Bibek Debroy's claim that end of corruption has begun is lofty & doesn't do justice to his position
It is a testament to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's style of functioning that yes-men flock to him. A day after a Union minister ended up with both his feet in his mouth in his over-enthusiasm to defend demonetisation, an economist on hire has tried a similar feat.
So banal was Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad's claim that the note-ban had let to a dip in prostitution that when he was asked for the source of his information, he cited unidentified media reports. He wouldn't have faced this embarrassment if he would have restrained himself while praising demonetisation and Modi for implementing it.
However, it seems Prasad's fate has failed to serve as a lesson for others. Bibek Debroy, member of the NITI Aayog and chief of the prime minister's council of economic advisors, too appears to be overly enthused by some of Modi government's actions. In his enthusiasm, Debroy has made a lofty claim that the process for “eliminating corruption” has begun.
In fact, it can't get loftier than this. There are no official parameters to measure the level of corruption in India and it is impossible to back a statement like this with data.
Transparency International (TI), the global anti-corruption watchdog, comes out with a corruption index every year and India had a score of 40 on a scale of 100 just last year.
In fact, TI claimed in 2016 that India failed to “effectively deal with petty corruption as well as large-scale corruption scandals”. So what has changed in less than a year?
Only a couple of anecdotal chats with those dealing with government departments regularly will be enough to tell Debroy how much corruption is thriving.
Look at some of the other things that he said. Berating all governments so far, Debroy said many harboured a “chalta hai” and “nothing will happen” attitude for “almost seven decades now”, but now things were changing. He also chided people for being upset with the government, now that a crackdown on corruption has been launched.
“Now that things have started to happen, some people are upset. So, I look at it positively, it (corruption and black money) is not a problem that would be solved overnight but I’ve given you some instances (of the process),” Debroy said.
What are these instances?
“Look at the number of benami properties that have been seized, the number of searches and seizures, the number of shell companies against whom action has been taken...,” he explained.
Looking at his statement, it would seem that raids, searches and seizures were conducted for the first time ever in the country.
The country has seen enough scams and exposes in seven decades, so there is hardly anything new in that. What is new indeed is that no probes have been ordered in cases where allegations of massive corruption have surfaced.
Debroy's views appear to be a follow up to what he has written in his new book On the Trail of the Black.
“Since 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has displayed strong political intent and an unambiguous resolve to uproot this menace (of corruption)”, says the book's introduction on the publisher's website. Another sweeping statement.
If the PM's intent was strong indeed, one would have seen concrete action in the multiple corruption cases against opposition leaders that BJP used to harp on in its election campaign in 2014. If his resolve was indeed unambiguous, wouldn't the massive allegations against names like Lalit Modi and Vijay Mallya have seen some credible follow-up?
In the absence of concrete action in such cases, the government’s anti-corruption crusade is merely a facade. It doesn't do justice to the opportunity that people like Debroy have got to only sing paeans to the PM. They must look at his actions critically now.