanakya the master realist understood it, it is a necessary evil which can be restricted to permissible levels but never completely done away with. Something any realist understands. 


In this context, the Digital India initiative of the Government of India is perhaps one of the better answers to the possibility of curbing corruption to permissible levels by automating processes and systems to reduce the level of human interaction to vitiate and leverage an established structure to their own ends and purposes.
 

And yet, we have people questioning basics – educated people at that. But then again, education is far removed from common sense and an understanding or even acceptance of real-politik. 


If we drill down to the various questions usually posed and topics which are, time and again used as political “issues” every election since 1950, the most honest answer is perhaps India suffers it’s many ailments due to its immense population.
 

The population explosion forces more stress on the administration to provide utilities/facilities which reach the common man/woman and the revenue accrued by this humongous population is simply not sufficient to manage and deliver the levels of service common in the western world. For every initiative undertaken by the government, it’s a struggle to deliver to the last mile and the end-consumer keeping in mind the constraints. 


And yet, it is something that we all think that the government is responsible for managing their expectations. Before all, I will agree that this is perhaps a very simplistic answer and not really sufficient to answer every possible query. 


So perhaps, corruption and its eradication is a matter of managing expectations. Like a child, to distract, mis-direct coax and cajole, the mother seeks to manage the populace for the day, awaiting for the next day and it’s own set of problems (often repeated) and hopes for the day the child is mature enough to realize it’s expectations.
 

I did say, I was a consultant FOR the government, didn’t I?
 

(The author was a senior advisor to the government of India and served under various ministries on diverse digital initiatives in the past 15 years)

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