“Corruption is like a creature, and its nature and spread morph as it evolves,” said R. Gopalakrishnan, Executive Director, Tata Sons.

Addressing a function organised by Polestar Foundation to announce the 15 annual Polestar Awards (for IT journalists) here on Friday evening, Mr. Gopalakrishnan asserted that, “corruption has been unavoidable, almost inevitable, in the history of human society”.

In his address as the chief guest, he focussed on the subject of corruption. According to him “corruption is an economic inefficiency”. It harmed the poor, he said. “It is a huge ethical dent in national character, which will linger for several generations,” he pointed out.

Estimates varied on the cost of corruption in India, ranging from 2 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) to 5 per cent of GDP as suggested by late C.K. Prahalad.

In a well-researched and eloquently delivered speech, Mr. Gopalakrishnan dived deep into the history to discover that corruption had indeed been there since time immemorial. He quoted writer Aakar Patel who connected corruption to culture. “In India, we see nothing peculiar about corruption. It is everywhere. We give God cash, and anticipate an out-of-turn reward. Our plea acknowledges we don’t deserve. The cash compensates for our lack of merit,” he said. History books on India were replete with instances where cities and kingdoms were captured after guards were paid off to open gates, and commanders paid off to surrender, he said. “In short, India has corruption, but India does not walk alone,” he pointed out.

As early in 1888, Mr. Gopalakrishnan said, a Royal Commission in England recommended “that it would be well if it were made a criminal offence to offer any member or official of a public body any kinds of payment …” He also pointed out how Robert Clive was known to have spent 5,000 pounds in bribes to try and win a seat in English Parliament.

“Attitudes and approaches to corruption create anomalies,” he said. Switzerland regularly topped transparency and low corruption studies. “Does this mean that the Swiss have a clean system?” he asked. “Switzerland held secret Nazi money. Nowadays, it is the not-so-secret repository of the most toxic money from all over the world, including from some Indians,” he pointed out. This would be considered hawala in India, he pointed out.

“Just as adolescence is a necessary part of a person’s growth, widespread corruption that touches almost everybody represents an adolescent phase in a development of a nation,” he said. Just as adolescence passed, corruption also morphed from being widespread and petty to fewer but bigger instances, he pointed out. “Though India is an ancient civilisation, it is a young democratic capitalist-state, just 20 years, passing through its adolescence,” he said. Corruption characterised other societies too during their “adolescent capitalism period,” he pointed out.