India's Sleaze Sheet in Corruption: India Today

Corruption is the one subject on which a national consensus has finally emerged. While everybody agrees India is a corrupt land, it was to identify the nuances in the public's perception of corruption that INDIA TODAY and ORG-MARG conducted this opinion poll. The corruption poll covered 16 major state capitals and 1,743 respondents. In the cases of Punjab and Haryana, the common capital of Chandigarh was replaced by the biggest cities, respectively, Ludhiana and Faridabad.

The respondents were asked to rate the three most corrupt states in India in that order. They were then asked to do likewise for the three least corrupt states. They were also asked questions on corruption in the particular state administration and at the Center. This was aimed at examining whether corruption is seen as percolating downwards from Delhi; or whether the roots of the phenomenon appear to lie in the states. Finally, interviewees were queried on personalities and public service areas considered most conducive to corruption.

The story that emerged was by and large predictable. Yet, there were a few surprises. For instance, Assam's ranking as the fourth most corrupt province of the Union could, in part, be attributed to the negative publicity it has received of late due to the Tata Tea-ULFA extortion issue. Also, politicians dominated the list of individuals seen as dishonest. On the whole, however, Bihar led the way: most corrupt state, single most corrupt Indian -- it was an undisputed (and presumably embarrassed) winner.


Laloo Prasad Yadav and P.V. Narasimha Rao: Nationally, nobody else came even close to them. In Bihar, Laloo was named the most corrupt Indian by 53 per cent. Mulayam Singh Yadav found favour with 15 per cent of Uttar Pradesh's voters, Mayawati with 11. Jyoti Basu polled 11 per cent in West Bengal. Two chief ministers, Prafulla Mahanta (Assam) and N. Chandrababu Naidu (Andhra Pradesh), got 10 per cent in their states. Harshad Mehta was the leading non-politician, with 5 per cent in Maharashtra.

Which public service agencies are the most corrupt?

The responses were a damning indictment of the Indian state. Despite almost a half century of democracy, governmental agencies emerged as prolific breeding grounds for corruption. Ministers, the elected representatives of the people, topped the list of groups seen to be prone to non-transparent functioning.

The police came a dishonorable second; in Punjab, in fact, it even surpassed ministers. It is also noteworthy that on a scale of one to 10 not one public service agency suggested to respondents scored less than five.

For all its problems within the ruling United Front, the Left can take heart from this opinion poll. The two states which India sees as the least tainted are both ruled by CPI(M)-led coalitions. The BJP can be allowed a smile as well as the two states next in terms of honesty -- Rajasthan and Punjab -- are governed by it, either singly or in coalition. While corruption cuts across regional divides, the Hindi belt finds disproportionate representation at the pyramid's upper end, with Bihar a runaway winner.

Equally significant is the comparison between perceptions of corruption at the Centre and in the state administration. Only four of 16 states feel that the Union Government is more inclined towards bribery and swindle than the regime in the particular state. Interestingly, Delhi -- which is the seat of the Government of India and a state in its own right -- trusts national rulers less than it does local ones. The most charitable view of the Centre would seem to come from Bihar, where the state administration scores 2.5 points higher on the corruption scale.

Given a state system synonymous with thievery, is India destined to remain in kleptocracy's thraldom? Curbing discretionary powers, rewarding honest civil servants -- the solutions are all there in theory. What is missing is the action. India needs to clean up; starting yesterday.