The Boiling Frog and Political Entrepreneurship

Where does misuse of power and position end and where does corruption begin? Consider the following examples from the private sector:

– The boss likes office parties and asks his favorite ‘compliant’ subordinate to pay the party bill and claim reimbursement, as the boss is the only approving authority.

– The boss ‘negotiates’ with the current vendor every time by asking for quotations from other competing vendors and ‘threatening’ the existing vendor with terms offered by others. But eventually does nothing about the new proposals after ‘differences with the current vendor have been sorted out.’

– The boss keeps checking if you interviewed the guy he referred and have a problem if he is hired. The boss also insists that ‘you will face a problem later with your useless current team: get rid of them and replace them with this guy.’

– The boss keeps changing the food and beverages menu every month ‘to provide variety’ for employees. One also realizes that he enjoys ‘offsite trips with procurement partners’ every now and then.

– The HR manager sources resumes of ‘good candidates’ that all happen to be from a single or a common set of hiring vendors.

Now these are all instances of behavior that can be questioned. At worst, if there is a monetary gain involved, they can be called corruption. At best, if there is no such arrangement, they can be called misuse of power.

Honestly, this is not uncommon in the private sector. It often is tolerated, specially in view of ‘performance’. So one can only imagine the enormous scope for misuse of power and corruption in the public sector and government.

It is true that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The definition of what is misuse of power and what is corruption has undergone a dramatic transformation in capitalist India.

In the 80’s, it used to be ‘giving cash to get work done’, and then became ‘exchange of kind (of the ‘benami type’) for policy favors’. Eventually, it started being taken for granted, and became a ‘cost of doing business’. Of late, it has further transformed into what could be termed as ‘political entrepreneurship’.

If you throw a frog in boiling water, it jumps out instantly. But if you put the frog in water, and put the vessel on a slow flame, it gets used to the increasing temperature slowly. Eventually, without realizing it, the frog dies in boiling water.

India is like this frog. No longer does minor corruption surprise us.

So giving cash to traffic police or government clerks is outdated. We are no longer surprised if a minister or a bureaucrat mingles with businessmen or their ‘liaison officers’. A little bit of land here and a few flats there are fine, and almost became perks of a powerful government position to an extent that it does not surprise us. All of that is passe.

The government and its machinery became smarter.

It is ‘cool’ to have a company that ‘bids for and bags’ government contracts. Or a company with diverse business interests that has investments or loans (that will be paid only on exposure!) from complex corporate entities whose ownership is abstruse.

It is incidental that the holding company is owned by the minister’s son-in-law’s brother or someone equally ‘unrelated’. Better still if it has partial investment from a private Indian or foreign investor as well as a corporate and shareholding structure that ensures that proving corruption or misuse of power or favors in a court of law becomes impossible. It becomes a ‘private party transaction’.

It can be touted as an example of intelligence and hard work combining with opportunity when it knocks. When you have enough money, the media also seems to oblige. A shining example of successful ‘political entrepreneurship’. It is a different matter what came first – the politics or the entrepreneurship. But in today’s capitalist India, it is a pity that we don’t get surprised by such blatant misuse of power any more.

India has become like the boiling frog. I don’t see how it will stay alive unless we jump out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: