Corruption takes shine off dazzling growth

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 November, 2010, 12:00am

An endorsement from the president of the United States for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, an economy that has lifted millions out of poverty, a growing middle class that outnumbers the entire population of many European countries - India has been basking in its new-found status for a while.

But despite all these accolades, very few have highlighted the growing corruption that threatens to undo all these achievements.

The country has been mired in a series of scandals that has taken a lot of the sheen off its 'shining India' image, the latest being a telecoms scandal that official auditors say may have cost the country as much as US$40 billion.

In run-up to the Commonwealth Games, a series of scandals saw the country's much touted 'coming of age' party reduced to a last-minute scramble to save face on an international stage. More recently, a scam over a housing project for retired war heroes saw the chief minister of Maharashtra, one of the most powerful political positions in the country, lose his seat.

All these scandals have put the focus on the elephant in the room which India has been ignoring - the lack of credible governance. A political system that encourages personal loyalty and sycophancy has not changed even as India made rapid economic progress. This has resulted in the decisions in key areas of development being left in the hands of leaders whose main aim is to fatten their pockets or proxies whose only qualification is their loyalty to their party leaders.

And, as the economy booms, new and larger avenues of corruption are surfacing, with figures now running into billions of dollars. The president of the ruling Congress, Sonia Gandhi, acknowledged this fact when she remarked recently that even as India is growing economically, the moral universe of the country is shrinking.

This decay has spread to all three pillars of Indian polity - legislature, executive and judiciary - in varying degrees. The media, despite having a vibrant existence, has also failed in its watchdog functions to justify its tag as the fourth estate.

A lack of accountability and proper implementation of rules have been threatening even sensitive sectors like defence and national security, as was seen during the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Even with such a slap to its face, there were signs that very little has changed when the prosecution's case against the alleged accomplices of the Mumbai terror group was thrown out almost in its entirety by the court.

The telecoms scandal over the allocation of 2G licences to a slew of companies which did not meet the requirements again shows that the cancer of corruption is growing as the economy opens up new horizons. With the country poised to take on a massive infrastructure expansion, this is ominous.

India has achieved much in the past two decades but still remains a developing country, with much more to achieve. Even a developed nation can be brought to its knees by greed and lack of accountability, as we have seen over the past couple of years. So India can ill afford to ignore the elephant in the room - it risks losing all it has built so far.

Hari Kumar is a Post journalist


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