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Measures To Root Out Corruption Restoring Values of our Public Life

Updated: December 25, 2010 10:24 am

Widespread concerns have been expressed about the decline of values and standards in our society and public life. Too many scams and corrupt practices give the impression of the sharp fall of the conduct of people who have the mandate to run the affairs of our country. In 1996, an issue of the journal of Social Science Research brought out by the UNESCO, especially devoted to the theme of values. Most of the articles of that journal focused attention on the way the values were getting eroded in almost all the countries of the world.

Our Moral Universe is Shrinking

The alleged corruption involving the recently concluded Commonwealth Games and allotment of 2G spectrum has stirred people and agitated them. Only a few days back, the Prime Minister of our country Dr Manmohan Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi, one of the towering personalities of our public life expressed their worry and anxiety at the way in which the morals and principles are lost sight of in our day-to-day life. Mrs Sonia Gandhi went to the extent of saying that our moral universe is shrinking very fast. She referred to the moral purpose and dimension of our freedom struggle under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and sadly noted the way in which people are departing from that remarkable legacy.

If we survey some of the editorials of selected newspapers of 1980s, we find that the predominant content and theme in those editorials revolved around development and progress. As we accelerated the pace of growth after the onset of economic reforms, we took pride in the kind of special attention we received from the world for unleashing the entrepreneurial potential of our people. By the middle of 1990s, many newspapers while positively commenting on our progress expressed fear that progress was not being accompanied by morals and values. The business sector and public life often get tainted by corrupt practices and unethical activities. But this trend is not a new development. Neither is it specific to India. In the last decade of nineteenth century, Swami Vivekananda wrote perceptively about deepening corruption in Europe due to quest for vote of the electorate by political parties. He noted with happiness that India remained free from such corruption arising out of power politics. However, he observed that with the spread of democratic ideals the condition of India could be improved to a great extent. In fact, over several decades, democratic ideals have taken deep roots in our country and at the same time many distortions in the form of corruption and compromise in standards of behaviour have plagued our society and body polity.

Roots of Corruption

A peep into history shows that people indulged in corruption even while we were fighting for freedom. Mahatma Gandhi had written about it on many occasions. As early as 1906, when he launched his first Satyagraha in South Africa, some of the participants shamelessly misappropriated money. During that time Gandhiji wrote about the necessity of people remaining accountable and upholding high standards of integrity. Citing his own example, he mentioned that even a bill showing payment of money for purchasing a bottle of soda water was very carefully preserved for scrutiny by others. When the historic Dandi March was organised by him in 1930, some people collected money in the name of Congress without giving valid receipts to the donors. The funds collected in that manner remained unaccounted for and appropriated in a wrong manner by dishonest persons. He described those practices as corrupt practices and strongly advocated measures for accountability and maintenance of books to show the receipt of money and the way in which it was spent. He also wanted that all the receipts given to people after collecting money from them should be issued by authorised functionaries with impeccable record of honesty and integrity. In 21st century India, those lessons from Mahatma Gandhi’s writings are of vital importance to clean our public life.

It is, therefore, evident that corruption in public life is not a new development. It had its roots in our history. Now, the bribery and sleazes are being exposed frequently and people get sensitised about such developments due to vibrant media and other institutions, which have been established to track down corruption.

The paradox of a spiritually charged nation charged with corruption

Every year the Report of the Transparency International rates India as one of the top-ranking corrupt countries in the world. It is often intriguing to note that India, known for its ancient civilization and spiritual tradition, has got the bad reputation of being one of the nations with very low moral standards. Standards of spirituality and civilization are anti-ethical to the standard of corruption. So, how is that India which is acclaimed as the only continuing civilization in the world is also continuing to be one of the most-corrupt counties across the globe? Here, in this country, millions of people visit shrines to offer prayers to the almighty. The same people do not at all feel ashamed in taking resort to corrupt practices. It is rather surprising that thousands of people from the western world come to the banks of Ganges to seek spiritual solace. This has been continuing in spite of the rampant corruption bringing bad name to our polity and society. Millions of Indians go to the western world, particularly Europe and America, in search of material comforts and high standards of living and of course high standard of education and professional career. While many Europeans and Americans come here in quest of spirituality, Indians go to the west to lead a comfortable life and attain high material standards. It is rather paradoxical that India recognised for spiritual values is also reviled for its corruption. Whereas the western countries having high-material standards are known for less corruption in day-to-day life. So, why is it that our spiritual ethos and values do not prompt us to live a clean and corruption-free life? Today in our society, it would be difficult to locate one Shri Aurobindo or Mahatma Gandhi or Utkalmani Gopabandhu Das. We are now Independent for more than 60 years. We have registered progress in many spheres which have been admired by the whole world. It is interesting to note that somehow our moral stature was very high when we were under foreign rule and we had no material standard worth the name.

Living Honestly means Service to Nation

It is difficult to explain this paradox. People across the country are tired of the corruption at every level of our society. They are yearning to see our leadership adhere to basic norms of decency, ethics and honesty. In fact, it is the common people who are the repository of values, principles and morals which constitute the foundation of our society. I recall the example of a common man who struggled hard to educate himself and stand on his own feet. After he settled down in life, he adopted the fair means to support his family. His name is Shri Anand Chandra Sahu, who expired on November 10, 2010, in Kalahandi district of Odisha. He belonged to the vast mass of ordinary people of this country. When he died, no newspaper wrote anything about him. After all, he was an ordinary person and the sad demise of such a person is never taken note of by any newspaper or radio or television channel. It is such common people, who constitute the mainstay of our nation. While spearheading our freedom struggle, Mahatma Gandhi referred to an interesting incident involving a common person. He was a satyagrahi fighting for our Independence and suffered bereavement due to the death of his father. That person explained his inability to continue his association with the freedom struggle as he had to earn for his family following his father’s sad demise. Gandhiji agreed to his request and told that if he could earn his living and support his family by honest means he would better serve the nation. He stated that the patriotism could be shown not only by joining Satyagraha but also by sustaining one’s family by adopting honest means. In fact, in India, today common people are engaged in the struggle to live their life. It is among such common people we find values. In the context of the encircling gloom caused by scams and corruption, it is important for us to pay attention to the life of the common people who uphold the principle of honesty and integrity in their day-to-day life.

Survey Results Prove that Indians are clean

Screaming headlines in print and electronic media on frequent cases of corruption cause despair and despondency among all of us. We are often asking a question to ourselves, “Are we really so corrupt meriting shattering condemnation from all quarters?” Is India really one of the most corrupt nations in the world or is it just being blown out of proportions? To find out the extent to which the Indians are corrupt or clean a survey was made by Readers’ Digest a few years ago. Those who conducted the survey left packets containing money worth few thousands of rupees in market places in many cities of our country. All those envelopes contained a small note in which it was written that anybody who would find that packet should return it to the address mentioned in the note. It was found that 90 per cent of the packets containing money were returned by people who got those packets from those market places. Similarly, many mobile phones were kept in a packet and left in market places with the same instruction that anybody getting that packet should return it to the address mentioned there. Ninety-five per cent of the people, who got those packets returned those mobile phones. The survey thereafter concluded that Indians are as clean as anybody else in the world. If this is the finding of the survey then why it is that India is ranked as one of the most corrupt nations in the world? Why a common person in the street or in any office or in any other place confronts corruption all the time? In fact, corruption is a byproduct of monopoly and complicated and too many laws. Mahatma Gandhi, a few months before our Independence, wrote that too much control would promote corruption. Simplified procedures and laws constitute an antidote to the bribery and unethical activities. However, one often loses hope for restoring ethics in public life.

Decline of Corruption in Some Sectors

There are some bright spots which inspire us to fight against corruption. In some sectors of our economy, corruption has declined. For instance, in the telephone sector, an ordinary person does not have to pay bribe to get a telephone connection now. It was not so 20 years back. In fact, in 1980s and even 1990s one had to run from pillar to post to get a telephone connection. Even to book a long distance call, one had to keep the telephone operator in good humour all the time. Now, STD connection is in everybody’s pocket due to availability of mobile connectivity. So, why is that corruption is now quite less in the telephone sector? Is it that the people working in the telephone sector are now infused with the spiritual values for which India is well respected at the world level? Actually, corruption in telephone sector has come down due to technology, competition and transparency. Monopoly of the government in providing telecommunication services is now over. There are many players in the telecommunication sector offering telephone connection at competitive prices to people who have now wider choices at their disposal to chose a particular operator. In such a situation multiple companies adopt innovative strategies to win over more customers to their side. Unethical practices followed a few years back have given way to better business practices to multiply their profit. In other words, to establish a clean society we require apart from great ideals and thoughts, technology and new mindset.

We all know that slavery was abolished in America in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln. Slavery is one of the worst and brutal forms of corruption. The celebrated scientist Albert Einstein once wrote that slavery was abolished due to electricity. He explained that electricity helped people to reduce their dependence on manual labour and, therefore, they did not require slaves to carry out many of their works. This means that great ideas and ideals cannot be implemented just on their own strength but by the strength of some other thing which may be technology or something else. The age of information technology has awakened consciousness that we can address the challenge of corruption by establishing connectivity and making information available to people through the touch of a button. Even the landmark Right to Information legislation is a giant stride to eliminate corruption from society. The RTI has empowered people to expose many misdeeds of those, who control the state apparatus.


A couple of visits to Pakistan during 1984-86 as one of the experts to plan and conduct international teachers orientation programmes provided ample opportunity to interact with people of varied vocations and background. It was indeed so satisfying to observe that most of people in Pakistan were deeply appreciative of the fully-functional Indian democracy, which they thought was firmly ‘in place’. Not that everything had gone smooth during the previous decade at that stage. Imposition of Emergency, JP movement, unseating of Indira Gandhi, coming to power of the Janata Party and Indira’s triumphant return to power; her tragic assassination and the massive mandate that Rajiv Gandhi got—all these taken in sequence projected great strength of Indian democracy even against sporadic aberrations. In several international interactions, the same level of admiration and appreciation for Indian democracy and its sound base was invariably expressed. It was sufficient to gladden the hearts of every Indian. Even in those days, the daunting presence of poverty, illiteracy, hunger and ill health were known to the outside world but there was great hope all around that things shall improve in the largest functional democracy in due course.

                If one goes by the official data and detailed statistics, it could safely project that India has marched far-ahead during the last twenty-five years. It is now competing with China to become the next global economic power. Increasing number of Indians are finding a place in the lists of global rich. In support they could cite ‘progress’ that was most inappropriately projected by then government in the 2004 slogan ‘India shining!’. Well, India is shining for a select few ‘haves’ of India. It is all hunky-dory for the politician in power, the bureaucrat and the corporate houses. For the rest of India and its have not’s, there are assurances, promises and more promises. Exasperated, this huge section of Indians observes erosion of democratic values all around. Questions are being asked: what has happened to the spirit of serving the deprived, destitute and deficient? Why are the roots of Indian democracy getting dried up in an environment of ‘self interest’ overtaking every other consideration amongst the political parties and those who happen to occupy the seats of power and influence

                Often in the intellectual circuits of Delhi, a query is raised by the knowledgeable: “Why this section of the deprived, deficient and exploited suffers in silence?” It is not so. People are reacting practically everywhere, the approach and manner differ. One-third of the districts are under Naxal control, as are certain states in Northeast are run by the terror outfits. People are resisting the continued systemic exploitation of over six decades and, in the process, are being exploited again by vested interests. Naxals, terrorists, Maoists and their entire ilk are extracting whatever is the dearest possession of the poorest of the poor. They hold Kangaroo courts, award inhuman punishment including cold-blooded murders, blast school buildings and railway stations and even train carrying, once again, the weakest and most-exploited! From each of these areas elected representatives sit in the two houses of Parliament, in the state legislatures and right up to the Panchayat level. All of them are well-off, their salaries and emoluments and perks are upgraded at regular intervals. The process of elections at every level is now fully controlled by the money-bags and muscle power. This was not the democracy that was envisaged by the framers of the Constitution of India! The expectation initially was that any person, even if he/she is a pauper, with an unblemished record of public service would stand a chance of being elected as people’s representative! This aspiration has been snatched away by the unscrupulous and vested interests. On March 26, 1946 Gandhiji wrote in Young India: “The Swaraj of my dream is the poor man’s Swaraj. The necessaries of life should be enjoyed by you in common with those enjoyed by the princess and the moneyed man. But that does not mean that you should have palaces like theirs. These are not necessary for happiness. You or I would be lost in them. But, you ought to get all the ordinary amenities of life that a rich man enjoys. I have not the slightest doubt that Swaraj is not Purna Swaraj until these amenities to you under it.” If one applies this criterion, then it is only the miniscule percentage that is enjoying the fruits of the Swaraj even after sixty-three years of Independence. Our elected representatives do live in palaces often more luxurious than the princes of the yesteryears.

                Indian democracy is no longer open for effective participation to every citizen. It is fast becoming a captive of the cartel of politician, bureaucrat and the corporate. Corruption in systemic functioning, malpractices in elections, snatching the land of farmers by the governments which hand it over to land mafia for a consideration; and so much more could be listed on this front rape, murder and extortion no longer attract much attention of the government machinery. Young boys and girls from North-East find Delhi an alien establishment that generates a sense of fearsome insecurity. Government builds Asiad village and Commonwealth Games Village, which are essentially meant for the benefit of the builder, investor and the permission-giver. Any alert villager could complain against the grave injustice being inflicted upon the term ‘village’! There was a suggestion that instead of flats, hostels may be build up and after the games, these be handed over to the University of Delhi. It was quietly turned down. Who cares for whom? Has Indian democracy become a pawn in the hands of the upper echelon’s cartel that looks after everyone but only within itself!

                The way people in positions of power and influence are being caught in corruption, nepotism and shameless defense of the same tramples upon the very credibility of the Indian democracy. Just as exemplars, the 2-G spectrum and the appointment of the CVC are measures of the depth to which democratic values have declined and moral standards deteriorated. The trend can be reversed when young people come forward and ensure procedures that would eliminate money power and muscle power in elections. A huge movement in public education is the need of the hour. Masses have to rise and decide how India shall march ahead without losing its moorings.

Gender Equality will Ensure a Clean Public Life

While technology, competition and transparency constitute formidable weapons to fight against corruption, there are measures such as gender equality which is an important step to establish a clean society. It has been strongly advocated that a society where women get fair treatment and are represented adequately in decision making bodies, there corrupt practices have come down drastically. If India today is rated as one of the most corrupt countries then we should be mindful of the fact that in Indian society women are treated in a very unfair manner. They are killed for dowry and even a girl child is killed before she is born. The passage of the Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill in Rajya Sabha for representation of 33 per cent women in Lok Sabha and State Assemblies is in this sense not only a landmark step for women’s empowerment but also a step for purifying our public life. In Scandinavian countries, women’s representation is more than 40 per cent in politics and many other spheres. Those countries are practically corruption free. In fact, the Human Development Index of those countries is also very high. Therefore, to restore values in our society we need to strengthen the culture of common people, introduce innovative technologies such as information technology, empower women, simplify laws and adopt a vigilant attitude to stop corruption.

Corruption will be Out one Day

In 1930s, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that “corruption will be out one day, however, each one may try to conceal it; and the public can, as it is its right and duty, in every case of justifiable suspicion, call its servants to strict account, dismiss them, sue them in a law court, or appoint an arbitrator or inspector to scrutinise their conduct, as it likes”. In fact, today people are in the forefront to expose corruption. All these revelations about scams and bribery are good signs. It shows that such activities cannot be kept under cover for long. It is important to identify corrupt people and prosecute them. If in each district of our country, ten corrupt people are punished and equal number of clean people are rewarded then the level of corruption in our country will sharply decline.

Examples of Honest Officers and Leaders

We never read about persons who have received recognition and been rewarded for honestly performing their duties in face of temptations to make money by illegal means. In fact, in 2007, when the Surat Municipality Commissioner Ms S Aparna was introduced as an honest officer in a meeting, she felt sad about it. I shared dais with her in that meeting organised by the National Institute of Technology, Surat. Had honest people been dominant in our society, nobody would have cared to introduce somebody as an honest person. Because honesty as a value is a casualty we give importance to it and hail somebody who lives by this motto. I recall my association with Shri Ashish Gupta, who is a senior officer of the Indian Police Service and on deputation to the Prime Minister’s Office where both of us served as Director. He continues to be posted there. He was recollecting his experiences as a trainee IPS officer under the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of the Varanasi region. The high ethical stature of the SSP inspired other subordinates to live up to his expectations and refrain from any corrupt activity. He even assured them that he would go to any length to protect them if they acted in accordance with ethical norms. The example set by one single officer vindicates the stand that even an individual can change attitude of his colleagues and subordinates and motivate them to remain honest.

It is extremely important to refer to an illuminating instance of a parliamentarian, who is a member of the Rajya Sabha. He is Shri Tiruchi Shiva belonging to the DMK party and is currently serving as the Chairman of the Department Related Standing Committee on Industry. His life was shaped by the values inculcated in his mind by his mother right from his childhood days. She taught him not stretch his palm and ask any thing from any body, not to bend down and not give up. He is a refreshing example of a politician, who always remains in the forefront to uphold these values. He stated forcefully that the authority of a leader is as much derived from the positions held by him or her as from the qualities or values determining his or her conduct in day-to-day life. Comprehensive cultivation of virtues at individual and societal levels will surely contribute to our efforts for eradication of corruption from society.

Santhanam Commission on Corruption

We all know that our late Prime Minister Shre Lal Bahadur Shastri was a very clean and honest person. When he was the Home Minister of our country he established a Commission under Shri Santhanam to examine the issue of corruption. That was the first ever Commission to be established in Independent India to study the magnitude of corruption and recommend measures to address it. The Commission submitted its Report and observed that people engaged in corruption never felt bad about what they were doing. That Commission was established in early 1960s. Since then corruption has multiplied and repeated media exposure of the malaise testified to its deep roots. Urgent steps are required to punish those who take resort to corruption and reward those who keep away from it and in fact prevent it. As mentioned above, we also need to simplify laws, empower women, adopt innovative technologies and enrich the culture of common people for espousing the cause of a clean public life and realising it in practice.

A National Movement against Corruption

Four days before Mahatma Gandhi attained martyrdom he addressed a prayer meeting in Delhi and made a pointed reference to what he called “the demon of corruption”. He then stated that “indifference in such matters is criminal”. In twenty-first century India people are no more indifferent, rather their proactive in exposing corruption and demanding stern action against corrupt people. A movement is necessary for purging our social, political and individual spheres of the evil of corruption. Dr BR Ambedkar, as the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly had expressed hope that the public opinion in India would eventually check and put an end to corruption. He, therefore, did not accept an amendment to the specific article of the draft Constitution making it compulsory for those being appointed as ministers to declare their assets.

I think the public opinion which Dr Ambedkar referred to is building up. It is unmistakably in favour of upholding ethical values which are integral to governance. Our first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in his thought provoking piece ‘The Basic Approach’ written in 1958, observed “… we must not forget the ethical and spiritual aspects of life which are ultimately the basic of culture and civilization and which have given some meaning to life”. In forgetting these ideals we put at stake the future of our people and nation. It is therefore important to revive that enduring legacy of ancient civilization to revitalise our public life and remove the poison of corruption.

By Satya Narayana Sahu


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