Thursday, 9 June 2011

Baba Ramdev, Anna Hazare, Anti-Corruption Drive- what gives?

We live in interesting times- Baba Ramdev, is on a hunger-fast against corruption and black money. Anna Hazare, with his bluechip Gandhian credentials, is leading the other flank- with his ability to attract the urban middle class across the nation. Amidst all this, there has been huge energy created around the issue – with demonstrations, fasts, prayers, protests in most cities across India. In the recent elections, Tamil Nadu saw a total rout of the ruling party, DMK, who were in the eye of the 2G storm.

However, Indians, and I dare say, most emerging market populations, have lived in an environment where this has been a part of everyday life for a very long time. So, the question is, why this spontaneous outburst of energy across the nation now, and, perhaps more relevant, what will emerge from all of this?

To understand this, we should perhaps examine this a bit. I am sure all of us have had some kind of a brush with “bribes”. When I was a child, and some electrical connection went wrong at our home, which happened frequently, I remember our calls to the “government lineman” who would land up reasonably promptly, fix the issue, and accept a token amount as a tip (Rs 10) for “chai-pani”. As I graduated from college, this system had evolved- a very pot-bellied policeman who came to verify my residence for passport issuance expected the “token” amount to be much larger, and it was no longer a “tip”, it was a “wage”, if you want it done, pay up. As time progressed, the wage has become a “demand”, and has gotten into really large sums of money.

So what used to be a small tip for a service, tolerated even if it was frowned upon, became a larger wage, and has crossed the line into extortionate territory- with the numbers now boggling the mind. That has started to rankle enormously. Also, Corruption is seen to be blocking the way of the promised “good life” which all of India wants, and wants very badly- witness the national shame of a shoddy job on Commonwealth Games by Kalmadi. Both of these perceptions have led to a smouldering anger, which has been fanned to flames by the likes of Annasaheb and the Good Guruji.

The issue is now so centre-stage that politicians of every hue and colour have jumped into the fray. Which means something will happen- Kalmadi can expect to cool his heels in jail for a while, with Kanimozhi and Raja keeping him company. The government will come out with some action / legislation, or it will face annihilation in the next elections- and corruption will, one hopes, be pushed back to “more tolerable” levels.

However, what remains to be seen is if we can get to a “low corruption” society, like it is in the first world. Unfortunately, in a scarcity led economy, where there will always be more demand than supply for anything good, the urge to “tip” for convenience/ or privilege will always be there, and hence the temptation to take the tip. Our big hope lies in reducing this scarcity, and becoming as prosperous as the first world is, and hopefully, with +8% growth, we are headed there soon.