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India’s Telecom Scam: How Can a Corrupt System Be Cleaned? – Part 6

December 20th, 2010 · 3 Comments

The opportunity to amass phenomenal wealth that political power affords is the main driver for people with neither aptitude nor desire for governing to go to enormous lengths to enter politics. Over time, this leads to the erosion of public morality and ethics. The results of the recent assembly elections in Bihar illustrate this reality. In the 243-member Bihar legislative assembly, 141 of the newly elected members have pending criminal cases against them. The charges include murder, kidnapping and theft. [See http://ibnlive.in.com/news/141-bihar-mlas-have-pending-criminal-charges/135850-3.html?from=trhs ]It should be shocking that people who are entrusted with making laws are themselves most likely the ones who have broken them. There has been a definite lowering of standards of what is acceptable behavior. That voters actually elect criminals to legislative bodies must be the most shameful aspect of Indian democracy. The trend is not at all positive, for it appears that now even the press is involved in the murky deals that were once limited to some politicians and corporations. It also appears that the cancer of corruption may have spread to the judiciary.

In the final analysis, the prevalent level of public probity and integrity is a function of society’s demand for them. In a democracy, the people ultimately decide who gets to govern. The solution to the problem of corruption of public officials lies absolutely with the public. The kind of leaders and policy makers that people demand ultimately determine who gets to make the rules by which society functions.

Continued tomorrow.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Manish Dharod // Dec 21, 2010 at 1:44 am

    Good post (series). You are probably already doing that in some ways but I am trying to think what are the fundamental reasons that are causing this situation to NOT change even with a fast growing educated population particularly in terms of people’s willingness to do something about it i.e. their apathy. And BTW that includes myself though I don’t live in India right now.

    I am sure that we will come-up with several reasons and some of them might be intertwined and there will be some that require some major structural change to either the constitution, political system, culture and what not. But it will be an interesting exercise to put that laundry list down and take one piece at a time and analyze what can be done about in the short and long term.

    One of the reasons I can see is the lack of a sense of urgency or awareness of the impact that this is having on India. Question is whether this can be solved to a large extent by doing some very creative/innovative things to bring that awareness. Here is an analogy that I hope fits well….In the movie “The Truman Show”, Jim Carrey has not seen anything else outside his town for his whole life and so he is severely limited in visualizing stuff outside of that town. In this context, I wonder if one if the issues is really the perception of people. That means they really don’t know or cannot visualize what it would be if India has better quality law makers. And one of the solution I can think of is that someone needs to help people to visualize an India without law makers who are criminals. Now would that do it by itself? Most likely NO. There are several other pieces to this puzzle that need to fit together for a major change to happen. All I am saying is that without living in US i could have only guessed what it is like to be in a country with law makers that are not goons. Movies are doing their part but the issue i think here is that these are “Movies” and hence people look at them as fantasy land anyway.

    Having said that I don’t think its easy to change the perception of people about something that has become a part of life and also to show them a vision that they see very little of right now. But we will need to take baby steps for anything anyway.

  • 2 Manish Dharod // Dec 21, 2010 at 3:13 am

    Sorry, I thought about my comment during my lunch 🙂 and realized that I need to correct or change some of what i said since I guess I did not think it through the first time I wrote the comment. I think The Truman Show was not a perfect example. It is kind of extreme case. In other words I think that people do understand and are able to visualize the short term effects of what it would be like for India to have better law makers, if not longer term. And short term visualization is probably enough to start with.

    Instead I feel that there are other potential areas to focus. One of them has to do with the belief that even if I try to do something in this direction, it will not make any difference unless a big number of people are with me so i should just stay back and observe. Second is the belief or hopelessness that there is no other better candidate or option. Both of them are tough problems to solve and I think you and Atanu are already trying to address these in some ways.

  • 3 Atanu Dey // Dec 21, 2010 at 10:01 am


    What you have pointed out is a classic problem usually identified by economists as a “collective action problem.” It is actually a specific instance of a more generalized problem. Economists call it a “multi-player prisoner’s dilemma”. Lay folks can call it the “who’s going to bell the cat” problem.

    As you point out, people draw back saying if I alone were to stick my neck out, it would be bad for me if no one else does. So I won’t stick my neck out. If all of us are afraid to step out of line, and stick out necks out, the situation does not change.

    What is required in this case is some sort mechanism that gives people the simple message, “You are not alone.” If I know that there are millions of others who also feel the same way, I would be emboldened to act. That’s a simple idea — the comfort you get from knowing that others are willing to act as well.

    To get the change started what we need is (what economists call) a “co-ordinating signal.” That is a fancy way of saying “leadership.” If a leader credibly says, “Let’s all go to Delhi and make the change,” and you believe that his or her call will be heard by millions of others, you will say, “Hey, I will join in.”

    Co-ordinating signals are extremely important for solving collective action problems.

    I think the time is ripe. There are disaffected people who are also very capable of bringing about the change. But they are not quite sure how many others are similarly situated. They need to be told that they are not alone and that there’s someone out there who will get all the others like you to act.

    We are at the cusp of a revolution. Like a super-critically cooled liquid, all it needs is that minor perturbation, and it will undergo a phase change in an instant.

    I am sure we have all the bits ready. What we will do will be astonishing, to put it mildly.

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