Evolution of Corruption in India
Corruption is everywhere in India. The hard truth cannot be denied. Money makes the mare go is not a cliché or a hackneyed literary phrase. The lackeys ask for it as ‘Chai Pani’ or ‘Bakshish’ for retrieving a file from a pile and the men in authority as a quid pro quo (quid something pro for quo something) for taking the trouble of signing it without raising a frivolous objection. It is sometimes called greasing the palm as grease is used to decrease the friction when one object is moved over the surface of another object. The big Sahib accepts the offering as a ‘dastoor’ and this word literally means custom or tradition. No notice was taken of this custom during the Christmas holidays and now Christmas is being replaced by Deepawali when the legendry Ram, the Prince of Ayodhaya, returned from the fourteen years of exile after defeating Ravan, the King of Sri Lanka and placing the defeated King’s own brother on the throne. The story does not mention whether Sri Lanka became a vassal state of Ayodhaya.
The gene acts selfishly and acts blatantly when there is no challenge and subtly when the environment is hostile. Everyone imitates the behavior of the gene and places his own interest first always. The most philanthropic act might have been done to get a deduction under Sec. 80 G of the Income Tax Act and to come closer to the Power Center. The selfishness has an evolutionary advantage and it has been practiced for thousands of years. Ethics or morality is sometimes successful in veneering this instinct.
Indian history records the invasion of Alexander of Macedonia in 326 B.C. when he overran the Land of Five Rivers (Punjab). Alexander had inflicted two severe defeats on the great king of Persia who was the last scion of the line of Darius and Xerxes, in 333 and 331 B.C. In 330 B.C. the Persian ruler died and Alexander became the undisputed ruler of his empire. Three years later, he resumed his march to the East and reached Pushkalavati which has been identified as the modern Charsadda lying near the junction of the Swat and Kabul rivers, about 27 Km north-east of Peshawar. In the older parts of the most revered Rigved, there is reference that Indian people settled, beyond Punjab, on the north western border of India. These settlements on the banks of the river Kabul (Kubha in Sanskrit, its classical old name is Cophes/Kowpher) concatenated as Kabul town. The river Kubha or Kabul flows into the Indus a little above Attock.
Ambhi, the First Traitor: Alexander’s reputation as a warrior travelled faster than him like the flash of lightning coming before the thunder. He reached Ohind and crossed the Indus by a bridge of boats in 326 B.C. He received valuable help from Ambhi, the king of Taxila who welcomed the invader into his Capital with obsequious pomp. Ambhi did not see any merit in resisting the foreigner and danced attendance on him to save his little kingdom. Ambhi was a Dambhi (cheat) and his meek submission without a fight was an act of ignominy laced with cowardice. He is the first recorded traitor of Indian History. In course of time, we will meet many more who accepted a bribe and quietly opened the back doors of the fort to let the enemy walk in. Alexander crossed the river Jhelum and was face to face with Porus who was ready with a mighty force to resist and give a fight. Porus fought bravely and received a severe wound and was defeated. It was the common practice to kill the defeated ruler to ensure that he was not around to organize rebellion. He was brought before Alexander in chains and Alexander asked him how he would like to be treated. “As one king treats another” replied Porus fearlessly. Alexander was impressed with this bold answer; he decided to restore his kingdom to him if he agreed to serve the conqueror. A gallant Porus would be a valuable asset for the winner.
Fifteen centuries later, history was ready to repeat itself. Muhammad of Ghur had occupied Ghazni and added Punjab to his kingdom. Prithviraj Chauhan ruled over Ajmer and Delhi and Jaichand was the ruler of Kanauj. Prithviraj and Jaichand were Rajputs and related to each other. Jaichand was jealous of Prithviraj. Jaichand organized a ‘swayamvar’ for his daughter and invited some princes so that his daughter could choose one of them and garland him as her husband. Prithviraj was not invited and to add insult to injury, his idol was placed at the entrance to show him as a guard. Jaichand’s daughter garlanded the idol and expressed her intention to marry him. Prithviraj with a band of horsemen was hiding nearby and soon learnt what the princess had done. He raided the campus like lightning and scooted with the lady love on his horseback. It all happened in a flash and Jaichand’s guards could not catch up with him. Many believe that Jaichand invited Muhammad to invade India and a bitter battle was fought in 1191 A.D. Muhammad was severely wounded and lost the battle. He hastily retreated and escaped to Ghur. A false sense of pride induced Prithviraj to desist from chasing the retreating enemy and this bravado proved to be a terrible mistake. Muhammad raised a strong army and came back next year to avenge his defeat on the same battle field. Jaichand stood aloof and never realized that the Muslim rule was about to get established for more than six and a half centuries. Prithviraj was defeated, captured and put to death and his brother was also slain. This battle firmly laid the foundation of Muslim dominion in Northern India.
Now skip another five and a half centuries. It was the year 1757 A.D. The capital of Bengal had been shifted to Murshidabad from Dacca. There was a dispute between Nawab and the English regarding additional fortifications of the Fort at Calcutta. The English mounted guns on the Fort and built additional fortifications. When Mirza Muhammad better known as Nawab Siraj-ud-daulah came on the throne, he demanded demolition of the fortifications and surrender of the members of the family of a person who was conspiring against the Nawab. The English did not comply. Siraj-ud-daulah marched against the English; the senior officers hastily boarded the ships and parked in the bay. The remnants offered feeble resistance and surrendered. The possession of the sea gave a great advantage; whenever hard pressed on land, the sea was a safe retreat for the Nawab had no navy worth the name! The Nawab did not think it necessary to hold on Calcutta; he returned to settle other urgent matters and the English returned to settle score with him.
The English won over the officer in charge of Calcutta and some leading men in Nawab’s court and simultaneously prepared to give battle. The Nawab’s court was teeming with treacherous ministers and conspirators. Clive recovered Calcutta without any serious fighting. The English forces marched on their expedition against the Nawab; the garrisons stationed at Hoogli and Katwa offered no real opposition. Clive reached the mango grove at Plassey, on the bank of the Bhagirathi, on the night of 22nd June. A battle broke out on the morning of 23rd and it was like a walkover in a football match. Mir Jafar, the commander of Nawab’s forces and Rai Durlabh, another general, took no part and their large army did not fire a shot. Mir Madan and Mohan Lal, backed by a French Officer, joined the battle with full force. A stray shot killed Mir Madan. Greatly unnerved, the Nawab sought Mir Jafar’s advice who recommended recalling the troops. And the battle was lost! This victory firmly established the British Rule for two centuries.
This historical narration is to bring out the selfish traits of the people over the span of two millennium. Darwin has explained evolution. Ambhi joined hands to ensure personal safety, Jaichand to avenge bruised ego and Mir Jafar for money. Attitudes will not change.
The culture practiced by the large majority of Hindus is aptly described as self-interest. If everyone does well, the entire community automatically reaches a higher level of prosperity. The good of each person cumulatively raises the entire segment. If the water-level rises, all boats would rise. But an individual must do better than the neighbors; if all boats rise, it gives him no satisfaction. He must find a way and come out of the labyrinth. He can do this by acquiring higher qualification or by getting noticed for his special talent. His departmental boss must look at his work and express full satisfaction. If his boss is a difficult one, someone still higher may be approached. Everyone wishes to excel and there is nothing disturbing about it. Unfair practice is tolerated as a short-cut but it is extremely necessary to preach that the high standards of ethics and morality are maintained. There is a gap between the precept and practice. Most people believe in the existence of God who is the Omnipotent, the Omniscient and the Omnipresent. They also believe that each one is rewarded or punished on the basis of his actions (karam-phal) and all have to live through different births to exhaust the balance in the account. Unsettled accounts are the opening balance in the new life after rebirth. It is like the ledger entries of a Company that are being carried forward every financial year; the new life after rebirth corresponds to the start of the new financial year.
The immediate boss is the most relevant person to fulfil the wish list. He is like the God in heaven. If he is won over, victory is assured. If he accepts a bribe, friendship and comradeship is easily established and a symbiotic relationship grows. However, all bosses are not ready to oblige; they may be too timid to accept illegal gratification. Some might suspect a trap or be afraid of owning assets beyond their known sources of income. A search for the boss’s boss is not easy. The choice soon falls on the ultimate boss who is all powerful, knows everything and is present everywhere. The worship of God takes on a new logic. It is transactional in nature. Show loyalty, offer cash and anticipate rewards in return by winning favors. Since he is all-powerful, nothing is impossible for him. Devout Hindus facing serious problems such as cancer or a situation that would bring shame or ridicule engage in prayers most earnestly. The Sadhu quotes Sant Kabir who said that all remember God when in trouble but do not remember when the sailing is smooth; if they had remembered during the good times, they would have been spared of the troubles. The man of modest means cannot make an offering like Karnataka Minister G. Janaradhan Reddy who gifted a crown of gold encrusted with diamonds and precious stones costing forty-five crores to the shrine at Tirupati. The Padamnabhan temple in Kerala has an enormous wealth stashed in its vaults. Somnath Temple in Gujrat was repeatedly raided by Muslim Rulers to loot its wealth and end idolatry. Since the entire creation belongs to God, the diamonds in temple vaults as well as the ones lying unmined in the depths of the mine pits belong to Him. The wealth of the temples could have been used to run schools and colleges, build roads, bridges and air/sea-ports, provide decent municipal services to the temple towns, fund research at the Universities and ameliorate the condition of the scheduled castes and tribes, widows and orphans! What a colossal waste of opportunities to turn India into a golden sparrow of ancient Chandra Gupta Vikramaditya days.
When the Europeans came here, they setup schools to educate the people. Macaulay’s goal of western education was to “form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, – a class of persons Indian in blood and color but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and intellect.” This always reminds me of Pandit Nehru who boasted that he was a European by education, a Muslim by culture and a Hindu by accident! Now, when Indians go abroad, they build temples to pray to our own deities and seek their favor. If God accepts money for doing favors, then it is O.K. to give money to the bosses, the lesser gods who are His minions. The Indian culture accepts and accommodates all seekers as well as suckers.
Let us examine one aspect; the payment of income tax. The vast majority do not file any tax return even if their income is above the basic exemption limit. The tax data shows that in the assessment year 2012-2013 only 4 lakh persons declared their income above Rs.5 lakhs; whereas 39 lakh four/three wheelers were sold! A casual look shows that 25 crore persons own an automobile, but many of them are not assesses. Such dishonest conduct does not carry any stigma, rather it is accepted that the fellow is clever. It is taken as a compliment if someone has the knack of fixing things. Such ‘fixers’ are in demand. Petty bribery is not the issue here. Utterly corrupt politicians need not retire from public life; the usual plea is that we must wait for a judgement from some Court. The judicial procedure takes decades. Even when an accused has been convicted, it does not mean the end of the road; Lalu Yadav stands convicted in fodder scam but he is out of jail on bail and controlling the RJD in Bihar. One would think that the voters would reject all candidates contesting on a ticket from his Party but the results of elections in 2015 gave RJD 80 seats, JD(U) 71 seats, BJP 53 seats, the Congress 27 seats and RJD Chief Lalu Yadav’s son, Tejaswi Yadav, became the deputy chief minister. Yadav actually indicates that the person was looking after cows or was a cowherd and I have never seen a milkman who does not add water to the milk to increase its volume and cheat his customers. Our democracy is still evolving, caste and community considerations are more important than the antecedents or character of the contestants. Each Party boasts that they can make a lamp-post win an election in their area of stronghold.
India has never expanded its control by winning a war; northern India faced attacks since Alexander’s times. South Indian kingdoms sailed over seas but its victories were cultural and the ruins of Bali prove and showcase such a victory. Emperor Ashok’s emissaries to foreign countries went on a religious conquest and the military was downgraded after the bloodbath in Kalinga.
Indians have not fought bitter battles like those fought in ancient Greece or in modern Europe. The wars between the Turks and Nadir Shah were vicious and fought to the finish. The army always instructs to fight till the last man and the last round. There are a few instances where the Rajputs of Rajasthan fought till death and their women-folk jumped in fire-pits to save their ‘honor’ and chose not become a part of the conqueror’s harem. In many cases, when the battle is tough and outcome uncertain, the battle has been fought by other means and the backside gates of the fort opened to let the enemy come in and the quisling has lived a good life. The elder members of a family usually take a mild stand; they nod their wise heads and argue that compromise is the best choice. They have a well-stocked armory of cliché and rattle off one liners one after another; it is not good to stand on one’s ego; it behooves the seniors to pardon the misdemeanor of the juniors, Lord Vishnu did not become small when King Bhrigu kicked him; nothing is permanent so there is no need to be adamant; when Buddha was undergoing extreme asceticism and was reduced to a skeleton, he heard a milkmaid sing ‘O hunter, do not pull the string of the bow too much’, Buddha understood that extremes must be shunned; when a wise man faces a situation where everything will be lost, he offers to give away half of it to save the rest; ornaments cannot be made out of pure gold, some base metal has to be added; when the idol of Goddess Durga is to be made, a handful of earth from a harlot’s hearth is needed; only those who run away from a battle would live long to fight on another day.
The Mughals ruled India for more than three centuries; after a few decades their victories were not always on the battle field. Akbar the Great could not subjugate Khandesh in Deccan; he seduced the Khandesh officers by lavish distribution of money among them and thus the gates of Asirgarh Fort “were opened by golden keys”. This was the last conquest of Akbar.
During his successor Jahangir’s time, Shah Abbas of Persia snatched Kandhar from the Mughals. Shah Jahan seduced the Persian Governor of Kandhar, Ali Mardan Khan, to surrender the Fort to the Mughals and rewarded him with money and honor. However, the Fort could not be retained for long; Shah Abbas II of Persia besieged it and captured it two months later. The Fort was permanently lost. Shah Jahan wanted to rule over Samarqand, the home and capital of his great ancestor Timur. The war was terribly expensive but brought no victory and the plan had to be abandoned. In frustration, Shah Jahan turned his attention to Deccan. The first attempt to capture Daulatabad fort failed. One year later, Fateh Khan surrendered it for a bribe of ten and a half lakh rupees. Earlier, Asirgarh had been won by bribe in Akbar’s reign. Two years later, Ahmadnagar was annexed. Since Fateh Khan was helpful, he was rewarded with a job in imperial service at a fat salary. Pathans in the North –West of the Empire greatly troubled in Aurangzeb’s time. The Emperor could suppress them only “by following the policy of paying subsidies (bribes by another name) or by setting up one clan against another (divide and rule). In Emperor’s own words, he was “breaking two bones by knocking them against each other.” The Frontier was finally safe but the Afghans could not be deployed to fight the Rajputs when the circumstances / situation demanded it.
The attitude of the Hindus has been influenced by the practices followed by the Muslim rulers of India; it has strengthened their inclination to compromise to avoid a bitter fight. The transactional culture has exercised a firm control and gripped their psyche. The caste system devised by Manu served some purpose in ancient times by limiting the competition among of the Hindus. Since all men were NOT equal, the Brahmins kept the study of Vedas for themselves and reserved the role of advisors to the Kings. This gives them power over the ruler, prestige in the society and an incidental consequence was that they were safely away from the battle field and never in danger of getting killed! The fighting was left to the Kshtriyas who were to respect the Brahmins, follow their advice and give gifts and donations to them. The vast majority were the Vaish community who would till the land and run the entire trade and commerce. The lowest level in hierarchy was allotted to the Shudras who were to serve the other three castes meekly and humbly.
This inequality is inherently unjustified and exploitative and it is bound to create resentment and conflict. Liberty, equality and fraternity are an enigma to the core beliefs of Manu. Many reformation movements have spread from time to time. The Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs were for a casteless society. Christianity and Islam were also opposed to it although Saudi Arabia has formally abolished slavery only in 1962. All persons would be rewarded by their respective saviors in heaven. The institution of democracy is perhaps the best bet to give a voice to everyone. The suppressed and deprived segments cannot be persuaded to accept an inferior status rather the pendulum is now swinging to the other extreme. In South India, anti-Brahmin sentiment is very strong and reservations or quotas in government jobs for non-Brahmins have already reached 69%. It is not increasing still further because the High Court has capped the quota. In North India, Mayawati has emerged as a leader of the Dalits by exploiting the awareness brought about by B.R. Ambedkar who had planned to take all the Dalits out of the Hindu fold. A rational situation will evolve in due course of time but at present each community is highly vocal in demanding the status of the low castes. This mad race to be at the bottom should end soon.