We see it everywhere around us. From the traffic police letting off drunk drivers for a bribe to the minister awarding contracts to his relative’s private company. Most of us have been victims of or participants in corruption too. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, India ranks at 80th place out of 180 nations, lower than Asia-Pacific’s average. Corruption is pulling down India’s GDP growth rate as well as socio-economic development significantly. Despite efforts and public pressure to remove it, it persists like a cancer eating away at our country. So, why is India so corrupt?
The root of it
When did corruption begin? Was it after India became an independent nation? Or did the British bring it to our country? Neither. Corruption existed since the ancient times. In the famous tales of Tenali Ramakrishna and King Krishnadeva Raya, the former promises a bribe to the guard to gain access to the royal court (which turned out to be lashings). Aurangazeb, the Mughal emporer, was accused of hoarding treasures taken after victorious battles against Deccani sultans. It seems corruption had existed at all levels since historical times.
So, are Indians as a people, more corrupt than other races? Not particularly. Contrary to the popular perceptions that Western nations are morally superior to the rest of the world, officials of the British Raj were extremely corrupt, especially during the Company rule. They carried on private trade and amassed huge profits, at the expense of the poor Bengal farmer and weaver. At the higher levels, they extracted costly presents and huge bribes from the Indian nobility. Despite this, Governor General Lord Cornwallis, remarked that ‘ Every native of Hindustan is corrupt’.
After a successful freedom struggle, high hopes were placed on the Indian National Congress and the newly formed independent government. But, the people were progressively disappointed by growing corruption, which was a result of license raj, economic controls, low salaries of government officials and poor supervision. Today, disappointment has turned into mistrust and cynicism.
The domino effect in corruption is well-recognised. When people around us are corrupt, we tend to do corrupt acts ourselves, especially when we get away with it. This is true for India too. Corruption has declined in the West, not because the people had a moral awakening, rather it was because institutions were built in such a way that they disincentivised and punished corrupt acts. India has multiple anti-corruption acts and agencies, but they have failed because they are institutionally weak. A glaring instance is India’s apex court calling the CBI a ‘caged parrot’.
A huge population, competition for scarce resources and high inequality in society with a lack of opportunities for upward mobility are also important drivers of corruption in India. An example is the severe competition for government jobs. A large youth population, high rates of unemployment and poor working conditions in the private sector makes these jobs sought-after. This leads to corruption by recruiting agencies in the form of choosing candidates in exchange for money, leaking of question papers and so on. Socially disadvantaged candidates are left in the lurch, creating a vicious cycle of inequality and corruption. This is true for all societies.
But are there any unique factors to corruption in the Indian landscape? More in Part-2!