By Angomcha Bimol Akoijam
Corruption is a popular vocabulary in the discourses on public issues not only in Manipur but also in the other parts of the world. As a normative concept, it refers to a wide range of inappropriate, unacceptable and undesirable conducts of individuals and institutions. In that, corruption is something that is detrimental to the functioning of the norms and institutional mechanisms that govern our lives. As an aspect of governing life, it is often regarded as a symptom of government incompetence, which, in turn, undermines government`s ability to rule. And we might as well add, especially in the case of Manipur, it is not only a manifestation of government incompetence but also mis-governance.
Indeed, when we talk of corruption in Manipur, the expression largely refers to the misappropriation of public funds by those in power, the people who hold official positions in the administrations and public offices and their cohorts, and the practices of government jobs being sold or bought for a monetary price and or personal favour. Globally speaking, these aspects are also features of corruption.
Consequences of corruption are enormous. Fundamentally, it weakens institutions of governance and thereby disturbing their capacity to deliver the goods and services. Normatively speaking, it fosters a culture of impunity and moral decadence. Ultimately, life in general of the people gets chaotic and miserable.
Meaning of Corruption: A Framework
It is in the light of these aspects that the widely used definition of corruption as ‘the abuse of public office for private gain’ becomes significant. The definition reminds us of the normative and institutional mechanisms that governs our life and the separation and dynamics between the two broad domains of our existence, the ‘public/impersonal’ and the ‘private/personal’. After all, the misappropriation of public funds/resources or appointing people in official position by taking bribe are classic examples of going against the established norms and institutional mechanisms that seek to avoid any attempt to reduce public domains and offices into private and personal fiefdoms.
However, there has also been some re-thinking on ‘public office’ in this definition due to the presence of corruption in privately firms/organizations and subsequently corruption has been re-rendered as ‘the abuse of trusted authority for private gain’.
From the above definition, it seems clear that corruption is about a value judgment or prescription. But it is something that can only become intelligible within certain normative and institutional mechanisms that govern out life or our organized life possible. In this sense, it is also clear that this definition of corruption can only be meaningful insofar as it is related to some broader concept of ‘public interests’.
However, two related aspects have to be noted here. First, the definition of corruption has to be contextually and diachronically pursued. Second, correspondingly it has to be ultimately judged in terms of its utility to organize and address issues/experiences that we confront in real world.
With the above understanding on corruption, as might also adopts a simple model of corruption that has been suggested by researchers on the phenomenon: The opportunity for corruption is a function of the size of the rents under a public official`s control, the discretion that official has in allocating those rents, and the accountability that official faces for his or her decisions.
Corruption: Insidious Slavish political Culture and its Economy
The above given definition of corruption and the model helps us to grapple with things that come to our mind when we talk of corruption (paying bribes for government jobs and misappropriation of public funds by private parties by abusing public offices). Moreover, in the corruption ridden society like ours, the inability to retain the character of what constitutes ‘public goods’, ‘public offices’, ‘issue of public importance’ and tendency to position or convert these aspects of ‘public’ into ‘private’ and ‘personal’ or ‘personalized’ is not uncommon.
And correspondingly, a culture of sycophancy or pursuing one’s interests and seeking legitimacy of one’s worth by cultivating sycophants are palpable aspects of the social, political, cultural and intellectual life of a largely ‘status based society’ complimented by the (distorted) forms of modern institutions and vocabularies.
It has been noted that a competitive politics, established transparent government processes, and fostered an active media and an informed civil society. These mechanisms constrain political and bureaucratic corruption, making it the exception rather than the norm. These aspects have been noted as reasons as to why corruption is less pervasive in these polity. And correspondingly, in the developing countries, it has been observed that government institutions are weaker, civil society is less engaged, and political and bureaucratic processes are less accountable and transparent.
As stated earlier, the phenomenon we call corruption, the state of affairs that we are understand and unhappy about in Manipur is largely the issue of people who hold ‘public offices’ abusing those offices for their ‘private gain’. By swindling public money, selling government jobs for a price and grooming a bunch of sycophants (or network of cliental structure) by bestowing personal favour are ways through which our leaders and officials become elite and the rich and powerful members of our society.
Historically, the growth of corruption can be understood as a function of the resources that come under the control of these officials, the discretion that the officials have in allocating these resources, the accountability that these officials face for their decisions and acts in managing and allocating these resources.
The increase flow of funds and resources from New Delhi to Manipur during pre-statehood and ‘post-statehood’ (and during the latter, post-counter insurgency, counter-insurgency related funding to neo-liberal economy of the last three decades, particularly, the last decade) and discretion over those resources by local elite have lots to do with the emergence of corruption as we understand and unhappy about.
Correspondingly, the lack of institutional (accountability) and institutional (social/political/judicial etc) weakness and nature of the middle class, media, and civil society in the state are parts of the same story.
The case of decade old electricity problem in Manipur and the discourses and actions of the executive, the legislatures, the media and civil society are classic examples of how corruption gets fostered and sustain in Manipur. Particularly, it points to a lack of accountability of institutions and the nature of civil society, including media, and our political culture. The Executive has failed to provide, the legislative oversight function of the Assembly on the issue is as good as non-existent and the civil society groups, including the media in general or the people in general seem don’t care about this decade old depravation of electricity in the state. Incidentally, even the Public Interests Litigation (PIL) on the issue has seemingly failed to move the institutions, including the Judiciary to make the executive accountable for its abject failure to discharge its responsibility.
Our ‘political culture’ (attitudes, values, beliefs etc vis-à-vis polity or political systems) and ‘political economy’ (the economy that operates within a political milieu) can be used to make sense of what, why and wherefore of corruption in Manipur.
Political culture of Manipur is marked by a dependent and or slavish mentality. It thrives on one’s show of loyalty to the power that gives one’s status and whatever form of power that one has. In other words, it is a patron-client culture with a jeopardized self agency of the client.
This culture in Manipur has been shaped by an unholy marriage between feudal and colonial culture which was inaugurated in 1949, an ironical opening of the post-colonial life in the state, with the bureaucratic rule by New Delhi over Manipur with least accountability to the ruled (the people of the state). Subsequently, those who run Manipur are shaped by a loyalty structure wherein those who rule Manipur are critically contingent upon the favour extended to them by power that be in New Delhi. In short, those people who hold these public offices in Manipur (e.g, the government) are more accountable to New Delhi than the people of the state.
Incidentally, they re-create their relationship with Delhi in Manipur as well by cultivating their own network based on personal favour. Subsequently, the idea of public has been critically eroded and personalized dealings have come to rule the roosts in Manipur.
This culture is tangibly sustained by a structural presence of a political economy which is patron-client in nature (that is, grant-in-aid driven donor economy of the state). It is this political economy which is not only donor driven but also shaped the state economy (most seek state jobs as state also become or project as job provider).
In this state of affairs shaped by the said political culture and political economy that turn our polity and society as something that is run by “middle men” and their ethos (political leaders as “middle men” between authorities at New Delhi and the people of Manipur and contractors as “middle men). The erosion of institutions and cultural character of the people of the state has become so deep that a sense of moratorium, inactions, resignation and inaction on the one hand, and mutual distrusts and personalized engagements come to marked public life in the state. And that is how corruption has become a norm than exception in Manipur.