Spreading web of corruption

The Modi govt has made anti-corruption Acts ineffective while its own steps are either disastrous or nonstarters

By Author J R Janumpalli   |   Published: 30th Dec 2020   12:06 am Updated: 29th Dec 2020   9:13 pm

Transparency International is a global movement working to end corruption. It exposes the systems and networks that enable corruption to thrive and demands greater transparency, accountability and integrity in all areas of public life. Its vision is a world free of corruption.
Since its inception in 1995, its flagship research product, Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), has become the leading global indicator of public sector corruption. The index offers an annual snapshot of the relative degree of corruption by ranking countries and territories across the globe.

Corruption Perceptions Index

The CPI scores and ranks countries/territories based on how corrupt a country’s public sector is perceived to be by experts and business executives. It is a composite index, a combination of 13 global surveys and assessments of corruption, collected by a variety of reputed institutions.
Transparency International released the report of this index during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. The CPI 2020, based on data collected in 2019, ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption. Denmark and New Zealand have the top spot. With a score of 41, India is at the 80th spot, slipping two positions from the previous year’s ranking of 78.

The BJP won the 2014 general election on the plank of eradication of corruption in the earlier Congress rule. Modi, the new Prime Minister, promised to clean up corruption everywhere in Indian society. There was a lot of brouhaha on it. But even after six-and-a-half years, the promise remains unfulfilled.

As can be seen from the CPI score from 2012 to 2019, corruption is not waning. On the contrary, it is still thriving in India, and in all the usual places. The BJP government has also not shown much enthusiasm in implementing the various anti-corruption Acts. Either it has made them ineffective or diluted them for political reasons. Its own new measures are either disastrous or nonstarters.

Diluting Acts

The independence of information commissioners was taken away from the RTI Act. The government has not shown much interest in appointing and filling vacancies of information commissioners. The Act was watered down purposefully. Citizen’s Charter and Grievance Redressal, Lokpal and Lok Ayukta Acts, whistleblower protection proposal of yesteryears were politicised and made ineffectual.

Instead, its own measures like demonetisation, Aadhaar-based biometrics and electoral bonds were brought in which have not helped curb corruption. Electoral bonds, backdoor promotion of anonymous and unaudited political contributions by foreign and ‘deshi’ corporates have increased the funds manifold in the ruling party’s coffers. It has become the pyramidion of the corruption pyramid.

It is said that the BJP is the biggest beneficiary of the anonymous political contributions from electoral bonds. In just 2017-18, the top six national parties received 53% of their total income from undisclosed sources and 50% of it went into the BJP kitty. Electoral bonds have added to the opacity of corruption.

Reportedly, India’s 2019 Lok Sabha election was the world’s costliest. According to a report by the Center for Media Studies, around Rs 55,000 crore, or $8 billion, was spent during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. And Modi’s BJP spent roughly half of it. The whole notion of advertising electoral bonds as a method of improving transparency in elections has proved wrong. They are non-transparent, because you neither can identify the donor nor the recipient.

Expensive Elections

The report said that in 20 years, involving six elections to Lok Sabha between 1998 and 2019, the election expenditure has gone up by around six times from Rs 9,000 crore to around Rs 55,000 crore. And it’s more than the US presidential election expenditure of 2016, which, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, was about $6.5 billion.

India’s polling exercise for the Lok Sabha in 2019 elections, involved over 90 crore voters, spanning 75 days and involving extravagant rallies, widespread advertising and social media campaigns. All of which is estimated to come at a cost of Rs 700 per voter.

Though the high costs involved in the outward campaigns form a big part of the political corruption, the lion’s share of electoral corruption lies in the behind-the-screens spending of cash. The distribution of cash to the voters, buying of potential winners from other parties, horse-trading of MLAs after elections or toppling existing governments, etc, is the main segment of the humongous corruption in Indian elections. This has been made into a fine art by Indian political parties. The present ruling dispensation is taking it to a new level.

According to the Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer, India has the highest corruption rate of 39% in the Asia region. While 89% of people believe that government corruption is a big problem, 47% believe that corruption has surged in the country in the past 12 months. Corruption in India is a result of the connection between politicians, corporates, bureaucrats and criminals. Earlier, bribes were paid for getting wrong things done, but now bribe is paid for getting the right things done at the right time.

Getting Things Done

In addition to bribery, there’s another skewered way to ‘get things done’ — using personal connections to avail public services. (See infographics). This year’s analysis shows corruption is more pervasive in countries where big money can flow freely into electoral campaigns and where governments listen only to the voices of wealthy or well-connected individuals, Transparency International said.

According to its report, even in democracies, such as Australia and India, unfair and opaque political financing and undue influence in decision-making and lobbying by powerful corporate interest groups, result in stagnation or decline in control of corruption. Transparency International Chair Delia Ferreira Rubio said governments must urgently address the corrupting role of big money in political party financing and the undue influence it exerts on our political systems.

In Forbes, the American economist Panos Mourdoukoutas writes, “Apparently, Modi’s government has been fighting corruption in the wrong places, among the country’s poor. And it has left corruption thriving in the high places, among the country’s rich.”

(The author is a freelance journalist)

 


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