Corruption is fuelled by greed rather than need. And we cannot weed it out through legislation alone…

If the surfeit of scams in India were not enough, The News of the World fiasco currently unfolding in Britain should be enough to tell us what we are up against as we grapple with corruption. Not so long ago, we could trick ourselves into believing that corruption flowed from poverty and getting rid of poverty would also rid us of corruption. Well, over the last decade, our gross domestic product has grown in leaps and bounds and millions of Indians have raised themselves out of poverty. At the same time it has been impossible to pick up the newspaper or turn on the TV without encountering one scam or other.

Realities today

There was a time when writers lived merely to be published and journalists got their highs by exposing wrongdoing. Nowadays, writers resemble travelling salesmen, seeking to cajole readers and publishers into purchasing their wares. And journalists seek to curry favour with the rich and powerful in a bid to join the club. If the desire for money has become so all-consuming in writing and journalism, two professions where it was both fashionable and obligatory not to sell out to the filthy lucre, then the less said about the rest of society the better.

The lesson of the moment is that corruption is fuelled by greed rather than need. And if the scams of the last few years are anything to go by, the scale of greed in our country is truly mind-boggling. Anna Hazare's campaign against corruption is laudable. But we are not going to defeat it with the passage of one Lokpal Bill, or, for that matter, a hundred Lokpal Bills. You cannot legislate social change. The persistence of dowry illustrates how useless it is to put a law in the books if the people lack the will to change. Furthermore, currently we find ourselves in the unenviable position of being a corrupt nation that is newly addicted to consumerism. Consumerism posits that happiness and achievement are related to the acquisition of material goods and fuels corruption. Under such a mindset, corruption will only flourish, no matter what kind of legislation is passed. After all, who does not want to be happy or successful?

Tackling mindsets

In order to tackle corruption effectively, along with legislation you also need education. You can put a law in the books in a parliament or legislative assembly. But education has to be done in homes and educational institutions, where parents and teachers must work towards putting money in its proper place in young minds. Right now, for far too many, it has acquired a godlike status in the mad rush for designer brands and extravagant lifestyles.

In India, corruption is an affliction that goes right down to the grassroots. It can only be defeated by a change that is just as deep-rooted. The groundswell of popular support for Anna Hazare's fast showed the desire certainly exists. The question is: Do we also have the will?