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Changing Forms of Corruption in India*

  • AKHIL GUPTA (a1)

Abstract

This article has four important goals. First, I want to ask why liberalization and market-friendly reforms failed to curb corruption in India. Indeed, confounding the predictions of most proponents of reform, corruption seems to have increased after the neoliberal reforms of 1991. Second, I aim to develop a typology in which the importance of particular sectors to corrupt practices is highlighted and explained. Third, I point out that India has failed to make the ‘transition’ historically seen in low-income countries as they develop. Nation-states have in the past moved from a system of vertical corruption—marked by the extraction of small sums from a large number of transactions with citizens in everyday life—to a system of horizontal corruption, in which governmental elites extract large sums in a small number of transactions from corporate and commercial bodies. Finally, I argue that anti-corruption movements cannot be understood without paying attention to the affective and emotional ties that bind citizens to the state. We have to take account of contradictory feelings about the state: cynicism about the state and popular anger against corruption on one side, and an attachment to popular sovereignty and patronage on the other. These contradictory sentiments will better enable us to understand the conjunctures that lead to effective institutional change.

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*

I wish to thank Sumita Mitra and Kaitlyn Ireland for research assistance. I benefitted from many useful suggestions at the following places where this paper was presented: the Asia Research Institute (ARI), National University of Singapore; Ethnography Winter School, National University of Ireland, Maynooth; American Anthropological Society Annual Meetings, Washington, DC; Network of Bhutan Anthropologists, Thimphu, Bhutan; and the South Asian Studies Association of Australia, UNSW, Sydney.

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1 I take the terms ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’ corruption from Appadurai, A., ‘Corruption, scale and governance in India’, in Local Politics, Global Impacts: Steps to a Multidisciplinary Analysis of Scales, Charnoz, O., Diaz, V., and Kolata, A. (eds), Ashgate, London, 2015, pp. 6278 .

2 J. Burke, ‘Indian activist Anna Hazare refuses to end hunger strike’, The Guardian, 7 April 2011, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/apr/07/anna-hazare-hunger-strike, [accessed 6 July 2017]; B. Raman, ‘Anti-corruption Ayatollahs’, Outlook India, 8 April 2011, http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?271270, [accessed 6 July 2017].

3 The Anna Hazare movement and the proposal for a Lokpal Bill prompted a great deal of debate and disputation. For a representative sample, see Banerjee, S., ‘Anna Hazare, civil society and the state’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 46, no. 36M, 2011, pp. 1214 ; Bhaduri, A., ‘Corruption and representative democracy’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 46, no. 36, 2011, pp. 1517 ; Chandhoke, N., ‘Our latest democratic predicament’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 46, no. 19, 2011, pp. 1721 ; Chatterjee, P., ‘The movement against politics’, Cultural Critique, vol. 81, 2012, pp. 117122 ; Giri, S., ‘The anti-corruption movement and its false divides’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 46, nos. 2627, 2011, pp. 14–16; Khandekar, A. and Reddy, D. S., ‘An Indian summer: corruption, class, and the Lokpal protests’, Journal of Consumer Culture, 1469540513498614, first published 13 August 2013, doi:10.1177/1469540513498614, 2013, pp. 127 ; Kumar, K., ‘Cleansing the state’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 46, no. 48, 2011, pp. 1417 ; Menon, N. and Nigam, A., ‘Anti-corruption movement and the Left’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 46, no. 37, 2011, pp. 1618 ; Muralidharan, S., ‘Hazare and his children’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 46, no. 16, 2011, pp. 1719 ; Muralidharan, S., ‘Media as echo chamber: cluttering the public discourse on corruption’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 46, no. 37, 2011, pp. 1922 ; Navlakha, G., ‘Lokpal movement: unanswered questions’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 46, nos. 44–45, 2011, pp. 1921 ; Patel, G., ‘What we talk about when we talk about corruption’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 46, no. 17, 2011, pp. 1316 ; Sitapati, V., ‘What Anna Hazare's movement and India's new middle classes say about each other’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 46, no. 30, 2011, pp. 3943 ; Teltumbde, A., ‘Real issue, surreal solution’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 46, no. 19, 2011, pp. 1011 .

4 Roy, S., ‘Being the change: the Aam Aadmi party and the politics of the extraordinary in Indian democracy’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 49, no. 15, 2014, pp. 4554 .

5 A. Ayres, ‘What the Delhi elections mean for Indian foreign and international economic policy (not much, yet)’, Forbes Asia, 10 February 2015, http://www.forbes.com/sites/alyssaayres/2015/02/10/what-the-delhi-elections-meanfor-indian-foreign-and-international-economic-policy-not-much-yet/, [accessed 6 July 2017].

6 Ibid.

7 I am not implying that the AAP has a narrow agenda but that the greater part of that agenda is reacting to what they term ‘traditional corrupt politics’ in different domains of social life.

8 S. Rukmini, ‘Two out of three say UPA is corrupt’, The Hindu, 23 July 2013, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/two-out-of-three-say-upa-is-corrupt/article4945558.ece, [accessed 4 August 2017].

9 Respondents to Transparency International's surveys reported that they felt that corruption had increased a lot (D. Hardoon and F. Heinrich, Global Corruption Barometer 2013, Transparency International Report, 2013). See also B. Xu, Governance in India: Corruption, Council on Foreign Relations, 2014.

10 On the DIAL and Coalgate controversies, see M. Jagota, R. Roy, and S. Chaturvedi, ‘Contract scandals rock New Delhi’, WSJ.com, 17 August 2012, http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10000872396390443324404577594592309025210, [accessed 7 July 2017]; on DIAL, see J. Fontanella-Khan and N. Munshi, ‘India airport scandal hits government’, Financial Times, 23 May 2012, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/61267210-a4f5-11e1-b421-00144feabdc0.html#axzz32mN1G9hV, [accessed 7 July 2017]. For the Commonwealth Games, see NDTV, ‘Commonwealth Games like big fat Indian wedding without a groom’, 10 August 2010, http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/commonwealth-games-like-big-fat-indian-wedding-without-a-groom-426669, [accessed 4 August 2017].

11 There are now reportedly 410 24-hour news channels in various languages on Indian television.

12 For an overview of corruption in the economics literature, see Bardhan, P. K., ‘The economist's approach to the problem of corruption’, World Development, vol. 34, no. 2, 2006, pp. 341–8. See also Bhattacharyya, D. K. and Ghose, S., ‘Corruption in India and the hidden economy’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 33, no. 44, 1998, pp. 2795–9; Kar, D., ‘An empirical study on the transfer of black money from India: 1948–2008’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 46, no. 15, 9 April 2011 ; Kumar, A., The Black Economy in India, Penguin Books, New Delhi, 1999 ; and S. Sukhtankar and M. Vaishnav, ‘Corruption in India: bridging research evidence and policy options’, Brookings-NCAER India Policy Forum 2014, 2015. The relative neglect of corruption in the social science literature is evident in the fact that, in their list of 13 main issues or problems about contemporary India, Corbridge, Harriss, and Jeffery (2013) do not even include corruption (S. Corbridge, J. Harriss, and C. Jeffery, India Today: Economy, Politics, and Society (Politics Today), 1st edn, Polity Press, Cambridge, UK, 2013).

13 See Sinha, A., An Institutional Perspective on the Post-Liberalization State in India, Routledge, London, 2011, pp. 4968 .

14 According to the National Sample Survey (NSS), the contribution of the non-farm sector to rural domestic product was 65 per cent in 2009–10 ( Reddy, D. N., Reddy, A., Nagraj, N., and Bantilan, C., ‘Rural non-farm employment and rural transformation in India’, Working Paper Series 57, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, Telangana, India, 2014). See also Chatterjee, P., ‘Democracy and economic transformation in India’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 43, no. 16, 2008, pp. 53–62; and Gupta, D., ‘The importance of being “rurban”’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 50, no. 24, 2015, pp. 3743 .

15 Information for this section is from my own fieldwork in Bangalore. See also N. V. Dharia, ‘Scaffolding sentiment: money, labor, and love in India's real estate and construction industry’, PhD dissertation, Harvard University, Department of Anthropology, Cambridge, MA, 2015. Searle, L. G., Landscapes of Accumulation: Real Estate and the Neoliberal Imagination in Contemporary India, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2016 .

16 Hull's example of a Singapore company's experience in Pakistan is instructive in this regard.

17 The Times of India reported that PWD officers took between 25 and 35 per cent as a cut from contractors (TOI, ‘PWD official shunted out after charges of corruption’, 8 December 2015). Kirit Somaiya, former BJP Member of Parliament, is quoted as saying that PWD stood for ‘Plunder Without Danger’ (V. Sandhu and T. E. Narasimhan, ‘Kickback nation’, Business Standard, 8 June 2013, http://www.business-standard.com/article/politics/kickback-nation-113060700972_1.html, [accessed 4 August 2017]). See also B. Patel, ‘Revealed: PWD is the most corrupt government department’, Mid-Day, 1 March 2014, http://www.mid-day.com/articles/revealed-pwd-is-the-most-corrupt-government-department/15130065#sthash.5Cqxx12q.dpuf, [accessed 7 July 2017].

18 India is not unique in exhibiting leakage in public works. Around the world, corruption in the construction sector is rampant, particularly in infrastructural projects. It may be due to the fact that the capital intensity of these projects makes siphoning off funds easier, and/or it may be the difficulty of measuring and keeping track of expenditures.

19 Government of India, Performance Audit Report on Implementation of Public Private Partnership, Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi, Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India for the Year Ended March 2012, Union Government, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Report No. 5 of 2012–13, 2012.

20 J. Sood, ‘Road to disaster’, http://www.downtoearth.org.in/coverage/road-to-disaster-33563, [accessed 7 July 2017].

21 Field observations from Bangalore. It is not possible to prove that benami transactions have taken place unless the official purchaser of the land is a member of a politician's or bureaucrat's household.

22 Government of India, Performance Audit Report on the Issue of Licences and Allocation of 2G Spectrum by the Department of Telecommunication, Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India for the Year Ended March 2010, Union Government, Report No. 19 of 2010–11, 2010, http://www.cag.gov.in/content/report-no-19-2010-performance-audit-issue-licences-and-allocation-2g-spectrum-union, [accessed 4 August 2017].

23 U. Majumdar, ‘10 things to know about the missing coal files’, Tehelka.com, 23 August 2013, http://www.tehelka.com/10-things-to-know-about-the-missing-coal-files/, [accessed 7 July 2017].

24 ‘Supreme Court cancels 214 coal block allocations’, The New Indian Express, 24 September 2014, http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/Supreme-Court-Cancels-214-Coal-Block-Allocations/2014/09/24/article2447444.ece, [accessed 7 July 2017].

25 See, for example, Mazumdar, S., Crony Capitalism and India: Before and After Liberalization, Institute for Studies in Industrial Development, New Delhi, 2008 ; and Gupta, N. and Dinc, S., ‘The decision to privatize: finance and politics’, Journal of Finance, vol. LXVI, no. 1, 2011, pp. 241–69.

26 Government of India, The National Food Security Bill, 2013, as passed by Lok Sabha on 26 August 2013, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Food%20Security/Bill%20with%20Amendments.pdf, [accessed 7 July 2017].

27 See P. Niehaus and S. Sukhtankar, ‘Corruption dynamics: the golden goose effect’, American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, vol. 5, no. 4, 2013, pp. 230–69.

28 Personal fieldnotes concerning bureaucracy in Uttar Pradesh. See also the now classic articles by Wade, R., ‘The system of administrative and political corruption: canal irrigation in South India’, Journal of Development Studies, vol. 18, no. 3, 1982, pp. 287328 ; Wade, R., ‘The market for public office: why the Indian state is not better at development’, World Development, vol. 13, no. 4, 1985, pp. 467–97; Sandhu and Narsimhan, ‘Kickback nation’. J. Bussell, ‘Varieties of corruption: the organization of rent-seeking in India’, Westminster Model of Democracy in Crisis?, Conference at Harvard University, 13–14 May 2013, pp. 1–49. Sandhu and Narasimhan, ‘Kickback nation’, quote former IAS officer, Jayaprakash Narayan, as saying that 15 per cent is extracted from the contractor and shared among the minister, and all the officials in the department awarding the contract.

29 Yahoo! News: India, ‘25 years of India's “Watergate”: the Bofors scandal’, 2012, https://in.news.yahoo.com/25-years-indias-watergate-bofors-scandal-135113721.html, [accessed 7 July 2017].

30 V. Kumar, ‘Chopper scam: long-drawn legal battle ahead’, The Hindu, 18 February 2013, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/chopper-scam-longdrawnlegal-battle-ahead/article4428630.ece, [accessed 7 July 2017]. See also Firstpost, ‘AgustaWestland case: all you need to know about the VVIP choppers scam’, 2016, http://www.firstpost.com/india/agustawestland-upa-sonia-gandhi-vvipchoppers-finmeccanica-2751386.html, [accessed 7 July 2017].

31 Sandhu and Narasimhan, ‘Kickback nation’, quote a retired army officer who says that 2–5 per cent in cash as kickbacks are routine in Military Engineer Services (MES).

32 See Appadurai, ‘Corruption’.

33 A. Gupta, Red Tape: Bureaucracy, Structural Violence, and Poverty in India, Duke University Press, Durham, 2012.

34 J. S. Anjaria, The Slow Boil: Street Food, Rights and Public Space in Mumbai, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 2016.

35 N. Anand, Hydraulic City: Water and the Infrastructures of Citizenship in Mumbai, Duke University Press, Durham, 2017; L. Björkman, Pipe Politics, Contested Waters: Embedded Infrastructures of Millennial Mumbai, Duke University Press, Durham, 2015.

36 S. Vardarajan, ‘Time to curb unfettered electoral expenditure by political parties that impacts poll outcomes’, The Economic Times, 30 April 2014, http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/opinion/comments-analysis/time-to-curb-unfetteredelectoral-expenditure-by-political-parties-that-impacts-poll-outcomes/articleshow/34391051.cms, [accessed 7 July 2017].

37 For reasons of space, I cannot go into the details of how retail corruption mediates the relationship between politicians and their constituents. A. Piliavsky (ed.), Patronage as Politics in South Asia, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2014, makes the case that retail corruption is integral to new modes of patronage politics in South Asia today.

38 Wade, ‘The market for public office’; personal fieldwork.

39 Much of the conflict between the AAP and the police in Delhi can be explained by the fact that the AAP government has tried to aggressively clamp down on petty corruption by the police. This has reduced the de facto salaries of policeman and resulted in low levels of cooperation with the AAP government. ‘AAP levels charges of corruption against B S Bassi, top cop furious’, The Economic Times, 4 December 2015, http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-12-04/news/68771357_1_b-sbassi-aap-housing-society, [accessed 7 July 2017].

40 Witsoe, J., Democracy against Development Lower-Caste Politics and Political Modernity in Post-Colonial India, University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 2013, pp. 105–7.

41 See Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index 2016, 2016, http://issuu.com/transparencyinternational/docs/2016_cpireport_en?e=2496456/43483458, [accessed 7 July 2017].

42 L. Linden, ‘Essays in development economics: incumbency disadvantage, political competition, and remedial education in India’, PhD dissertation, MIT Department of Economics, 2004.

43 Of course, this system does not work smoothly everywhere. In Tamil Nadu, for example, the DMK and AIADMK regularly send the leaders of the other party to jail.

44 ‘Income tax department clean chit to Nitin Gadkari, may get BJP chief post’, The Economic Times, 13 May 2014, http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-05-13/news/49820651_1_nitin-gadkari-bjp-president-purti-group, [accessed 7 July 2017].

45 A. Srinivasa Rao, ‘YSR Reddy's government was engaged in corruption’, India Today, 13 September 2011.

46 Piliavsky, Patronage as Politics.

47 In Indonesia, elections are referred to as ‘Pesta Demokrasi’, literally ‘Festivals of Democracy’. See Pemberton, J., ‘Disempowerment. Not’, Public Culture, vol. 5, no. 1, 1992, pp. 83–8. For India, see also Banerjee, M., ‘Sacred elections’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 42, no. 17, 2007, pp. 1556–62.

48 Gupta, Red Tape, gives examples of distrust of government programmes and policies from his study of Uttar Pradesh.

49 Paul, S., ‘Fighting corruption’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 46, no. 35, 2011, pp. 1719 . Similarly, confusing sentiments of popular anger were articulated by the Occupy movement.

50 Although Ghertner makes the opposite argument working with slum dwellers in Delhi. Ghertner, A., Rule by Aesthetics: World Class City-Making in Delhi, Oxford University Press, New York, 2015 .

51 See in particular Laszczkowski, M. and Reeves, M., ‘Introduction: affective states—entanglements, suspensions, suspicions’, Social Analysis, vol. 59, no. 4, 2015, pp. 114 .

* I wish to thank Sumita Mitra and Kaitlyn Ireland for research assistance. I benefitted from many useful suggestions at the following places where this paper was presented: the Asia Research Institute (ARI), National University of Singapore; Ethnography Winter School, National University of Ireland, Maynooth; American Anthropological Society Annual Meetings, Washington, DC; Network of Bhutan Anthropologists, Thimphu, Bhutan; and the South Asian Studies Association of Australia, UNSW, Sydney.

Changing Forms of Corruption in India*

  • AKHIL GUPTA (a1)

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