Lessons from Dubai and more...

For those who have been gloating that free market liberalisation is the only path to economic and social transformation of India, the recession came as a revelation. So how come the best of free market economists and the pink papers in India failed to anticipate the prophetic signs of the inevitable, the great slowdown? And even while thousands lost jobs and the world tottered on the brink of this man-made catastrophe, the finest optimists kept their cards close to their deep pockets.

Indeed, even while the slowdown seemed to be slowly receding, yet another shocker has come to stalk the global economy, especially the Gulf economy, especially countries like India with a huge population of migrants. The Dubai debacle is a pointer that unregulated and artificial financial kingdoms dangling on gigantic sums of money, prosperity and entertainment, propped up by Western investors, sundry tycoons and celebrities, might turn out to be a dangerous bubble ready to burst. And it is bursting! A pointer that between ethics and corruption in the new political economy, the lines might be blurring more rapidly then we can imagine.

For instance, no one in India needs to look at the Transparency International's yearly list of the most corrupt nations to know where we stand. For the sake of record, India is ranked 84 as the most corrupt in the list of 180 big and small countries. The report shows India has become 'less' corrupt. This is a big joke.

Many failed states are less venal than our country. India has many lessons to learn from Dubai. It is criminal when you understand the implications of what organised corruption is doing to this land of great promises, aspirations and abilities. It is transferring resources from the poor to the rich and robbing ordinary people from benefiting from critical public good. Roads, infrastructure, public distribution systems - all have become a casualty to institutional corruption. Big businessmen and contractors in connivance with a pliant bureaucracy and political class get fattened by the steady leakage from the government's development funds. Floods, earthquakes, droughts are all opportunities for this class of predatory disaster capitalists to make windfall earnings.

Bigger bucks are made by crony capitalists due to the policies of economic liberalisation. As the State retreats from core social sector activities, valuable national resources are given to favourite corporates and MNCs for a pittance or a fat consideration. Mining leases of mineral reserves are handed over to shady moneybags. Complicit governments helped the Bellary miners (powerful BJP ministers) to become so big that they could blackmail the BJP-led Karnataka government if it did not withdraw criminal cases against them. There could be no better example of how big bucks now have the power to subvert governments. These dubious moneybags have gained in manipulative power by the steady bankrolling of politicians and political parties.

The entire body politic is blighted by corruption. When Manmohan Singh got a fresh mandate, there was hope that he would ease out the corrupt. These hopes were belied. All those ministers and bureaucrats who fattened themselves from the spoils of massive corruption are blissfully occupying important positions. Has anyone been held accountable for gargantuan scandals like the sale of telecom spectrum, or the frauds in the sale of mining companies like Sesa Goa, or the pauperisation of Air India? Colossal amount of funds have been spent in the name of economic stimulus by the government without a clear idea where the money is going. Is a large part escaping to the comfortable confines of Swiss vaults where billions of Indian funds are stashed?

This venality, corruption and rapacious greed at all levels is undermining our security and making us vulnerable to terror attacks. Lack of professionalism, sloth, fear and greed are the attributes of those who don't care an iota for the nation or for its people. All they want is how to amass more dubious wealth, at any cost, and subvert the democracy. When it comes to the corrupt society, the nation can be damned.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: DECEMBER 2009