National Situation

NTUI Statement On the Fight Against Corruption

NTUI Statement On the Fight Against Corruption

Workers’ life and work experiences are very different from those of the middle class and the ruling elite; so is their experience with corruption.
For the middle class, corruption is a mechanism to accelerate government procedures in the public or private sectors. For the working class,
corruption deepens their experience of subordination. Instances of corruption that are directly experienced by the working people are the
result of the unequal power relations that govern workers’ daily interaction with public institutions and is therefore contributing to a sense of
distrust and loss of faith in these institutions. There can be little doubt that corruption affects the working class disproportionately more than it
affects economically more privileged sections of society.

The present nationwide campaign against corruption led by Anna Hazare representing a visible section of people from the elite and middle classes,
has also captured the imagination of a section of our working class. The participation of the working class comes in part from its own experience of
corruption but also in part because of the campaign’s ability to champion the idea that corruption causes poverty. The latter proposition is a
smokescreen for the structural causes of poverty, of inequality and for the deliberate policy choices government makes that result in these inequities.
Corruption as a cause of poverty only adds strength to the neo-liberal demand for minimal government control and regulation which advocates of the
Washington Consensus advance when calling for “simplifying rules and replacing administrative processes with market mechanisms [as] strong
measures to reduce corruption”. The fight against corruption cannot be fought in isolation but must also be a fight for more regulation of capital
rather than less regulation of capital. This means that the fight against corruption must include demands for legislation and effective implementation
of the laws that govern capital alongside rigorous and stringent implementation of the laws that govern work, the provision of social security and social protection and all laws that provide working people access to their basic needs.

Corruption necessarily flows from above and is deeply rooted in how capital seeks to maximize profits and not merely a product of corrupt civil servants
or a grasping political class. Petty corruption as, it is being portrayed, beginning from the lowest rung of public institution, which affects even the
poorest of the poor,  is only possible as there exists a system of distribution in which the spoils of corruption are shared. This too emanates from the very fact that the political class that forms governments today frames policies seeking to limit its own role in order to further interests of capital. Capital, on the other hand, at all times in alliance with a section of the polity and the civil service, seeks concessions in order to expand the share of profits through access to resources and soft, porous and where possible complicit, regulation. Hence capital not just corrupts government for easy access to regulation but also seeks privileged access for expanded profits. In the present phase of imperialist globalisation, there is a very thin line between profit maximisation and corruption. Absence or limiting state intervention does not lead to elimination of corruption. “Market-mediated” corruption is rampant in those sectors with minimal government intervention. The scale of corruption in our country has acquired enormous proportions with the expansion of the private sector, the decline of government’s role in economic activity and reduction of regulation.

The present government has like its predecessors, despite various manifesto commitments, failed to display the political will to put in place a set of
legislation that would address the issue of corruption in the polity, in the civil service and in the judiciary at the national level and create an enabling framework of legislation within the states. The public display of the lack of political will combined with the deplorable and unwarranted arrest of Anna Hazare and others on 16 August 2011 aroused public emotions against government. Government is today very correctly seen by citizenry as not allowing democratic dissent against its actions or legislative proposals. Civil protest remains the essence of opposition for those who choose to remain outside the electoral system in a parliamentary democracy.

The *Jan Lokpal* proposal that is being pressed by Anna Hazare is unfortunately for an all-encompassing top down unitary authority with powers
that it is claimed, will substantially reduce corruption. Apart from the fact that the proposal seeks an un-democratic lateral graft on the framework
of parliamentary democracy that would both be open to abuse, and possibly corruption within such an authority, it would also end up centralising power
and undermining democracy itself. There are several other views on possible legislative measures to fight corruption, including the one advocated by the
National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, that also hold the possibility of widening democracy.  The movement led by Anna Hazare has also
not been receptive to other views and has been setting a timetable that leaves no room for the vast diversity of Indian civil society, including the working class, to participate in the debate. It cannot be assumed that the mass of people who have turned out to support Anna Hazare’s movement necessarily support the framework of fighting corruption or the time table that Anna Hazare has put out. The movement led by Anna Hazare has also not been democratic and has employed motifs, symbols and statements that go against the grain of an egalitarian and just society and polity.  The New Trade Union Initiative recognises that citizenry in very large numbers is revolted by the scale of corruption, the enormous inequality of power that it creates and a sense of helplessness that goes with it.

In failing to recognise this popular sentiment, government has squandered an important moment in advancing its alleged fight against corruption. Parties
of opposition of the right wing have as is their wont looked for an opportunity to isolate the parties of government and on failing to do so have retreated to the comfort of the parliamentary space. Rather than ensuring that popular sentiment and widely held resentment is channelised in order to voice the plurality of views that exist on the issue in our country, unfortunately the left parliamentary parties too have ended up doing the same thing.

The NTUI recognises that we have not been adequately responsive to the situation. As a national trade union centre we too have the responsibility in taking forward the sentiments of membership. And as a step in that direction the NTUI call’s upon government to ensure that it provides adequate consideration to all positions that exist and ensures the widest possible debate within an acceptable time frame.

Gautam Mody
24 August 2011


New Trade Union Initiative