Does anybody care to listen

Updated: Dec 17 2004, 05:30am hrs
In my previous articles in this newspaper, I have mostly written about how successive governments have been unable to give India the quality of governance needed for its citizens to prosper. And it is not that this is news to anybody. And yet, we continue to trundle along, accepting at all times the day-to-day inefficiencies, the minor corruption, the ineffectiveness of our administration. Is it that we Indians have become inured to poor governance, or is it that we have simply never been exposed to good governance and, therefore, are unaware of what we are forgoing Why is it that there is no clarion call to improve standards of governance in the country Why do politicians not contest elections solely on this premise

Corruption exists in all sections of society and the reason that we suffer so much red-tape and inefficiency in government is because all levels of petty bureaucrats want and take their cut. In fact, ordinary citizens suffer more in their day-to-day lives because of this than because of, say, major corruption in an arms deal. After having lived in a few different countries, I can safely say that such insidious corruption appears more prevalent in Indian society. There could be two reasons for this: the first that Indian clerks, policemen, ticket collectors, babus, etc are poorly paid; and the second, and this is my theory, that in India exploitation has been a way of life right from time immemorial. From the cruel zamindar of Hindi films, to the despotic king, the religious wars and the abject poverty of the ordinary peasant dying of famine in a land interspersed with magnificent architectural marvels.

Indian society is fundamentally an exploitative one and this is manifest in the approach of both the petty bureaucrat and rich politician. Moreover, oftentimes blatant corruption is tolerated and condoned. Otherwise, why is it that so many of our politicians live way above their means, with so many assets at their disposal and an extravagant lifestyle The reality is that there is an implicit and unspoken understanding among all our politicians not to delve too deeply into each others affairs. Its the old adage of people living in glass houses. Apparently all our politicians live in glass houses!

When you couple this attitude with the plethora of laws that we have in our country, it becomes a petty bureaucrats dream. And unfortunately, a nightmare for the ordinary Indian. As a result of this, we Indians have been bound and gagged, our freedom of enterprise curtailed, and our economic growth stunted. This is something the enlightened among the politicians are aware of. And therefore, they are trying to improve the quality of governance by statements to that effect. Above all, they are trying to reduce points of contact between the common man and government, thereby reducing opportunities for corruption to flourish. However, this demands not an incrementalist approach but a transformational one. It means a quicker deregulation of sectors, it means the government letting go of its patronage machinery quicker, it implies letting the public sector work in an unfettered manner, it means abolishing and scrapping certain ministries related to different sectors (which shall remain unnamed in this article), and it means a full scale withdrawal of the government from many sectors. Unless this is done, and done quickly, India will continue under-achieving on its potential.

However, easier said than done! In practical terms, what can the powers-that-be actually do As I said, tackling corruption can be done at two levelsone by reducing the points of interface between the people and government and thereby reducing the opportunity for people to be corrupt; and two, by changing peoples attitudes. This can be done either by making examples of a few high profile cases, or by setting better personal standards of ethics across all parties in the political spectrum.

Indians have been bound and gagged, their freedom of enterprise curtailed
Reducing corruption in the country needs a transformational approach
Will this happen Frankly, I doubt it. Hence the heading of this article. It is likely that some people will read this, shrug their shoulders and move on thinking that it does not apply to them. But it is applicable to all of us because, as individual citizens, we can do our bit by not succumbing to petty bribery which makes our lives easier in the short run, but makes an intractable problem worse by encouraging and condoning such activities. So the next time please try to just say No.

The author is president, finance, Aditya Birla group. These are his personal views