Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Jan Lokpal: We Can’t Outsource our Responsibilities!

There seems to be no escape for me from the subject of Lokpal.  The subject keeps poking me!  I have already blogged on the constitutional aspects of the Jan Lokpal and on why the proposal will not stand the test of basic features of Indian Constitution (You may refer my earlier posts and However, once again I am looking at the subject, from a transactional perspective.

Over this week, I have had the fortune to engage with many friends, from both sides of the divide, on the effectiveness of Jan Lokpal in combating corruption.  This blog is more or less a collation of the various thoughts that we shared in our tweets.

For the purpose of our discussions, we can borrow the terms used by some social scientists (unfortunately I do not know who should be credited for this) to classify corruption- the spectacular corruption and transactional corruption.  Spectacular corruption is the type that finds its way to TV studios and news papers- like 2G scam, Mining scam, CWG scam etc.  These scams become spectacular for the amounts and the personalities that are being alleged to be involved in them.  They are extremely newsworthy.

The transactional corruption does not have much news value.  Most of the crusaders against corruption do not even consider these as issues of concern, except when they can use them as a tool to attract popular support.  These are the types of corruption that we have taken for granted in our day to day life.

Institution of Lokpal is considered as a necessity to deal with spectacular corruption, as the persons involved in them are invariably very powerful and can manipulate usual investigative and prosecution machineries.  The independence of investigative machinery from the executive is useful to ensure action in such cases. 

But can we make Lokpal or Jan Lokpal responsible for transactional corruption as well? Technically, yes but practically, no.   Even if we take only the Central Government employees numbering over 40 lakhs into consideration, the size of the required organisation will be too unwieldy.   A quasi-judicial body like Lokpal cannot be spread too thin so as to make thousands of investigators entrusted with wide ranging powers. 

Assuming that we overcome the above objections and entrust the Lokpal/Jan Lokpal with powers, over entire government staff (it may require further expansion to other groups such as NGOs, political parties etc), would that remove corruption from our society?  My answer would be in the negative. 

Let me elaborate the reasons for my answer.  What is the reason for transactional corruption?  Is it caused by politicians or bureaucrats alone? Do we all contribute to such corruption?

How many of us will be ready to go to court and pay the fine on a traffic violation, instead of bribing the constable?  Is the constable or the politicians compelling us to bribe and indulge in corruption here?

How many of us are willing to refuse paying illegal capitation fee to managements for our children’s admission?  Are we willing to settle for what they are eligible on their merit alone? (Even though, we will be very eloquent on meritocracy as against reservations!). 

Will we be ready to stand in the queue for little longer, instead of bribing the Sub-Registrar while registering our sale/purchase deed?  Will we be ready to insist on the entire sale consideration for the property by way of cheque or demand draft and paying capital gain tax thereon? 

Will we insist on paying through credit card, when we buy our next jewellery and demand the tax Bill from the jeweller? 

Yes, I know the answer to these questions- ‘these bribes are not corruption but compulsions’!

Well, I wouldn’t buy that answer! A bribe is a bribe and it is corruption, even if it is made to the doctor in the operation theatre of a government hospital.  Bribe taker and bribe giver are both guilty of the crime of corruption; no matter how one tries to rationalise it.   What compulsion is that makes us to enter inside a reservation compartment of a train and seek out the ticket checker to bribe him for getting a berth?  If we sleep in an unreserved compartment for a night, would that make such a compulsive difference? 

Lokpal or Jan Lokpal; we will continue bribing and indulging in corruption to ensure small comforts to us and our family.  When we are willing to pay, the government officials will be tempted to take the bribes, even if scared of being caught, again to ensure little comforts of their families.  So long as both the giver and the taker continue the collusion, no Lokpal can catch the culprits.  Instead, the Lokpal officials using their quasi-judicial powers might also end up harassing the officials as well as public and thereby creating further avenues for corruption!

How many of us are willing to say no to a demand of bribe in our day to day life?  Believe me, I have found it very easy to say no to corruption, in my personal life and have not lost anything significant due to that refusal, except for little things like travelling in unreserved compartments or not being able to buy a jewellery that my wife liked so much.

Take another aspect.  Look at our reactions to corruption cases.  Classic example is that of Karnataka.  The Ex CM Yeddyurappa continues to command support not only from the MLAs but also a large section of the people of Karnataka.  Even after being indicted by a Lokaykta, Yeddurappa succeeded in installing his nominee as the new CM against the wish of his Party’s central leadership.  This is not limited to BJP and Karnataka alone.  DMK or its supporters have not given up Raja; Congress has not given up on Kalmadi, Deshmukh or Ashok Chavan.   Whichever, party or group one may belong, the reactions to corruption charges are always on the predictable lines.

What does that prove to us?  Corruption is not an issue for most of the people in this country.  We are not only willing to indulge in transactional corruption but also to continue supporting those corrupt politicians indulged in spectacular corruption, merely because he belongs to our own party/caste/religion.  So, corruption is merely a tool that we can conveniently use to attack our political opponents or to push our hidden agendas.

I strongly believe that most of us who are very vocal supporters of Jan Lokpal are supporting it for reasons other than aversion to corruption (I know there are honourable exceptions).   For some, it is a way to destabilise the Government of India in the same manner as Maoists.  We can find some common supporters of both movements very active.  For some others, it is a way to fight ‘Italian Sonia and her obedient servant Man Mohan Singh’.  A large number of supporters of Jan Lokpal in the social media are also doubling as supporters of right wing organisations like RSS at other times and these supporters do not consider it ironic to openly support Yeddyurappa!  

However, a large number of common people who support Jan Lokpal are not doing so with any hidden agenda. For them, there is definitely an aversion to the corruption, but only to the spectacular corruption.  They will not even count transactional corruption as corruption but only compulsions.  They want these compulsions to be removed; but are not willing to undergo any pain for that.  They will continue to bribe where required, but want someone else to fight and eradicate the reasons for such bribes.  

In short, for many people Jan Lokpal is a way of outsourcing one’s social responsibilities.  They are convinced that Jan Lokpal will be a magical remedy, almost a panacea, to all the ills of this country.  They are not willing to consider the possible adverse effects of such an institution.  They do not think their telephones will be tapped; only that of the wily politicians.  It allows them to get back at the powerful politicians and bureaucrats whom they envy in life.  

Lokpal or Jan Lokpal- I do not believe that it will offer a panacea for us, removing overnight all the bad things in public life.  Laws and institutions can only act when we are willing to stand up.  Unless we fight the demands and instead of succumbing file complaints against such illegal demands and provide evidence in trials, no institution can fight corruption. 

Man is a rational animal who keeps exploring possibilities for maximisation in whatever he undertakes.  Therefore, so long as there are opportunities for exercise of discretion against receipt of consideration (bribe), corruption will continue in society.  Only way to remove the corruption is by inculcating positive values in our children and making them ready to be socially responsible.  When I say this I am not discounting the need for continuous legal and procedural reforms in our administration so as to reduce the avenues of corruption.  But those actions should not be so much of a revolution but only a result of considered evolution.

We all have to be responsible and ready to perform our duties.  Only then we can remove or reduce corruption.  No magical formula will do that for us.  Let us not outsource the responsibilities of opposition parties, citizens, Media and Civil Society in ensuring the probity in public life.


  1. I think you need to think little deeper about the reasons for transactional corruption. Transactional corruption is a phenomenon seen wherever the reasons for it is existing.

    Why should I travel in unreserved compartment when I have money to buy a reserved ticket? It is because the administrators have failed to build infrastructure even when there is enough resources to build it.

    Why majority of people are avoiding tax bills? It is because they have hand to mouth salary.

    So majority of the public treat transactional corruption as a byproduct of all those characteristics of underdeveloped countries.

    In fact the other fancy mode corruption is also a similar product but no divine excuse can be given for that. That is the reason why people voice against this so called high profile corruption. All of these corrupt heroes are greedy for money and criminal by heart.

    When we have 1000 murderers, 5000 rapists, 10,000 thieves, whom will you punish first?

  2. Oh! how coincidental! I just wrote along the same line.
    Anyways Good read :) I completely agree- it's we who are the problem.

    Cheers! I Am!

  3. “transactional corruption” unfortunately is taught to little kids, how can we blame the system for it?

    Yes, I will indeed go to the RTO to pay the fine and collect my License back. What will help reduce transactional Corruption is – if the queues are visibly shortened, so that a person doesn’t waste a full day waiting in the scorching sun, to get his license back! It is becos of this wastage of a productive day, why paying a 50buck fine is an easier route for an autowala or a cabbie. And even car owners. If this Govt can facilitate easy retrieval, then I am willing to wager a bet, that the number of ppl will (a) increase to abide by the traffic rules and (b) in case of a rule/law being flouted increased numbers will willingly submit their licenses as punishment to go pay the fine and retrieve it, as most of us resent paying money to cops as bribes.

    School admissions today is about a race on who can outbid the other. Its time parents understood how culpable they are!

    If little by little , step by step, BOTH the system and us people can make way for amends we will become a more productive happier society

    As for Politicians/parties not giving up their demented culpable jerks called MP’s- we the people must demand HUGE punishments for such corrupt politicians i.e. Jail, No standing for re-elections ever again, strip him of all govt perks…and a vocal watchful media. It is not easy going to vote for a local MP who has 30odd criminal cases piled against his name, becos I want to vote for Congress!:( What choice do I have?:(

    Sure, corruption is a menace, not something to be turned a blind eye to. We as individuals, as a society indeed have to mend our daily lives as well, if we want to hold our criminal politicians guilty for their wrong doing

    But lets not mix up both issues. To my mind that’s defeating the argument.

    When I do something wrong in my daily life- i.e. evade my taxes, beat a traffic light, or even worse drive off when a cop is trying to signal me to stop - I am punished, right or not?

    So why is it by the same rule (comparing oranges to oranges) when a politician awards his mother in law a flat in Adarsh or some such does he go scot-free? He continues to remain with in the party, He continues to get govt houses, perks and Red Light atop his car, Vip service, commandos at his disposal- becos,they hope public memory will fade?

    And within months he is given another portfolio? ! IS this "punishment for an offense" by a Politician ?!

    In that case I’d like this punishment too- becos to me this seems like a lovely paid holiday

    The aam admi is punished whereas the politician is simply taking a break!

    Wah re India