Thursday, April 24, 2014

Middle class' phoney angst over corruption

I have long argued that corruption cannot be a central issue in the Indian polity because corruption in one form or another exists everywhere. The best one can do is minimise petty corruption of the sort that the ordinary man faces in his daily life.

And yet from time to time one hears that corruption is a major issue. The people who say this are very often from the middle class- the very class that is part of the corruption that goes on and is a major beneficiary. Shankar Sharma has an interesting take on this theme in BS. dilates on this theme and says that the middle class had no problem with corruption in UPA- I when the benefits were trickling down to them- in the form of higher salaries, appreciation in stocks, etc. It is only when the economic slowdown began that corruption became an issue.

....since the big economic boom began in 2004, the Indian middle class has partied. Salaries increased at a compounded rate of 40 to 50 per cent across most professions. Packages of Rs 50 lakh and higher became commonplace. US salaries paled in comparison.
And which industries saw the biggest salary jumps? Largely, infrastructure, real estate, telecom, finance, mining, power and so on. Now, weren't these the very sectors in which some of the biggest scams (real or concocted) since 2004 have occurred? You bet. These sectors were the ones in which the same ultra-moralistic Indians fought each other to gain employment. Was middle-class India so innocent as to be unaware that bribes are an integral part of doing business to run any regulated business such as infrastructure, power or mining (anywhere in the world, actually)? That contracts in these businesses are almost never won honestly, or that bids won honestly have little if any profits embedded in them?

...Please note that the so-called anger against corruption started to gain momentum only in 2011 - almost precisely when our growth rates started to plummet. Truth be told: Indians were happy to make money off corruption, and happily turned a blind eye to what lay beneath the boom. It is only when our salary increases dwindled that we turned to the Kejriwals and the Modis on the rebound.
 Sharma goes on to argue that Indians are willing to wink at Modi's supposed lack of respect for democratic norms or secularism or even the prospect of crony capitalism under Modi because they expect the goodies to start flowing again. (This is an argument that is made for Singapore very often).

I have difficulty in going along with this proposition. People may believe that Modi will be an effective administrator but I doubt that they will be willing to let anybody trample over democracy or secularism. The very fact that the BJP and Modi have had to change their positions on these matters suggests that Indians will not compromise on basic tenets. Indira Gandhi found out this truth the hard way. So will anybody else who tries to take liberties with basic principles. 


SC said...

This is such a valid point you make. As shekhar gupta said "India is secular not because its minorities wants it, but because its majority wants it". I am not sure whether you have read this piece by him.. here's the link..

and we don't need to go as far back as Indira.. the Samajwadi party won a comprehensive win in UP in 2009 on the plank of development.. they haven't delivered and instead have the taint of Muzaffarnagar riots!! News from the ground is that the people are going to let their displeasure known on May16 to the SP. If Modi does not deliver, he WILL be shown the door in 2019!!

Anonymous said...

One cannot afford development at cost of Secularism. I don't think BJP also views Development and Secularism as mutually exclusive.

But Congress did got inclined to Secularism more at the cost of development.

And, some how, I don't tend to agree with Mr. Sharma's article. Yes, in absolute terms, corruption benefits middle class - but how big is this middle class against rich class and if seen on 'Per capita benefit of corruption' who benefits more?

Arithmetically speaking, in a scale of 1 to 10, it is few handful rich community that benefits to the scale of 7 and its is large base of middle class that benefits to the scale of 8. But delta in per capita numbers would be Rich:Middle = 9:2.

Going back to secularism - it is a kind of oxymoron - the moment you talk of secularism, the very moment you create a religious divide in your mind and become less secular.

BJP does not talk about "being secular" but they talk of "being developed". Because, 'being secular' should be human nature, and one need not make any specific efforts to be one. But for development, one needs concrete policies and actions.

"Developed secular" is better than "Only secular".

Saurabh Kumar Pandey said...

True that BJP and Modi should be disinterested for any particular religion but if we see the broader perspective of the politics,it is UPA who is playing on the verge of secularism with the diversify people of the country. We should not forget the cheap tricks of raising minority reservation issue, deliberately increasing the insurgency from the Bangladesh border to West bengal just to increase their vote bank and now when local bodos are retaliating the illegal insurgency, again UPA is making issues.

Mantada Sandeep said...

I follow this blog very regularly. I learn a lot reading this blog. I am happy that are presenting different perspectives regarding Modi. I just have one request. Recently Economist came out with an editorial on Modi. I just want to know your comments on that. Thank you very much.

Vipul Sinha said...

I somewhat disagree with your main argument here. I agree that Indians have corruption in their blood, had it not been the case we would have never been ruled by so many foreign rulers.
But recent rise of voice against Corruption is not due to slow down alone, the corruption has become so rampant now days that earlier if Central Government use to give Rs 100 to build a road at least Rs 80 was spent on actual road work. But lately, for each Rs 100 spent by Central Government Rs 20 is used for actual work.