India—you have no future! Here is the headline from a newspaper, the sort of headline that has us wringing our hands in despair. Threats to judges, government lawyers soaring! The report then says that threats to the nation’s judges and government lawyers have sharply increased prompting hundreds to get 24 hour protection from armed guards. Judges are now altering their routes to work, installing security systems at home, shielding their addresses and some even carry guns when they sit on the bench.
What would you say if you found such a breaking news item in NDTV? I sent this headline to fifty of my friends in India and the U.S and a few in the Middle East—all Indians mind you. Here are some responses I received.
– India has no hope.
– that is why India is and will remain a third world country.
– let us stop dreaming of becoming a superpower.
– Abroad [a.k.a USA] this will never happen.
– It is such idiotic things that made me migrate to the US.
– I am glad I left India to live in a civilized country like the U.S. And so on.
But wait a minute, I told them all. I sent another email to all these guys pointing out that this headline related to the U.S and appeared in the Washington post of 25th May! I wish all my buddies had installed webcams and let me see their faces when they read my clarification email!
As I come to the end of my three year stay in the U.S and will return to India soon I can say that the U.S is not as great as we might believe and India is not that bad as we may believe. The situation is more nuanced than one might realize. This is not to say that India is as good as the US. On the contrary, we have much to learn from the U.S and much that we need not learn from them.
There is a simple ‘trick’ we need to take note of and learn from the U.S. Some of the things about India that we fret about do not exist in the U.S simply because the U.S has legalized them. What we call influence peddling and money power in India. The kind of power broking that we say is ruining India has been legalized in the US. It is called lobbying. My NRI friends protest that lobbying is not the same as corruption since it is open to anyone.
But then considering the kind of money that one need to influence policy is humungous you need lots of money to influence policy that can fetch you even more humungous amount of money. Thus Microsoft spent 5 billion dollars to influence tax laws that benefitted that company 55 billions in tax savings over a 5 year period. Had an Indian company done anything remotely resembling this, a thousand Indians might have migrated to the U.S and sent me an email about how rotten India was.
Now comes another example of how things that are considered objectionable in India are perfectly all right in the US simply because it is legal or constitutional to do so in America. The U.S constitution allows the President to appoint to the Supreme Court a judge who is ideologically aligned with the President. Obama like his predecessors has done exactly that. He has appointed Ms. Sotomayor as a judge. The right wing media is up in arms against this appointment for many reasons.
I recall the furor that shook India when Ms. Indira Gandhi appointed to India’s Supreme Court a judges with a leftist ideology in tune with her leanings. She was castigated for ‘packing’ the court.
In the U.S ‘packing’ is constitutional! There is some merit in legalizing at least some actions that will be done anyway. The ‘tatkal’ scheme of asking passengers to pay an official premium for train tickets is one such. I understand that in the recent general elections much money was spent by candidates that were illegal by Election Commission norms. Experts say that these norms are unrealistic and need serious updating in tune with current times. By not doing so we are unnecessarily creating ‘corrupt practices’. There ought to be a law against outdated laws!
A general observation: wherever there are serious demand and supply imbalances there will be corrupt practices. If this imbalance is combined with poverty widespread corruption is inevitable. There is nothing ‘Indian’ or ‘third world’ or ‘uncivilized’ about this. It is only human. Laws can only marginally mitigate this.
Don’t let Americans or NRI’s tell you otherwise? The U.S too went through this phase for over a century after its Independence. These days there is not much scarcity in most goods and services of general interest. But there is another ‘reason for corruption – greed. This persists everywhere including in the USA. This also is part of human nature.
America has abundant examples of greed motivated frauds, corruption, murder and so on. This sometimes inspires even mortal fear among law enforcers.
Don’t believe me? Ask American judges and prosecutors.