The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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India has maintained its poor rating on the corruption perception index. It would be worse off if the survey dealt with more than financial corruption

Corruption is best pushed under the carpet, but consistency should be flaunted. When corruption becomes a way of life however, consistency follows. India has consistently been in roughly the same position on the corruption perception index prepared by the Transparency International since 1996: disgracefully low. Where the cleanest country is an ideal 10, the highest score India has managed so far is 2.9 in 1999, when it stood 72nd among 99 countries. That this year it has bagged the 71st place among 102 countries is no call to celebrate. Its score is a lower 2.7, the same score and same position as last year’s. But it is definitely doing better than the Joneses. Pakistan and Bangladesh are trailing. Even if Pakistan seems to be catching up, Bangladesh is still stuck at the bottom of the barrel. Sri Lanka may be a little disconcerting though. In spite of its devastating civil strife, Sri Lanka is perceived to be far less corrupt than India, just as it is far more advanced in matters of human development. But that is just one neighbour. The others are doing pretty badly, so India need have no qualms about feeling cosy in the little niche it has carved out for itself on the CPI.

Perceptions about corruption cannot possibly be taken seriously in India. If they had been, there might have been an effort in the administration to change the way things work. This year’s report identifies the two main agents of corruption all over the world, the political elite working hand-in-hand with corrupt businessmen and investors. The cap fits India with almost uncanny snugness. It also explains why nothing has been, or can be, changed. The system has naturalized corruption. It is always present, therefore invisible, it is the crunchy crust beneath every cake, therefore unremarkable. Ethics or regulations are just so much hot air. The Unit Trust of India hullabaloo was a passing embarrassment, only because some ordinary citizens felt betrayed and made a fuss. The Tehelka scandal caused barely a blink, let alone loss of jobs.

These are, of course, nothing compared to the fat worms crawling out of the cans of multinational organizations in the United States of America and Europe. All the more reason to remain unruffled. But the CPI focusses on perceptions of financial corruption, which makes economic development unsustainable. But that alone is not enough for a country in which corruption is a way of life. Making sure that politics and crime remain intimately associated, for example, is not financial corruption. When politicians do this, they are also making all reform impossible. If a system is to ride on corruption, it has to be riddled throughout. The lesson is simple: join or else. This unadorned criminality of attitude has strong appeal, and permeates all layers and colours of society. Stricter implementation of financial regulations might seem to be a solution. That would fall pitifully short of what is needed in India, even if someone could be found to throw the first stone. Greed is an ancient moral evil, after all. A regulation against greed might help India climb a few rungs on the corruption index.

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