Dear Chetan, you are wrong. We don’t need to do an expose on ourselves..

…or look within. We need to think.

Dear Chetan, earlier today, I chanced upon your column in ToI, “We the Shameless”. You started your piece by saying: “It’s time to stop blaming just our politicians for corruption and look within”. You went on to write, “..organisations like the IAC should also send out the message that it is a lack of values within us..that has turned India corrupt” And in your concluding paragraph, you said: “it is time we did an expose on ourselves”

That was what tipped me over.

Frankly, I’m sick & tired of hearing “the fault lies with/within us” & variations on this theme when talk comes to corruption.

The fault does not lie within us.

Indians are NOT genetically programmed to be corrupt.

It is the systems & processes around us that make us behave the way we do. Humans are fickle – and they are prone to temptation. Indians are no exception. But our behaviour is driven by incentives – or lack thereof.

Acharya Chanakya realised this several thousand years ago. We seem to have forgotten that.

The vast majority of Indians who live & work outside India are honest and law-abiding citizens or residents of the countries they live & work in.


What makes us – or them – behave differently in India? Could it be the climate? the heat, perhaps?


It is the systems and processes.

Systems and processes that makes it almost necessary to “be corrupt”, that provide strong “incentives” to be corrupt and that allow such acts of dishonesty to go unchecked & unpunished.

In simple mathematical terms,

“Incentive to be corrupt” + “Necessity to be corrupt” + “No consequence of being corrupt” = Deadly cocktail of rampant corruption.

That is what ails India.

A clear understanding of this equation and consequent action to fix these variables will be the only way to achieve any probity in public life.

How do we do that?

How about starting with a fundamental overhaul of the electoral system & reform of campaign financing laws? It is widely accepted that the need to spend enormous amounts of money in elections is what engenders large-scale loot of the kind we are witnessing today.

As friend Atanu Dey explained in a column earlier this year: “Perhaps the system selects the most dishonest and the least principled”.  This system provides not only an “incentive” to be corrupt (so you can outspend your opponent) but almost makes it “necessary” to be corrupt (so you can contest with a decent chance of winning).

How about bringing in transparency and creating simpler processes? So that people like us are not “forced” to be corrupt to get our driving license? or to get a clearance from the Municipal Corporation? or to get a permit from a government department?

Let’s create simpler processes. Let’s focus on transparency and leverage technology – as widely as possible and as deep within the system as possible – to eliminate petty and low-level corruption.

Let’s bring transparency and simplicity in decision-making with as little room as possible for discretion. Complexity breeds corruption; Opacity in decision-making is a tonic on top of that.

Let’s bring in a smaller government and fewer laws.

Let’s fix the judicial system – so it never again happens that a corruption case against a Union Minister drags on for more than a decade.

And finally, let us bring in swifter consequences. Consequences that tilt the “cost-benefit” balance; consequences that are delivered swiftly and transparently.

I think you get my point.

And I hope next time you catch someone saying this, you will stop them. Right away.

Trust me, Indians are not intrinsically corrupt and we can do better than doing an expose on ourselves. Thank you for reading. Jai Hind, Jai Bharat!

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Screenshot image, courtesy IBN’s report titled, “Bhagat’s ‘Mera Neta Chor Hai’ strikes a chord”; Cross-posted over at ToI Blogs.