The struggle against corruption in South Asia will get an impetus when common people who are the victims of the malady unite and form a critical mass.
“The countrymen should not lose this spirit, this is our fight against corruption.”
hese days, the name of Anna Hazare (Kisan Baburao Hazare) as an icon against corruption seems to have influenced the minds of people not only in India but the whole of South Asia and beyond. His ageold struggle against corruption and other social evils caused not only ripples in the corridors of power in New Delhi but also provided a strong sense of hope for the people of his country for a just society. His hunger strike in April and then in August to force government enact effective laws against corruption drew widespread popular support and forced the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to acquiesce before his demands.
Yet, the battle against corruption is an uphill task because of its entrenched nature and the failure of state authorities to deal with issues which promote the abuse of power and nepotism in society. When there is poor mode of governance and the culture of greed is officially patronized, there is no way corruption can be prevented, if not eliminated. But, what is lethal and dangerous in the menace of corruption is its ability to cause not only moral degeneration but also indifference in society on things which are highly offensive and of criminal nature. Almost all the post-colonial states suffer from the disease of corruption particularly where lack of accountability, fragile judicial system and political patronage to corrupt practices is common. The question is why the cancer of corruption has permeated in many developing countries and how in South Asia, the movement launched by the famous social activist Anna Hazare can make a difference in establishing zero tolerance for corruption? Ignorance, poverty, illiteracy, social backwardness, absence of accountability and the rule of law contributed to the misuse of power by people holding positions, a fact which is quite obvious but tolerated.
When one looks into the intensification of movement against corruption under the leadership of Anna Hazare, three major trends can be
identified. First, India which is the largest country in South Asia, a strong and an organized movement against corruption in that country will have far reaching implications for the whole of South Asia. For a long period of time, institutional corruption in India was accepted but the recent popular outburst against the menace will encourage similar assertions and voices in other countries of the region where deep rooted corruption has made the lives of ordinary people miserable. It is not only in government contracts, purchases and various foreign deals where the use of bribe is common, small scale corruption in the form of taking bribe for doing minimum things, is a source of resentment among common people. When corruption is making the lives of ordinary people miserable, then people like Anna Hazare take up the hard task of fighting against that menace.
Finally, is the trend which has been set by the Berlin based Transparency International (TI), an organization which prepares the world corruption index and exposes those countries where the concerned governments eat up tax payer’s money and beg for more and more foreign aid. According to the details of TI, no South Asian country is free of corruption. Whereas, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka are known for not controlling corruption because of weak accountability mechanisms and the involvement of powerful groups, both governmental and non-governmental in loot and plunder; a policy to cover up each others corrupt practices is common. The party in power and also in opposition makes sure that they protect each other in a subtle manner. It is the fear of being exposed by TI and other corruption watch organizations which will put a check on the unabated misuse of public funds for personal gains. But, it is not only TI or other international agencies which are monitoring the acts of corruption, local “corruption watch” groups are also active. Anna Hazare and his group is just one example as there are several social organizations in South Asia trying to fight against corruption. The only thing is the nexus between corrupt elements from bureaucracy, politicians and other established segments at the state and non-state level who are able to save themselves from total liquidation.
On all these fronts there is a need to combat and fight against corruption in South Asia. These fronts can be managed with substantial political will and determination as a compromising attitude will further encourage those who are not only the icons in corruption but also its beneficiaries. First, inducting proper work ethics particularly in government offices by promoting an environment which discourages nepotism, favoritism and irresponsibility because corrupt behavior and practices get an impetus when there is lack of accountability. In societies, where there exists proper work ethics, corruption has little scope and acceptability as a dominant norm. Second, the system of reward and punishment because those who have an integrity and perform their duties honestly are rewarded. Unfortunately, in South Asia, the paradigm has changed because of the lack of punishment for those who indulge in corruption and are able to get away. Corruption in South Asia has permeated in every walk of life because those who try to perform their duties efficiently and honestly experience victimization and discrimination. Third, at the judicial front, laws which tend to prevent corrupt behavior and practices and the implementation of anti-corruption laws can go a long way in unleashing a process of strict accountability. No country can claim to be above corruption, but in cases where the judicial system is not efficient and transparent, corrupt practic- es can get plenty of space. Fourth, at the popular front, unless masses reject candidates in elections who are either corrupt or can be corruptible, one cannot hope to eradicate corruption. In this regard, the election commission in the South Asian countries must be made independent and powerful to disqualify candidates after seeking genuine evidence, who are involved in monetary or moral corruption. Fifth, at the economic front, access of people to equal economic opportunities and necessities of life will help reduce and then eliminate corrupt behavior and practices. The bulk of corruption takes place in a society where poverty, under-development, social backwardness and discrimination on the basis of race, gender and place of origin are common. Better governance, rule of law and accountability are the three fundamental requirements to effectively deal with the menace of corruption. Finally, at the social and cultural front, by encouraging best practices and advocacy for character building one can expect the new generation in South Asia to confront the menace of corruption in a forceful manner. The erosion of ethics and social values in the last several decades or so provided enormous space to those individuals and groups who believed in the misuse of power for personal gains and benefits.
Bangladesh, once an impoverished country and called by the former U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger as “world’s basket with a hole” has made strides in improving its economy but its track record in dealing with the menace of corruption is dismal. Even the caretaker government (2007-8) failed to effectively deal with corruption and its strategy to marginalize the country’s two mainstream political parties, Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party, as corrupt political entities failed. The return of “Begums” who were accused of widespread corruption while in power,
proves the fault lines in Bangladeshi society about tolerating corruption as a fait accompli.
Merely by establishing committees, commissions or task force, the virus of corruption cannot be removed. With practical measures like zero tol- erance for corruption by those who are in positions and those who are not resourceful, one can expect in the foreseeable future some breakthrough for the eradication of corruption in South Asia. And voters in South Asia must not elect candidates having corrupt or