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Welcome Anna, but is corruption two-sided: rich looting poor/poor looting rich?


By Ratnakar Tripathy

What happens: when the balance breaks?

What happens: when the balance breaks?

I  always looked at corruption as looting by the rich. The reason may be my class and caste. I am middle-middle class. I am Brahmin. None of it helps while getting a simple job done at a government counter or even a private company counter [on the same day in late 1990s in Delhi I was asked for ‘commission’ by a government TV channel and a private TV channel executive for the airing of a documentary serial]. It seems I must go to the decrepit shed nearby and deposit some cash after which a phone call would get made, and my work will be done. In brief, I don’t remember paying a bribe to anyone who seemed utterly poor.

The few times in life I was offered bribe, I felt shocked for both happy and unhappy reasons. Happy because I hadn’t acknowledged to myself I was in such a worthy position at all. Unhappy because of my smug piety over such matters – ‘how could he imagine that I would be open to…!’ As if bribe-givers are supposed to be face-readers! The fact being they are supposed to be exactly that! But they also often take an off chance by way of habit.

I have paid bribes off and on all my life. And received no bribe! Which is why I always believed that I have been a victim of the rich. So on the whole, my relationship with corruption is honest and easy, would you say?

No, it don’t work.

Going by my own argument, I have been making the rich richer. Is that a good reason for moral smugness and self-satisfied piety? A slow and persistent Hobin Rood, I may be, but certainly not a Robin Hood, if I may put it spooneristically.

Recently, I felt much educated by comments made by Ashis Nandy and Tarun Tejpal at Jaipur literary festival. They both claimed that corruption is a leveler. Ashis has got into big trouble for implying, according to me, for example that whereas, typically a middle class and a Brahmin like me has the finesse to digest embezzled money, with no help sought from consultants, a Madhu Koda would be at the mercy of his upper caste assistants, who may decide to take him for a ride, as they, in fact did.  It’s making latest news.

I agree with Ashis now, too. The reason is what I call ‘experience’ as a normal human being, but ‘ethnography’ as a social researcher. For all the experiences mentioned above, I forgot to mention the amnesiac part, which seems to me forgotten entirely, out of biased convenience, it now appears. So let me fill the memory gaps.

In 99 per cent of the cases when I paid a bribe in all my memory, the bribe-collector wanted this extra 10 -50 bucks, rather desperately, over the standard rate. Yes, there is no bribe without standard rates. In fact, if a bribe must be routinized and institutionalized, the first job is to fix the rate – anything after that!

To continue the story, the part my amnesia had suppressed is that every lowly bribe-collector was prescribed a daily, weekly target. I remember at least one guy tearfully admitting to me – ‘it all goes up and then further up. I am hardly left with anything.’

There is a poor man for you.

No wonder, after all the upper castes, all of them in Bihar took turns at gulping down public money, it was Laloo Yadav who was the first to get caught as the current operator of the Bihar account, an account with rich upper caste history of malfeasance.

Funny, isn’t it? Middle class and upper caste like me won’t give the other castes due respect, the due price for labour and most important, due opportunities for the future made due by a democratic system such as education and health to begin with.

Lack of investment in education and health in India since independence now has to be seen as a systematic conspiracy by the upper castes/classes, right from Nehru to Manmohan as an undoing of the Indian democracy, despite which it survives robustly – thanks to the middle castes, Dalits, tribes and poor Muslims, and no thanks to the most enlightened and educated of upper castes!

Which is why I am no longer with my kind, anymore, except for some half-sincere sentimental sympathy. I am able to breathe more freely, think more freely and write more freely, thanks to the new classes. No guilt, no masochism, just a joyfully selfish feeling of breathing fresh air! Thanks to Laloo, Mayawati, Nitish, and well, Soren from Jharkhand [and also Kierkegaard for unrelated reasons] and Koda. These are my fellows, my kind!

The upper castes are now limited in political power. Which is why, unable to drive the rest out of many other spaces, the challenge for them is to drive the deprived out of the arena of juicy corruption as well. That is the battle.

And the arena of culture and refinement, that too is the arena to watch. The range is wide – right from handling forks and spoons and knives to writing great literature. So, Bhikahri Thakur, a barber by caste is the presiding deity of Bihar culture. Isn’t that lovely?

I write this to welcome Anna in Patna. I feel scared by his moral certainty. But feel grateful to him and Kejriwal for starting a national conversation, they know hopefully, will go beyond their control.

Conclusions? Here? Right away? Why not?

Yes, it would now appear that if the Non- Brahmin/Rajput/Bhumihar?Kayashta/ aristocratic Muslims segments of the Indian society didn’t get a chance to indulge in the fair game of corruption, we would have had too much violence to be able to handle it. Ashis’s point is no rhetoric of the moment but food for several day’s thought.

So am I arguing for the democratization of corruption?

Yes, I am indeed, since this is how it goes and will go! If you still have doubts, check the data on the income of elite Naxalites in Jharkhand/Bihar/Bengal, the millionaires. Redistributive justice as informal economy?

Let corruption go grassroots, let it turn into a zero-sum game, the only way it will go. Even if it doesn’t happen in my lifetime!

Let it become a joyful sport with much risk and gamble – catch if catch can!

Since sport and entertainment are the only arenas globally where fairness is valued genuinely these days! Relatively, of course! Fairness is destined to be relative! Ask Lance Armstrong, ask Dhoni, ask any ticket-buyer for a movie, he may enjoy, but he may not.

Welcome Anna to an unimaginably complex world, different from the localized dictatorship of Ralegaon Sidhi!

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