India’s Struggle Against Pervasive Corruption

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India, frequently called the world’s largest democracy, is wealthy in cultural diversity and has a strong historical legacy. However, corruption has overshadowed its accomplishments and potential over the past decade. The rise in corruption, especially under the BJP government, calls for a comprehensive investigation.

One must examine its colonial history to comprehend the extent of corruption in India. Under British rule, bureaucratic obstacles were frequently used as control mechanisms, resulting in a system that favored those who could ‘navigate’ these obstacles. Over time, this evolved into a system where ‘navigating’ frequently necessitated underhanded dealings. Post-independence, some of these colonial legacies persisted, laying the groundwork for a system susceptible to corrupt practices. After gaining independence in 1947, India embarked on a journey of nation-building. The socialist policies of the early years aimed at ensuring equitable growth. However, the License Raj system, which required businesses to obtain multiple permits to operate, inadvertently became a hotbed for corruption. Bureaucrats wielded significant power, and this often led to crony capitalism and red-tapism.

The BJP government’s tenure has been marked by a strong narrative of India shining and progressing. This narrative, while fostering a sense of national pride, ironically conceals the growing malaise of corruption within the bureaucratic and political circles. On the one hand, India is seen as a hub for technological advancements and economic opportunities. On the other, the rampant corruption poses serious threats to its integrity and global image. For multinational companies and entities considering foreign direct investment, understanding the depth of this issue is paramount. It is not merely about the financial risks involved but also the ethical considerations that these companies champion.

The Transparency International’s index serves as a barometer for gauging the levels of public sector corruption in countries. India’s slip from 78th place in 2012 to 85th in 2022 is alarming. More so, it’s a reflection of the declining confidence in India’s anti-corruption measures. Concentration of power, especially under prolonged political rule, often paves the way for unchecked corrupt practices. The BJP’s tenure has unfortunately seen such a concentration, leading to alleged alliances with criminal elements. This assertion isn’t baseless; organizations like the Indian Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) have frequently spotlighted these murky collaborations.

The rising tide of corruption isn’t just evident in perception indices but also in concrete data. A remarkable 47% increase in corruption-related investigations by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) from 2012 to 2022 paints a grim picture. The nature of these cases has been diverse, spanning from political to corporate domains. The Jet Airways Bank Fraud case brought to light the vulnerabilities in the banking sector and the ease with which influential entities could manipulate systems. Similarly, the arrest of Delhi’s Ex-Deputy Chief Minister for bribery charges related to liquor licenses raised questions about the integrity of even high-ranking officials. 

The recent allegations against the Adani Group have cast a shadow over India’s corporate landscape. The business conglomerate, with diverse interests ranging from logistics to energy, has been under the scanner for purported financial discrepancies, stock price manipulations, and dubious tax practices. These aren’t mere accusations from rivals or detractors. Investigations by esteemed bodies like the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) and the US Department of Justice signify the gravity of these claims. There’s a prevailing sentiment that the Adani Group may have received undue protection or favors from governmental agencies. This perception, whether true or not, has fueled debates on crony capitalism and the unhealthy intertwining of politics and business in India.

The statistics concerning the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MPAs are not just numbers; they symbolize a deeply entrenched problem. With 139 out of 385 MPAs embroiled in criminal cases and 14 boasting assets over 100 crores, the lines between politics, crime, and wealth seem increasingly blurred. This confluence is perilous for a democracy. Politics should ideally serve as a medium for public service, not a pathway to amass wealth or evade the law. The presence of individuals with questionable backgrounds in legislative bodies raises concerns about the quality of governance and policymaking. While high-profile cases grab headlines, the reality is that corruption permeates daily life for many Indians. From obtaining permits to accessing basic public services, citizens often face demands for bribes. This normalizes corruption, making it a deep-rooted societal issue. Repeated exposure to corrupt practices erodes public trust in institutions. When people believe that the system is inherently flawed, they’re less likely to engage in civic duties like voting or community service, leading to a weakened democracy.

Economic disparity isn’t unique to India, but the extent of it is alarming. As per Oxfam’s report, a minuscule 1% of the population held a staggering 40% of the nation’s wealth from 2012 to 2021. Such disproportionate wealth distribution hints at systemic flaws and skewed policies favoring a select few. The Crony Capitalism Index ranking further attests to the close nexus between politics and business. With India standing 10th, it’s evident that a significant portion of the nation’s GDP is controlled by businesses that might enjoy political patronage. This not only stifles fair competition but also deters genuine entrepreneurs from innovating and thriving.

Corruption and a non-transparent environment are potent deterrents for foreign investors. The uncertainties associated with such an environment can lead to reduced FDI. For a developing economy like India, FDI is a critical source of capital, technology, and expertise. A decline in FDI can significantly hamper economic growth and job creation. The Indian diaspora, spread across the globe, has always been a source of pride for the nation. However, corruption back home not only tarnishes India’s image but also impacts the diaspora’s trust in their homeland. Many overseas Indians play pivotal roles in foreign economies, and their influence can shape perceptions about India in those countries.

Corruption in India is not a new phenomenon, but its increasing pervasiveness and the sectors it now touches are alarming. From the corporate world to politics, from economic policies to grassroots governance, its tentacles seem omnipresent. Addressing this issue requires a multi-pronged approach – stringent laws, transparent governance, and most importantly, an aware and active citizenry that holds its leaders accountable. For India to truly establish itself as a global powerhouse, it must first cleanse itself from within.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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