THE PSYCHOLOGY OF NATIONAL CORRUPTION: Pep talk many missed – Bhagwati offers benefit of doubt – so where does equitable distribution stand, where the disparity between the rich and poor get greater in India and the Congress is proud only of its Industrial & economic progress giving quite a wrong impression to the nation and the world ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
New Delhi, Dec. 2: If India’s much-maligned politicians needed a pep talk, many missed one today.
Renowned economist Jagdish Bhagwati today told a half-full Central Hall of Parliament that in India, public figures are considered to be corrupt unless proven otherwise and it is easy to exaggerate corruption.
Delivering the Hiren Mukherjee Memorial annual parliamentary lecture, Bhagwati, a professor of economics and law in Columbia University, spoke of how many Indians “seem to surrender much too easily to the notion that we have become hugely corrupt” today when governance is perceived to have deteriorated. There was a feeling that the corruption was “irretrievably so”.
“A blind man will tell you how he saw ‘with his own eyes’ a bribe being given and accepted! A most distinguished bureaucrat once told me that his mother said to him: ‘I believe you are not corrupt only because you are my son’,” said Bhagwati.
His comments, made at a time the country is lurching from one corruption charge to another, appeared to suggest that some snap judgements are predicated on dominant public opinion and not necessarily on facts and reason.
The same venue was packed to capacity less than a month ago when President Barack Obama had delivered an address. Today, it was less than half full. The listeners came either to mark their presence by virtue of the official positions they held or because of interest in the subjects close to Bhagwati’s heart.
Bhagwati tried to kindle a sense of hope in the ambience of despair as he contested the claims of organisations like Transparency International, whose periodic indices on probity are held up as mirrors to a country’s well-being. “Thus, Transparency International’s index of corruption ranks us high on corruption. However, this index is wholly arbitrary, depending on subjective evaluation of the chosen respondents,” he said.
He added that several countries had their skeletons to conceal, some of the size of the 2G spectrum allocation.
“But there is a very important difference. In the US, if you get caught, no God on earth can help you. Even the thousands of Hindu gods will not be able to,” he said, calling for electoral reforms that enable parties to raise funds through legal means.
Did the listeners share his sentiment? Not really.
BJP Rajya Sabha MP Tarun Vijay said: “In an effort not to affront the host, he did not touch the principal issue India is facing today: corruption.”
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi sounded muted. “He stressed the need for a due process. As a country, I am proud that we have full constitutional due processes.
Bhagwati did speak on economic reforms which, he said, was the central question he wished to address.
The economist, who was introduced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a “family friend for 50 years”, referred to two “conflicting narratives” about the reforms.
The “adoringly celebratory” one that was written about recently in The Economist that, he said, discarded its scepticism and acknowledged that the reforms were not a “flash in the pan”.
The “hypocritical and condemning” one reflected in the criticisms of the “naysayers, among them the socialists in the currently ruling Congress party” and writer Pankaj Mishra whose op-eds in The New York Times Bhagwati dubbed “really fiction masquerading as non-fiction”.
Taking the poor as a bellwether, Bhagwati said: “After a considerable debate, it is now generally accepted that the enhanced growth over nearly 25 years was associated with lifting nearly 200 million of the extreme poor above the poverty line. By contrast, consistent with common sense, the preceding quarter century with abysmal growth rate witnessed no perceptible, beneficial impact on poverty.”
He used living experiences to bolster his claim that many reforms helped the poor more than the rich because “the rich can cope with the results of inefficient policies better than the poor”.
“If the public sector generation and distribution of electricity is inefficient, and the electricity goes off in the middle of the night in Delhi’s summer, the rich turn on their private generator, and their air-conditioners continue working. But the poor man on his charpoy swelters….”