Politics and Corruption

What follows is a random, hastily written observation about corruption in politics.

Countries typically have GDPs far in excess of the revenues of most corporations. Even otherwise, leading a country is a significantly more challenging task than leading a corporation. Then why are leaders of countries entitled to far less compensation than say CEOs of companies?

Take the case of Egypt for example. It has a GDP of $500 billion. Hosni Mobarak was at the helm of the country for 30 years. What would be the net worth of a typical corporate CEO who has been heading a company of equivalent size for 30 years? A billion dollars would be easily achievable!

So why are Mobarak’s finances a problem? Well for starters, it is stolen money. And that’s that. There is no excuse for Mobarak to have made that amount of money. But our political systems are set up in a way that incentivizes people like Mobarak to steal.

Say my family owns a business that no one from our family is interested in running on a day-to-day basis. So we decide to hire a manager. Since we own the business, the money it generates belongs to us. We will use that money to pay the manager. We can’t hope to hire a good manager if we offer a bad salary. Or we will find a really smart manager who understands he is worth more than we are offering, but figures that he can bridge the difference by skimming off some money.

I claim that tax payers are unwilling to pay a good salary for the CEO of their country. I claim that our political leaders should be compensated in a manner that is commensurate with the intellectual complexity and importance of the job we hire them for. And the compensation we offer should be competitive with what the private sector can offer. We don’t believe that corporate CEOs do their jobs solely out of the desire to make the world a better place. So why do we expect our political leaders to do so?

There is a problem with this scheme. Once a leader is in power and is raking in the big bucks, why would she relinquish power? I can imagine it is a problem in countries like Egypt where dictators rule for 30 continuous years. But in countries like India, where elections are held frequently and largely fairly, with an independent press and judiciary, this shouldn’t be an issue.

CEO incentives are aligned to the best long-term interests of the company they head, by giving them an ownership stake in the company. If we can come up with a similar system, which gives every leader a fair ownership stake in the country, perhaps one of the big drivers behind top-level corruption will go away.


Khaps and Modern India

You believe you know your society, your religion, your caste quite well. And then suddenly that delusion is completely shattered! I thought horrible things like honor killings were part of medieval cultures and Hindu society had largely moved beyond such terrible customs. Not true!

In a shocking case that come to light a few weeks ago, a Khap (sort of like a Panchayat) in Haryana ordered and successfully carried out the killing of a couple. Their crime: Marrying within the same sub-caste (or gotra).

Subsequently, a court in Karnal sentenced five people involved in the crime to death. That should have been the end of the case. On a more practical note, that should have been the beginning of the usual decade long appeals process where those five individuals would have begged the Indian state for mercy.

Not so! The Khap leaders are defiant. They don’t even claim that the crime didn’t occur. Rather they are fighting for their right to order such killings in the future! Here are some snippets from an HT article which covered one of the recently held protest rallies.

An assembly of 36 self-styled caste councils on Tuesday vowed to fight for the seven people convicted – five of them sentenced to death – by a Karnal court for their roles in an honour killing.

Several speakers said the authorities should not interfere in centuries-old traditions, as social norms were above the law

Former Haryana Police chief M.S. Malik, said, “We don’t want a Constitution or a law that goes against our age-old tradition. We feel strongly against the media for naming Khaps, accepted for the last 3,000 years, as Talibani Panchayats.”

I am sorry Mr. Malik, but the only way to earn the right to not be called Talibani Panchayats is by not doing things that Talibani Panchayats do! It is shameful that a retired IPS officer has such an attitude on upholding the rule of law and the Indian Constitution.

And finally, after all these events, it is the Judge who heard the case, who is running scared for her life. Indian Express reports that Justice Vani Gopal Sharma has requested a transfer from Karnal because she fears for her life after the Khaps have hardened their stance against the judgement pronounced by her!


Indian Census and Caste Statistics

I find it weird that no Census in independent India has ever collected any statistics about castes (scheduled castes and tribes aside). Given that so many of our policies and so much of our national resource allocation depends on caste, why does our Government shy away from collecting that data?

The original decision to not collect such data was, I think, to de-emphasize caste distinctions. While the intent might have been good, in reality much of our politics and national discourse is caste based and there are many benefits of accurate data regarding castes.

In fact the Mandal commission estimated the percentage of OBCs to be 52%. A much later survey conducted by the NSS (National Sample Survey) estimated the number to be 36%. Who is right? The cynic in me says the politicians want the public to remain in the dark since caste is one of the main tools they use to rule our country!

When this question about collecting caste data was put to C. Chandramoulli, the Census Commissioner, his reply was:

In Independent India, there has never been a Census where details related to castes were given. We don’t have that mandate from the government. There is no change in policy. We will only come out with total scheduled caste and scheduled tribe population in various areas. Details about caste will not be spelt out.

So we shall continue to live in ignorance!