The ethics deficit and corruption are dialectically interconnected. Hence it is argued that corruption is a contextual phenomenon, which means that contextual distortions due to the ethics deficit in governance provoke citizens to raise their voices. In laymen’s perception, corruption is an abuse of public authority for personal gain that is largely attributed to the decline of ethics in public life. This is a commonly construed definition of corruption, which, despite being clearly spelt out, does not seem to be adequately equipped to conceptualize its complex character, given the fact that corruption is hydra-headed, and misuse of public office is only one of the forms in which it is articulated. Implicit here is the assumption that public and private interests are mutually exclusive and hence the pursuance of the latter in the name of the former will always be considered as deviant. This is well-captured by Joseph Nye, who defined corruption as ‘behaviour which deviates from the formal duties of a public role because of private-regarding (personal, close family, private clique) pecuniary or state gains; or violates rules to justify certain types of private-regarding influence’.1 Unlike the conventional conceptualization of the phenomenon, Nye sought to view corruption as a deviant function directed towards fulfilling partisan goals by resorting to means which are justified since they are connected with the public domain. In such circumstances, public servants misuse the trust reposed on them rather willingly, simply to meet private ends. In her understanding of the concept, Shumer highlighted this aspect by stating that ‘one dimension of . . . corruption is the privatization both of the average citizen and those in office. In the corrupt state’, she argues further, ‘men locate their values wholly within the private sphere and they use the public sphere to promote private interests’.2 So corruption is a socio-psychological idea, since it derives its sustenance from a specific psychological tilt towards corrupt practices, which a complementary social climate endorses. While seeking to locate the roots of the deviation by public servants, Shumer has drawn our attention to the wider social environment, in which deviant behaviour does not seem to be castigated as strongly as is expected. There is one related point here, which one comes across while reviewing the trajectory of corruption. Conceptually, corruption was associated in the past with the deterioration in the quality of government; gradually it became synonymous with bribery,
which means that monetary transactions were a key which was recognized by Hirschman when he mentioned that ‘eventually the monetary meaning drove the nonmonetary one out almost completely’.3 One is now in a position to arrive at a definition which is reflective of the complexities of the concept both in its articulation and its substance. Corruption is a deviant exercise of power to protect private interests and in exchange for monetary benefits. This amounts to subversion of public interests by private interests, which always has wider ramifications in governance, especially when it is being manipulated to pursue partisan aims, disregarding completely the well-established rules and regulations governing public acts. Hence it has been argued that ‘private interests and public interests are both perfectly fine, as long as they stay in their proper places; but once we have the contamination of the public by the private’,4 it results in the derailment of public authority, which, if not contained immediately, will create conditions for corruption to strike at the roots of society. It is therefore important to remember that corruption hardly has a chance to flourish unless it has well-entrenched roots in the wider social milieu; once it is rooted, it creates a vicious circle, which is responsible for its survival and gradual strengthening. This is, however, not to argue that corruption is vicious everywhere; what is emphasized here is the point that, though corruption exists in all societies, ‘it is also obviously more common in some societies than others and more common at some times in the evolution of a society than at other times’.5 So, corruption is transcendental, but its intensity varies from country to country and from one historical phase to another. This also confirms the critical importance of the social climate in restraining or encouraging deviant public personnel; if the social climate is slackening, it is more likely that forces supportive of corruption will naturally be nourished. There is, however, another part of the narrative, which is, manifested in attempts to combat corruption though powerful political mobilizations for transformation. As examples from India show, there have been several campaigns to weed out corruption from public life and establish the rule of law and the basic ethical code of conduct for those holding political authority. Corruption is driven by circumstances. According to the 1964 Santhanam Committee, corruption thrived in India, as shown in Chapter 5, because of the excessive discretionary powers that the public servants had enjoyed under the License-Quota-Permit Raj and also the absence of a permanent agency to discipline errant personnel by imposing punitive punishments. With the creation of the Central Vigilance Commission, the Committee felt that the incidence of corruption in public life was likely to be considerably reduced. It certainly had an impact, though not to the extent that was expected. Besides putting in place effective institutional mechanisms, the Committee also underlined the fact that the battle against corruption would succeed provided there existed a supportive social climate. This is most important for devising effective mechanisms for combating corruption. As shown in Chapter 5, the 1977 Shah Commission is illustrative of how government machinery was captured by the existing political leadership to fulfil an
ideological mission, in opposition to those who apparently posed a threat to the democratically elected government. The Constitution of India became subservient to the Congress leadership, and deviant behaviour in public life was considered as inevitable in the light of the possible devastation in the country following the massive opposition mobilization against those in power. Conceptually, the 1975-7 Emergency is an era of political corruption in India in which public authorities were abused, beyond recognition, to accommodate the leadership-driven ideas of public well-being, which did not, however, go down well with stakeholders once implemented. The outcome was the mass campaign, led by the firebrand Gandhian leader Jayaprakash Narayan, which finally replaced the constitutional authoritarianism that the Congress supremo Indira Gandhi had imposed following the proclamation of an internal Emergency in India. By challenging the corrupt administration that thrived during the Emergency, the mass campaign also confirms the argument that, in a democratic polity, corruption cannot go unchecked because it creates its own enemy. The story has been repeated, it seems, in the era of economic liberalization in the wake of the outbreak of scams that seemingly have the public authority’s support. Involvement of politicians was, on occasions, proved beyond doubt. Not only were they found to have abused authority, they were also reportedly bribed to extend favours to a select few at the cost of the government exchequer. Like the campaign that Jayaprakash Narayan had launched during the Emergency, Anna Hazare spearheaded a nonviolent movement at the behest of a political outfit, known as India Against Corruption, in 2011 to arrest the deterioration of governance. The campaign, however, fizzled out, as its primary goal of creating a national Ombudsman, Lokpal in Indian parlance, remained unrealized. Nonetheless, the Anna Hazare initiative reinforces the argument that political corruption, including the embezzlement of funds, can never go unchallenged in a democratic polity that is being constantly reinvented to take care of newer public demands. Corruption is universal, and so is the battle for its containment. This chapter therefore pursues the argument that corruption and the drive towards fighting corruption are dialectically interconnected. This is a two-dimensional claim: on the one hand, it is argued that corruption is inevitable, since human beings tend to be partisan unless there is societal pressure to be otherwise; on the other hand, elements of opposition exist which are triggered to take action for change in a conducive environment and under an able and effective leadership. As will be shown below, the campaigns that J P and Anna Hazare launched against the misuse of public authority for partisan gains are instances of powerful mass mobilizations against corruption and malpractices in governance. Along with their challenges against specific cases of abuse of authority, both J P and Anna Hazare felt that the creation of a favourable social climate was necessary to halt institutional decay, which further reinforces the idea that a meaningful containment of corruption is contingent on a social environment in which ethics-driven acts are always appreciated as an antidote to corruption and misgovernance.