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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 10, February 23, 2013

Theorising Corruption in a Hurry

Tuesday 26 February 2013, by Badri Raina

From all the elaborations that have now come forth, it would seem that this is what the sadly beleaguered Ashish Nandy had meant to say at the Jaipur Festival: that for thousands of years corruption has been the preserve of the upper castes, but the fact now that India’s Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes, and increasingly Scheduled Tribes as well are vigorous participants in this handed-down practice testifies to the energy of the ongoing social revolution in contemporary India.

Inference: that corruption is, after all, a positive index of the general matrix of growth and development. One might then ask: why at all should the likes of Shri A. Raja be in the slammer instead of being lauded as major contributors to this social revolution? Or a Mayawatiji or a Madhu Koda be so relentlessly hassled by an establishment that has been the progenitor of corruption, instead of being hailed as emblems of India’s forward movement? Or, indeed, why anyone at all who is corrupt across castes should be a target of the law enforcement agencies?

The trouble of course arises from the fact that Shri Nandy chose to pitch his wholly untenable thesis along a caste axis rather than a class one. After all, it may well be argued, that indigent segments among all castes in India continue to be in some way or the other the victims of a corruption thrust upon them by an expropriating state; and that often they are in turn compelled to engage in unlawful shortcuts to secure even the most minimal of their entitlements.

But in actually saying, as part of his unsubstan-tiated argument, that “in fact, most corrupt people in India come from the Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes, and increasingly from Scheduled Tribes”, Shri Nandy seems to have unwittingly proferred a new Orientalist propo-sition that wrongly essentialises whole communities of the population. To wit, just as some people still hold that all Black people are inferior and crooked, all women are temptresses, all Muslims are naturally violent, all OBCs, SCs, STs are not just corrupt, but more corrupt than other castes groups. Wretched hypothesis that Shri Nandy could not have intended.

Equally wretchedly, the way to jail as much as to hell is often paved with good intentions. One recalls that the post-structuralist theorist, Jaque Derrida, was once put behind bars in an East European country for some unintended violation of travel documents. Many of his detractors in Yale were to chuckle “let Derrida deconstruct the prison”. Most unfortunately, Shri Nandy has landed himself in the ambit of hard-earned laws established to protect the rights and dignity of hitherto oppressed communities. Yet to the extent that even amongst their intellectual class, a Kancha Ilaiah has had the non-sectarian graciousness to understand that Shri Nandy may be an undeserving victim of a misunderstanding no doubt so obviously generated by his most objectionable formulation, it is to be much hoped that this sociologist who has had a record of supporting the historical case of the downtrodden will receive similar understanding from the country’s judicial system, should matters go that far.

Badri Raina is the author of The Underside of Things: India and the World brought out by Three Essays Collective in August 2012.

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