Mr. V.K.Talithaya is the President of Primacy Industries Limited an Export Oriented Unit at Mangalore. He is an HR professional both in Public and
Private enterprises. He has served with distinction in organizations such as Steel Authority of India, Metallurgical & Engineering Consultants, Deccan Herald group of publications, Kinetic Honda Motors, Bharat Electronics Ltd., Mangalore Refinery & Petrochemicals Ltd. A thinker and practitioner, known for his transparent and solution based approach for long term benefits. His areas of specialization are Human Resource Management, Transactional Analysis, Communication and Neuro Linguistic Programming.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

By V.K.Talithaya

The rampant corruption and the silent acceptance of its pervasiveness in the country begs the question – why, in spite of all the problems people have to suffer, they put up with the unparalleled enormity of its presence in all walks of life in our society? If, as generally perceived, corruption benefits only the politicians or the bureaucrats, why do people tolerate it? Why do people not revolt against the rapacious plundering of the country’s resources by the mighty and powerful in a democratic polity like ours?

The answer is not far to seek – it is close to every one of us, but concealed in the complexity of our social behaviour. If there is one society where Adam Smith’s invisible hand works without any inhibitions, it is ours. That is why this is a country where every one wants to jump the queue, where every one thinks that he has a greater claim on every public service and scarce resources than others. If one finds someone standing on a queue, in all probability, there are two reasons: one, he may not be an Indian and two, he has tried and failed to jump the queue.

Corruption is a necessary mechanism for jumping the queue. It ensures the operation of market forces in maximizing benefits to oneself.  

I was waiting on the queue in Bangalore airport for security check. By my side there was a queue for passing the laptops and brief case etc. for X-raying. There were five people waiting on that queue. All of a sudden a young hurried looking man comes from nowhere, passes the people waiting to put their materials in the X-Ray conveyor, pushes his laptop to the conveyor and stands behind me for security frisking. A little irritated by his blatant manners of jumping the queue, I asked him whether it was necessary for him to jump the queue. Without the slightest hesitation or sense of guilt he answers that it is a matter of a couple of minutes for those waiting in the queue. I said so was it for him. He casually ignores my remarks.

Jumping the queue is one of our national characteristics. One sees it during traffic snarls on our crowded roads, when vehicles crawl bumper to bumper, and suddenly a vehicle comes from behind and goes ahead, and lo and behold, you have a classic traffic hold up for a few hours! We break queues for admission of children to schools. In bus stands and railway booking counters we rarely see queues; there will be crowds of people trying to edge out each other. Even in Haldiram’s sweet shop in Gurgaon people will nudge each other to pay and collect their sweet packets. Brill Bryson says of Paris where people wait for the bus on a queue until the bus arrives, and when the bus does arrive the queue melts into a crowd. In India there never is a queue, but only a crowd. In fact many of us take pride in jumping the queue, because for many Indians standing on the queue is a sign of indignity, only the weak and meek wait on the queue.

One does not have to pay for jumping the queues for railway tickets, Haldiram’s sweets or for the evening movie show. But there are more important queues which cannot be jumped without paying the price. Queues which bestow huge benefits such as obtaining an important permit or license demand prices. The greater the need for one to jump the queue, the higher the price. Be it approval of one’s house plan, getting the approval for starting a factory, or a simple sales tax registration, or something much more important, if one is in hurry one has to pay; and who is not in hurry?

By way of an aside, let us not believe that corruption is a disease peculiar to the government. Just one anecdote will do to explain what I mean. A friend of mine with about fifteen years standing as a good trainer was invited by a well-known software company to submit his quote for providing some training programmes for their techies. Eventually the fees quoted by him were accepted. He was called by the Training Chief to finalise the matter. The only issue left for discussion, as he came to know, was how much kick-back he would give to the Training Chief. My friend was shocked, and refused to pay. So ended the programme on ethics and values even before it began. 

Returning to our question in the beginning, why people tolerate such rampant corruption is because we have created a system in which every one has a stake in the system; that is every one other than the poorest of the poor. The very poor do not need a driving license; nor do they even dream of building a house of their own or registering for sales tax. In the absence of ability to afford any of these or other needs they do not have to pay any bribe. Hence, they are outside the corruption regime. Besides, they are so weak that they cannot even revolt against their exclusion from the system. All others are in it and all of them have stake in keeping the system as it is, no matter how long they wear Puma sneakers and play guitars and sing ‘patriotic’ songs on Jantar Mantar grounds.

Corruption in India operates on market forces. The scarcer the service you demand from the Government machinery the higher the price. Scarcity is the very essence of economics. In business, artificial scarcity is created by differentiating products or product qualities (Branding!). Most government services are essential to people for one reason or other. Creation of scarcity of such services is important for corruption to be sustained. There are two ways this is done. One is by not providing enough people or the required technology to provide the service without creating a waiting period. Another is, even if enough people are provided or technological support is at hand, simply not doing any thing (or sleeping on files) will ensure scarcity of the service. Building up a sustainable queue is the precondition for expecting and eventually receiving bribe. 

So, what do we do end this malady? Aravind Kejriwal walked away from Ramlila grounds to join electoral politics to cleanse politics from within and the corrupt system along with it. We have no clues, though, how he will be cleansing it. The Gandhian Anna Hazare has almost given up his war against corruption. There are 3G scams, Coal scams on one side and we hear of the Rama Raj of zero corruption in Modified land. One only wonders what is the ground reality!

What do we do then? I do not prescribe Kiran Bedi to wear that white cap and scream from Jantar Mantar podium for invoking the power of “we the people”. Nor do I see any use in Ram Dev disguising in salwar kameez to wage war against corruption. The simple but sure and patient, time-consuming prescription is why not we Indians teach our children to follow the queues, patiently wait for one’s turn on the queue to get whatever they want to, so that our children and grand children can sleep well in peace and clear conscience!

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