Violations of one or more of the established legal, aesthetic, ethical and religious codes of a society are often termed corruption. It is important to know what is behind the sense of corruption and how it is related to the other notions or labels such as that of Legal and Illegal, True and False, Right and Wrong, Beautiful and Ugly, Virtue and Sin, and Dharma and Adharma which are commonly used to characterize the actions of individuals and societies. All these concepts or notions are overlapping, invariably run into each other’s territories and have their common source or origin in the legal, aesthetic, moral or ethical and religious codes of a society or collectivity which again in their turn, have their source in the fundamental Truths of the Spirit or the highest approachable Reality. The exact form that these codes take depends on the times and the culture or society to which they belong, even though the Truths of the Spirit are independent of these and the forms – always more or less inadequate – in which they get expressed. They are the one source of all the ultimate standards of the race.
We shall discuss the problem of corruption under the following three headings: (1) The Legal Code and Corruption, (2) The Aesthetic, Ethical and Religious Code and Corruption, and (3) The Spiritual Code and Corruption.
(1) The Legal Code and Corruption
Infringement or violation of the legal (civil or criminal) code is often termed corruption. The acts that are termed illegal are, most of the time, such as to imply also a breach of the aesthetic, moral and/or religious code of the society. In such cases it is easier to tackle the problem of corruption because the measures to counter such corrupt acts have, in addition to the force of the law, also the full force of the aesthetic, moral and religious standards or codes of the society behind them. When some acts are deemed corrupt solely on the ground that they constitute a violation of the legal code then it is very difficult to control them and is practically impossible to abolish them altogether. The above proposition which may be disputed by some, particularly in the light of the experience (in this respect) in the West, is yet mostly valid. There are a number of important and fundamental reasons behind an increasing failure of the elected governments in India to contain legal corruption i.e. corruption consisting primarily of the violations of the legal code. It is very important to consider these in detail and bring them out into the open for creating a deeper awareness and understanding of the problem of corruption among the law makers and the people at large.
1. It is a common knowledge that in the West, although there is an elaborate, extensive and all pervasive legal code – seemingly independent of all ethical or religious codes – yet, so efficient is its application and accompanying administration that the violations or infringements of rules and laws derived from it, particularly those which are deemed essential for the maintenance, well being and progress of the collectivity (local, regional or national), are very uncommon. This may seem to contradict the proposition advanced earlier about the ineffectuality of the legal code when it stands alone without much support from the ethical and religious codes. But the contradiction is only apparent and is easily resolved by bringing into consideration the effects of the diametrically opposite division of the stress of the moral code (between the personal and the collective morality) in India and the West. In the West there is a strong and well developed civic sense (pleasing to the eye and other senses) accompanied by the almost universally accepted standards of collective and national ethics or morality which few can ignore without getting into serious trouble. But there is little or no social or collective pressure or curb on an individual’s hedonistic tendencies whose naked and unabashed pursuit – often shocking to Oriental sensibilities – characterises the life of individuals in the West. The opposite is the case in India where there are very strong curbs exercised by family, caste and community on an individual’s behavior but, although growing, there is still very little of developed civic sense or a sense of collective and national ethics to regulate the conduct of individuals in matters of common interest or concern. In the West the lawmakers and the administrators share with the common people a strong sense of collective ethics inculcated through education and training conducted under the shadow of a strong and supportive collective suggestion. This enables the elected governments to achieve a strict and rigorous enforcement of laws and rules made by them.
In India the situation is just the opposite. Here the political and bureaucratic machinery – like the masses or perhaps even more than them – is entirely devoid of any civic sense or sense of collective morality or any sense of obligation to the common people who alone ultimately bear the burden of maintaining it. Therefore, it is not only useless for any collective good but is being seen by an increasing number of people as a growing monster – in size and depravity – and threatening the very existence of the race.
In order to understand the above mentioned juxtaposition between India and the West, we have to widen our perspective by looking at the whole scenario of the division of humanity in two complementary parts of the divine Whole. Reason plays an overwhelming and important part in Western societies and people find it easier to overcome the pull of lower tendencies when they are in contradiction with those cannons of reason that have come to be commonly accepted by the collectivity as reasonable. Thus, the Western Semitic races can and have undergone a considerable amount of rationalization for which they are suited. But the Indians are, by their very nature, not suited for such a high degree of rationalization and governance of life primarily by reason. They are, by their very Aryan constitution, intuitional either directly or through and by the heart and mind. An overwhelming majority of Indians spontaneously use their intuition to guide their action and behavior and to find their way out of a difficulty or to solve a problem. The constructions of reason carry little weight – at least for action – for most of them and this is true even for those who may have gone through a considerable degree of rationalization during their education and training. This is the basic reason why the present educational, economic, political, administrative, legal and judicial systems which have their origin in the Western mentality and cult of reason are found wanting and unsuitable for the temperament of the Indian people who, wherever possible, spontaneously tend to bypass such systems – which not unoften appears to them like a jungle of blind rules and laws – either by means of some subtle arrangement or personal relationship and approach or by the use of money. As things stand, the latter means is increasingly replacing the former ones as they are getting increasingly blunted under the pressure of a growing utilitarian spirit.
Now, what does it all portend? Where are we going from here? Indian culture, in facing the invasion of the Western culture during the past two hundred years, has been largely successful in assimilating those parts of it which were conducive to its own rejuvenation and revival and rejecting those that were contrary to its fundamental spirit. Even during the worst periods of India’s total political, economic and military subjugation, the Western spirit could never make such deep inroads in India as it has been increasingly successful in making ever since the beginning of the economic liberalization in the nineteen nineties. With the beginning of this century and especially during the past few years, there has been such an onslaught of a whole set of Western lifestyles, modes of thinking, feeling, conduct that it is not without an apparent danger for the very existence of Indian culture at least in India – rather one should say at most – because the West is facing a similar situation as it finds itself progressively subjected to an ever increasing invasion by the Indian spiritual culture which seems clearly to be moving the world over towards its destined goal of preparing humanity for the advent of a spiritual age. Actually, even in India, the danger is only apparent because, as it is, it is only a stalemate. For, if under the present apparent siege of Western culture we have failed to effectively retain the principles of inner greatness known to our forefathers, we have also failed to rationalize ourselves sufficiently to organize the intellectual efficiency characteristic of that culture. If the human race is to survive – and this is a big “if” – the present stalemate in India cannot but result in a decisive victory and reassertion of the Indian spiritual culture enriched and vivified by the present ordeal. In spite of all that we have been and are going through “…we still have among us important remnants of the old knowledge & discipline & we have firm hold in our schools of Yoga on the supreme means by which its lost parts can be recovered. The key of a divine life upon earth lies, rusted indeed in an obscure corner of our mansion, used only by a few, but still it lies there & is still used. It has to be singled out from amid much waste matter, made fit for complete & general use and given freely to mankind. We have kept, fortunately, the intuitional temperament to which its use is easy & natural. The failure of the intellect to assume complete sway and entirely rationalise our life, was a necessary condition for the preservation of that temperament, itself necessary for the appointed work & God-decreed life of our nation.”1
2. Another important reason for the failure of the elected governments – ever since the beginning of the economic planning in 1951 when they were not so infected with the utilitarian spirit – to contain legal corruption is that the laws made out of an inordinate desire to control and direct the socio-economic systems have been, in general, most ill-conceived and enacted in a hurry without understanding or giving due consideration to the innate Dharma of the health and functioning of these systems. Drawing inspiration from the Soviet model of development and planning, the first few five year plans envisaged the necessity of an increasing governmental intervention leading to a systematic control and regulation of the economic systems by the state because this was deemed essential for a rapid economic development along socially preferred tracks. This attitude continued unabated till the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early nineties after which the government policy gradually took a diametrically opposite turn in this respect and started to liberalize and privatize the economic system by progressively dismantling the machinery of detailed governmental controls and regulations put in place during the first four decades or the first phase of economic planning in India. By the end of this phase, the dense net of the vast arrays of ill-conceived, inept and misapplied government laws, rules and regulations had become very suffocating for the people and gave the impression of being an unconscious attempt, not so much at regulation but at a “strangulation” of the whole living economic system. The saving grace was that a good number of really fatal laws and rules neither were, nor really could have been rigorously enforced, for, had it been possible to do so, the whole economic system would have at once come to a standstill and would have swiftly moved towards a complete collapse bringing home to everyone the real nature and true worth of a good deal of governmental intervention in the economic system. In the nature of the functioning of things, ineffective governance invariably attempts to make up for its incompetence by enacting more and more elaborate laws and regulations and devising novel schemes.
When a living system is subjected to very dumb and paralyzing restrictions and regulations, its natural and virtually invincible survival instinct sets out to discover and develop further necessary means and ways for bypassing these – a thing easily done in India whose people are well known – the world over – for their genius in such things. All this results in a tremendous pressure on all the participants – but more so on those at the receiving end – to at once find a way out taking all possible advantage of the new situation by some kind of manipulation or arrangement or simply by bribing the regulators. The regulators and the newly sprung class of intermediaries also undergo a similar process and attempt to optimize their gains. By a strictly legal criterion, all these things are illegal and often even criminal. However, when such a network of laws not only remains intact over a long period of time but even grows in perversity and pervasiveness, an understanding and tolerance gradually develops among the masses for whom it becomes a habitual thing and any element of moral disapprobation that might have been there initially, completely evaporates from the psychology of the participants and spectators in this tragic – tragic for the moral and emotional health of the people – and seemingly never ending drama which keeps on growing ever more tragic. The obstinate and increasingly shameless attempts of the elected government to burden the governmental machinery with this kind of background with the task of administrating ever more elaborate and expensive programmes and schemes for the upliftment of the masses are like someone shamelessly spending huge amount of precious resources and energy for developing a stage and elaborately planning a series of intricate dance performances – with an avowed object of entertaining the people – for someone who, with a long history of affliction from cerebral palsy, cannot even walk few steps straight without help. One can easily understand that initially, in the absence of any sufficient and concrete experience of the workings of modern governmental machinery on the part of the past independence leaders, the whole approach may have been adopted due to its then popular intellectual appeal, but to understand its continuation even after its true colours have been vividly revealed to the gaze of all, one needs to look deeply into the motive of the political leadership. If it is continuing even at present then it can only be because the present day politicians allow themselves to believe that Indian people are still so shortsighted and foolish that they can be manipulated by the promises and announcements of ingenious schemes, plans to be carried out for their benefit and outright handouts to be delivered to them by the same government machinery which has been ever busy designing and inflicting more and more unspeakable forms of privations on them. If such political leaders do not get thrown out of power even after such blatantly shameless acts, then it cannot be because most people are taken in by their cunning designs but simply because the people may not have any really less unpalatable choice available to them under the workings of our democratic system. The democratic system which has, of late, become so wonderful that when a new political party or an alliance of political parties comes to power, it is not because people expect anything good from them but simply because they had gotten so sickened by the previous ones that they couldn’t do anything but throw them out and replace them by these whose earlier misdeeds have gotten somewhat dimmed in their short memory. If we are ever going to come out of this futile circle, we have to realize, once for all, that no outer machinery, however ingenious, can make our life blessed for us unless we change from within. What one is within that one shall enjoy outside. In the words of Sri Aurobindo:
“This erring race of human beings dreams always of perfecting their environment by the machinery of government and society; but it is only by the perfection of the soul within that the outer environment can be perfected. What thou art within, that outside thee thou shalt enjoy; no machinery can rescue thee from the law of thy being.”2
Now, coming back to the issue under consideration, it is obvious from the discussion above that a good deal of the so-called corruption in the financial and business field has its origin in the survival instinct of the socio-economic system. In dealing with such corruption, when further attempts are made to check it by filling the loopholes etc. then, ultimately, things do not improve but often get worse. Most of the laws, rules and regulations aimed at controlling, regulating and improving the functioning of social, political and economic systems have often been contrary to the dharma of the functioning of these systems and have been instrumental in spreading the contagion of corruption to most other areas of the system including the judiciary. Government’s further legislations and other attempts in this direction – without any truer or deeper understanding and even a feeling for the necessity or utility of such an understanding – makes the whole governmental machinery even more cumbersome and an extra burden, not to those who have learned their lessons and have become adept at profiting, or at least buying their way out of it, but to those who are either not in a position to participate in the above profitable (corrupt) activity or are incapable of stooping to such low level of functioning due to the peculiarity of their psychological constitution. The end result, witnessed no matter where one looks at present, is that life becomes progressively more difficult and the whole atmosphere thoroughly suffocating for the heart, mind and soul of the people at large who end up bearing the burden of supporting an ever growing and more and more corrupt and expensive government machinery.
3. The laws and rules having their origin in an unabashed demagoguery of the politicians.
The government’s laws and rules and actions which have such origins are deprived of even the remnants of sanctity or validity they might still have had for the gullible people who are easily deceived by fine words. The process has been going on for quite some time now and at present things have reached such a state that politicians are, almost universally, held in a very low esteem by the people. So widespread has become the utilitarian spirit that even when the common people know – as most of them seem to – they quite routinely put up with the demagogic acts of the politicians because they are no less infected with this spirit and, therefore, rather than oppose such acts – which they vociferously do only when they feel that they stand to lose by it – they invariable look for and are ever busy discovering and devising more and more ingenious ways and means of taking advantage of these.
In its culmination in the political field, the utilitarian spirit has brought things to such a state that, at present, most politicians have either consciously (very rare) or subconsciously – coupled with a spontaneous and unsuspecting belief in the critical importance of their staying in office for the good of the country, – reached such a psychological state that they have, behind all their apparent solemn professions; only a one point program – to acquire power or stay in power, if they already have it, by using all and whatever means that are at their disposal. Among countless acts and schemes enacted in this spirit, two have stood our persistently, openly and blatantly to the gaze of all. First, it has been found expedient by those in power to profess love and sympathy and ponder to the prejudices and weaknesses of the organized communal, caste or regional groups while almost completely disregarding those that are not so well organized. A plethora of special laws, agencies, rules and quotas have been designed with solely this end in view. The second important thing that has found common favour with politicians is the practice of using all the money that can possibly be siphoned out of the public purse to pursue their one point agenda. The practice has become so popular with governments that in an attempt to outdo their competitors they, in a spirit of self-praise, unashamedly flout the list of programs and schemes and handouts enacted by them before the eyes of the common people – whose dear money they are thus misusing – by advertising these (so called achievements) in various newspapers and magazines at a huge cost to the public purse. All such things are aimed at buying the support (votes) of all the groups who may be labeled poor, oppressed or underprivileged. The latest trend in this field is to attempt to progressively widen this net by bringing as many groups as possible under it. This has become possible because in a fast growing economy the government’s revenues tend to grow even faster. Now, what is this whole thing all about? Isn’t it an outright pick-pocketing of the people? – especially when in their own statements politicians admit that they are aware of the fact that only a very very small and progressively declining fraction of the money thus spent (mostly on paper) ever reaches those for whom it was intended. Now, the question is what happens to the money on its way to the intended? Obviously, most of it gets absorbed by a league of corrupt business and government machinery which owes its origin and progressive evolution in shamelessness and cunningness to the sustained ill-conceived and motivated actions of the elected governments over time. It is a good measure of peoples’ growing cynicism and indifference that such things continue their march unabated even after they have visibly stooped to such low and unethical levels as they have done during the past few years. No wonder people have become so unscrupulous about taking advantage of such motivated government measures without any regard to whether their acts would be considered as legal or illegal by the corrupt prompters and intermediaries of these measures.
(to be continued…)
1. Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo 08: 564-65
2. Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo 12: 468