New on my other blogs

"Gandhi is dead, Who is now Mahatmaji?"
Solar scam reveals decadent polity and sociery
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen


16 April, 2010

No Longer At Ease: From Dinakaran To Koda


Let me set out with the caveat that I do find corruption abhorrent, but what I am trying to do in this essay is question the paradigm in which the discourse on corruption is framed. This definitely is not a defence or indictment of the people mentioned here - I believe that the procedure established by law should take care of it.

Some time back at a party that was also a meeting, I was incensed with a friend justifying a leading celebrity civil society careerist's exit as the head of a prominent International non-governmental organization in India as owing to " conflict of interest". In other words, this person from a privileged socio-economic background had transferred funds to organizations where he had stakes - directly or indirectly - some of us - not so sophisticated call it benaami, but others largely seem to have a preference for "conflict of interest"

It took me more than a month to balance what I was writing about judicial corruption in India. I re-wrote more than half a dozen times. I set out writing the article in the context of the activism against Justice Dinakaran's elevation to the Supreme Court on grounds of alleged land-grabbing. What got my goat in the process was a marginal media story when an historical moment was captured by a state agency like the National SC Commission - it set out looking at whether Justice Dinakaran was being castigated for his Dalit identity. What was ironical was the way "progressive" friends including those that have been pioneers of the Dalit movement instead of grabbing the opportunity to nuance this discussion - taking a hard look at how only people from certain identity categories get persecuted for corruption generally, distanced themselves from the discourse.

What was also shocking was a statement that Justice Dinakaran was not a Dalit any more because of his conversion to Christianity. All of this is in the realm of media gossip available for all of us consumers of mainstream media.
I have been disturbed and suspicious about efforts like Transparency International for almost one and a half decades now - more so after I read the second novel in Chinua Achebe's African trilogy - No Longer at Ease. It is the story of a first generation Igbo youth who gets into the Colonial civil service in Nigeria - the conflicts that he passes through as a price for the cultural transition that is forced upon him - and finally he ends up taking a bribe - as a sort of a cultural resolution of a first generation encounter with an "alien" culture that is at the same time restricting and empowering. A single novel that changed the way I look at corruption some thirteen years back. Why I find it necessary to share some of my perceptions here.

One of the narratives that has been universally inherited from the colonial legacy is the notion that third world countries are generally inept at administration and more importantly. This is precisely where the methodologies adopted for corruption evaluation through processes such as Transparency International’s need to be examined with suspicion. If we take the United States or Qatar as examples, the former ranks 19th with a score of 7.5 and the latter 22nd with 7.0. India interestingly has the 84th place amongst 180 countries with a low score of 3.4. I can intuitively vouch that at least in its twentieth century history there has never been a serious contestant for the US Presidency who has not accessed corporate money. Barack Obama's success lies not in so much having subverted the system or being clean of vested corporate interests - but on the contrary, in subverting the racial stereotypes surrounding the system.

Some interesting insights do emerge when corruption in India is seen within this frame. From Bangaru Laxman to Koda, most of the people who have had to receive some form of social, legal or political sanctions for corruption related misdemeanours come from certain marginalised identity groups. A clear case of shining India with dreams of super-powerdom in its eyes - appropriating the colonial paradigm and turning its gaze inwards towards Dalits and Adivasis mainly. It is fairly commonplace in public offices including academic spaces to hear statements that point to the ineptitude and corruption of people who manage to get in through reservations!

A journalist friend was sharing a rumour about Shibu Soren the other day, about how he deposited the entire two crore rupees that he received as bribe for saving the P.V Narasimha Rao regime in his personal bank account. It really is not surprising that there are no such jokes floating around about Vajpayee. In fact Vajpayee has acquired iconic status in Indian democratic lore. The reason that Muslims do not figure so prominently within the discourse on corruption has to do with their gross under-representation in public life and moreover, vast majority of Muslim faces in public life happen to be Ashraafs. The same logic can be applied to other minority religious identities like the Sikhs or Christians.

As far as I know almost all Indians pay a bribe at some point of time or the other. Many do it out of compulsion ranging from trying to access public health services to getting a PDS/ration/BPL card. While others, including me, do it for reasons ranging from getting a railway ticket confirmed to saving the government of the day. It is therefore rather amusing to see the righteous indignation amongst the latter - exempting themselves from the scanner that establishes the causes of corruption.

It is not my case that all those who do get persecuted or prosecuted for corruption are deserving of our empathy like Obi Okonkwo, the protagonist of No Longer at Ease - but it definitely is my case that the discourse on corruption in India is built on a hegemonic premise of caste as it is built on other hegemonic premises elsewhere!!

No comments: