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A. Raghuramaraju

A. Raghuramaraju is Professor of Philosophy, University of Hyderabad. His book titled, 'Philosophy and India: Ancestors, Outsiders and Predecessors', was recenty published by Oxford University Press. He has published widely in the areas of social and political philosophy, postmodernism, postcolonialism, bio-ethics, science, technology and society.


Corruption And The AAP: A Case of Treating Cancer with Paracetamol?

A. Raghuramaraju
The Aam Admi Party may not be totally correct to place the common man outside the domain of corruption. Photo: AFP/Raveendran
The Aam Admi Party may not be totally correct to place the common man outside the domain of corruption. Photo: AFP/Raveendran

The public gaze on the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has intensified after it formed the State government in New Delhi. In a critical and contrarian look at the emergence of India's latest political party, Prof. A. Raghuramaraju points out that the haste with which the Congress and the BJP seek to incorporate the AAP's anti-corruption agenda reveals the depth and extent of the success of the party led by Arvind Kejriwal.

It is perhaps not an exaggeration to term the entry of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) into the complex layered arena of Indian politics as a development comparable to the formation of Indian National Congress by A.O. Hume. The justification for this comparison lies in the success of bringing to fore for the pre-modern Indian voters a modern phenomenon called corruption as an election issue.

This is no mean achievement. It is substantially radical, given the nature of the Indian voters and the society for which corruption was not an important electoral issue. This has been the case despite the fact that this pervasive and rampant phenomenon has continuously been staring them in the eye.

The reasons for this are many. To begin with they may not have had clear categories to comprehend this modern phenomenon. Or, they might have set it aside believing that they would not have the capacity to deal with it, echoing Karl Marx’s assertion that mankind takes only those problems that it can solve. Or, as Great Britain, which, though it embraced a human-centered modernity, conceded the voting right to women only in a delayed second instalment.

Returning to the main argument, though, corruption stared the Indian voters in the eye it escaped a serious consideration. Just as Hume brought to light the injustice of colonialism, AAP has awakened the Indian public eye to acknowledge what is in front of them. The underlying sub-text of this gaze is that they can handle this social evil, and even acknowledge the capacity to remove it. Thus, the capability, particularly, the ability for action has contributed substantially to this new sight. With this axiom in place, it is time to move on to more nuance internal details.

There is a fracture between the claimed quantum of corruption by AAP and the symbol they project as an instrument to clean it. The solution is shorter than the extent of the problem. If corruption as claimed is as rampant, then the broom stick is a weak dusting instrument to completely rid the nation of it. It is as futile as treating cancer with a paracetamol.

There is need to pay little more attention to this fracture and to look for more creative ways of bridging it so that the message in the metaphor is not compromised. One could use acid as an effective symbol, but I would personally not endorse it, given the liquid’s use in perpetrating violence against women. Symbols like Dettol or Phenyl would be more appropriate choices. This kind of an exercise is necessary as there is a significant difference in the reception and function of symbols and metaphors in religion and literature on the one hand and their reception in ground level politics on the other.

Yet another aspect of the unease is the mismatch between the main focused agenda of ridding the society of corruption with the broom that makes the system lighter and just, morally and legally correct, along with the promise of populism in the form of waving charges like electricity. Unless clarified, or consciously negotiated, this can overlap with the agendas of those parties that AAP is vehemently opposing. This in turn might send misleading messages across to the people. They need to be enveloped properly so that they do not appear inconsistent or ambivalent.

In addition to awakening people to the reality in front of them, there is an additional aspect to be considered; it is the extent of their impact on other political parties. The traditional rival parties like Congress and BJP have quickly and desperately sought to incorporate the anti-corruption agenda of AAP into their respective party’s agenda. This reveals the depth and extent of the success of this new party. Thereby making what was elusive, obvious. This in a way is a political miracle. The enduring nature of this miracle needs careful attention from the intellectual and academic community of India. If the intellectuals remain inattentive to these novel developments, the active and sometimes over active pre-modern society in India will begin to convert these miracles into traditional icons and eventually they are rendered frozen or worse become evanescent.

Corruption and the Indian society

In a diverse and large sub-continent like India, new things emerge in a small span of time having skipped many steps along the line. A theoretician is in a better position to identify these and provide missing links so that one builds a transparent and a systematic academic bulwark. When a political party like AAP succeeds in bringing to the centre stage the issue of corruption, there is a need to step aside and unravel the relation between corruption and the Indian society. In this regard one could make use of available scholarship. For instance, well known Sociologist Shiv Vishvanathan maintains that corruption is the lubricant that makes the Indian society run. Two things occur simultaneously here. One is the fact that there is rampant corruption in India. While the other is that the society is functioning alongside.

One can theoretically, through thought experiment, explore whether the removal of corruption will interfere with the functioning of this society. In other words, is corruption the pace maker to the Indian society. This exercise can be carried out without necessarily endorsing the practice of corruption. In other words, there is a need to elucidate and lay bare various forms of the intricate relations between the functioning of a society and the phenomenon of corruption. Is the relation recent, if so, how recent, what is its origin? Is the relation one of parts and whole, necessary and sufficient, necessary or contingent, or even notional and substantial.

Or more importantly, while critically scrutinizing the evil practice of corruption, those holding positions either political or otherwise, are inadvertently and safely but unceremoniously locating the common people outside the domain of corruption. Is this correct? Why is it, that corruption continues, surviving even though representatives are changed sometimes drastically? At times one is forced to admit that the anti-corruption cry becomes the exclusive preoccupation or obsession of those in the opposition. A conceptual clarity of concepts, the relation between or amongst them enables a better understanding both to those who belong to the party and those outside it.

During my research at IIT-Kanpur, two of my engineering friends got into incessant debates with each other. Both were seriously committed and passionately dedicated to social change. One of them was preparing for civil service examinations, to fulfill this task, maintained the need to correct the system from within. The other friend on the other hand argued that one should remain outside the system to be able to change it. I would then hum the famous Hindi film song - sansarse bhagey phirte ho bhagvan ko tum kya paogey. Iss lok kobhi apana na sake us lok me bhi pachhtaogey - obviously associating myself with the position of the first one.

Despite this bias, there is an imbricated involvement of both in this process to the point of indistinguishability of their different positions. One who wanted to work from inside the system made it to the IAS and chose a posting in the tribal region of Madhya Pradesh. The other one predictably took to activism. I still find them several years later, each one more informed about the other with whom they disagreed. I can only understand the relation or the lack of one between Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal through this paradigmatic relation of my friends. Their differences are like differences between two teams, but what is important is that both of them are in the same arena to play. Thus, theatre is an imperative need to theoretically enlarge the domain of this new phenomenon to arrive at a better understanding, thereby thickening the plot.

(A. Raghuramaraju is Professor of Philosophy, University of Hyderabad. His book titled, 'Philosophy and India: Ancestors, Outsiders and Predecessors', was recenty published by Oxford University Press. He has published widely in the areas of social and political philosophy, postmodernism, postcolonialism, bio-ethics, science, technology and society.)


If corruption is cancer, the dose of Paracetamol may just the start of a long process of cure. With multiple ailments, Kejriwal has chosen corruption as the most debilitating disease that could destroy the nation. However, with this diagnosis, the patient is now committed to a nursing routine, with physicians taking control of its entire body of ailments. It is up to them to choose the line of therapy. Others had their time and opportunity to suggest and apply a cure. Nothing happened for a long time. Now critics should be patient and see how the new line of Kejriwal therapy, however controversial at this stage, works. Like all antibiotics it has to have its full run, to be judged for results. Critics by clamouring at each step are merely exposing their frustration on being kept out of the processes.

from:  Ghulam Muhammed
Posted on: Jan 22, 2014 at 13:44 IST

I was impressed with the title of article, details woefully fall short of the topic. Arvind never said he will use a broom to clean corruption, neither is he such an idiot to say that. Instead of focusing on Lokpal, RTI and other manifestos which AAP has come up with, the author has focused his article on the symbol. Arvind carries the flags of millions of Indians; he campaigned door to door, solved many of their problems in the run up, showed them how actually he will solve the problems once he comes to power, etc. This article is not focusing on any of the topics. This is simply focusing on the broom, good that he did not compare broom and vacuum cleaner.

from:  Ramki
Posted on: Jan 15, 2014 at 18:53 IST

If the common man stops giving bribe to anyone who demands it, can we say that corruption is eliminated, and so conclude that the country is free of corruption? This elimination is of no use if the common man's work does not get done or gets inordinately delayed, even though he played his role by refusing to give the bribe. In this sense the common man's role is over but his problem is not solved. He will be helped if, along with the anti-corruption drive, the citizens' charter is also put into effect and in case of violation of this charter also the implementing higher authority must be corruption free enough to follow up with further action. So, for the anti-corruption drive to be successful, there must be a simultaneous and synchronised attack on corruption at various levels of authority. Otherwise there is the danger of the common man losing his faith in the anti-corruption drive and settle for the easier option of paying the bribe and get his work done,making both dealing parties happy.

from:  Suram
Posted on: Jan 15, 2014 at 17:40 IST

The article is hinting the reader to acknowledge what all know intuitively. That is the transcending nature of corruption. Its control is beyond all our systems. It is as it is because of the very nature of humans. Most of us will become corrupt given the means, or we already are within our own spheres. We all will do what is best for us. The basis of corruption lies here. And so have we built our survival around it, which might seem, for some, that corruption is helping the running of our societies. On the other hand AAP cannot function at all with the truth. It has to assume a simpler problem because the only available solutions are simple ones. Paracetamol for cancer might work as a placebo effect. The placebo effect might work by keeping the focus on corruption for a long time and the illusion that something is happening about it. This, hopefully, will create a new conscience in our culture, thereby accepting corruption lesser and lesser as a society.

from:  Roshan Kumar
Posted on: Jan 15, 2014 at 12:41 IST

"corruption is the lubricant that makes the Indian society run." This is true because corruption by itself is the system that has gobbled the system of governance and the culture. See how corruption integrates and thrives with the paying capacity of people. Those who can afford to pay money buy the service by paying through bribe; those who can't afford to pay extra suffer to stand in long queues. Corruption has strengthened the hierarchical position of Indian society in its caste- class-privilege-quota- matrix. And yet see how well the Railways tackled it. They maintained the rates of corruption proportionate to quickness and surety of providing service and also introduced trains and services of different castes- Tatkal, senior citizen consideration, Duronto, Garib Rath, etc. Lesson: Make a combination of structural and service-transaction system in such a way as would pander to the sociological realities and also the working needs of the people, till the grand transformation takes place.

from:  K.L.khanna
Posted on: Jan 15, 2014 at 12:00 IST

I completely endorse the view of Mr.Thomas. Most of the academicians can't visualize more than the views expressed by Prof.Raghuram. They remain in their dream world. Proactive within the system only make changes what the activists intend for common good for the entire public. Instead of simply praising or criticizing AAP, we've to engage with them in their process of cleaning corruption from the political and bureaucratic systems. More important is a pragmatic approach and sustained conviction to achieve this lofty goal.

from:  T.K.T.Sheik Abdullah
Posted on: Jan 15, 2014 at 11:19 IST

It is true that the cry of corruption is the preoccupation or obsession of opposition party but once it becomes a ruling party the other takes over, thus it is a total circle! Why does the ruling party never talk, discuss the corruption during their regime? Why wait for the opposition? Corruption from attender to IAS officer, sarpanch to Prime Minister has become a culture in our country.Even though the candidates for IAS,IPS and other central government posts are screened at different stages and finally selected as "brilliant" and "intelligent" they ultimately succumb to all corrupt methods, earning crores of rupees through corruption. Corruption is the way of life in our country. No one can eradicate it. An attender takes tens, hundreds but an IAS, IPS officers take thousands and lakhs! Recently to surrender my extra Electricity meter, I had to pay Rs.1000/- to the staff! Otherwise I get regular minimum bills on the unused meter. Even judiciary is not free of corruption.We live with it.

from:  Jaya Prakash Reddy
Posted on: Jan 15, 2014 at 06:43 IST

Corruption is really a deadly and stingy part of our society and we can't avoid it. But any party or any organization who will enter in politics will show same type of activity against corruption and I think that it will be haste to say that this party will change the direction of the country and bring the revolution. Give them some time, and time will decide whether they will make changes or will change themselves, like many parties did in past. Being optimistic and hoping that they will fulfill all commitment that they made to the Delhi citizens.

from:  anoop mishra
Posted on: Jan 15, 2014 at 03:28 IST

Prof. A. Raghuramaraju's insight is full of concern. I think people need hope, which is getting strength by the victory gained by AAP. AAP is providing a channel for a common man to express and not all people are corrupted and greedy. Corruption cannot be removed only by a political party, be it AAP. Removal of corruption seeks hope of common man to support anti-corruption, to encourage anti-corruption and best resource a common man possesses is his or her vote.

from:  Apoorve Tomer
Posted on: Jan 14, 2014 at 19:22 IST

The article appears cynical of the new development in our society. Instead of ruing over the situation, as has been the case over decades, a new situation is emerging to take the bull by the horns. Who knows, the present scenario can be a seed for the new future. Every big leaps start with little steps only. The article is a revelation that though many want to come out of present inbroglio, their mind set ramains deeply rooted in the past. With the passage of time, things will fall in place. If the author is correct, then attaining freedom from British colonial rule was also a devilishly difficult task. But we achieved freedom. Again Nelson Mandela fought against apartheid and overcame it. All it needed is only a resolve and a strong leader, and the rest will fall in place. And India can then be a developed country.

from:  R.Mathurbootham
Posted on: Jan 14, 2014 at 15:37 IST

In comparison with Vijaykant (D.M.D.K) and Chiranjeevi (Praja Rajyam), and their respective movies and parties, we can see numerous instances of heroes' voices for corruption, especially the Election Commission, the police, common man, and almost all departments that exist in Government. Why? Each of them have struggled to keep the party together, but were forgotten for being symbolic figures for the removal of corruption. It requires strong conviction. Arvind Kejriwal is radical in a type that the author has conveyed, and that conviction is not so easy to depict through any symbol.

from:  Krishna
Posted on: Jan 14, 2014 at 09:45 IST

I do not understand what the author wanted to say.

from:  kalidas
Posted on: Jan 14, 2014 at 06:55 IST

In Bertolt Brecht's "Life of Galileo," Andrea tells Galileo, "Unhappy is the land that has no heroes," to which, Galileo replies, "No, unhappy is the land that needs a hero." India's sad and unenviable fate, whichever of these definitions you choose, has been for its overwhelming majority of thoroughly decent citizens to be ruled by some of the most venal politicians and bureaucrats anywhere on earth. With politicians ruling like monarchs of yore, putting their pet bureaucrats in charge of departments like past minions who were awarded jagirs to plunder, the common Indian is easily among the most unfortunate people on earth. Sadly, he/she is also the member, by virtue of his/her citizenship, of a huge number of people seemingly doomed to suffer for the sin of being born in India. A billion, good people, deserve better than they have got from the Government of India. At the same time, it would be good to not get too excited by a certain person or party. India has seen this before.

from:  Mehul Kamdar
Posted on: Jan 12, 2014 at 02:16 IST

On reading the article one may be confused as what message the writer intends to give to the people or the society in general against the present social evil of corruption. While endorsing the sincere moves of Aam Aadmi Party to fight against corruption, he dilutes their efforts through silly metaphors on their symbol. If that be the case any number of sarcastic metaphors can be coined co-relating to symbols like Lotus, or ;Hand' of mainstream parties. By using statements like 'corruption is the lubricant that makes Indian society move' or 'corruption is the pacemaker to the Indian society', etc, he knowingly or unknowingly tries to give sacrosanct to his social evil. His statement that 'the anti-corruption cry becomes the exclusive preoccupation or obsession of those in the opposition' really undermines the role and status of organizations and groups fighting against corruption. I fear that the article is not in line with the noble aims and objectives of The Hindu Centre.

from:  K V Thomas
Posted on: Jan 11, 2014 at 19:08 IST
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