By Neeraj Bhardwaj

NEW DELHI: If it takes two to tango, let the music play on. Right? Well, that's a lot like corruption -a game that Corporate India has played with some dexterity for years. But now, in the aftermath of the Tehelka expose, India Inc. posted its distress at levels of corruption in the country.

To quote one corporate bigwig: "Corruption has always existed. The difference is: earlier it was systematic, now it is unsystematic. While bribing was required only for licenses earlier, now everyone is creating opportunities for himself. It depends on his innovativeness to earn. That is creating a lot of chaos."

Multinationals entering the country have been an obvious target. Says a senior MNC official: "When we entered the country about five years back, we were asked by the state chief minister to pay Rs 3 crore for election funding. When I expressed our disability to do so, two attempts were made on my life. When threats did not work, the minister started working the IPS lobby to exert pressure."

The impact is being felt down the line. Says a consultant for consumer product companies: "Post liberalisation in 1991-92, we were working on a huge number of feasibility studies for MNCs wanting to enter various sectors in India. In recent years, the numbers have reduced dramatically to a couple a year."

And now, post Tehelka, the perception that India does not offer a level playing field, is going to worsen. The impact is more likely to be on consumer goods MNCs, says the consultant. For, infrastructure MNCs, who work mostly with government-owned utilities worldwide, are more comfortable dealing with corruption. Consumer product companies are not.

An auto consultant echoes these views. "No one wants to do business where rules are not transparent." He goes a step further. "India is not the only corrupt country. However, MNCs tell me that when they pay bribes in China, they are certain that work will be done. In India, they are not sure." The reason: the chain of corruption is so long that companies are never certain if the money has reached the right hands.

Others too feel that corruption has reached a new high. Says a corporate top-shot: "The private sector's willingness to beat the law is also on the rise. The lobbies-politicians nexus was not so apparent even 15 years back. Now the policies are being drafted by vested interests."

The ramifications? Says the CEO of a diversified group: "All was going well. The Budget was good and the government seemed to be consolidating its position. With this, the stability of the government is in question once again and that is not good for business." Counters Dewang Mehta, president of Nasscom: "There will not be any impact on the feel-good factor created after the Budget. Things will settle down soon."

By and large, most feel it's a lose- lose situation for business. "If the government takes a tough stand and resigns, instability will rear its head again. If it does not, it will be giving an official nod to corruption. Both ways we stand to lose."

Unfortunately, these voices ring true. After all, Transparency International downgraded India's ranking on corruption, from No 28 to No 22 this year.

SLUG: Tehelka aftermath