Some years back, I was sitting with some family friends. For some reason, the topic of discussion shifted to henpecked husbands. The ladies were telling how bad they feel when they see a henpecked husband. While it was interesting to hear what each one had to say I was particularly amused to hear when one of them said: "I certainly don't like to see henpecked husbands, but I wouldn't mind if my own husband is henpecked." Everyone laughed.
When I see the nation's anger over corruption, I am reminded of that evening. Swami Ramdev and Anna Hazare have led from the front. The movement against corruption, the way it has mobilised the masses, certainly remains unprecedented in India's history. Everyone points a finger at other's corruption, the favourite whipping boy of course being the politicians. Commonwealth Games, 2G scam, Coalgate and everything else points to the politicians. But sometimes I wonder whether we are willing to look inwards, to see and evaluate how corrupt we are as individuals?
The same holds true for the business and industry, the foundation of India's growth story. Have India Inc every turned the mirror inwards to see how corrupt it is? Or like the lady the other evening, India Inc can't tolerate political corruption, but doesn't mind its own corruption?
Now, hold on. Before you think this is a subject that doesn't concern you, it is time to do a reality check. The Hindustan Times says: "The GAAR provisions, put forward in the budget for 2012-13, triggers howls of protest from global and domestic business leaders as it can potentially affect almost anybody, and everybody (Tax-Avoidance rules delayed by 2 years, Jan 15, 2013)." It then goes on to tell you how you can be impacted. "For instance, many companies, experts had said, would have been forced to restructure salaries of employees if taxmen concluded that these were structured only to avoid taxes."
In simple words, the market experts have created a fear psychosis. They have warned you to keep quiet since your job too is at stake. So that you too can become a willing party to corruption.
Only a few months back, and it wasn't long, when India had witnessed what many called as people's rising over mammoth corruption. Some even likened it to Arab Spring. Anna Hazare became the torch-bearer of the fight against rampant corruption. Everyone joined to point an accusing finger at the political system, holding it primarily responsible for prevailing corruption. If this was really true, I don't understand how could everyone now turn a blind eye to the Finance Ministry's controversial decision to provide a legal route for dirty money to flow in through the Mauritius route.
GAAR, introduced in Budget 2012-13 by the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee with the aim of checking tax avoidance, was to come into effect from April 1, 2014.
Since nearly 40 per cent of the FII investments come through the tax haven route of Mauritius (as part of a treaty signed earlier), it clearly shows how the flow of black money has been formally allowed in the name of economic reforms. The next obvious question therefore: Is India's growth story based on black money? Is India's economic reforms actually driven by corrupt practices? If not, then how come the chairperson of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) Naina Kidawi be very proudly welcoming the decision saying that the industry needs this investment at this critical juncture. Does it therefore mean that India Inc is growing on tainted money? Not only the FICCI chief, I am shocked that every other economic writer and (of course the newspapers/TV channels) and industry leader are visibly excited. There is a sense of relief over the continuation of corrupt practices. Sensex and Nifty have have already cheered the induction of more black money in the economy.
At a time when globally the sentiment is for improving governance and transparency, how can India Inc justify the continuation of corrupt practices in the name of economic reforms? Isn't GAAR a set of rules to check how FIIs are evading taxes? Will it not help to weed out black money that some FIIs bring? How can any sensible economist or a market analyst support the postponing of GAAR rules? Does it not mean that corruption runs deep in this country, afflicting the rich and the powerful more than anyone else? And business as usual, (which means continuing with corrupt business activities) is what the rich and the super-rich want?
So the next time you rally against corruption, don't only blame the politicians and the government. Be bold to point an accusing finger at Indian business and industry, market analysts, and also the media.
That brings me to the moot question. Is India really against corruption? #
Additional reading: Tainted money, Deccan Herald.