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Corruption and India's Growth Aspirations

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From ancient times to its post-liberalization phase, many global commentators have tried to contain India within a description. Foreign visitors, from Chinese travelers to European discoverers, have tried to capture the essence of a people so different and unique. Even in a more homogenous world that exists today, compared to the world of the ancient times, most countries maintain a degree of uniqueness, India is no different.

A relevant, present-day observation of India can be found in Edward Luce's 2007-book, 'In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India'. The then-Bureau Chief in India of Financial Times, Luce draws a parallel between modern India and a family of in-laws. He describes the nation as a bunch of family members, not related by blood, but passionately connected and forever at the brink of a separation.

If you were to extend this comparison to the political system of the nation, you'd get an equally accurate description of what the country's 'ruling' class is like. Strangely, in India, the word 'rule' is often used as a substitute for 'govern', even by political parities, which reflects how they see themselves - not as leaders elected to form a government but as a rulers, entitled to their position.

The political party system is definitely much like Luce's India, a bickering family, based on politics of numbers, numbers that are required to make a winning party at the parliament after each election. India's politics is based almost entirely on coalition, where today's clashing ideologies can become tomorrow's bedfellows, just to get the majority in the parliament and the 'power' to rule.

Evidence has been mounting over the years, especially after the economic changes in the country, where much more money began to flow, that this form of politics is breeding corruption and havoc, threatening the growth story of India.

Will corruption bring India's serendipitous economic success to a screeching halt?

Inclusive growth by no means

India's economic growth has been powered by Capitalism and profit, more than by government dynamism. When the economy was liberalized by the leading political party in the nation, the Congress party, the country had no choice but to open up its doors for foreign investment because the nation was steeped in debt and poverty.

Since then, India has grown rapidly, but this growth has not been inclusive. It may be fighting with China to become the economic powerhouse of the future at a global level, but its country's poor continue to fight for four square meals a day.

The majority of profits have been swallowed by corrupt members of the society, including politicians and corporate honchos, even members of the armed forces have been involved in acts of corruption, threatening the security of the country.

Edward Luce, put the nation's response to this pervasive menace succinctly, Edward 'India faces a 'Tiananmen style sit-down in one or other corner of the country for one reason or another'.

Numerous protests emerge across the country, only to be silenced by the double-speak of political parties. This dichotomy is also evident in India's economic growth story. India's growing economic figures in terms of global economic decline may seem positive but its growth at the micro-level is all but stagnant. The famous economic 'trickle' down effect is so meager, that it is negligible.

Lifting the 350 million people out of poverty will need solid, back-breaking, long-term thinking and action. Unfortunately, political parties are too busy playing short-term politics, giving out TVs and cash for votes and pointing out fingers at each other when invited for intelligent debates on various forums, including on Television channels. Talking of television, the Indian media has also been mired in controversy and despite being praised for being active and vibrant, has been chasing TRPs, more than the truth.

Indeed, like Luce's description, India is a personal playground of the rich and powerful, at the head is a dominating mother-in-law.

Question mark on the future

What then lies ahead for a country, that quite by chance, found itself at the centre of the global economy. India's population problem, that the nation was much maligned for, became its biggest boon, as its domestic market fuelled growth after the acceptance of capitalistic structures.

Indeed, it is a dichotomous monolith, there are great riches thriving alongside desperate poverty, activism against corruption but a passive attitude towards creating and enforcing solutions. Thus India is faced with two futures, one where corruption eats up the nation, another where corruption is uprooted and progress percolates every section of the society.