By Swati Chopra May 2001 In India, corruption is something we all learn to live with. But wait! We need not be resigned to it or cynical. Instead of breast-beating over the sorry state of affairs, let's explore the solutions. Maybe there are no satisfactory answers to our questions. Let's ask them anyway. SPIRITUAL GUIDE TO PROSPERITYDo you think you never have enough, no matter how hard you work? You may have unconsciously fostered a 'poverty mentality' in your life that will forever keep you imprisoned within a sense of lack, no matter how much you earn or how many material possessions you acquire. It may also be the point where the possibility of corruption first enters one's life. Roy Eugene Davis, a direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda , says in Seven Lessons in Conscious Living: ''Every devotee of God should be prosperous.'' He goes on to give some attitudinal changes following which one can live truly fulfilling lives: • When working or providing a service for which you will receive money, give value for value received. Ideally, the work you do or the service you perform should be enjoyable, in accordance with your skills and abilities and should have constructive effects. • Don't spend money. To spend (Latin expendere, use up or consume) is to waste. Exchange the value that money represents for what you consider to be of value to you. Avoid buying nonessentials. • Save a specific amount of what you have or earn. Invest it to earn more money for future use. • On a regular schedule, freely yet thoughtfully give a portion of what you have or earn to responsible, well-managed endeavors which serve the public good and assist individuals in need. • Give generously from your awareness of being prosperous and thankfully accept the abundance that life provides for you. • Avoid the beggarly attitude of thinking that you can, or need to bargain with God—that when you make a financial contribution to a worthy cause or volunteer your services you will receive in proportion to your giving or even an excess. • Learn to be affluent-to always be in a continuous flow of resources and supportive events, circumstances and wholesome relationships for the highest good of yourself, others, the planet, and the universe. • Transcend the idea of duality, which is the erroneous opinion that god is separate from you or anyone else in the world. Let me begin with a confession. It is precisely to avoid writing about issues like corruption that I did not join mainstream journalism. And the going has been good. A bit of tai chi, a dash of yoga with walking meditation thrown in, and I was well on my way to nirvana. Or so I thought. The universe, with characteristic irreverence, moved on its well-oiled joints to burst my self-righteous, 'Oh-I-am-so-spiritual-and-therefore-so-perfect' bubble. Seeing a babu in a government office counting soiled fifty rupee notes in full view of all and sundry did for me what all the grainy Tehelka tapes could not. It brought home the sordid reality that is corruption. Corruption that is all around us, omnipresent, almost like a distorted, antithetical version of God for the New Millennium. Says Aresh Shirali, the thirty-something executive editor of A&M magazine: 'Like most people of my age group, I am nauseated by the epidemic proportions corruption has acquired in India. It is literally under every stone you turn.' It is also in every alley you turn into, every nook and cranny you might care to peep into. It happens as much in broad daylight as it does behind closed doors. It is as much a part of my life as it is of yours. It may be as much because of you as it is because of me. Television personality Priya Tendulkar who became a household name in the 1980s with her portrayal of a middle class woman up in arms against corruption in the popular teleserial Rajnisays: 'If there is corruption in society, each one of us is responsible. It is wrong to blame the system. Why do we separate ourselves from the system? Don't we vote the corrupt to power? Don't we endlessly suffer from all deprivations and refuse to raise our voice? And then when it becomes too much, we crib.' However, G.R. Khairnarwho as the deputy municipal commissioner of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation earned for himself the epithet 'demolition man' due to his penchant for razing unauthorized constructions begs to differ: 'I don't think the common man is responsible. I don't blame the man who shells out money so that he doesn't have to spend half his day in a queue at the municipal office. Is it not more pertinent to ask how these serpentine queues are created? Are we short of staff in an overpopulated country with a large section educated but unemployed? This theory that people feed the monster of corruption is eyewash.' The fact remains that the individual can certainly not shirk responsibility. For the individual is the smallest unit in this complex web of interrelationships we call 'society'. If we are all interconnected, how can a minority (or a majority, as the case might be) only be responsible for a phenomenon as widespread as corruption? While culpability might be a debatable issue, what causes corruption to spread its tentacles in society is not. S.K. Sharma, managing trustee of People First, the advocacy wing of the NGO Development Alternatives, categorically states: 'Corruption is the symptom of a disease that has as its progenitors over-centralization of power, non-transparency in all government functions and lack of accountability.' Lack of transparency gets majority votes for being the single largest factor that provides an ideal breeding ground for corruption. Crores from development projects are siphoned off annually to Swiss bank accounts before anybody notices anything amiss. Says Aresh Shirali: 'Corruption thrives on opacity. To give an example, people marketing computer networking software found that 'corporate transparency' is not the sales pitch that works with the top bosses. But the same people are more than willing to invest in networking if told that it would help them manipulate information. This sort of a mindset is ingrained in us in the form of a belief in an 'information pyramid' that causes information to move according to hierarchy. In my view, the information revolution is all about flattening this pyramid and providing access to information for as many people as possible.' Flattening the information pyramid is something H.D. Shourie, founder of Delhi-based Common Cause, has been trying to do. Shourie is a man with a mission that refuses to let him retire in peace even at the ripe old age of 90. Among other things, he has been campaigning incessantly to bring a semblance of transparency in the dealings of political parties. 'I think political funding is at the root of all corruption. I have been campaigning for transparency in this. According to Section 13 (A) of the Income Tax Act, every political party is expected to maintain accounts of their income and expenditure and get them audited regularly. Some time back, I wrote to all the parties questioning them about this. So far, I have received only four replies-two from hill parties, an acknowledgment from the Congress and an affirmative reply from the Samata Party, which has since become meaningless in the light of the Tehelka expose.' Shourie has given the call to all Indians to join hands with him in demanding clean politics: 'The voice of the common man must rise. Hit out at political corruption because the largest quantum of money is transacted there. You can write letters to the Prime Minister and also to your MPs and MLAs. Strike at them directly and let them know how you feel. Fight to effect changes in the funding system, for example. I feel that a person should be able to make an income tax exempted donation to a political party, just as you can donate money to the Prime Minister's relief fund. That will discourage bribery in the name of 'party fund'.' Corrupt politicians often found themselves at the receiving end in the late Behram Contractor's popular 'Busybee' column. In one of his columns, he wrote with characteristic wit: 'Good harvest, bad harvest, they are the cause. If an ambitious project for public welfare fails, what did you expect with such politicians in charge. If money for a project disappears, it is because they have lined their pockets with the money. If the flyovers are not coming up at an appropriate pace, blame the politicians. If they are coming up too fast and there are too many, suspect the politicians. Sometimes it seems they cannot do anything right.' While our politics may be the dirtiest, the very structure of our polity is top heavy, thereby concentrating too much power in too few hands. This increases the chances of power being misused and manipulated for vested interests, totally bypassing the greater common good. One practical alternative, according to S.K. Sharma, is to: 'Decentralize. In urban areas, implement the much talked about Bhagidari system. Enact a law to make the neighborhood committee the first municipality. Give them the power to collect dues and empower them to be the first authority to sanction any building alterations. Empowering the people and putting them in charge of their own neighborhood will reduce corruption as well as make administration effective because that is where the administrators themselves live.' Giving an example, Sharma says: 'In Kolkata's Salt Lake City, if any building work begins, all the women of the area collect and do not let the work proceed until they are shown all the building permits. As a result, no unauthorized building work can take place there. That is the power of collective action. If the electricity and water system is also given over to the neighborhood committees, it will significantly reduce kickbacks a
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