Friday, April 15, 2005

The Injustice of a Bribe

What I am saying now is, probably, quite obvious to most people. Bribes are bad. Corruption is bad. But I contend that corruption is inevitable and mocks the very concept of a democracy (which guarantees a level playing field). Democracy in a corrupt nation is a farce.

The Great Indian Road Trick

Picture yourself cruising along one of the roads in an Indian city in your Maruti 800. You're in a hurry - so you jump a traffic light - a practise common in most smaller Indian towns. And suppose a policeman catches you. The rule book has it that a fine should be imposed on you, the sinner. But a crisp Rs 50 note changes hands - and you go back to jumping lights.

Petty Corruption. Can this be stopped?

A job as a policeman in India isn't as glamorous as that of an officer in the U.S. It is somewhat a menial job with a very low salary. These small bribes that change hands are all an unofficial part of the pay package of a policeman. This payscale, everyone has to follow. I say 'has to follow' because the salary otherwise will be utterly inadequate to feed a family. A vicious cycle. However, this corruption is inoccuous; it acts as a deterrent to bad driving - and there is no overall loss to society.

Clinching a Deal

However, clinching a deal usually requires a large payout to some middleman somewhere. Be it getting admitted into a school, securing raw material for a manufacturing concern, manufacturing coffins for the army, you name it. And here is where the level playing field collapses. The poor entrepreneur seldom has the resources to bribe his way through. A rich corporate on the other hand (such, as say a Birla, A Tata, A Sahara or even an Ambani) has plenty of resources. If bribing is the only way to secure a deal, a rich corporate would be in a better position to secure it. And thus collapses a level playing field. Thus collapses equality.

Democracy in the absence of equality

One of the basic axioms of democratic existence in India is that everyone is equal. It is boldly proclaimed in the constitution. We all swear by it - and some of us actually believe it. But with the collapse of the level playing field - we see that almost all opportunities go to the richer class - regardless of merit. This is when democracy metamorphisizes into hypocrisy. And this facade of democracy is a very effectively shields the dark underbelly of India - a society ridden by corrpution - a society which is prejudiced toward the rich.

It's not just India. The entire world suffers from this - but chooses to ignore this - be it the Mighty USA or the impoverished Africa. But usually, the scales are larger in poorer countries. America is probably more of a democracy. India will take some time to get there. People need to get richer first.

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