Global corruption report a damning indictment of Modi govt, which rode to power in wake of Jan Lokpal movement

Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, released just a day ahead of Republic Day, pegged India at a lowly 85th rank, indicating how deeply rooted malaise of graft is in nation


Rahul Gul

The ceremonial marchpast and associated rituals held on Raj Path to mark the Republic Day this year felt hollow, pointless and pretentious, considering the fact that the Constitution of India, whose adoption the event commemorates, has turned into just another relic for the incumbent regime at the Centre to pay lip service to.

Indeed, the nation today appears to be a pale shadow of the high stature it enjoyed many moons ago, a motheaten, diminished entity as a result of the contempt the regime holds not only for such a sterling treatise penned by our founding fathers to serve as a touchstone for those at the helm of governance and polity, but also other vital institutions such as the judiciary and the media, both of which would seem to be playing a subservient role to the powers that be.

This is neither a cynical observation nor driven by any ideological leanings. The sad fact is that anyone possessing even a modicum of intelligence and understanding of history would likely feel a similar sense of disquiet mixed with foreboding for what is yet to come in the days and months and years ahead.

Let us for a moment keep aside recurring events such as communal riots, acts of lynching and virtual abetment of hate speeches which betrayed the right wing’s basic agenda of sidelining the minority communities, to put it mildly.

Or, for that matter, the virtual abdication of the government’s fundamental duty to protect the health and well-being of citizens during the pandemic, which cost over 50 lakh lives as per some estimates due to the shambolic healthcare system in the country.

Reams have already been written about how the ruling regime seems determined to bury any viewpoint that is divergent from its worldview or even well-founded criticism of its policies or functioning, with draconian laws being liberally invoked against such ‘anti-national’ individuals or groups, leading to their incarceration in prisons which were designed by the British Raj to break the human spirit in various insidious ways and continue to do so in the absence of any realistic reform of the criminal law system.

And nothing further needs to be said about the blatant manner in which Central agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate, CBI, IT Dept and even Narcotics Control Bureau are now routinely unleashed upon political opponents or their kin or even their supporters to intimidate them, if not indeed persuade them to get on the bandwagon of the saffron party just to get such agencies off their backs.

It is equally well documented how in ‘New India’, the neo-liberal policies of the incumbent govt are ensuring that the rich get even richer while the poor live in sub-human conditions. As per a report released earlier this month by Oxfam, the wealth of Indian billionaires increased by a massive 35 per cent in the last 10 months. It pointed out that the increase in the wealth of the top 100 billionaires in the country could sustain MGNREGA for ten years.

These billionaires have reaped maximum benefits from the ‘stimulus’ of the Modi government and this has only widened the inequality further during the 2020-21 fiscal, it said.

The income of 84 per cent of households in the country declined in 2021, but at the same time the number of Indian billionaires grew from 102 to 142, the report pointed out, adding that in 2021, the collective wealth of India’s 100 richest people hit a record high of Rs 57.3 lakh crore while the share of the bottom 50 per cent of the population in national wealth was a mere 6 per cent.

No, what is truly galling is that the BJP rode to power following the so-called anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare, and besides promising ‘Achche Din’ the day the NDA won a majority in the 2014 general elections, PM Narendra Modi has on innumerable occasions waxed eloquent about how his government was committed to provide graft-free and people-friendly governance.

The reality, however, is quite the contrary, as we all well know. But if it needed validation, it came in the form of the latest report of the Transparency International, the 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, released just a day ahead of Republic Day, which pegged India at a lowly 85th rank among 180 countries, scoring just 40 marks of a maximum possible 100.

“Mechanisms that help reign in corruption are weakening, alongside concerns over the health of democracy and the decay of fundamental freedoms and institutional checks and balances. Journalists and civil society organisations are being targeted for speaking out against the government,” stated the report, calling India as 'the county to watch'.

“Human rights are not simply a nice-to-have in the fight against corruption. Authoritarian approaches destroy independent checks and balances and make anti-corruption efforts dependent on the whims of the elite. Ensuring people can speak freely and work collectively to hold power to account is the only sustainable route to a corruption-free society,” Delia Ferreira Rubio, the current chair of Transparency International was quoted as saying.

The report said that certain forms of corruption were intrinsically linked to discriminative practices in the country, which includes caste-based discrimination.

Following its release, experts noted how the institution of Lokpal, the primary demand of the Hazare-led movement, has turned out to be nothing but a dud despite all the noise surrounding it. The number of cases going to the Lokpal were progressively decreasing and ever since its inception, not a single case had reached the prosecution level, they pointed out, adding that the institution was as opaque as it could be, which defeats its very purpose.

What this implies is that corruption in the country, arguably the first and foremost obstacle in its progress and development, is at an all-time high.

Nowhere was it better exposed in all its ugliness than during the current pandemic, with COVID patients and their loved ones virtually facing extortion when trying to procure oxygen, life-saving and essential drugs and even hospital beds.

Ironically, in the run up to the Republic Day celebrations, some media reports pointed out irregularities even in the process to choose and manufacture a new combat uniform for the Army.

What's more, the Electoral Bonds scheme is akin to institutionalised corruption, given that the ruling party gets the lion's share of such money in hundreds of crores 'donated' to it by crony capitalists. It is evidently a quid pro quo arrangement, an 'official' channel for money to change hands.

Meanwhile, big ticket instances of corruption by those at the top seem to be simply getting swept under the carpet, either by those entrusted to call it out who are failing to do so or by the so-called mainstream media which fails to expose them for obvious reasons.

If at all, news of such ‘scams’ will likely tumble out years later. By then, it may be too late to do anything about it. The perpetuators would have long retired from public service or politics. The damage would have been done by then, irreversibly in many cases.

The Modi govt would do well to take cognisance of the report and take urgent and effective measures to tame this demon which affects the day-to-day quality of citizens' life in ways that are too numerous to detail here.

But it has, in the recent past, summarily dismissed global reports such as those terming India as an 'electoral autocracy' and as being only 'party free'. Even reports by experts and the international media pointing out that the official death toll because of COVID in India was a huge under-estimation were brushed aside as some sort of a global conspiracy to 'defame' India.

The Global Hunger Index released in October last year, which pegged India's rank at 101 out of 116 countries, too failed to move the Modi govt, despite the fact that even our neighbouring nations fare better. The government of a nation whose citizens are forced to go hungry, and where children are dying due to malnutrition, in the second decade of the 21st century ought to have been alarmed by this revelation, but quite clearly, this is par for the course for it.

Going by all this, we are all pretty much on our own.

(Views are personal)

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Published: 26 Jan 2022, 9:14 PM