'Our corruption doesn't look that corrupt, their corruption does'
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When sociologist Ashis Nandy remarked during a panel discussion that "most of the corrupt come from the OBCs, SCs and STs", he was responding to Tarun Tejpal's observation that corruption is a class equaliser. Tejpal said for "people on the wrong side of the tracks", subverting the system is the only chance in a society controlled by the elite. Nandy then added what he called the "most important part of the story". The discussion, "Republic of Ideas", held on January 26 during the Jaipur Literature Festival, had Patrick French, Ashutosh and Richard Sorabji, apart from Nandy and Tejpal, in the panel that discussed their views with Urvashi Butalia. Excerpts from the transcript of the discussion.
Urvashi Butalia: Ashis da, your comments now on the ideas that have been discussed here: equality, the changeability, the need for change, the dreams of the founding fathers and mothers... and on utopia generally...
Ashis Nandy: ...In the context of our discussion, if I may point, the only country which I know is close to zero corruption is Singapore, and that's not part of my concept of utopia; it can be very much a part of my concept of dystopia. I do wish that there remains some degree of corruption in India because I would also suggest that it humanises our society. Indian society... has only four sectors where your true talents are recognised... In other words, no considerations of caste, religion, sect enter your considerations. And these four sectors are: spectator sport, which is a very small sector because sports heroes are not that many. Two, entertainment industry, which is a very slippery category because contrary to our belief, at least four-fifths of all Bombay films for example fail in the box office, so it's a very risky business... Third is crime; our criminal gangs are perfectly egalitarian. Do not forget that Dawood Ibrahim's gang had a lot of Hindus in it... Totally secular. And finally politics. You fight it out in politics and make it. All this talk of dynasty is an illusion created by the middle classes. Mrs Gandhi did not become prime minister when Nehru was living. There was a large and very noticeable gap between her ascent to the throne and Nehru's demise. She fought her way up. She was seen as a very meek, very unskilful, politically naïve woman. And therefore the syndicate chose her. She knew that in Indian politics you should not project yourself as either too intelligent or too shrewd or too clever or even too political, and that helped her. She clawed her way to power and so have each one of the names which have come up, whether it is Mulayam Singh Yadav or Lalu Prasad. In addition, in the case of Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh, and people like them, exactly because of the reasons you give, there is a sense of desperation, utter desperation and insecurity. Even if you make through corruption millions of rupees, you suspect that you will not be able to get away using the machinery of law or cleverly manipulating your investments in the right way with the right connections because you have none... To the best of my knowledge the only unrecognised billionaire in India today, in dollar terms, is Madhu Koda. He's a tribal and I can assure you that Mr Koda must have been a very insecure, unhappy, tense person. And in this kind of situation, the only people you can trust are your own relatives... And if you fit your experiences within this model, you will recognise why this insecurity is there, because politics looks a very impersonal, contractual work to a large part of Indians. They are new to politics. And your family members do not have the capacity to absorb the additional money in a more clever, intelligent way. If I do a good turn to Richard Sorabji, he can return the favour by accommodating my nephew at Oxford; if it were in the United States, it would be a substantial fellowship. Ms Mayawati doesn't have that privilege. She probably has only relatives whose ambition was to be a nurse or run a petrol pump. If she has to oblige somebody or have somebody in the family absorb the money, she will probably have to take the bribe of having 100 petrol pumps, and that is very conspicuous, very corrupt indeed. Our corruption doesn't look that corrupt, their corruption does.