Ignore the Middle Class at your peril

Interesting times in India, where Anna Hazare appears to be winning a battle with the Indian Government over anti-corruption legislation.  Using tactics reminiscent of Mahatma Ghandi, he has forced the authorities to release him from prison (he had been arrested for threatening to go on hunger strike) and allow him to go ahead with a public fast in protest at the Government’s failure to introduce effective anti-corruption laws.  Putting aside the apparent irony of someone being released from prison in order to go on hunger strike (it all happened the other way round with the Suffragettes, when I was a lad), what is happening in India is a sign that there is a ground swell of popular support for tougher action against bribery.

But what has changed?  I think it’s fair to say that India suffers from corruption on an endemic scale and that it is virtually impossible to get any official to perform even the simplest task without paying him or her some kind of bribe.  Many of the causes of this are the same as you would find anywhere else – poorly paid officials who need to supplement their income, a stultifying bureaucracy (inherited from us Brits, I admit) which provides endless opportunities for potential obfuscation that can only be cleared by payment of a bribe, and politicians who make our own, home-grown variety look like shimmering beacons of virtue and incorruptability.  So, if the circumstances mirror those elsewhere, what is different about India, and why are they suddenly rebelling?

One very important factor is that India now has the largest Middle Class in the World.  They do not (yet) have the prosperity of their counterparts in the West but they are intelligent, well-educated and getting very fed up with having to pay bribes to public servants.  I am told that even simple jobs like getting utilities connected can take years unless a payment is made, and things that we take for granted in the UK, like claiming a tax rebate, for example, just don’t happen without someone’s palm being greased.  This has always been accepted as a fact of life, but attitudes are changing as expectations rise and, whilst Hazare is unlikely to bring down the Indian Government, it looks as if we could be experiencing a critical moment.  In a previous blog, I mentioned that there seemed to be change coming about in India and this is further welcome evidence.

An Indian Government committed to the eradication of corruption in Public Office would be hugely helpful in the Global fight against bribery and the abuse of public office, and would be a huge benefit for the many UK and other International Companies who must feel uneasy at operating in the present environment.

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