The year that went by has been almost universally condemned as the year of scams and scandals. The main opposition has been most vocal about it, although its loud criticism sounded a bit hollow when juxtaposed with its own performance in office, past or present. The mainstream media, particularly the electronic media could not have hoped for a more rewarding fare in one single year. No matter some of the stuff that was riding the information waves did not rebound to the media’s credit. A formidable phalanx of public-spirited intellectuals, activists, ex-bureaucrats and some “spiritual” gurus to boot, actually hit the street to demonstrate their anguish, anger and disgust at the all-pervading venality in the government machinery and repeated their not-too-original prescriptions of transparency, accountability, and “independent” regulatory mechanism.
All were or at least sounded aghast at what they described as phenomenal corruption. And, somewhat surprisingly, even the head of the government, reference to whose “corruption-free” image has become a ritualistic chant intoned at the commencement of any public debate on the issue, has expressed his deep concern at the threatened damage to the international image of the country on account of the phenomenon of corruption. Incidentally, the nuance of worthy of note: the concern is presumably more about the “international image”, not as much about the “reality at the national level”.
Leaving the nuances aside for the moment, we can perhaps say that we have an unusual national consensus on the question of corruption. And the reason for such consensus are not far to seek. For one thing, it is always “they”, not “us”, who are venal and corrupt. Therefore, it is a safe and elevating posture attracting universal support. More importantly, seizing the symptoms and remaining afloat is easier than risking a deep dive to clutch at the invisible roots. It is safer too because, who knows, the deeper one goes, the more tangible becomes one’s entanglement with the roots!
Corruption, bribery, venality, fraud: they are as old as rock. So the pain and the resentment they cause too are abiding sentiments. This way of looking at what is happening now gives us no understanding of what is happening in our times, nor a clue as to why is it happening.
The predatory capital accumulation tends to appropriate even that which belongs or should, in all reason, belong to the future. Stakes are unusually high both for the gainers as well as the losers. It follows that nothing is sacrosanct. No one is spared.
Not too long ago, we were told that the dirigiste regime of licenses and permits was the mother of all corruption in government. That regime is long gone and buried in the history of two decades of the “economic reforms”. And we are witnessing the emergence of the monster of “corruption”, in a form and on a scale, never dreamt of before. Has the virtue suddenly disappeared from all those who are manning the governmental machinery? If we make a reasonable assumption that the incidence of virtue and vice does not change drastically over a couple of decades, what would account for the emergence of mega-corruption in the recent times?
What distinguishes the present times from the four long decades of the so-called mixed economy or the dirigiste regime is the appropriation by the market of the policy making functions of the government. The chief architect of the economic reforms once stated candidly that the process was intended to “release the animal spirits” of the Indian entrepreneurs. He had then chosen to be silent about the predatory nature of the animal.
LAW OF CONCRETE JUNGLES
The market which is dominating the policy making sphere is not the abstract, mythical, imaginary model of the competitive market of industrial entrepreneurs. The contemporary reality is nowhere near the model. The economic reforms essentially implied growing integration with the global economy under the sway of the global finance capital. This process required giving a virtually free hand to the global capital into our real as well as financial economy, irrespective of the consequences of such a policy for the working people, particularly the marginalized sections of our polity. On the one hand this induced in our financial economy our own versions of casino economy and bubbles which produced a series of scams and scandals; on the other, it encouraged primitive capital accumulation by predatory capital. Land, minerals, natural gas, water, and spectrum: all irreproducible natural resources are systematically being thrown open to appropriation by those who have the requisite “animal spirits”. The result is before us. Since the value of such resources is virtually immeasurable, the scramble for their appropriation is unprecedented and ruthless. What prevails in such a situation is not the competitive environment of the text book but the law of the jungle or even worse. For the law of the jungle does not appropriate the future; it is always confined to the moment of existence. The predatory capital accumulation tends to appropriate even that which belongs or should, in all reason, belong to the future. Stakes are unusually high both for the gainers as well as the losers. It follows that nothing is sacrosanct. No one is spared. Invocation of ethical principles has no place. Propriety is passé. The system being predatory par excellence, regulatory mechanism becomes impotent. And the political process becomes evasive or hypocritical or both. So we have the biggest scam where the regulatory mechanism was perhaps the best designed. Equally we have the ministers preoccupied with procedural nitty-gritty when they ought to be protecting peoples’ wealth of natural resources from the marauders at large.
We said earlier that stakes are unusually high for the gainers as well as losers. It was in the narrower inter-se context of the predators at large. But the statement is truer and even more apt in the larger and far more real context of the people to whom the predatory system has thrown an unprecedented challenge. No amount of infra-systemic regulation can cure the prevailing system. No appeal to morality and ethical principles will dent the system because its predatory foundation shapes its morality. What is needed is the wholesale replacement of the present system by a people-centric system where the natural resources are socially owned and controlled, where the cooperation rather than competition characterizes the economic organization, where the collective weal (including in the collective the coming generations and the survival of the planet) replaces the predatory instinct and the animal spirits and where the development signifies a journey from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom. And it is the working people, now at the receiving end of the present system, who alone can be the agents of such a transformation.