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A country of 1.2 billion, a sixth of humanity, is again awash with a public slugfest on graft. Corruption has been the favourite subject of policy forums in developing and developed societies. When it comes to India, a growing Asian economic powerhouse, the subject becomes all the more topical.
A prominent Indian social activist has let the cat among pigeons by challenging the integrity of some very prominent figures in the public domain. First, it is Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who has been accused of amassing millions in an illegal land transfer deal. Arvind Kejriwal, an award-winning anti-corruption crusader, who shot to prominence on the back of an aggressive campaign launched by a controversial Yoga guru, is fast becoming the cynosure of a nation besotted with corrupt public officials and all-pervasive self-aggrandisement. The reaction of the oldest political party in the country to the accusations hurled at a member of the de jure First Family of the country was interesting. Congressmen from senior spokesmen to lowly leaders came out against Kejriwal, all guns blazing.
A senior cabinet minister, Salman Khurshid, is in the news for allegedly diverting funds meant for providing wheel chairs to disabled people, for his personal use. Kejriwal, in this instance, has also been labelled a muck raker. The Magsaysay award winner and former Indian Revenue Service official answered Khurshid’s fierce threats, bordering on the dangerous by saying that his life is in God’s hands and not in Khurshid’s.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party chief, Nitin Gadkari, has also become mired in land grab allegations with the India Against Corruption (IAC) campaigner saying that the politician’s business instincts clashed with the interest of farmers in the Western province of Maharashtra. India stands at 95 out of 183 in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of Transparency International. Corruption has been a colonial legacy in the country right from the time when corrupt British officials were out to get whatever they could for personal aggrandisement. After Independence, the rulers could not fight the scourge that only got a fillip with Nehruvian socialism striking deep roots with the licence-quota regulations promoting an ‘inspector raj’, and a conservative international trade regime propagating protection.
Right from the ‘rags scandal’ around independence to the ‘stocks scam’ and the ‘coffin scam’, examples of corruption abound in the country where the poverty line is still a perfunctory construct by bureaucrats and hardly resembles the reality. Fighting graft has never been a priority in governance and whoever has raised his voice against the malaise has suffered. Campaigns against corruption are a sign of a healthy democracy and cannot be denounced as muck raking and must not be met with mud slinging.
It should be remembered that Kejriwal got details of the corrupt practices with the help of the Right to Information Act, which is again a healthy gift from a flourishing democracy.