In this age of super-charged discussions and rallies against corruption, it is perhaps instructive to look back five years when scams were not the stuff of daily news.
Hearing the innovative ways in which people rationalized corruption, the then US Consul for Chennai David Hopper wondered if Indians really objected to it at a deep level at all.
In a cable written in 2007 after the collapse of an over-bridge in Hyderabad, Hopper listed the various ways in which people “explained” corruption and wondered “Does anyone care?”
Hopper was talking about the Andhra Pradesh state administration under YSR Reddy which, like the Central administration at present, was rolling out a number of multi-billion populist welfare measures aimed at the poor.
Like today, then too, there were allegations that a large chunk of the money was being diverted by corrupt officials and ‘leaders’.
But Hopper found that while some called corruption “inalienable”, others termed it a wealth redistribution-scheme and still others saw in it a way to reward party workers for all their efforts serving the country.
“Reddy has used populist spending programs to great political effect. The government’s massive housing and irrigation programs merit special attention. The housing program provides material, grants, and loans to eligible citizens for the construction of homes…
“the irrigation program aims to spend more than eleven billion dollars over five years on 26 major irrigation projects.
“There is consensus in Andhra Pradesh that the irrigation and housing programs are beset with corruption. On separate visits to Hyderabad we heard allegations of widespread graft from several neutral observers…
“A reporter said he had no doubt that many people were profiting from it. He added that the scale of the corruption was beyond the norm for the state. “Typically five to seven percent is lost to corruption, but in Reddy’s irrigation program that figure is more like fifteen to twenty percent,” he said.
“Speaking about the housing and irrigation programs, an editor for a prominent daily also focused on the difference in the scale of the corruption in the current government. He said “We thought Naidu was bad, but that was child’s play compared what is happening now.”
“Widespread corruption in the Congress government seems to an open secret in Andhra Pradesh, but the political impact is unclear. One media contact told us the man on the street expects it. He said: “corruption is inalienable. It is rather acceptable.”
“Another reporter said citizens are fine with corruption so long as some the money flows down to them, adding that as long as Congress continues to spread the wealth it actually “strengthens its position in the state.”
“A third journalist observed that at a minimum the Congress is consolidating its political base ‘offering small contracts to party workers, making them happy,'” Hopper noted.
However, Hopper predicted accurately that despite the allegations of corruption, YSR’s schemes would make his government popular.