Caught in your game?

April 10, 2011

by Saroj Giri

India Against Corruption! Yes, why not – Indians are so revolted by the endemic corruption that they have started coming out in the streets to express their protest and anger. Corruption is bending of rules and established procedures for your self-interest or to get your work done. Knowing the rules is one thing, following them is another. Knowing them and knowing how not to follow them and yet get your work done without getting caught, is however something else. And all this in a way that it appears all too normal and routine. Now this requires you to be intelligent and smart – got to be clever, chalu maal. You should, for instance, know to read the sly gesture the cop makes suggesting a way out for you – or else you will embarrass both yourself and the cop. Corruption is a subtle art, very well-developed, as Anna Hazare will testify, in India. My French friend living in Delhi never really figured out ‘the great Indian trick’, how the bribing happens – how to read between the lines and strike your deal in a safe and discrete manner, without anybody losing their respectability.

Surely we Indians must be a very clever and smart lot to engage in corruption then. And if India leads in corruption then they are also among the smartest and cleverest people in the world. India is a major hub for medical tourism – one more thing we are supposed to feel proud about. People from other countries come to India for treatment. We are so smart and clever we can easily cheat them. On the very day Anna Hazare starts his fast, April 5, The Times of India reports that huge numbers of Iraqi patients are routinely cheated by the city’s prestigious ‘5-star’ hospitals. A patient laments, “I came in January for treatment of the knee for which I was told about Rs 3 lakh will be required and that I can go home within a week. But once admitted, they operated upon me thrice citing different complications including severe infection. I had to sell my property back home to pay them”. There are so many such cases that the Iraqi embassy is now taking up the issue with the Indian government and the media has started reporting.

Foreign firms love to hire Indians since, we are told, Indians are intelligent and hard-working. In lot of countries in Africa, Indians or Indian-origin people are supposed to be yea intelligent and hard-working but also extremely clever – always rising, going up the ladder and winning. They have no time for the ‘losers’. Winning of course is a habit now. It is almost like a reflexive behaviour – apparently we are simply wired like that. Spelling contest in the UK – who wins? Mathematics contest in the USA – who wins? So many contests abroad we cant even keep track of. Mostly an Indian wins (when it is not a Chinese!). I was once in St Petersburg and I was told the local chess club has an Indian boy who is the champion. Y K Alagh the former VC of JNU speaking in a seminar once remarked about “our vegetarian boys, who do not party, go to bed early and are hard-working”, and hence who always win.

Indian origin stand-up comedian Russell Peters notes that Indians and Chinese can never be business partners – equally clever. Indians cannot live without a bargain and Chinese cannot give you a bargain. The Chinese wants to get every penny from you and the Indian in turn wants to keep everything. The competition between India and China then comes down to who is cleverer than the other. My father used to tell me, ‘look at your brother, he is so intelligent and clever, but you can never get anything done. Why couldn’t you slip in Rs. 50 in that telephone guy’s pocket? Now our phone wont be fixed.’ And then he would rue about how my career does not look bright and might be a total failure.

Following a given set of well-laid out and clear rules and procedures is simple and straightforward. But Indians in the ‘India Against Corruption’ are clever, intelligent and smart. No fun simply following rules and taking the straight road unless you are dumb and a misfit – surely not the kind who can contribute to India Shining. The best way to prove you are clever and competitive is of course by working around the rules. Ah those rules – they do not apply to me, I am not dumb. A country choc-o-bloc with chaalu maals surely has some introspection to do.

So alas if only we were less clever!

But why aren’t we less clever? What made us clever and competitive? It is surely not a matter of genes or some inherent biological superiority – or perhaps some infirmity. It seems that being clever and being corrupt follows from kind of social order we have. Which only means that there is nothing called ‘we Indians’ who are clever and intelligent and always winning as a whole but that this category is premised upon another Indian who is at the receiving end. The cleverness, the corruption and the fraud finds its rationale in the maintaining a particular social order of high and low, haves and have-nots, upper caste and lower caste, exploiter and exploited and so on. But it is not me trying to divide India.

Amitabh Bachan, in his ‘India Poised’ speech, famously declared that there is no one India: he tells us that there are two India’s, one which is straining at the leash about to take off and fly high and the other apparently holding it back. ‘One India leads, the other India follows’, we are told. So we want to know what are the kind of practices needed to make sure that the ‘other India’ follows, for it seems that this ‘other India’ always refuses to be tamed and revolts against the given path – the path of India Shining. Why, haven’t we heard of the workers in factories in and around Delhi becoming a security threat to the CEOs of several companies? And wont this drive away much needed foreign capital by creating this atmosphere of insecurity? So, we surely need some clever and intelligent practices of rule to keep things going for Bachan’s ‘one India’ to take off – for this take off presupposes keeping in place the other ‘lowly’ India, the India of the ‘losers’ who might otherwise stir up trouble.

Lets ask:

Was it not clever and fraudulent to permanently force an inferior status on the most hard-working sections of society by saying that they were born from the feet of Brahma, while others were born from the higher parts.

Was it not clever and fraudulent, for Dronacharya to ask for Eklavya’s thumb.

Was it not clever and fraudulent for the landless labourers to be mostly given stony uncultivable land in the name of land redistribution during Vinoba Bhave’s bhoodan movement.

Was it not clever and fraudulent for the Tatas to hold a fake and orchestrated Gram Sabha and claim that the villagers of Lohandiguda have agreed to part with their land for the steel plant.

Was not it clever and fraudulent for the Indian state to get Maoist leader Azad killed even as he was preparing for peace talks initiated by the Home Ministry.

Is it not clever and fraudulent that the ration-wallahs siphon off the food and ration meant for people below the poverty line – all for private profit.

Is it not clever and fraudulent for companies and thekedars to gang up against workers, permanently keep them casual, fleece them everyway they can, and make them work to the bones in violation of all labour laws.

This list is long.

We have an entire social order based on fraud and corruption – the babus, netas, ministers, corporate sharks, god-men, sometimes the mullah and the pandit are its different parts. Our constitution and laws of course could not say that the upper castes and lower castes are born from the different parts of the body. But they presided over a social order which believed in that. Hence the constitution, laws and rules had to be now played around, undermined and upheld in the same act, in the most immaculately clever fashion – thus corruption is born and goes deep into both the social and political orders that form the Indian nation.

Thus when the Adivasi in Chattisgarh stands up and challenges this social order and calls it a fraud, when he declares that this democracy is sham, you have to shoot him, silence him – isn’t this act of yours fraudulent? Swami Agnivesh, who is one of the leaders of the anti-corruption movement, will tell you how the Indian government with the connivance of corporate interests engage in routine loot and plunder in adivasi areas. Adivasis are massacred, homes destroyed, women raped and entire villages plundered – all in the name of law and order, in the name of security. Did you know about this?

You think the adivasis in the guise of Maoists are blocking development and standing in the path of growth. When things do not work in your city due to corruption you think one should oppose and fight against this evil of corruption. But when entire villages are cleared off and the adivasis have nowhere to go you call it development – of course you will then get scores of these displaced people emaciated and hungry begging to work in your factory, business or your household at dirt cheap wages. You can then claim that you are ‘creating jobs’ – so of course for you there is no ‘corruption’ here, no injustice here! You might even say that we should hasten this process of ‘displacement and development’ which is impeded by corruption.

And when such forcibly displaced people seek refuge and livelihood (providing you cheap labour) in a city like Delhi, they are again evicted from their jhuggis in the name of cleaning the city and ‘development’. This is what the CWG meant to the poor in the city – but you protested only against Kalmadi’s corruption and didn’t join the many dharnas of the poor in Jantar Mantar. But you want that all Indians should unite against corruption – in which case you should take all cases of corruption and not be cleverly selective.

Now you yourself are out on the streets protesting against corruption, calling for clean governance, holding the babus and the ministers accountable. You mean that the babus and ministers and the security forces can keep doing what they do elsewhere in the name of maintaining security but they should not be corrupt, whatever that means. What you mean by corruption is really muddled and again seems to give evidence of your cleverness and intelligence. To me it looks like you have discovered a very selective and clever way of fighting corruption so that certain kinds of fraudulence and corruption are rendered visible while others are not. How did you achieve this feat? Is it the same intelligence and cleverness with which the corporate sector grab land from the poor and Dronacharya got Eklavya to dispense with his thumb? How different is it from what you accuse the babus and netas of doing?

Maybe then today you are out in the streets since you are caught in your own game. You erected this enormous edifice, this palatial bungalow, these malls and bowling alleys, golden highways, this Shining India – think of the ultra-modern apartments, with Golf gardens, this city with numerous fly-overs, for your pleasures and enjoyment but they simply do not deliver, they do not work. Something always snaps up, kills the fun. Delhi the capital city cannot handle an hour of rain – the roads get flooded, drains choked and cars start to float. Traffic goes haywire, anarchy and chaos in the city. The Metro works, really? Isnt that a mystery? Mumbai terror attacks – it took NSG commandos from Delhi some precious 18 or 22 hours to get to Mumbai and take position. Corruption, inefficiency? You earned money, own a huge house, and doing well, and so want to ‘enjoy life’ but nothing works. Fed up of living on jugaad? Fed up of not being able to trust anyone, of ghaplaa?

Nothing works, nothing can work since of course there is a lie, a big lie at the very base of your very social order – and this lie includes the need for you to be clever, jugaadu, and constantly try to see through each other’s ghaplaa: woh phasaa dega yaar. Fraud and corruption is at the base of it all, so the rot and stink is spreading even as we try to put concrete over it, keep spraying perfume. You first pollute the Ganga and try to cleanse your sins with its water – the water will pollute you further. Now you tell us that not the Lokpal but the Jan Lokpal Bill will do the trick. What will the Bill do – start from Dronacharya onwards?

You waited for the longest time for things to improve in the routine course of events. You somewhere deep down sensed that since you and your privileges are also product of this social order it is better not to immediately make a public and open hue and cry about corruption. So it took you a long time for you to come out and take to the streets. Do you know what were the protests in Jantar Mantar before you came and virtually took it over, with your high-profile supporters and battery of aggressive media cameras? In any case, I do not want to embarrass you further since you too are aggrieved and you are fighting for justice and for fairness. In fact, it is fantastic that you are out – for this is far better than you coming out only when something stops working in your comfortable house, like when the lights go off and your ACs stop working.

But now that you are out – don’t go back that early. No I am not saying that you should be out to cheer your favourite team in the IPL. I know that even you are fed up of cricket and you are holding placard saying that not IPL, the Jan Lokpal Bill is what we should focus on. I am saying, now that you are out you must think through beyond your own immediate problems. Go through the list of injustices I have outlined above. That list is long, very long, perhaps as long as the history of Bharat Mata – can you fill up some of it? Then we can start to march side by side. Then we can think of a Tahrir Square kind of a demonstration here.

Interestingly you have made a good start. At Jantar Mantar I heard you say not just Bharat Mata ki Jai, but also Inquilab Zindabad – Long Live the Revolution. I am impressed that you too like this slogan of the atheist, communist Bhagat Singh whose pictures you respectfully carry.