Tuesday, April 26, 2011
My Singapore-based economist friend put the whole corruption issue in an economic perspective. "Indian systems and structures have always been geared to manage the Hindu rate of growth – 3.5% between the 1950s to 1980s. What you are seeing is the inability to cope with 9% plus growth, economically, socially and politically.”
Well. More and more bigwigs are being chargesheeted and going to jail on charges of corruption. Unfortunately, many of us believe they will somehow extricate themselves, using money, influence or both. I will come to that in a moment. Lets take a look at Tihar’s well-heeled jailbirds. Presently, they range from accused in telecom spectrum allocation to Delhi’s Commonwealth Games (CWG) scandals.
There are four kinds of people in from the abovementioned crop. The first is founders of organisations, like realtors Shahid Balwa of DB Corp and Sanjay Chandra of Unitech. To understand their wealth in perspective, Shahid Balwa apparently asked Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials if they could travel from Mumbai to Delhi (where the CBI court is in session) in his private jet. Understandably, the CBI officials declined.
Birds Of A Feather Flock...In Jail
The second is the professional kind. There are three Reliance ADAG Group executives, including managing director Gautam Doshi facing charges. Reliance was on the other side of the transaction with Shahid Balwa, details which form part of a CBI chargesheet. The third is politicians like Suresh Kalmadi picked up on 25th April on charges of cheating, consipiracy and corruption in sanctioning inflated payments to vendors. This was in his role as Chairman of the Organising Committee for the CWG. And finally, its the bureaucrats who were associated with both kinds of scams from the government side.
Four sets of people. All sharing various cells in Tihar jail as the temperatures (summer) rise in Delhi. Its safe to say that they will emerge from their confinements at some point. When, of course, is the Rs 100 crore question. But having interacted with some of them in the past, I do wonder (increasingly) how many will ever try the fast and loose approach in their business dealings ? Moreover, how many of their friends, associates and even remote acquaintances will take the easy way out when faced with legal-moral hurdles ?
Let me put it this way. Ever since Mumbai’s traffic police began cracking down on drunk driving a few years ago, I have only heard of friend’s friends spending a night in jail. A few friends have told me of agonising hours spent in suburban police stations in the dead of the night. Guess what. I do not drive even if I have had a whiff of alchohol, so wary i am of running foul of the law. The same friends have told me that a glass or so is legally acceptable. I don’t care. I just don’t want to take a chance. And I am not alone.
Can The Merry Ways Change ?
Now most of our friends in Tihar Jail obviously boast much thicker skins. And that’s why they are there in the first place. And a few will quite likely return to their merry ways when they are finally done with their time. Which brings me to the big question. What if the `ways ‘ themselves change ? Can this attack against corruption that is now societal, judicial and even political change the course of the river, albeit partially. Is it likely that doing business will never be the same again in India ?
The optimist and patriot in me says yes. When powerful people get chargesheeted and spend time in jail, some deterrence if not restrain has already been created. At least for a while till the systems to check corruption and to crack down discovered become stronger. One where the four kinds of jailbirds will find it increasingly difficult to intermingle unquestioned and milk state-owned resources to build personal fortunes.
The way of doing business changes every now and then. That has been the situation from the dawn of time when entrepreneurs and organisations came into existence. Entrepreneur’s (and maybe managers) always test the boundaries of law and business ethics in search for growth and profit. The last two decades have been challenging, as my economist friend says, for a country that never grappled with runaway growth or for that matter greed. This is the time to pause and learn a few lessons. There is no guarantee that corruption will go away. There is some guarantee that it will take much thicker skins to go through with it.