Corruption in India: An Infinite Regression.
Author: Siddharth Sen
School of Law, CHRIST (Deemed to be University)
In the year 2017 alone, the Central Bureau of Investigation registered 632 cases of corruption against members of legislative assemblies and parliament in India. Violations of the Prevention of corruption Act have also seen an alarming increase since the statute’s inception. Despite the public’s outcry against corruption which has more often than not, changed the entire political scenario of this nation, central and state governments have continued to show an incorrigible attitude towards it.
This paper attempts to trace the history and trends of the phenomenon of corruption and corrupt practices in India through the examination of various literature and incidences present in the Indian context that look at corruption as an inevitable, somewhat demonic, entity. Attempt has been made to provide an objectively practical view of the extent to which corruption as an inextricably entrenched problem can be dealt with, and how recent amendments attempt to deal with the same.
This paper also attempts to deal with the question of the inter-decennial chain of scams which have marred India’s economy and destabilized governments in power, touching upon the historical, political and legal reasoning behind the same.
This paper is limited to the Republic of India and pertains to the three primary military scandals which have occurred over the past 70 years.
“Corruption in India is almost as leaden a cliché as hunger. It is sanctified by the oldest of tradition: it is denied by nobody; indeed, the totality and pervasiveness of Indian Corruption is almost a matter of national pride…” – James Cameron in An Indian Summer (1974)
This statement holds testimony to the history of corruption present in the Indian political society. Over the years, since the Indian independence, corruption as a being has evolved into an intractable entity which doesn’t cease to exist. Strangely, this organism was Frankenstein’s monster. The earliest glimpses of a corrupt society can be seen in the era of the British rule. The nawabs and the British were habitual exchangers of expensive gifts and ensured to a certain degree a systematic exchange of these handouts. As history progressed, this exchange of gifts became a compulsion for the systematic working of the oblique system that was present at that time. Robert Clive himself provided us with this unreformable definition and to a certain extent, a justification for what corruption was becoming to Indian society, simultaneously establishing a Lizards tale. Arguing on a defense that India itself was corrupt, the British dusted their hands from any form of accountability and instead, blamed the Indian culture altogether.
With this leprosy, India limped to its freedom followed by the partition of the country; leading to the creation of two independent nations. Although the initial years of Indian polity seemed to be free of this demon, corruption would haunt India again and would give rise to a certain folklore of corruption (Myrdal’s theory of corruption).
At this stage, Gundar Myrdal has beautifully highlighted as to what corruption meant and what corruption really was to an Indian nation. In his theory of the ‘folklore of corruption,’ Myrdal provided the readers with a strategic understanding of the ghost of corruption that was to haunt India. The burden of development on the political class is explained as being far too high for one to deal with this problem aptly. Further, the attempts made by nations (such as Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and India) to penalise the perpetuators are always lined with cynicism. Myrdal explains as to how all attempts against corruption were always unwelcome by the masses and gave rise to this theory of a folklore. Corruption became a norm in society and the political class was always under the eye of sceptics. All attempts made by the political class lead to the assumption of the trifling down of corruption from the highest ranked public officials. This inherently creates to a large degree a certain acceptance of the presence of corruption. Society at large accept the disease as it is and end up living with this cancer. This is perhaps one of the main reasons as to why corruption persists at such a large-scale India.
Myrdal (1968) contended that, “what the people – and the outside observer – generally demand is punishment of the offenders. Resentment stems especially from the belief that Ministers, and high officials go unpunished”.
The entire claim of corruption being a cyclical effect is reemphasised in this chapter by citing certain similar examples which have occurred over the past 70 years of India’s independence. The examples cited are events and schemes based on misappropriation of funds in the nation’s defense expenditure and as to how for a certain amount of gratification, this problem continues to limit the horizon of Indians development and growth.
The main reason as to why this corruption exists is because of the deep-rooted abuse of power by high-ranking political officials. The abuse of power for personal gain is often referred to as political corruption. What is often forgotten is how ingrained the entire philosophy of corruption is to the Indian class. It becomes highly improbable for a situation to arise where there is an absence of corruption. This infinite regressing theme of corruption in India is displayed by a magnitude of patterned ‘scams’ occurring over the due course of time. The similarities present between the ‘Gypsy Scam’, the ‘Bofors scam’ and the ‘Rafale scam’ are astounding. All three of these scams over the course of time are based on the same principle, that of misappropriation of funds, and the existence of a probable ‘kick-back’ where the bureaucrats cutting the deal may receive a certain renumeration for offering the contract at a marked up price. Over the course of time, there have been primarily three main military scandals in the Republic of India. The Gypsy Scam of 1948, the Bofors Scam in the 1980, and the recent Rafale Deal. All three of these deals, although may have varying degrees of impact respectively, revolve around the same principle- misappropriation of defense budget to receive a certain for of kick-back. All three of these scandals see the mark up of the selling price of the respective weapon being sold. This markup then translates to a certain gratification from the defense contractor in return for the acceptance of their tender at a higher price point.
The magnitude of these defense scandals seems to grow at a stipulated rate. The bureaucrats who are behind the entire arrangement are never held liable. The only form of accountability that was seen in any of these scams was after the Bofors scandal, in the form of Rajiv Gandhi’s defeat in the following elections after his reign as Prime Minister. The intensity of these scandals received massive coverage from the media, including eminent national dailies like The Hindu, Indian Express and The Statesman; despite the Bofors scandal was exponentially smaller to the previous Gypsy scandal of 1948.
Scams of massive magnitude seem to be an interminable relapse with reference to the Indian context. The recent amendment (2018) to the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 merely formalizes this trend of corrupt politicians. Further, these scams received mainstream traction due to the involvement of the media in these matters, as already mentioned. As was seen in the case of Bofors and Rafael deals, the involvement of investigative journalists is what brought these massive scams under the limelight.
Ironically, although the issue was criticized by the masses, there was no form of accountability whatsoever. The perpetuators scot free.
Coming to the initial hypothesis of the entire phenomenon of corruption being incorrigible, there are certain presumptions and inferences that have been made as a testament to why a complete abrogation of the phenomenon can never take place. The issue at hand has grown to a magnitude which is incomprehensible by most citizens of a state. India is a democratic state and it would be extremely detrimental for the people of this nation to lose complete hope in the present system of democracy. The discrepancies in the present system may lead to a scenario where it may be impossible for democracy to sustain on a whole. If an exposé of a large scale were to take place, an entire collapse of the nation is highly possible. History has time and time again established as to how a corrupt regime will always result in a revolution making the future extremely uncertain. For instance, in the 1916 Russian Revolution; the Bolshevik tensions were ultimately a result of the corrupt regime entrenched by the Tsarist regime. Kwame Nkrumah’s fate is another fitting example. He was the first elected prime minister of Ghana. His glorious reign was marred with the filth of corruption which eventually led to a military coup.
Given India’s current booming economy and their well-established growth in the world’s forefront, it would be highly unfavourable for the nation to collapse on itself. Having a capitalist approach to its entire economy, the only retort to the absolute exclusion of corruption is provided by Marxist theories (N.Ram;2017). The entire crux of their argument is based on the ills of capitalism and the structural failure of democracy and democratic bureaucracy. The demon of corruption happens to be one of the bases for deconstruing this theory. Marxism happens to be the only theorized alternative to a society without any form of corruption. This claim, however, fails in its entirety provided that historically, it has been seen that no form government is free from corruption. There will always be perpetuators of law and this demon will continue to live on.
In a study on the phenomenon of corruption, an examination and evaluation of the existing statutes and laws is not enough. As pointed out by Professor Upendra Baxi (1975) in Socio-Legal Research in India – A Programschrift, “Mapping exercises, in a broad sense, involve an examination of the spread of the ‘presence’ and impact of legal systems through close studies of their institutions. As the Santhanam Committee also very aptly defined corruption, “corruption can exist only if there is someone willing to corrupt and capable of corrupting… both this willingness and capacity to corrupt is join on a large measure of
industrial and commerce classes… the tendency to subvert integrity in public services instead of being isolated and aberration is going into an organized, well planned racket.”
There are several reasons for the existence corruption in each state. In case of India, the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, is the only legislation which is in place to curb corruption overall. The problem we face here is with the inadequacy of this legal framework. On careful analysis of the said legislation, perspicuous lack of accountability is observed. This begs to raise the question- why would a parliamentarian pass a law which would hold his fellow corrupt beings liable? This is done to create a facade and pretense of functioning of a particular system in a particular state. The recent amendment to the act in 2018, further widens the already present lacuna in the system.
Upon cautious analysis and deliberation, it is safe to conclude on the note that India is shrouded by corruption and this ailment to be an infinite regression closely knit with the political structure established in this nation. The recurring nature of all Military scandals only reinforce Myralds hypothesis of the folklore of corruption; and this attribute hints on similar instances in the distant future. The amendment to the Prevention of corruption act 2018, clearly establishes fallacy of the governments aims to curb the ills of misappropriation of public funds and washes its hands off accountability. This sense of lapse in obedience creates an impending affect on the sound polity and democratic nature of the country. This begs to question the extent to which this current model will sustain itself and wether an alternate paradigm can replace the current status quo. Additionally, as seen in often cases, the government has a tendency to create a diversion, when seen in matters of economic concerns. Additionally, the recent RTI amendment Act, testifies for the same, wherein the government is moving towards the creation of Information Asymmetry, seeking into the non-compliance tendency’s of the government.
Baxi, U. (1975). Socio-Legal Research in India – A Program-schrift. New Delhi: Indian Council of Social Science Research.
Lele, C. G. (2015). Corruption in India: Causes, Effects and Reforms (1st ed.). New Delhi: Atlantic & Distributors (P).
Myrdal, G. (2008). Asian Drama: An Inquiry into the Poverty of Nations.
Report of the Committee on Prevention of Corruption. (1964). New Delhi.
Ram, N. (2017). Why Scams are Here to Stay: Understanding Political Corruption in India. New Delhi: Aleph.
 Ram, N. (2017). Chapter 1. In Why scams are here to stay.
 Ram, N. (2017). Pg. 4. In Why scams are here to stay
 Myrdal, G. (2008). Asian Drama: An Inquiry into the Poverty of Nations
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 Lele, C. (2015), p. 35. Corruption in India