Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Games, too, will serve

A joke doing the rounds says that Kalmadi tried, in despair, to hang himself from a ceiling fan but the ceiling collapsed. We can do nothing right. Corruption and inefficiency have come to symbolise the organisation of the Commonwealth Games, in the popular imagination .

And people are outraged, disgusted. Rightly so. But what use is this outrage if it does not lead on to systemic change in how we do things in this country? It is easy to hang one Kalmadi, figuratively speaking, but not easy to fix what is wrong with the system.

Corruption is pervasive , adds to the cost of doing anything worthwhile, makes India one of the worst places to do business in, destroys quality and replaces stability with uncertainty. India cannot realise its economic potential in full if corruption continues to create real hurdles in the way business is done in the country. Fixing corruption goes all the way to reforming political funding. Politics costs money.

A political party generates legitimate expenses even in a non-election year, which together add up to a pretty penny. In the absence of an institutional form of political funding, the legitimate expenses associated with political activity are financed through corruption: loot of the exchequer, sale of patronage or plain extortion.

The politician cannot mobilise resources using the state machinery without the connivance and collusion of the civil servants. The system suborns them as well, brave exceptions notwithstanding. Corruption will not go away just by reforming political funding, but without institutionalised funding of politics, the battle against corruption cannot even begin. Reforming political funding is key.

It is this cancer of Indian democracy that the Games have brought to bleak light. The Games exposes it to global scrutiny, and we hang our head in shame. Hanging is not particularly creative, however. The point is to strike at the root cause of corruption, and reform political funding.

The initiative has to come from those who give the money, who are also the system’s victims, not from its beneficiaries. The question is: do we have what it takes to convert the outrage in the drawing room into corporate decision to reform political funding?

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