Corruption has become such a crippling issue in Manipur today, and everybody knows it too, yet precious little has ever been done to seriously challenge the scourge. As we see it, there are two approaches to a resistance. One is at the individual level, and nobody has scripted the spirit of this approach better than George Orwell when it remarked: ‘in time of universal deceit, being honest is a revolutionary act’. Unfortunately such a revolution has few or no follower these days in this land where the ultimate aspiration and ambition have been reduced to government contract works, either as broker from the position of the officialdom, or else as contractor, ready to compromise work for unwarranted profits. The other approach is to tackle corruption at the institutional level.
The fact is corruption has never been an issue of significance in any crucial exercise of public decision making, the most vital of these being the periodic elections to the state Assembly. The matter again is unlikely to have any significance in elections in the near future. By and large, those who can spend big will have the upper hand, it is as if leadership quality is measured in terms of the depth of the pockets of candidates. Everybody is in awe of wealth, but nobody ever enquires with any seriousness how that wealth had been acquired. So much for all the fuss about corruption, but a universal lack of discretion has legitimized and institutionalized corruption deep in the social psyche. One of the reasons for this incredible public behaviour is perhaps overawe, as the entire system has become corrupt and there is no longer any single person to blame.
Compounding the problem is another widespread psychology. The most vehement complaints against corruption have seldom turned out to be driven by moral stance, but induced by disguised envy. The most ardent crusades against corruption have always ended up co-opted, becoming as corrupt, if not more, once they have joined the officialdom’s ranks. The history of Manipur’s political leadership has been largely defined by this phenomenon. The incentive structuring of the system has also been such that it has induced corruption in every heart. The general attitude is, when in position of official power, corruption has come to be generally treated more as a service perk than moral erosion. Bribe givers and bribe takers, and so too vote buyers and vote sellers, share this same degenerate moral platform, and no longer is burdened by remorse.
How can this dreadful cycle be broken? Appealing to public conscience alone will not be enough as this conscience itself has blunted. Since executive power has become the fountainhead of official corruption, it is executive power itself which must be tackled. This can only be done by a system of checks and balances introduced into the system itself. It is a truism that whatever its drawbacks, there is no way the system can be done away with altogether. At best, another system can replace it, and the new system too would be exposed to the same corrupting influences of executive power. Two very effective legislations are today available. One is the Public Interest Litigation, PIL, mechanism, and the other the Right to Information Act, RTI. A citizens’ activism is called for to make these become truly the nemesis of official corruption. If such an activism can rekindle public conscience against corruption, and wealth comes to be qualified by the manner it is earned, half the battle would have been won.