“India is a corrupt country, but I’m not part of the corruption” — this is what each one of us believes. Even a traffic cop who takes a bribe doesn’t think that he is a corrupt man. He believes that he is only doing what is necessary to sustain his family with dignity; after all, his salary is really quite low, his working conditions are really quite bad, his level of frustration is really quite high, and the cost of living really is genuinely going up! So, when a motorist who breaks a signal by mistake offers him a hundred bucks, why shouldn’t he take it? Besides, his bosses and colleagues may treat him like a pariah if he tries to be the only pure one among them, and that is a big problem.
At the other end of the spectrum, the wealthy businessman believes that he is doing nothing by bankrolling ministers, bureaucrats, top-cops and political party bosses; having friends in the right places is necessary for removing unnecessary obstacles. Funding the decision-makers is an unavoidable cost of doing big business – a sort of indirect tax imposed on rich businessmen.
Team Anna terms the parliament and the state legislatures as the epicenter of corruption. That may well be true. But ask yourself, how else can it be? How can a career politician maintain his family if he refuses to accept the friendship of wealthy people? To even be considered for a party post – say, the general secretary of the Congress party in the state — one must spend all the productive hours of his day mobilizing hundreds of party workers for meetings, rallies etc. For this, he needs substantial daily cash-flows for chai-nashta,pamphlets, flex banners etc. The most available party workers will be those without a full-time job or a business. So, people who occupy party positions are either moneyed people or those with rich friends willing to invest in them… and quite often, a combination of both. And, as no friendship is a one way street, benefits just naturally flow towards the rich friends who provide party funds.
Team Anna, Baba Ramdev and their diehard supporters don’t appear to be applying their mind to altering these ground realities. The aam janta is happy with their oversimplification of the discussion about corruption into an us-versus-them theme – as if life is a movie with readymade heroes, villains and victims. Their theory is: the guys chanting ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Mera Bharat Mahaan’ and going on hunger strikes are the good guys, and the other lot – sitting in government offices all over the country — are the bad guys. The bad guys are afraid of one one thing – Jan Lokpal. So, if you arm-twist these bad guys in parliament to pass the Jan Lokpal bill, then the good guys will suddenly be in power, and all the bad guys will be running helter-skelter to save their skin, and the public can go home happy that good has once again triumphed over evil. Oh, how we love happy endings!
We need to see a more sophisticated understanding of the sordid reality around us. And for such an understanding, we need to first let go of our righteous anger and indignation, and invite the “corrupt people” to join us at the table for discussion. Only in this way can we gain the collective insight and wisdom needed for solving the problems that India faces.
WE ALL HAVE INTIMATE KNOWLEDGE OF CORRUPTION
Each of us – whether great or small — is an insider in some knowledge domains, and an outsider in most domains. Many of us are intimately aware of how and where exactly wrongdoings are carried out, and by whom. But we remain silent, and don’t speak the truth because we don’t consider it important or worthwhile to speak out. We want other people to speak first and pay the price; we ourselves wish to continue our lives in comfort. By our silence and indifference, or by our lack of initiative to blow the whistle, we become part of the great conspiracy of silence.
The theory propagated by Team Anna is that India is being stabbed in the heart by crooked parliamentarians. While this is not untrue, a larger and more widespread truth is that we are ourselves inflicting on India a death by a thousand cuts. We the People are part of a great big conspiracy of silence, and the country’s only hope lies in our breaking this conspiracy of silence by speak whatever we know. Here are some examples of our knowledge, and our participation in the conspiracy of silence:
- · SMALL-TIME LAWYERS, JUDICIAL CLERKS & HABITUAL LITIGANTS have intimate knowledge of some things about court functioning that even eminent lawyers and judges may not know – for example how the order of cause-lists are changed at the last minute, how important petitions are held up for petty clerical reasons, and how public notaries, public prosecutors, magistrates and judges of the higher judiciary make money on the side. Eminent jurists may be ignorant of such things, because they operate at a different level.
- · HAWKERS, CONSTABLES & LOITERERS who stand on the street all day have intimate knowledge of how to create a hawker territory, and how to predict the movement of anti-encroachment municipal vans. They are keenly aware of the effects of change of duty assignment in the municipal and police administration, and how new and zealous officers are routinely “settled”, and by whom. The man on the street knows things about the real India that would make Planning Commission chiefs and World Bank economists prostrate themselves in humility. They may not have the paperwork to prove what they way, but even photographs and videos taken on cellphones can often reveal so much!
- · IAS AND IPS OFFICERS – in service and retired – turned into activists, they could single-handedly change the political and business environment in our country if they revealed what goes on in the government. (If you think that civil society activists or RTI activists know much about corruption, forget it!) Corrupt people in the establishment won’t know where to hide their faces if these people went public!
- · PLANT MANAGERS, PURCHASE MANAGERS & STOREKEEPERS in both private and public sector concerns have intimate knowledge of unsafe industrial practices, adulteration, improper maintenance and substandard materials. Quite often, they may voice their concern to their superiors and peers, but that is ineffective in curbing the wrongdoings. To break the conspiracy of silence, they need to come out with the truth before the public.
- · ARCHITECTS – both well-known ones and ordinary ones –have in their minds a detailed map of how land grabs and building scams are carried out. But they are not telling, because they are the guys who make it all happen.
- · LAW FIRMS ENGAGED BY BIG BUILDERS have a thorough knowledge of the illegalities that they help to commit and cover up. They are not telling because they are making indecent amounts of money. If one or two professionals tell their story with documents, big names in the industry will run around looking for fig leaves to hide their shame.
- · CHARTERED ACCOUNTANTS are to the world of business what gynecologists are to the world of women; they have their fingers deep inside whatever is kept hidden from the world. Only CAs have any understanding of the complicated maze of ownership patterns of many groups of companies, consisting of dozens of family trusts, holding companies, individual directors etc. Through such networks, Birla and Ambani family members may hold a larger stake in some Tata companies than the Tata family itself – and vice-versa. Hidden in the maze of group companies, associate companies (subsidiaries), foreign collaborators based in tax-haven countries etc. etc., there is a whole “corporate India” whose economy is many times larger than that of the India we know. In the public mind, “corporate” means clean and law-abiding; in actual fact, corporate entities have a lot of criminality, and massive white-collar crimes are perpetrated by employees who act under improper authorization.
- · PRIESTS & TRUSTEES OF TEMPLE TRUSTS & CHARITIES, especially those controlled by politicians receive large and inexplicable donations in cash, jewelry etc round the year. In the weeks and days before the last date to file tax returns, CAs of all sizes are busy calling one another and making adjustments between businesses that have too much cash, and want to bring some of it on the records, and others who have too much income on their books, and want to make it disappear from their books by conversion into cash. Temples and charitable trusts are massive conduits of black-money, and no place – be it the Shirdi temple or the Siddhivinayak temple – is too sacred to engage in such dealings. If only the priests and trustees were to speak up with specific examples and documents!
- · FIXERS AT PMO, CMO, MANTRALAYA, MINISTERS RESIDENCES, PARTY OFFICES & other power centres do the complicated job of getting various licenses and government permissions. These people may be professional architects, lawyers, CAs, journalists, entrepreneurs, or managing committee members of well-known chambers of commerce — but this tribe of people knows how to get things done for love or for money. And it isn’t only individual fixers, but corporates – often called consultants — that make things happen. Nira Radia’s Vaishnavi Communications was accidentally outed and had to close down, but there are dozens of Vaishnavis still out there, flying below everybody’s radar. By hiring retired IAS and IPS officers and friends and relatives of MLAs, MPs and ministers, they exert a great influence on policy decisions, key appointments etc.
- · PERSONAL ASSISTANTS OF PEOPLE IN KEY GOVERNMENT POSTS are intimately aware of “indecent proposals”. For example, it is an open secret that the Registrar of Cooperatives and other officials are routinely paid Rs 25,000 per flat undergoing redevelopment, just for attending the meeting for video-taping the consent. Otherwise, that crucial meeting will get endlessly delayed, causing huge loss to the builder. If insiders in such departments blew the whistle on their bosses and colleagues, a major clean-up could happen, and misgovernance could be brought under control.
- · MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS are all bound together by a network of kickbacks. Every time your family doctor recommends tests worth Rs 1000, he earns Rs 400 to 600 by way of commission from the pathology lab. Whenever your general physician refers you to a super-specialist who charges, say, Rs 50,000, your family doctor gets Rs 2000 or more. And if he recommends hospitalization which makes you — or your medical insurance company — poorer by Rs 50,000, your friendly and ever-so-caring family doctor becomes richer by Rs 10,000 or more.
- · PANELISTS OF WELL-KNOWN HOSPITALS are given monthly growth targets to fulfill in terms of bed-occupancy; that means that your super-specialist or consulting surgeon is under performance pressure to put people under the knife, like so many sheep sent to the slaughterhouse. Many doctors admit in private conversations that many surgeries are avoidable. We are waiting for some doctors to go public about this shocking abuse of our trust with revealing internal documents and correspondence.
- · AUTHORIZED WORKSHOPS OF VARIOUS AUTOMOBILE MANUFACTURERS are under performance pressure. In order to attain quarterly growth targets, the auto companies try to accelerate the turnover of their spare parts by forcing workshops to achieve numerical quarterly targets for items such as car batteries, bearings and bushings. As a consequence, even if your batter and other parts are quite ok, the supervisor who draws up a job card and estimate tends to say things like, “Sir, your battery performance is slightly weak, and the bushings of the rear wheel suspension has become a bit hard due to age. Nothing urgent, but the vehicle performance will definitely improve if you change these whenever you are financially comfortable.” A lot of men feel that their manhood is being called into question, and respond with, “Uh, ok, change them. How much will it all cost?” In this way, the supervisor and auto mechanics makes you cough up a lot of money for change of battery and a whole suspension job. They earn “performance incentives” as a percentage of the cost of spare parts and labour charges, and they also earn promotions. Most reputed garages are part of this malpractice. Hopefully soon, some insiders will spill the beans with statistics, quarterly reports, and internal documents.
- · PR AGENCIES “manage” the news that appears in the media in very subtle ways. Paid news isn’t a single monolithic phenomenon; it is a mixture of event management and celebrity handling, clever photographs, sponsored articles, and personal friendships with sub-editors, editors and proprietors of newspapers. It’s a smooth job that goes on 24×7, and PR agencies are low-profile players who cultivate good relations with individual journalists on the one hand and corporate houses on the other hand, and act as go-betweens without proper authorizations and controls.
WE MUST FACILITATE WHISTLEBLOWERS, BECOME THEIR PROTECTIVE CLOAK
Corruption is not only in the government, it is in all spheres of life. For our battle against corruption to become widespread, we need to bring insiders from various fields of knowledge to the discussion table. To truly change India from the inside, we must engage and facilitate such people, and not alienate them with name-calling. Because, only people with privileged information can convincingly disclose how the country’s various democratic institutions are being subverted, and only they can enable us to plug the leakages in the system. Without the intelligence inputs provided by them, our anti-corruption campaigns will only be so much sloganeering, wishful thinking and shooting in the dark.
We must encourage insiders in various domains of knowledge to speak up, with the support of documents that support their story. Some may want to come out into the open with their names, but many of them will want the protective cloak of confidentiality before they reveal all… and we must provide them that level of comfort. We must be their shield and their mouthpieces.
INDIVIDUAL ACTIVISTS & JOURNALISTS CAN GIVE REALISTIC PROTECTION to a whistleblower, more than any Whistleblowers’ Act. If a few dozen of us made ourselves publicly available as contact points and facilitators for whistleblowers, across the country, our collective effect would probably surpass CVC, CBI and CAG all put together. There are already quite a few of us, and this tribe of facilitators is growing. Let there be many more; let the tribe increase!
(Krishnaraj Rao is a prominent Right-to-Information activist and journalist based in Mumbai. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect BH’s editorial policy.