Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Of Anna, Dharma and Corruption

This blog post is a departure from the past and the topic that I deal with is complex but an important one since it impacts each citizen and every business in India.  The past 12 months have been momentous for millions of people in India (including me), as we grapple with the root cause, the impacts, and ways to fight the hydra headed monster that is corruption. My view below comes from an attempt at root cause analysis of the corruption problem, how could it have begun? And how can we solve the problem?
For the global reader, a quick introduction of terms in the blog:
Anna – Anna Hazare is a Gandhian social activist who has led movements to promote a multitude of social causes and most recently has been spearheading the grassroots fight against corruption.  He had recently started a fast until death campaign to get anti-graft legislation passed into law.
Dharma – Sanskrit word for ‘that which upholds, supports or maintains the regulatory order of the universe’. Refers to Law in the universal or abstract sense dharma designates those behaviours considered necessary for the maintenance of the natural order of things.  Therefore dharma may encompass ideas such as duty, vocation, and everything that is considered correct, proper or decent behavior.
AdharmaSanskrit antonym of Dharma. It means 'that which is not in accord with the law' - referring to both the human written law and the divinely given law of nature. Connotations include unnaturalness, wrongness, evil, immorality, wickedness, or vice.
A dream within a dream: The movie Inception captured the imagination of audiences world-wide and wowed them. The whole concept of planting of an idea that is nurtured in the mind was something new and exciting for movie-goers. While the concept is exciting it raises the question as to when and how do some things really begin.  One such thing, that is real today….as real and blinding as the summer afternoon sun, is “corruption” (akin to ‘adharma’, broader than the monetary connotation of the word corruption).  While it is all pervasive and omnipresent….one wonders how it became the menace it is today.  While human frailties are but natural and have been around since ages, it appears that the seeds of the idea of the most recent “avatar” were silently laid after India began its journey as a sovereign, socialist (sic), democratic republic.
India got independence after a struggle unlike any other in human history, and while there were differing ideologies and contrasting styles (in how to achieve independence)…..historically speaking one never hears of corruption being an element of public conduct during the struggle for Independence. The good of the nation was above self, there was one common cause that united people…. “independence”, and it appeared that ‘dharma’ was all pervasive.  Come independence, we were high on ideals, but a poor country with no obvious templates to learn from.  We adopted a socialist approach to nation building, with centralized planning….and in the process of trying to find the balance between free market economy and the one used by the Soviets, settled for a “Mixed economy” that had to be buttressed by a “license raj” and this was the stage which propagated the first level of the corruption idea. Favorable licensing was “influenced” by the already wealthy.  Also, large nation building had just started and the ability to economically sustain the large population was at best difficult.
Slow economic progress, a growing population, and shortage of opportunities got us to the second level of the idea.  Two institutions took shape that catalyzed the idea; state enterprises and the evolved bureaucracy…both these wielded enormous power.  The enterprises created by the state had right vision and mission statements, but very little beyond, inefficiencies abounded, preferences in appointment and promotions became commonplace, additionally there were not enough of these enterprises to meet people aspirations.  The license red tape administered by the bureaucracy, bloomed into a breeding ground for a plutocratic framework within the democratic one….the deserving, if poor, did not have equal opportunity. Erosion in several aspects of the value system started to gain foot-hold. Practice of dharma perhaps continued to be central within the home but outside, it was fraying at the edges. In a poor country, the absence of funding mechanism for political parties added ‘ghee (clarified butter) to the flames’. On the money front, there developed a market rate for bribes:from defense contracts to mining to fodder. Everything has a real price, nominal price (adjusted for inflation) and an abominable price (real + bribes).”
The third stage is where we are today, the gradual slide away from the principles that have been the bedrock of an ancient civilization, and the birthplace of multiple religions and philosophies, has turned into uncontrollable avalanche.  Today a large section of the Indian population has been (and is) party to corruption. Some have been forced into it, and others have taken the easier option of complying than the knottier option of protesting and standing ground. We have always known, especially as Indians, that the whole is not necessarily equal to the sum of parts. We all agree that it is very difficult to fight against the corrupt system. But imagine, if every person stood his ground, the problem can be decimated.
Not very long ago, many stood up in support of Anna and joined mass protests. But I am sure that the next time someone from the protesting, candle bearing people gets stopped for jumping a red light or parking in the wrong place, it is likely that they would offer a bribe to wriggle out of the situation.  Something does not add up. If one is so vehemently against corruption that he/she takes to the streets, why do we suddenly loose our moral high ground when faced with the situation ourselves. Without blinking an eye, we convince ourselves that the wrong path (a.k.a adharma) is the better option because it is cheaper. I also wonder whether all the folks protesting actually took time off to do so…or was protesting a cause that warranted the violation of dharma?
This conduct of ours leads to a bigger problem, and this is that we seem to adopt a “chalta hai attitude” (it will suffice,anything goes) to this rather serious issue … dharma will validate that shades of grey do not apply when it comes to choosing right from wrong. And once as a society we live on this slippery slope, the behavior is all pervasive and does (or has the potential to) impact every aspect of professional conduct…taking the society further down the path of adharma. There is no doubt that we are an emotional people who get charged up to support a cause, our rally in support of Anna (and the various iterations of the Lok Pal bill) demonstrates that as a society, even though we are party to the “crime”, we know the mistake and want dharma to prevail. My contention is that the power to fix much of the ills is within us…while the government can play a role, why does an ancient civilization, the birthplace of major religions and philosophies need to rely on the government to fix our ills? Can we not do it ourselves especially when it comes to restoring the natural order of things?


  1. Great insight. I believe that for us to get away from this, the knowledge and education has to be imparted at the earlier stages of life i.e in schools. In addition to the history and algebra lessons why can't we have something on civil society and talk about a corrupt free society, which is the foundation of any ideal democracy. Last but not the least, as charity begins at home, so does this. How about if everyone leads by example for everyone within their realm of family.

    1. Thanks Sameer. Agree that we have to lead by example.

  2. Very profound observations, Anshoo! What comes to my mind is that we expect any kind of transformation to happen outside of us. Dharma in its true sense (as expounded in the ancient scriptures)will materialize in daily lives ONLY if (self)transformation happens inside of all of us.

  3. Transformation or Change or renaissance is the first step. As always it starts from Top to Bottom. If the Leader is strong then lower rank leaders would not enough courage to do things wrong! I would like share the recently read passage of Bible: Where the Great Pharaoh of the Egyptian Civilisation puts the correct Man on the position because of the merit and not on a biased approach.
    It’s easy to comment or Write but it takes ones courage to "Walk the Talk" and have a righteous behaviour of a Leadership along with Wisdom (Brain above the Shoulder).
    Genesis: 41
    25 And Joseph said unto Pharaoh, The dream of Pharaoh is one: God hath shewed Pharaoh what he is about to do.
    26 The seven good kine are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years: the dream is one.
    27 And the seven thin and ill favoured kine that came up after them are seven years; and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind shall be seven years of famine. 25 - God hath shewed Pharaoh Through the prophetic voice of Joseph.
    28 This is the thing which I have spoken unto Pharaoh: What God is about to do he sheweth unto Pharaoh.
    29 Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt:
    30 And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land;
    31 And the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that famine following; for it shall be very grievous.
    32 And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.
    37 And the thing was good in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of all his servants.
    38 And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?
    39 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art:
    40 Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou.
    .41 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt.
    .42 And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck;

    The work culture is the responsibility of the top management/ Leaders ….if they cannot cultivate it and nurture it ….. Then the organization/Country should be on its tenterhook. If the leader has a wisdom and well-paced authority then it will pass over the most difficult time and will nurture the growth....!
    If the leader is a puppet then??? We all know the answers… by virtue of our experiences!

  4. Terrific article! And I agree with your thesis of the origins of this issue in India. What about the role of oligarchies? Has India had enough time to develop these oligarchies which will most certainly cement and probably scale up the levels of corruption. i.e. industrial oligarchies, financial, oil, tobacco etc. This is clearly the bane of older countries (older by way of how long they've been independent and have had time to form hierarchies)

    Secondly, what is Anna's method? It is not clear from afar whether this is a ideological challenge or an organized political challenge? Mileage will vary based on what it is and how long they can sustain it.

    Lastly, yes, the fight has to start from ground up. Chalta Hai is a great way to sum it up. Maybe an offspring of "Zaroorat hai" some may argue until the well is clear

  5. Dear Sir,"A comprehensive,well-written and beautifully organized article."This post is a truly thought-provoking and insightful articles to inspire and motivate others.This is an exceptionally good helping resource for a needy information seeker like me.Thanks a lot for sharing such a thoughtful and knowledgeable articles.But i think,"Who is corrupt and who isn't corrupt?These are the questions that are being raised,but this is not how corruption is solved...Corruption can only prosper with a people's ignore-ance!"

  6. You have a thought provoking approach. I think of it like considering each entity as an atom where a single unstable electron can break the balance of not only itself but also of it's ecosystem.Or let us take the example of one organ damage leading to a system failure.The blessing of being a human above an atom is that she can inspire and give directions to others in a much sophisticated manner. This again can only minimize the chances of someone connected going wrong. May be we should consider good karma as dharma for greater good.