« | Home | »

One Man, One Bribe

Tags:

It emerged recently that tens of millions of dollars meant for the poor in Delhi are being siphoned off to pay for the Commonwealth Games. At the same time, the city authorities are forcibly destroying the homes of squatters to make way for the games. It’s a depressingly familiar story. Rajiv Gandhi famously said that of every hundred rupees ear-marked by the state for the alleviation of poverty in rural India, about six rupees actually arrive in the hands of a poor person – the rest is embezzled by intermediaries. Forced evictions, too, have a long history in metropolitan India.

There’s a joke doing the rounds in the city of Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, forty miles from Delhi. A man decides to visit a new anti-corruption officer for the district. On arriving at the government building he meets the officer’s secretary. The man asks to see the anti-corruption officer. ‘I’m afraid he’s not in today,’ the secretary replies. ‘But I can the light on inside his office,’ the man says. ‘I may be able to let you see him, if you give me 50 rupees.’ The man eventually pays the money and storms into the office: ‘Did you know that your own secretary is taking bribes?!’ The anti-corruption officer opens his hands and says: ‘Brother, what to do? Even I had to pay 50 rupees to get into my office this morning.’

Uttar Pradesh is notoriously corrupt. The auditor general’s reports for the state paint a dismal picture: of widespread embezzlement of public funds by government bureaucrats, of police abusing their powers, of development money going astray. The intended beneficiaries of major development projects rarely get the resources they are entitled to. The police, teachers, doctors and public officials routinely ask for cash for services which are supposed to be paid for by the state and provided free of charge.

The structure of government in Uttar Pradesh encourages corruption. As Salman Rushdie once joked, ‘Indian democracy: one man, one bribe.’ Politicians spend a lot of money getting elected, and recoup it from top officials in different government bureaucracies. These officials, in turn, put pressure on those lower down the bureaucratic pyramid. But corruption in Uttar Pradesh is not only a state problem. University students with influence in the educational bureaucracy have unofficial power over undergraduate admissions and teaching jobs, and act as go-betweens in negotiations between building contractors and university vice-chancellors. Among low castes, a set of brokers has emerged who help people get state assistance. ‘How can we help the poor if we do not pay bribes and play the game?’ they say.

There is however evidence of some popular mobilisation against corruption. In Meerut I worked with a lot of young people who periodically come together to protest against state malpractice. They are embroiled to different degrees in the system of corruption, but say that they have a collective long-term interest in ‘changing India’. There have even been successful social movements in some parts of northern India – notably in Rajasthan – to hold local elites and government officials to account. Reducing malpractice will require political effort on multiple fronts. People on the ground are mobilising against the worst forms of fraud. Centralised efforts to limit spending on elections would help a great deal. But for the time being, the type of gross malpractice recently uncovered in the management of the Commonwealth Games remains part of a general story of Indian malfeasance.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • mideastzebra on Swedish-Israeli Tensions: Avigdor Liberman was not foreign minister November 2015.
    • lars hakanson on Exit Cameron: Europe will for good reason rejoice when the UK elects to leave. The country has over the years provided nothing but obstacles to European integration...
    • Michael Schuller on Immigration Scandals: The Home Office is keen to be seen to be acting tough on immigration, although I'm not sure that the wider project has anything to do with real number...
    • Geoff Roberts on What happened in Cologne?: The most surprising thing about the events in Cologne (and the most disturbing) is that some 600 incidents of theft, harrasment and rape were reported...
    • EmilyEmily on What happened in Cologne?: The author's argument is straightforward: Sexual violence is one beast; fears about migrants is another - let's not confuse the two. Alfalfa's poin...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

Advertisement Advertisement