Sunday, August 19, 2012

No.2 India

Spectrum of money in India starts from genuine currency coming out of RBI’s printing press and goes all the way upto the equally professional counterfeits from ISI across the border. In between these two extremes we have all the shades and types of money that Indians possess. It can be said with a high degree of accuracy that more than 75% of Indians have in their possession more than one shade of these monies. The richest Indians may have all types, starting with fully accounted genuine currency (called White money), then plenty of unaccounted genuine currency (called No.2 or Black money) and in some cases even the counterfeit variety. As an example, it is understod that Indians have spent about one thousand crores in the last six months in Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. There are no two opinions among those who want India to succeed that counterfeit currency must be dealt with strictly and extreme punishments must be handed down to all those who knowingly deal with it. But it is the No.2 variety of money that is creating all sorts of confusions in the minds of common Indians.

Team Anna’s efforts to root out corruption have failed for no other reason. After a certain point of time, all those who are involved got confused about how to distinguish money that is emanating from real corruption. All politicians and bureaucrats are not corrupt all the time. Some politicians and some bureaucrats are corrupt in some of their dealings. But how do we distinguish the real corruption by the really corrupt and go after it? It is very difficult unless we have some guidelines about different forms of corruption. In very general terms, we can say that corruption is payment for services or material which the recipient is not due, under law. But in common parlance, that is not the only corruption. Every genuine and sincere common man, the typical ones who constitute Anna’s followers, considers all forms of nepotism, favoritism, procedural violation, mal-practice, money laundering, counterfeiting etc., etc., as corruption. Corruption is a complex phenomenon and in India it is all the more confounded.

Tolerable Corruption

One of the best ways to illustrate the need for tolerance about certain types of corruption is the case of Black money, the No.2 variety, which is in fact genuine or good money, but unaccounted. Be it in income tax, sales tax or real estate registration fee, our system is so outdated that it never encourages anyone to disclose the actual amounts involved. A majority of real estate transactions in our country are run on No.2 money; otherwise those who buy and sell will end up paying half their money in terms of taxes and bribes. The one and only way to avoid it is by undervaluing the real estate value. By doing so each transaction of the same real estate generates as much No.2 money in our economy as atleast half its real value. One can imagine the amount of No.2 money that each of our big real estate developers will have to handle. This is easily overcome if the government reduces the tax structure, but there is a historical reluctance for any such step.

Another area where No.2 money is playing havoc is during elections. Most of the Indian politicians are corrupt because of the need for No.2 money during elections. It is almost impossible to win an election in India within the allowable limit of say Rs. 20 or 25 lakhs, unless he (or she) is an outstanding celebrity riding a sympathy wave. Election Commission of India knows it more than anyone else. Yet we have failed to root out this primary cause of corruption for the past 65 years. If there is a transparent system for public funding of elections, sincere and talented individuals will come into electoral politics and fight elections. Such a process in course of time will gradually eliminate all Laloos, Rajas, Kuriens, Chackos etc., from our political system. It will also help us to sideline the extraneous considerations of family, religion and caste from politics and get us real leaders who can think, articulate and act in the best interests of India and Indians.

Intolerable Corruption

The need for zero tolerance against certain types of corruption is much more vital than being indifferent to some forms of corruption that are inevitable in our political system. Those who indulge in counterfeit currency, sell state secrets for money and take bribes for favoring the undeserving must be definitely in jail. It is high time we introduced hundreds of years imprisonment without any parole for such corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. The only form of model punishment in modern times is extraordinary long terms of prison without any parole and that is the only fear that can deter potential offenders in politics and bureaucracy. United States of America is definitely a nation that is worthy of emulation in this field. There may be omissions, but those who are caught red handed can never get away in a country like USA. But in India, we have seen glaring mistakes even when tons of currencies are found in the houses of offending politicians and bureaucrats. With the very same money and a battery of good lawyers, all such ‘scamsters’ get away from our legal system in a few years time.

Any Lokpal legislation will help in controlling corruption, but no Lokpal legislation can stop it. The only question to be asked is – What if the Lokpal is corrupt? Given the present standard of politicians and bureaucrats who will select the Lokpal, the question is very relevant and there is very little the system can do when a cunningly clever and corrupt Lokpal takes over. We had several instances in the past when those in constitutional positions indulged in direct and indirect corruption, and the entire nation of one billion people stood in shameful helplessness. Ideal democracy is possible only in an ideal environment with ideal people in an ideal society. In a loose democracy like ours, the ‘asuric’ individuals in power will corrupt and corrupt absolutely. Only a strong cultural inclination in favour of zero-tolerance against corruption can save a democracy.

In the prevailing anti-corruption mood that prevails in India, Team Annas are unable to make any substantial progress mainly because of the confusion that defines corruption in India. If one’s forefathers had stolen money and made a billion dollar deposit in some Swiss bank and if suddenly one comes to inherit it now in today’s India, what should he (or she) do?  He was not even aware of it. Is it No.1 or No.2 money as far as he is concerned? That’s the kind of confusion that is confronting those in power. How can there be progress in Lokpal legislation until there is clarity on definition of black money? How can an economy that is predominantly run on No.2 money be made completely transparent and accountable? A genuine Lokpal that will root out corruption will become a reality only if can contain the growth of No.2 India and promote No.1 Bharat.