The kickback culture

Has the kickback culture become endemic in India? Put this question across any group of youths, adults or senior citizens and you will get a unanimous answer, which will
be nothing short of a resounding 'Yes'.

The uproar about the reports that retail major Walmart has spent wads of money for entry into India has not yet died down. It is, in fact, the latest scam which is guaranteed to reverberate through all the forthcoming elections, including 2014 general elections and even beyond. This is not because the opponents of the proposal to allow 51 per cent FDI in multibrand retail are deeply concerned about its entry or the alleged kickbacks involved it. The principal reason is, no doubt, the presumed electoral gains.

In the past we have had scams involving the purchase of guns (Bofors), coffins (Kargil martyrs), the sale of spectrum and the like and these continue to come alive at the first sound of the election bugle.  Have all those parties which had come to power on the back of various scams tried to end this corruption culture and put up a fair and transparent administration? Nope.

The reality is that when a new party or a coalition of new parties comes to power whatever goodness they might have carried along would go out of the transom and the demons that had been lording it over the outgoing parties would rush in through the backdoor.

Our political parties have no compunction in going against their own purported principles or against the interests of the people. Take for instance, the scheduled tribes/scheduled castes promotions bill which the UPA government was forced to introduce in parliament. The ruling party very well knew that it was a retrograde step but bowed to Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati's wish for a promotion quota for Dalits, her vote-bank.

This, indeed, means that the Congress values another year in power more important than a measure which is likely to ignite an unhinging chain reaction in the future.  Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party will certainly fight for quota for OBC promotions. And the Muslims could be the next. Every sect or cult or community is liable to ask for its pound of flesh.  In short, the quota politics could spiral out of control and hamper India's economic development and ultimately blight its polity from within.

The BJP too has thrown in its lot with Mayawati, albeit with a couple of riders. No to be outflanked by other parties, Mamata Banerjee's TMC has rallied behind the move too.

As power is paramount for our political parties vote-bank is sacrosanct and tokenism is key to their survival.  No party, whether in power or in opposition, is worried about the extent of corruption that has metastasized in our society. Even in our villages nothing moves if you do not grease the palm of the authorities concerned.

The other day I went to the electricity office for the transfer of owner's name. I was told by the lady at the counter to approach an agent in the lobby.

I eased up inside the room where some clerks appeared to be busy handling phone calls and jotting things down on note books. I asked one of them for an application form, filling of which is supposed to be the first step.

He promptly said that the forms in the office had got over and advised me in the same breath to contact an agent who was in the corridor; I did not find him in the corridor as he apparently went for tea in a shop downstairs. So the clerk gave me his mobile number.

I caught up with him in the ground floor and told him my requirement. He lectured me for fifteen minutes about the documents needed and the process. I said all the documents were genuine and were ready with me.

 At the end of it all I asked what was his charge. He said with a sheepish smile that he would divulge that only at the end, meaning "be ready to cough up a good sum".

Unfortunately for me it was a double whammy as I blurted out in the positive to his question whether I was a Gulf returnee. This would mean he is authorised to trouser double the usual amount. It was quite plain that several workers in the office would also get a cut. I came back not knowing how to wriggle out of this situation and get the thing done.

The outgoing chairman of the Tata Group, Ratan Tata, says he is "rattled" by scams which have hit the image of India. He also deplores the court processes and retrospective taxes. He naturally does not speak about corporate corruption, the magnitude of which is huge, to say the least. But then it is no use blaming the corporate sector alone.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in India. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.


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