Monday, 29 November 2010

Every Institution Is Compromised

Year 2010 will perhaps go down in history of India as the year of scams. Especially in the past few of months we have lived through an avalanche of revelation of large scale corruption. Indian media which thrives on revealing corruption, in our system of governance has been our window into this underbelly of Indian democracy. That Indian politicians and government departments are corrupt is no longer news. Investigative journalists have been able to dig up corruption in almost every institution in this country. Elected representatives, Judiciary, Police, Military, Financial Institutions, you name an institution whose independent and efficient functioning is necessary for a democratic nation to thrive economically, has once more been revealed to be compromised.

Economic progress has not exactly made us a better nation in any aspect other than personal income. As these scams reveal, some who have amassed disproportionate personal fortune have done it not only because of their constructive, professional skills but also their pragmatic corruptibility. The shortest route to personal progress has been taken by everyone who has had position of power and the opportunity which comes with it. Economic liberalization was meant to free the country from these very inefficiencies of licence raj and the corruption which came with it. For years Indian school children were taught that India is not poor its people are poor. Now people have become rich by getting control of that very national riches through corrupt means. Not by creating wealth but by controlling resources.

It seems as the country has gotten richer, the size of the scams that are eventually unearthed has gone over the roof. At a time when scams worth thousands of crores are eventually showing up; a bribery scandal where eight bankers have taken a bribe of a little over one crore is too small to be called a systemic problem. This is said to be a case where individuals have failed, not the system. Leaders of the financial industry are reassuring us that this is the case through the very media that exposed this scandal. A scam for us has to be in thousands of crores to classify as a systemic problem to be fixed. An individual in high position may have taken Rs 25 lacks to sanction loans but this is not a system problem we are assured. The loans themselves are not NPAs so nothing to fear.

Different media organizations were playing these stories differently. Some were shouting from roof tops, some were measured. Everyone was claiming to be the first to reveal a scam. Many were chasing new scams not yet unearthed. Then came the real shocker. The institution which is at the forefront of revealing these scams, the last bastion of Indian democracy, the so called free press, the plethora of television and print media which have been protected from FDI to protect national interest, which prides itself to be “independent”, has also been compromised. In a country where unassuming male youth were “fixed” during the emergency and the media cried foul, where defense deals were “fixed“ and the media cried foul, cricket matches were “fixed” and the medial cried foul it seams today the media itself has been well and truly “fixed”.
Niira Radia’s tapped phone conversations have in one sweep covered whoever was still claiming to be spotless. It seams while she was going around fixing the politicians, and ministers, and the powerful editors of Indian “free press”, she was on the payroll of leaders of corporate governance, the Tatas. She was being paid by both the Mr. Clean and the Mr Patchy. The industrialist, and the businessman. That corporate India is not averse to being pragmatic in doing business in India is well known. But these revelations have given a new meaning to the words “corporate communication”.

For each and every prior corruption scandal that broke in this country we have relied on the media to reveal and to shame the corrupt. Who, I must admit, are hard to be shamed. But after Niira Radia tapes, the media, baring a few has largely been silent. To use a cliché, this silence is deafening. Is this shame that has silenced the media? Or is this an understanding, that any one group which points a finger at the other will be pointing three to oneself? There are some who have started speaking about this silence. Arun Shourie was on air on 28th Nov, with his take on this episode. Sunlight is the best disinfectant he says. Only the media can clean itself by criticizing itself and by analyzing this incident. Does all the intellectual capacity of analysis really rest with the corporate communication groups? Do our editors always need notes from CCGs before they can publish analysis of corporate news?

While the professionals lick their wounds, it is left to the amateurs to fill the void. It is perhaps time for the editors who were sidelined for not toeing the popular line to rid us of the eclipse which has come upon us and disinfect their own professional environment. The buck finally stops with them.

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