Thursday, August 18, 2011

We are ready to give bribe. But we want the corrupt to be punished.

The best thing about Indian politicians is that they make you feel you are a better person. Not surprisingly, Indians often derive their moral confidence not through the discomfort of examining their own actions, but from regarding themselves as decent folks looted by corrupt, villainous politicians.

This is at the heart of a self-righteous middle-class uprising against political corruption, a television news drama that reached its inevitable climax in Delhi on Tuesday when the rural social reformer Anna Hazare was about to set out for his death fast — the second one he has attempted this year to press his demand for a powerful anti-corruption agency.

He was arrested by the police, ostensibly in the interest of law and order.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his Independence Day address to the nation on Monday, took digs at Mr. Hazare and his tactic of using hunger strikes to twist the arm of an elected government. Mr. Singh said that he did not have “a magic wand” to end corruption in India.
The anti-corruption movement has the simplicity of a third-rate fable.
There are the good guys (the reformers and the average Indian citizen) and the bad guys (the politicians). But the real story is not a fable but art cinema.

Indians have a deep and complicated relationship with corruption. As in any long marriage, it is not clear whether they are happily or unhappily married. The country’s economic system is fused with many strands of corruption and organized systems of tax evasion. The middle class is very much a part of this.

Most Indians have paid a bribe. Most Indian businesses cannot survive or remain competitive without stashing away undeclared earnings.

Almost everybody who has sold a house has taken one part of the payment in cash and evaded tax on it.

Yet, the branding of corruption is so powerful that Indians moan the moment they hear the word. The comic hypocrisy of it all was best evident in the past few months as the anti-corruption movement gathered unprecedented middle-class support.
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Behind the power of India’s anti-corruption movement is the rise of a new emotion: Young urban Indians are more interested in their nation than ever before. As a consequence they are more politically aware.

Seven years ago, I went around Mumbai asking fashionably dressed college students questions like, “Who is the deputy prime minister of India?” Often, I was faced with long, embarrassed silences, or “Oh my God, quiz question.”

When I asked a young Muslim woman the question “Who is Narendra Modi?” she said she had not heard the name before. Mr. Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, was then and still is accused of assisting riots that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Muslims.

Today, there is a perceptible increase in the number of young people who are acutely aware and interested in the fate of the nation. That is because they are different from the generations before them whose only objective in life was to escape India. Now that the world is what it is, there is no place to escape to. So they want their home to be a better place — where bribe-takers are punished and bribe-payers live happily ever after.
Manu Joseph in The New York Times. Here

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