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LEAST CORRUPT

Indians are resigned to the fact that India is one of the world’s most corrupt countries. It has had a prime minister for the last eight years whose honesty is impeccable; but his cleanness has not washed off on his colleagues. In fact, some of the most notorious money-eaters thrived under his prime ministership. The extraordinary enterprise of A. Raja brought no discredit to the prime minister’s party; but Suresh Kalmadi, who thrived on the Commonwealth Games together with his fellow entrepreneurs, belonged squarely to the Congress. Mr Raja’s grace-and-favour business was perfectly designed for money-making, but the government has not only taken on the comptroller and auditor general for his criticism of it, but defended its imperfect ways all the way up to the Supreme Court. This is only the cream at the top; at the level of the states and local authorities, the transfer of public money to private pockets is far more streamlined. No one knows exactly what proportion of the money spent on food distribution and employment creation disappears, but estimates and instances suggest that it is not inconsiderable.

It would, therefore, spread cheer if it gets known that the rank of India in Transparency International’s table of national corruption has fallen significantly. In its 2012 rankings, India’s rank is 94: this is the first time that India figures in the 100 least corrupt countries. Rank is an ambiguous variable; India’s rank may have fallen because other countries have become more corrupt. But Transparency International also gives every country a number for the degree of corruption: a country devoid of corruption would get 10 marks, and one in which no one who can help it is honest would get zero. No one has scored 10 out of 10; the top countries — usually northern and southern outliers like Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand — end up with a score of 9 to 9.5. They at least have been getting marginally more corrupt; the scores of the top five countries in 2012 were lower, though not significantly, than in 2002. But Indians need not revel at others’ fall; India’s own score has risen from 2.7 to 3.6. At last, India is in a tie with Greece, which has been driven bankrupt by corruption.

That may sound alarming; the question must inevitably arise in people’s mind — is India going the way of Greece? Luckily, it may not get the chance. As a member of the European Union, Greece had an implicit guarantee that for the sake of its own reputation, the EU would not let it go bankrupt. India has no such godfather; neither the EU nor the Unites States of America is likely ever to admit India. That does not guarantee solvency; after all, India had once made a habit of going bankrupt every few years, to be rescued by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Still, that is a remote possibility today.