As The Business Standard quoted in a recent editorial, are we a country for scandal? Is the word “India” getting to be synonymous with scams, scandals and infamy? This is a question every Indian must ask himself – for now things are simply getting out of hand. The scourge of corruption is beginning to impact every level of life and is now beginning to seriously hinder development and the image of Brand India. And yet, the common man, meaning you and me- is totally uncaring and focused on the self. The common man, beyond meaningless platitudes and pointless empty statements condemning corruption, does precisely nothing. By and large, the same man or woman who condemn our political class and big business for scandals, will be the first to take a shortcut or pay a bribe.
The list of scandals and scams is literally endless – IPL betting and match fixing, Ranbaxy, Telecom 2G scam, Indian Banking system cobrapost sting and money laundering, Satyam, Saradha, Commonwealth Games, Wrestling doping case, Illegal mining in several states, Railway hiring scam… I could, quite literally, go on and on for quite a bit of time. The list is endless. And the troubling aspect is that no sector of the economy, no part of our daily lives are left untouched by this extremely disturbing trend. What is more, the average Indian is not only not doing anything about it – but is, on the contrary, very busy benefiting from this scenario.
Take a look at the list given above. It transcends both big and small business as well as local and central politics. The list is a troubling indictment of our political system, that is incontestable. And no one argues with that contention either. But far more than being an indictment of our political systems and big business, it is a damning indictment of The Indian Citizen as a selfish corrupt and morally defunct individual. All of us are guilty. Guilty as charged.
Quite a few of the cases above would have involved normal Indians – people like you and me. Satyam, Banking allegations and Ranbaxy were committed by people in corporates; people who went along with instructions and broke the law – or twisted it. One cannot escape by saying “my job was on the line”. These perpetrators would have spanned the entire spectrum from the big shot to the people at the smaller levels. And quite a few would have benefited in terms of promotions and higher increments – or better opportunities and more lucrative assignments. That is the way the game works. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. This comes out very, very clearly in the cobrapost sting, where the middle class Indian’s total lack of moral propriety has been brutally exposed for all to see.
Hypocrite is the word that comes to mind – and it is perhaps the smallest and gentlest word that jumps to my mind. I can think of several more apt terms for this disgusting display of moral bankruptcy by the average Indian in the extremely shaky guise of “I did it / do it to save my job – I have a family to take care of”. On the one hand, we wax eloquent about India, its greatness, about how much we love it, about our pride in it, about our patriotism. And the very next moment we indulge in behavior that must make mother India weep bitter tears of regret and helplessness at the systematic rape being indulged in and perpetrated on her pure body by her own children. And this is probably the textbook definition of the word Hypocrite. Look it up if you don’t believe me.
Our internal compass is in dire need of correction; we Indians need to redefine our priorities towards our approach to life and our nation. Most of all, and first of all, we need to stop talking and start doing, Patriotism is to be shown not in words – but in deeds. And getting angry at the British (swines though they were in The Raj) does not absolve us of our duties to our Mother. Standing on rooftops and screaming “I love you Mother India” also does not relieve us of our duties. Vociferously defending India in social media, equally, does not complete our duties.
The oft-repeated argument – nay, the oft-repeated specious argument – I did it to save my job / because that is the norm / It does not impact me – does not hold water, as pointed out below. In the long run, this is a snake that will recoil back upon us. The choice is ours; we can reform and help in recreating an India where giving a bribe is uncool; where talking short-cuts at the expense of quality and morality is not acceptable; where “Made In India” is synonymous with quality and perfection..
The alternative is an erosion trust in India in the eyes of the World, a sullying of the Brand India and serious impairment of competitiveness. Perhaps we need a dose of realism: there is a tendency to call this as needless rabble-rousing, to focus on the so-called tangible aspect pf jobs and GDP growth and to let sleeping dog lie. There is also a wrongly held notion that such behavior – so long as I am benefiting – does not impact me. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the medium to long run, lessened competitiveness and a sullied Brand India is going to hit the normal man – and hit him or her hard.
Three or four scams – big ones – in corporate India have already surfaced – Satyam, Cobrapost (which impacts the entire banking sector), Ranbaxy, Walmart bribing case and Saradha that I can recall. And there will be others. Slowly but surely, if things continue as they are, India will become a synonym for corruption; a land to be approached with care. We might find it difficult to attract capital, or approach other markets with our reputation of unsavoury and unhealthy practices. This is not a fanciful notion; nor is it scare-mongering. The writing is on the wall. India already enjoys a justified reputation of being among the most corrupt nations on Earth.
There will come a time when some other nations’ growth path eclipses our growth rate; when this happens – these countries (provided they give a cleaner business atmosphere) – will compete with us for scarce capital and resources. And the chances are that they will win. At that point in time we will be left holding a half-empty bag and pining for lost opportunities. There will also come a time when the Indian Manager will be hired with extreme caution due to the reputation of cutting corners. There will come a time when projects and business deals will go to other countries simply because of ease of doing business and lack of corruption. And it is very likely that that time is very near, or is already upon us.