Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Corrupt state

Notwithstanding our reputation as one of the most corrupt state in India, Nagaland, it can be said,is not especially corrupt. The national capital probably leads the pack. Nothing moves in Delhi without hefty gratuities. Itching palms are in no short supply in other states either. Any transporter will tell you what it costs him to negotiate through Assam. The difference between Nagaland and other states, it seems, is our credibility. Apparently there is some sense of honour among those thieving officials that eludes our own lot. The quantum of corruption may be the same everywhere, but delivery on promises appears to be weak here. Perhaps we just make more fuss about it because delivery doesn’t always take place. Scholars who spend their lives studying such matters have dissected corruption and created three basic models to explain. Called rational choice, structural & cultural, or neo-institutional, these models attempt to explain this world wide phenomenon. The rational choice model explains corruption as an outcome of the balance between opportunities to misappropriate money and the risks attendant upon doing so. According to the structural model, corruption depends upon material conditions, i.e. it is need based. This model uses the Gini coefficient, a measure of inequality, to predict that corruption will be higher where economic inequality is higher. Low wages, it says, force public employees to abuse their discretionary power. The third and the most interesting explanation come from the cultural/institutional model. Toini Lovseth of the University of Tromso believes that political alienation is the explanatory mechanism of corruption. Political alienation results from political powerlessness, political distrust and political meaninglessness and isolation, and a corresponding absence of civic culture. Using this model post colonial thinkers could ascribe our sin to the decades of alienation. It would be a pretty enough explanation were it not for the fact that it could be used as well for our neighbouring states like Manipur, Arunachal, even Assam, etc. The cultural model does not provide a unique explanation for the malaise here because corruption is as widespread in the rest of India – not unless we first agree that a billion Indians are alienated. Which society could be so alienated as to sabotage its own basic needs such as education and health care? Material conditions do matter and there is considerable merit in the argument that low salaries force civil servants to abuse their positions. The structural model does not explain all of it, however. How much is enough in this age of mass consumerism; when advertising makes staid civil servants aware of needs they never knew they had – that refrigerator with all the bells and whistles, or the extra large flat screen TV, or the latest SUV, etc. Pure greed must have something to do with it. There is something down to earth and simplistic about the rational model that compels us to accept it. It finds support in public choice theory which states that politicians and bureaucrats, while serving public cause, are in it primarily for themselves. Alienation need not come only from political unhappiness. Top down planning may have the same effect. Anarchism and libertarianism that rely on self help are responses to alienation of this sort – no aid, no grants, no large government, only self help. Local funding and local accountability are what empowers people, not grants from Delhi. Our situation is much like as Rajaratnam put it, “While corruption has been an element of every organized society at all times, some societies are more vulnerable than others. In some societies corruption is so widespread that it is an unavoidable means of accumulation of wealth, power and influence, and prestige in that society, and where corruption will be honoured and encouraged.” We are perilously close to that stage (if not in that state already); a stage not of discussing corruption in society but of being a corrupt society. Our own indifference to the moral dimension is the main accomplice and cause of corruption. Too many of us think like Ashley Brilliant when he says, “I either want less corruption, or, more chance to participate in it.”