In India the corrupt get power, and the absolutely corrupt get absolute power

Reading Aroon Purie’s India Today (Jan 10th issue) editorial reminded me of what you need to have to live a fulfilling life and happy life: only three simple things — robust health, killer looks, and a humongous bank balance. Here’s why.

He writes:

I believe India has to take two simple steps and we will transform our nation. The first is to introduce complete transparency in government and in all its actions other than national security. Nothing but public exposure ensures accountability. Corruption breeds in dark corners. The second is to have enforcement of the law without fear or favour. Prosecute and punish the guilty regardless of their standing. This means law enforcement agencies have to stop being the handmaidens of those in power. Power not only corrupts. It also protects the corrupt.

Wow! That is profound and deep. Two simple steps!! That’s all it takes. It’s a great blessing that someone has finally listed those simple steps. And there we all were beside ourselves with worry about what to do about the massive corruption (which Mr Purie helpfully lists in his editorial.)

Just two steps. Not fancy steps but simple steps. As easy as 1-2-3. Introduce complete transparency. That’s step one. Step two: enforce the law. You’re done. Just like that.

Oh, by the way. I have figured out the solution to interstellar travel. Two simple steps. First, invent a warp-drive engine that will push spaceships at superluminal speeds. Second, get on board and go where no man has ever gone before.

Now will someone please inform the Nobel Committee to give me that prize in Physics already!

Seriously now, will someone inform Mr Purie that those steps are not taken primarily because they are impossible, not simple.

Here’s the short version. The government makes the rules. Or rather the people who constitute the government make the rules. If they had wanted “to introduce complete transparency in government” so that they would be held accountable by the public, they would have done so, wouldn’t they? So what’s the simplest explanation for why they have not done this “simple” thing? That perhaps the people in government are not retards and they will not make rules that puts them behind bars.

Such naïveté should only be encountered in a Panglossian world within the covers of a novel (Voltaire’s Candide, for example.) The editor in chief of a large-circulation news magazine (I was about to write “respected news magazine”) should be more worldly wise.

He writes, “Prosecute and punish the guilty regardless of their standing.” I wonder if he knows about the misdeeds of the Nehru-Gandhi clan? How about the shenanigans of Ms Antonia Maino, aka Sonia Gandhi, Mr Manmohan Singh’s boss?

Here’s something that Mr Purie will be well advised to read. Mr Subramaian Swamy’s Jan 8th op-ed in the Pioneer, “Call Sonia to the Dock.”

The Italian fixer and small arms supplier to the LTTE, Ottavio Quattrocchi, who was nailed as the catalyst in the deal by the CBI, in return for a hefty commission, had escaped from India in 1993, then from Malaysia in 2002 via a rigged court judgment obtained by collusion, and from Argentina by the same CBI fudging the records — all achieved under three different and consenting Prime Ministers.

But like the law of Karma, the scam keeps re-surfacing from one window or another. The latest is the ITAT quasi-judicial order, which under the law cannot be appealed against in the High Court unless it can be proved that a “substantial” law has been violated by the order. There is no such violation. As I see it, the ITAT order therefore holding the Italian fixer guilty and the government of the day as of liars, is final and has to be executed by the government. That means also re-opening the CBI case against the Bofors scam.

This scam is stuck in Sonia Gandhi’s political throat — it was “Q” who got a big slice, and so too the Jamshed Dadachandji-managed “Gandhi Trust” of the family referred to by Martin Ardbo in his diaries (in which Sonia is residual legatee], and the then brother-in-law of Sonia Gandhi, Walter Vinci, who was married to Anushka. He was grafted by Sonia on Rajiv Gandhi’s delegation to Sweden on March 26, 1986. This was to ensure that as PM, Rajiv signed the deal — to ensure the March 31, 1986 deadline set by Bofors Co., was met by “Q” to earn his dirty commission via AE Services. Since the deal was consummated, Vinci has bolted with his loot, abandoning Anushka.

As Union Law & Justice Minister 1990-91, the files sent to me by Prime Minister Chandrashekhar made it obvious that Rajiv was just a facilitator, but nevertheless an unforgivable accessory in the Bofors scam. The real operator however was Sonia, alias Antonia Edvige.

It will be a cold day in hell when Ms Antonia will be in the dock. Why? Because when you make so much money, you can also buy the judges and the investigative agencies. And you can buy yourself a rubber-stamp prime minister. And you can buy yourself a pliant president — especially if the president is implicated in scores of shady deals including suspicion of being an accomplice to murder.

Mr Purie writes that “power protects the corrupt.” Why he does not understand the implications of what he writes is puzzling.

Anyway, here’s a short take on power and corruption that I had written in October 2005. (I have been pondering power and corruption for a while.) Titled “Absolute Power and Corruption.” I reproduce it here in full.

Just a few weeks ago, we learnt that the KGB poured cash into the pockets Indian communist leaders and handsomely bribed the leaders of the Congress Party which was then under the control of Indira Gandhi. This past week we learn from UN sponsored investigation that Natwar Singh and the same Congress Party led by Sonia Gandhi has been bribed rather handsomely by the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain.

Is the Congress Party corrupt? It is like asking, is the Pope Catholic? Or asking, is Bill Gates rich? Or the more earthy question, does a bear shit in the woods?

The corruption of the Congress Party is not a new thing, however. In 1938, Sri Aurobindo wrote:

All this [referring to certain dishonest financial practices] promises a bad look-out when India gets purna Swaraj [full independence]. Mahatma Gandhi is having bad qualms about Congress corruption already.

Power corrupts, as Lord Acton famously observed, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is a nice aphorism but in India’s case, it is the corrupt that get power and the absolutely corrupt get absolute power.

I think that people seek political power in India fundamentally because it allows them to gain personally by corrupt means. The politicians are best placed to engage in corrupt practices because the economy is a command and control economy. So it is not that they become powerful and therefore later become corrupt. It is the other way around. It is the already morally and ethically bankrupt that seek power and attain it because they are corrupt. The honest and the good don’t have what it takes to reach the pinnacle of political power. They cannot compete with the criminal class from which the politicians rise to the top of the heap.

Mr Purie is in exalted company in his recommendation for how to fix corruption. Swami Ramdev believes that compulsory voting alone will solve the problem. Oh dear. Lamentable. I wrote this is June 2008“Swami Ramdev’s Peculiar Beliefs.”

But why does he want to force everyone to vote? Because “the corrupt political system can be made clean and transparent by making it mandatory for everyone to vote.”

What the heck was that?!

I fell off the chair when I read that. I suppose when he made that statement, his audience uncritically accepted his wisdom. They did not fall off their chairs. They did not ask why. That is par for the course, isn’t it? The gurujis and the netajis make totally asinine pronouncements and no one bothers to call them on it.

And the press? What do the press do? Let me compose a ditty in Hindi:

muh mein aayaa buk diye
jo bhi suna chaap diye

{Translation: (The high and mighty) say whatever comes to their tongue without reflection, (and the press) just print uncritically whatever they hear.}

How on earth is voting — even forced voting — going to solve the problem of corruption? Does the great swami know what is the cause of corruption? Can he please explain what his reasoning is for believing that corruption is a result of an insufficient number of people voting?
. . .
Corruption is related to power. I am not talking about Lord Acton’s famous observation that “power corrupts, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.” I am taking about the power that one gets from controlling something and which control affords one the means to extract rents — and corruption is basically extraction of rents.

The cop at the corner has the power to extract something out of the wrong-doer. The bureaucrat has the power to extract rent because it is within his power to give or deny permission. The politician has the power to favor this or that industrialist and grant the license. Everywhere there is power to coerce, there is corruption.

The more things the government controls, the more power the politicians and bureaucrats — the people who constitute the government — have and consequently greater the corruption. Show me someone who has political power, and I will show you a person who is corruptible, and what is more, is most likely corrupt.

The larger the involvement of the government in the economic affairs of the state, the greater is the reward for being a politician because the chances of raking in the moolah is all the greater. Therefore the larger the government, the more likely it is to attract precisely those kinds of politicians who have the greatest greed and therefore the most corruptible.

Socialist governments control the most and therefore they are the most corrupt. India’s corruption of the political class is a direct consequence of the socialistic government India has. The way to get rid of corruption in Indian politics is to reduce the size and power of the government to meddle in the affairs of the economy.

How to reduce the size and power of the government? Not simple at all. You have to start off with getting the public aware of the problem. The press should have been doing this all these years. But we know how independent the press is, don’t we?

So the press route is out. The citizens have to organize and take on the job of informing the voters. If sufficient number of voters vote for a reduced government and a liberalized economy, it will happen. It will take years and lots of blood sweat and tears but it will happen.

Until then, we will have to read about “two simple steps” from prominent politicians and their friendly journalists.

The bottom line: India is the world’s largest kakistocracy. Let’s first understand why and we may have a shot at fixing it.

Related Post:

The Judgement Seat of Vikramaditya. Aug 2009.

You must please read that post. It is about our favorite prime minister, the man who has enabled more corruption than any other single human on the face of the earth.

Author: Atanu Dey


27 thoughts on “In India the corrupt get power, and the absolutely corrupt get absolute power”

  1. Atanu, On Swami Ramdev belief follows this logic:

    1. Most people in india dont want corruption. Excpet if you are benifitting from it.

    2. When lesser people from above sample vote, its easy to manupulate them using corrupt method.

    3. So with more people voting, it would be difficult to manupulate people using corrupt method.

    BTW, I am a big Fan of Swami Ramdev and what he is doing for our country , its health and peoples thoughts. I would suggest take time and listen him sometime.


  2. How to reduce the size and power of the government? Not simple at all. You have to start off with getting the public aware of the problem. The press should have been doing this all these years. But we know how independent the press is, don’t we

    >>> Thasts what Swami Ramdev is doing vai His BharatSwabhiman Yatra


  3. Pushkar,

    I am sure that Swami Ramdev is a great saint and all that sort of thing. But you will pardon me if I say that no one is infinitely wise. I would no more take political advice from him than I would take spiritual advice from Dr Manmohan Singh.

    The good Swami does not appear to understand the causes of corruption. Voting has absolutely nothing to do with it. Corruption is a structural problem in India. It needs structural change, not a paint job.

    Structural change can come about only if there is informed action — part of which informed action can be voting by those who have gained an understanding of what is at stake. Simply uninformed voting cannot solve any problem, whether it be corruption or economic stagnation.


  4. Pushkar,

    I hear that the Swami is planning on starting a political party. If he does that, the Congress can sleep soundly. What that will do is to split the meagre Hindu vote into BJP and the Swami’s party. When that happens, the Congress will get a free hand to rape the country into the next century. The greatest hope that the Congress has for maintaining power now that its misdeeds are coming out is if someone like Swami starts meddling into politics.


  5. On the subject of corruption, I do not know if readers of this blog have been following news from Kerala. It appears that Justice K. G. Balakrishnan (Retd.), who was until very recently Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, is implicated in quite a few suspicious “arrangements” which have resulted in great wealth for his son-in-law and his brother. Curiously enough, the CPI (M), currently the dominant party in Kerala’s government, officially kept mum about these allegations. The strongman of Kerala CPI (M), Mr. Pinarayi Vijayan, is the accused in the ‘Lavalin’ scam, and Justice Balakrishnan was instrumental in fast-tracking the case to the Supreme Court. It is not just the Executive and the Legislature that is corrupt; increasingly, it is also the Judiciary.


  6. Atanu,
    Well, If BJP comes in to power, who do you think would get in power? It would be people like Arun Jetely and Sushma swaraj.Both of them equally faithful CIA agents as much as our Dear MMS/Sonia. Well they are still better than MMS/Sonia but thats between choosing 20 and 18 isnt it? May be if NAMO acts we have some hope.

    Yes agreed his party would cut votes, if BJP dosnt check its anti-National people. He has spoken to RSS chief Mohan Bhagvat on many occasions, and I assume he would collaborate. I have been following his thought process for quite some time and I know he is smart enough to understand repercussions.

    You agree that informed voting would give us better results?? Well thats what he is trying to do, watch some time(around 9:00pm) when you are in India.

    Lastly why do you say that saints should not indulge in politics?? I think real saints should indulge in politics?? If Chanakya would have remained aloof..we would have had 400 years of golden period in Gupta empire. If you are not aware of impact Swami Dayanad Swarswati had in indian freedom movement?? Though it has been suppressed by our education , i am sure you can find the details.Same case goes with Swami Vikevkanand. So that’s the argument.

    Tell me do you have any first hand information about him? (well i know my information may also be manipulated one.. but..if you keep tack of a source for some time with open mind, you and differ cheese from chock)


    1. Pushkar,

      I don’t know who would come to power if the BJP wins. I hope it is Narendrabhai.

      About saints dabbling in politics: that is a rather hypothetical question. There are no saints. So that question is like asking should unicorns be allowed on freeways.

      But really, we should all stick to what we are good at doing. Too many people are meddling in things that they know nothing about. That’s dangerous. Like that monkey who wanted to save fish from drowning by putting them on a tree.


  7. @Atanu

    One of the very few things that bothers me about your blog is your excessive repetition of the Corruption-Congress-ParivarGandhi (CCP) issue. I agree its necessary to make sure more and more Indians know about this. But as an economist talking excessively about corruption is a possible sign of lack of depth in thinking.

    Corruption is a big issue but not even the top 5 issues that trouble the long term strength and survial of India. At best it is only an outcome and not a cause. Take for example the Raja corruption. Agreed the Indian state lost lot of money which in the end it actually uselessly distributes to the useless poor of this country. Instead for probably a total of 3000-10000 crore swiss bank transfer a useless distribution to the poor of probably 1 lakh crores of the wealth of hard working Indians was prevented. It also probably helped a few indian companies from being bankrupt and enriched a few smart guys who will then reinvest the money in much smarter ways.

    The combined and actual loss due to corruption is a lot less than can be imagined. It is a big issue but not a very very big issue. And overdoing the Congress-Gandhi Parivar bashing devalues it. Infact another school of thought and also simple economics would say those who whose swiss bank accounts are already full will be less corrupt compared to a new member in the halls of power. So really… Maybe do this bashing just once in 2 months. Thats par for the course.


    1. DesiGuru wrote:

      One of the very few things that bothers me about your blog is your excessive repetition of the Corruption-Congress-ParivarGandhi (CCP) issue. I agree its necessary to make sure more and more Indians know about this. But as an economist talking excessively about corruption is a possible sign of lack of depth in thinking.

      How so? What’s the relationship between lack of depth of thinking and excessive talk about corruption?

      Corruption is a big issue but not even the top 5 issues that trouble the long term strength and survial of India.

      Perhaps it is my lack of depth of thinking but I disagree. See my post of about an hour ago.


  8. Its that simple. I love the way Indians dismiss Singapore’s achievements. “Its so small!”, they condescend. Keep dreaming of superpower status.


  9. When we discuss cases of large reported corruption, we tend to overlook how screwed up fundamentals we have on the ground level. I fully agree with Atanu that people need to be made aware of the problem. But how? One of the most under reported fact of our country is that most people live under the illusion that they are connected (you know, I have a friend/uncle who knows some politician, who is connected with a big politician and who will help out if the need comes. Congress has really perfected the art of this pyramid scheme. Now coming back to the screwed fundamentals on the ground, the fact of the matter is that the corruption is rampant on the local level. Based on my personal and first hand experience the govt. officials expect to be bribed to just talk to you! leave aside doing some work. I had the opportunity of dealing with couple of govt. offices during the last six months, and here is how it went:

    – The first was dealing with customs officials (not of the airport variety, but rather the cargo variety at JNPT). They have special skills in making you feel like a criminal. Even the professional firm, which we hired to ship stuff, which was dealing with Customs expected me to pay bribe. Fortunately, I was able to stand my ground. Although, it took couple of days for things to get cleared but it did get cleared.

    – The second interaction was the the Dept. of the Govt. of Maharashtra, which makes Ration card. In total I had to make eight visits (three to local Talathi, five to Tahsildar office) and over two months. Nobody ever talks to you, let alone properly. Each time I was expected to pay bribe. Finally, the guy gave me the Ration card with an expression that it was I who was shameless!

    – I have a three year old daughter, who is not a citizen of India. She is required to be registered with local SP’s office. When I visited the SP’s office, I realized this is where real Nawabs of our country live. They are in a world of their own, where the reasoning or logic has no place whatsoever. I was asked to produce photocopies of all kinds of documents (including my marriage certificate!). I quietly gave that, I was given a letter to be given to local police station in nearby village. I went to that police station, there the person asked me to give him photocopies of once again similarly useless document. When I politely asked him why do they need my marriage certificate to register my three year old daughter, I was given a look like where the hell I have come from? The constable sat down with me for three hours asking me all kind of useless questions (including my salary and source of income). This work is still not done, and let us see how long will it take. I really dread to think about a scenario if for some reason I really have to get police’s help what will happen then?

    – I went to local Gram Panchayat requesting them to collect property tax from me. The guy looked at me as if he has seen a ghost. He then asked to bring me a list of some arcane documents, some of which required my builder to work with them to procure. I asked my builder’s representative about it couple of months ago, he said he will get it done, but so far I have not heard anything. And, the local Gram Panchayat is not interested in taxing me at all.

    Probably, had I greased palm, I would have saved some time. But I do not think that the people with whom I interacted would have treated me better. They treat pretty much everybody, except for their regular agents, with utmost disdain.


  10. Desiguru ji,

    Very insightful advice. So do you blog somewhere and put on display your marvelous reasoning ability? I noticed you advised “Maybe do this bashing just once in 2 months”. Perhaps your good self may be kind enough to provide more insights on what should be the exact frequency of “Congress Gandhi bashing”?


  11. Desiguru,

    “Corruption is a big issue but not even the top 5 issues that trouble the long term strength and survial of India.”

    I would like to know what those 5 issues are.

    “Infact another school of thought and also simple economics would say those who whose swiss bank accounts are already full will be less corrupt compared to a new member in the halls of power.”

    Lol, you would be well advised to read Atanu’s previous post about qualifications for a banana republic. All new MPs below the age of 30 in Parliament are connected to previous MPs. They are the new princelings of India, copying the princeling model of China. Those princelings are known to be extraordinarily corrupt in China and they are all well off, well educated sons and daughters of well-to-do people. I have no doubt that is being replicated in India. Or that Indian politicians have already taken a leaf out of the book. My point is swiss bank accounts never get full, it is passed on from generation to generation and then to relatives, etc, ad infinitum.


  12. Well corruption is the Biggest issue in India because:
    1. The corruption at highest level drives out precious capital out of India.
    2. With capital goes our resources, both physical and Human, they migrate to the place where there capital is.
    3. Corruption kills opportunity for any one to do productive work without himself not becoming part of system.

    Actually corruption is biggest crime in India that kills nearly thousands of people EVERY DAY, who are forced in to poverty, I rate it higher than terrorism.


  13. When I said Capital out of India i meant the places where its required most, that innovational ,education and health. And not in making chips and Coca-Cola.


  14. I will read the post later, but knowing that Poorie has “written” something I am inspired to ask: Has someone clarified whether he has written it himself or his juniors filled in the blanks (in this case a lot of blanks – the article itself) as usual?


  15. @Atanu,
    You forgot to mention the rather corrupt society we have. It would be incorrect to blame just politicians only!! Even ten years back there used to be people who used to pay leap service saying that corruption is a reason to be worried about. Today, in various corners of internet, there are people who are calling to treat corruption as natural.
    If a 5% or 10% of our community is affected with a non-lethal disease, we identify it as sickness. When 90% is affected then we consider that disease as natural nuisance and those who are not affected are considered freaks. Now replace that disease with word corruption. We are walking towards that situation where more than 90% are corrupt and the 10% who are not would be called honesty/morality freaks, unable to fit in a corrupt society.

    I have respect for Baba Ramdev but he can not clone himself and start a political party with an army of clones. Who do you think would join his new party? His devotees. When the party gains power (assuming that it can), who do you think will provide the organic growth? Men/women attracted by power. Einstein observed that power tends to attract men of very morale. Then within few years it would turn out to be one of those disasters that BJP has become after one five year stint at center. How to give collective power to a group of individuals and then how to make them accountable are two serious questions upon which multiple areas of academic interest are created. It is not as simple as creating a political party.
    As Atanu indicated, it would create even more fragments among politically gullible Hindus.


  16. DesiGuru is a commie nut trying his hand at flame-baiting.

    Now he will either bitch about getting insulted or resurface with a different handle.

    There is a simple test to detect commie-nuts-in-commenters’-clothing. A non-commie commenter sees himself as a participant in a discussion. He offers his 2c on the subject being discussed. A commie nut OTOH feigns to sit in editorial judgment. A commie nut enters the scene with the air of a man who has been invited to preside over an essay-writing competition.

    Commie Nut commenting does not generally add any value to blogs. However, I consider commie nuts fun, sort of. You mileage may vary.




  18. @Atanu

    I am pleasantly surprised you did not attack me and my respect for you has only increased. Yours is still the only real Indian blog worth reading and maybe I was selfish in want some variety from you. Yes it was a flame bait but I really really think there is some more indepth thinking that needs to be done ‘by all of us’ on this corruption issue than just stick to the level of bashing the obvious targets. The question is how much of this corruption is due to plain human rational response to the environment. Remember this environment consists of a billion people with IQs less than 100 (Supposed avg IQ is 81). The eternal question is how many of these people would have remained alive in a open and fair world where everyone competes for resources. My two year experience across rural India and smaller towns (30+ was in big cities and abroad only) leads me to believe that there is such a thing as the ‘useless’ poor and there is such a thing as a ‘Islamic’ problem and these two are at the core of all our problems. You could say the corruption is simply the outcome of these two or more MAIN issues. Remember the Congress can keep getting elected because of the ‘Islamic’ problem and because its easier to fool the ‘useless’ poor and a majority population under IQ 81.

    I hope you understand what Im saying. I dont know all the answers but definitely repeating the simple issues is not the answer. You are also correctly addressing the ‘Islamic’ problem. The other big problem is the ‘useless’ poor. This is far more complex because even the big guns cant discuss it or dont get it. For example when there is a crowd of 100 people people find it comfortable to spit and throw stuff on the street. Take a crowd of 10 people the same individual will probably not spit and throw stuff. Our responses do change in a different environment.


    I applaud your calling a guy who hates distributing hard earned wealth by Indians to the ‘useless’ poor as communist. Oh well. I have no mercy for oldtimers either. They are mostly useless too.


  19. @MJ

    The top issues that are the real impediment for a strong, healthy, richer and happier India according to me are.

    1. The socialist (Gandhi admiring included) thinking among the majority (both higher IQ and lower) which exists even in the Indian subconscious. (Correlated with 3 and 4, history and culture)
    2. Critical mass of the islamic population and their high levels of breeding. (Existential Threat)
    3. Education system exposes students to restricted areas and overtly in government hands along with reservation for the weak along with the strong (correlated with 1)
    4. Very Low Average IQ. High Population. Too many ‘useless’ poor.
    5. Power and Money too concentrated in the hands of few parivars. (Correlated with all 4. correlated with corruption issue)
    6.. Overall bias towards mediocrity and distribution leading to no opportunity to pursue excellence drives the best genes to exit the country forever. (correlated with all the above)


  20. Desiguru,

    I sincerely appreciate your efforts in putting up the list and much of it I agree with. But, I would note that you couldn’t get to 5 issues without finding something correlated with corruption. And, in this case I would insist that it is not mere correlation but causation too. I rest my case.


  21. @MJ

    I said its not the top 5 issues mainly because I believe corruption is much more an outcome than a cause. See the point number 5 itself is because of the top 4 and you could add history/culture.


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