Whenever I think of corruption, I remember Ajay. I came to know him around 2003-2003. He was a young commerce graduate and worked as a support staff (people who type letters and carry out other computer-based work, maintains files, things like that) in our organisation on a temporary basis. Such graduates came dime a dozen, but he was hardworking and – well, this perplexed me a lot – though surrounded by a bevy of good-looking young girls (colleagues) never seemed to pay any additional attention to them.
I was quite friendly with him. One day, during one of our daily chit-chats, I asked him what his ambition in life was. The answer he gave was quite unexpected. “Sir, I want to make money, lots of it”, he said, matter-of-factly. It seemed that to him, making ‘money’ was the only thing that really mattered, other things came as secondary to it. At that time it appeared to me that here was a person who will not hesitate to take up a job which entailed taking bribes.
I happened to follow his career with interest. I am very happy to say here that he proved me completely wrong. It’s true that he made a lot of money in the following years, but every penny of that was above board.
Let me talk about the career steps he took. Firstly, he did his MBA through an evening course. After completing it, or perhaps in the midstream of it, he switched over to a big foreign company that worked as our contractor. In a few years, through hard work and intelligent application, he rose through its ranks. Later he made a few more intelligent switches, and is now very comfortably placed in a foreign company. So here was a boy who, in my opinion, had every chance of turning into a corrupt person but did not do so. And did this without failing to achieve his goal.
This was possible only due to the opening up, albeit partial, of the Indian economy a decade earlier, in 1991 to be precise, which was started by our the then PM P V Narasimha Rao. Though the process of liberalization has progressed mostly on tottering and hesitant steps till now, it still has succeeded in opening up a lot many fresh avenues, at least in the big cities like Delhi or Bangalore, for the promising youth of the country – where one can work in the highly professional and technology-oriented atmosphere brought by the international firms, where one can earn money without slipping down the path of dishonesty. In other words, this gave a chance to earn money, enjoy professional satisfaction, yet remain honest.
As I see it, this is the best way to, and the major part of, lessening corruption. The path is to create ample opportunities, and to make it easy for people to grab those opportunities. Unfortunately we are from a country where people have long been shackled with heavy iron balls to their ankles but expected to run (or walk). At the same time, we are lucky to be from a country where despite all the obstacles, people are still raring to go, where people are becoming more and more aspirational.
The next part in removing corruption is also important, the one which Arvind Kejriwal advocates. That of catching a thief, or putting it more seriously, the police-legal side of it. People also need to be afraid of the punishment that will come down upon them for being corrupt. For that, sting operations are only a small part. But probably an unwelcome option in the long run because it takes away this duty from the police to the mob. Or perhaps it will just shift the corruption from the local constable to the hidden camera-wielding member of the public. The real answer is largescale police reforms (as far as I know, a body of work prepared by Parkash Singh already exists but states do not want to implement it as it will diminish their control over the police force) and judicial reforms are necessary for that. Also, the need of the hour is to simplify the administrative procedure (at present, for doing any thing under the Sun, you need to go through the process of filling up myriad forms and too may officials have discretionary power over you). But who will bell the cat?