Dharma Destroyed, Destroys

First published in The Pioneer, June 04, 2011


What can one say about corruption in India or around the globe that has not already been said before? How many more people does it take to cry their hearts out in disgust, pain, and horror before we can see any perceptible change in the vulgar acts of hoarding, thieving, manipulating, and marauding that the rich and the powerful indulge in, not ignoring of course the daily acts of petty perfidy of the lowly police constable, the office peon, and the “junior engineer” in charge of supervising some “public works” or the other? Is this the tail-end of Kali Yuga when, we are told, the crooked prevail and the righteous wilt away?

Anna Hazare’s 97-hour fast was too quickly given up and too poorly executed, and his coterie of “civil society” leaders too gullible and fractious making it easy for the manipulative ruling politicians and their “dirty tricks” henchmen to defang the Gandhian and his not-so Gandhian lieutenants. Even before we could spell “Lokpal Bill” the ungainly dance of the civil society leaders and government ministers is grinding to a halt. It is now the turn of yoga guru Baba Ramdev to go on a planned fast but he may even more quickly get his public persona disrobed by the crafty Digvijayas hired by the “ruling family”. Meanwhile, some of the smug and cynical editors of new-fangled magazines and crusty old newspapers speak from both sides of their mouth — bemoaning corruption and belittling those who seek to do something about it.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the titular head of a corrupt government, cannot do more than mouth platitudes and promise some vague, future action. “This (corruption) is a scourge that confronts all of us. The government intends to introduce the Lokpal Bill in parliament during the monsoon session,” he said when Hazare ended his fast. “The fact that civil society and government have joined hands to evolve a consensus to move this historic legislation augurs well for our democracy. I am pleased that Anna Hazareji has agreed to give up his fast,” the good cop’s office messaged to the world, while the bad cops had already launched their plans of devious dissimulation. Hazareji therefore is now a spent force, and his lieutenants are bitter losers in the battle against the crooks, the criminals, and the new-age “rakshasas” who rule the Dilli-durbar.

In Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for 2010, India ranked 87 among 178 nations. There was a decline in India’s integrity score to 3.3 in 2010, from 3.5 in 2007, and 3.4 in 2008 and 2009. These figures are on a scale of zero to 10 — zero indicating high corruption and 10 indicating low levels of corruption. India’s ranking has dipped since 2006 when it was ranked 70 among 163 countries, indicating that under UPA-I and UPA-II, with Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi at the helm, India has got on to the fast track towards catching up with the most corrupt in the world — the Somalias, the Afghanistans, and the Myanmars.

There is an old Kannada adage: Hucchumunde maduveli undonay jaana. The literal translation is — “He is clever who eats at the mad widow’s wedding.” What it means is that those who take advantage of chaotic conditions to benefit themselves are clever. The UPA governance can be likened to a “hucchumunde maduve” (mad widow’s wedding). The people who ate at the wedding — the Rajas, the Kanimozhis, the Kalmadis, and the less known politicians, bureaucrats, and business leaders — looted trillions of rupees and were the clever ones.

In this regard, and as an aside, when will Indians discard the unwieldy and provincial terms “lakhs” and “crores” and adopt modern number terminology to effectively gauge and identify the level of spending and looting? For example, the Central Vigilance Commission estimated that some Rs 8,000 crore was “misappropriated” in the hosting of the Commonwealth Games. That translates to Rs 80 billion, which translates to about $ 1.75 billion, roughly calculated. The Comptroller and Auditor General estimated that in the 2G scam some Rs 1,76,700 crore was lost. That mind-numbing and confusing number translates to Rs 1,767 billion or about $40 billion.

And then there is the staggering amount of black money stashed away in Swiss bank accounts — $1.5 trillion dollars — according to some estimates, making Indians the number one users of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” Swiss banking rules. In fact, according to the group constituted by LK Advani, some $5.7 trillion is stashed away by Indians in foreign banks. And India, according to Global Financial Integrity, a programme of the Center for International Policy, is one of the world’s largest exporters of black money with an outflow of $104 billion between 2000 and 2008.

An intrepid blogger calculates that the $1.5 trillion is “enough to relieve the debt of all farmers and landless workers in India, build world-class roads all over the country, take electricity to every rural home, provide drinking water in all villages and towns, construct good homes for 100 million families, and allocate Rs 40 million to every village — to build a school, a health centre, a veterinary clinic, a playground with gymnasium, and more in every village”.

Alas, India is a land of maya, and one can never really get a handle on even simple truths, forget about the more complex and large scale matters. Who stole how much, when, and stashed it away where is therefore mostly guesswork, and the present government will not lift a finger to find out what even foreign governments are willing to share. We keep reading newspaper reports about some CBI team going somewhere or the other, filing some paperwork in some place or another, but nothing seems to emerge from those exercises. Few in the Opposition parties are willing to take on the government because they are as much revelers in the “hucchumunde maduve” as the greediest ones in the administration.

It is therefore left to so-called mavericks like Subramanian Swamy to take up the thankless and almost futile tasks of finding out who ate how much and regurgitated where. The letters on the 2G scam that Dr Swamy sent the Prime Minister seem to have led to the chain of events that have put Raja and Kanimozhi in Tihar, and brought tears to the eyes of the old bandicoot Karunanidhi, but the decades-long skeleton-probing that Dr Swamy has done of the Sonia Gandhi household has made little headway and produced no results.

That he is the only one with the gumption to publicly accuse Sonia Gandhi of a variety of corrupt deeds without being taken to court for his allegations says something both about Dr. Swamy’s courage as well as a lot about the weakness of Indian society and system.

Where do these and many other aspects of the soft and corrupt Indian system lead us? People quote only the latter half of the Sanskrit adage, “Dharma eva hato hanti/ Dharmo rakshati rakshitah” (dharma destroyed, destroys; dharma protects those who protect it) to plead with Indians that if they abide by dharma they will truly prosper. What we need to invoke more often, as Baba Ramdev and other concerned Indian citizens have been warning us is the threat that if dharma is destroyed, it destroys — individuals and societies.

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