Q&A N Vittal, Former Central Vigilance Commissioner
FORMER CHIEF Vigilance Commissioner N Vittal’s book Ending Corruption? How to Clean Up India deals with the eternal question haunting India today: why are we so corrupt? Though he calls it a multiple-organ failure, the former bureaucrat is still optimistic. He tells Kunal Majumder how corruption is bred in us, and how to cure this ill.
EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW
Corruption has been one of the unfortunate and accompanying aspects of India’s growth story. Initially we used to hear about a few crores, now we are talking about lakhs of crores. What, according to you, is the reason behind this phenomenal growth?
In my book, chapter after chapter, I try to look at how we have designed a system that is unaccountable. Ultimately, the reason for corruption is that nobody is accountable. My book is the first really comprehensive look into the Indian corruption phenomenon, and I also go through the historical, psychological and ethical aspects of the issue. The root cause of corruption is extreme desire, desire of land, women and money. Even our saints have been corrupt in the technical sense. In 10th century Tamil Nadu, one of our sages was given money by the king to buy horses for his cavalry. The sage, in turn, claimed to have a vision of god and started building a temple with the money instead.
So corruption is deeply entrenched in Indian society?
My basic theory is that human beings, by nature, observe moral codes only if they feel they are being watched and are accountable for their actions. We must have a system that addresses this. The simplest example is that you might throw garbage all over the streets of Delhi, but the moment you fly to some place like Singapore, you will not do that. You will become very self-conscious because you know that you will be punished. There is basically a sanction needed. What is ethic? Ethic is what you do when you think nobody is watching you. From this, I have gone to a larger issue on how to find a solution in the book.
What do you think of the Congress’ criticism of the CAG?
The Congress was the party in the freedom struggle; they have been in power for long. They have had the opportunity to do all the wrong things. But I don’t want to target Congress alone. Objectively speaking, I have a few questions like why is the police uniformly corrupt? They have the advantage of monopoly. Whenever a crime takes place, you have no other option other than going to the local police. I am saying that suppose the Central government runs a parallel police. When any crime takes place, the citizen can either go to the state police or the central police.
As an insider, you have seen how politicians and bureaucrats function from very close quarters. How much of the corruption today would you attribute to politicians, bureaucrats and even corporates?
If you ask me who is more corrupt between the politician and the bureaucrat, for statistical reasons, I would say a bureaucrat. A corrupt politician can be thrown out any second. But a bureaucrat stays for 30 years in the government. In terms of the length and the numbers, bureaucratic corruption is more than political corruption.
Can the civil society and media have a role in curbing corruption?
Civil society and media can only be the paramedical staff; they cannot be doctors. You need power to do something. They don’t have that power.
Kunal Majumder is a Principal Correspondent with Tehelka.