Corruption in public life is not a modern phenomenon. It was prevalent in the political and civic life of ancient India too as has been discussed by Kautilya in his Arthashastra.
But, it is only since independence that corruption has become a chronic feature of our public life. So much so that people have started treating it as a normal feature. They no longer show righteous indignation against corrupt practices, fight injustice or express and shock when big scandals like ‘Fairfax Deal’ and ‘Bofors Pay-offs’ are exposed.
Before India became free, she was ruled by the British with the help of a small and compact body of bureaucrats of the Indian Civil Service. These officers, not wholly above corruption, helped the British to maintain law and order and run the administration efficiently.
Certain government departments like PW.D. And the police were notorious for their corrupt practices even then. However, corruption was not so rampant as it is today, for the simple reason that there were fewer opportunities.
After independence we adopted a democratic socialistic pattern of society. Democracy to be successful must have responsible citizens who are not merely aware of their rights but also of their moral duties.
They owe it to themselves to put those people in power who have proven record of integrity, public service and high values. It was indeed sad when public trust in their chosen leaders was betrayed. It did not take very long for people to realise that the faith they had placed in the politicians was misplaced.
“Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely—” this maxim of Lord Acton was evident from the behaviour of our leaders in power. Whenever a scandal is exposed, commissions of inquiry are appointed to appease the public fury and anger. However, the complete truth is never made public.
Opportunities for corruption in a developing country committed to socialist pattern are endless.
Undoubtedly, there are rules and regulations governing the conduct of public servants. However, these can be twisted and interpreted in accordance with the circumstances.
There is widespread nepotism, favouritism and manipulation at the ministerial level and among senior bureaucrats. Even a petty clerk in a government office wields more power than a more successful private citizen. It is said, to get even a paper moved in the government offices, one has to grease the itching palms of these people.
One of the factors responsible for corruption is the conflict between civil servants and politicians. In order to maintain his political base and consolidate his position in his constituency, a politician accommodates many people—prominent, wealthy voters, influential party leaders, members of parliament, etc.— and grants them concessions to gain their support.
On the other hand, conscientious civil servants are constantly thwarted in their attempts to move according to established rules. This is one of the crucial reasons why anti-social activities cannot effectively be brought under control.
Many hoarders, smugglers, tax-evaders, business houses enjoy political support, thus weakening the hands of the authorities.
Corruption can certainly be checked if the civil servants do not succumb to political pressure. However, government should ensure that there is no victimisation of such honest officers, otherwise it can demoralise them.
There is a widespread impression that many of our politicians and party chiefs place personal and party interests above public welfare and thereby endanger democratic values.
This is certainly not an exaggeration. It is not the duty of a legislator to work for big business houses and secure those concessions, licences and contracts in the hope of getting heavy donations to party funds to meet the election expenses.
Businessmen motivated by self-interest, do not necessarily donate because they approve of the party’s policies and programmes. As political parties cannot function without funds they are, therefore, obliged to accept money from these business houses in exchange for certain concessions.
The only way to eliminate this form of corruption is that the election expenses should be reduced to the minimum and the law should be vigorously enforced.
One reason why corruption has increased to such alarming proportions is that though our economy has made progress yet price levels have risen to such fantastic height that the purchasing power of the rupee has fallen considerably. It has made the life of fixed income group very difficult.
Simultaneously, there has been an astounding increase in the number of nouveauxriches who flaunt their black money blantantly living in palatial houses and make the middle classes feel helpless.
Many of them cannot resist the temptation of making easy money to maintain their social status and meet the increasing demands of their families fanned by the overnight availability of luxury consumer goods.
However, this does not in any way justify corruption, but brings us to the point that we have forgotten our Gandhian ideals and merely pay lip service to them. Had all our politicians led an austere life, corruption in the administration could have been greatly checked, if not altogether eliminated.
Besides, no amount of revision in the pay scales can satisfy the people unless the abnormal rise in the prices of essential commodities is brought under control. If we want to check the corruption in bureaucracy, this is the most important need of the day.
Public apathy to the rampant corrupt practices and their growing indifference to the virtual breakdown of law and order machinery only encourage the anti-social activities. Instead of organising ourselves to fight corruption, black marketing, artificial shortages, we just express helplessness and give vent to impotent rage.
It is only the combined effort of public, administrative machinery and conscientious public servants which can help to check corrupt practices.
An alert administration can certainly detect the guilty. We cannot deny that occasionally, under the pressure of public furore guilty are punished, but it is equally true that many cases of corruption are dropped under political pressure.
Today, corruption has become so widespread that there is no sphere of national life where it does not exist. Large sums of money allocated for development programmes, community projects, tribal welfare, etc. are misappropriated by corrupt officials and never reach the real beneficiaries. Corruption has even invaded the educational sphere.
Large amounts of capitation fee are demanded, deserving students are denied admissions to accommodate less deserving candidates who have political backing. It is inconceivable that so much tax evasion, accumulation of black money, smuggling, hoarding, black marketing, etc. should go on and remain undetected without the protection of the authorities.
If we are serious to eradicate corruption from the grassroots level, then have to revamp the whole machinery. Here, the role of our educational institutions in inculcating the moral values among the youth of tomorrow cannot be underestimated. There is a need for moral reawakening of our people, leaders and administrators.
In order to lead a successful crusade against corruption in public life, both the government and the opposition should work in a spirit of cooperation and not try to make political capital out of corrupt scandals.
Opposition has a very crucial role to play in a democracy. It should be responsible and not always waiting to pounce on the government to discredit it.
Our democratic system is bound to get grievously hurt, if the people in power do not rise to the occasion and face the glaring truth with courage, foresight and patience. It is only if a serious effort is made to live upto the Gandhian code of morality, that we can hope to strengthen the nation.