Corruption on TV


anti corruption imagesTV often function like a kaleidoscope. Just as one gets an array of patterns when you rotate the toy, you get a similar array of perspectives as you shift channels. The main event of this week was corruption, its investigation and stories about reform. The reports centred around four events – the arrest of Jaganmohan Reddy, the Yeddyurappa opera, the Rajat Gupta trail and the Ramdev-Hazare battle in Delhi. Each is a fascinating vignette into the complexity of the soap opera called corruption.Jaganmohan Reddy belongs to a Bible-thumping family, whose politics and evangelical style have much in common. He has leveraged his position as his son’s father to create a coral reef of rich companies where well-wishers invest in return for policy concessions.

The TV report was revealing Jaganmohan’s arrest could have been a born-again congregation in a populist era. A politicians arrest adds to his vote-gathering capacity. His arrest seems almost tailor made for electoral victory.

Watch Yeddyurappa on TV. He has been implicated in mining and land scandals, yet struts around like an unsullied patriot. He is cock of the political walk and even the BJP high  command is afraid of his tantrums. Like Jagan, Yeddyurappa seems shameless be-having as if he was arrested in line of duty. These politicians seem to act as if corruption is a part of a new distributed justice. In fact TV brings out the real scandal of corruption, that it is an extension of populism through any means.

The Rajat Gupta incident has a different tenor. It speaks about an Indian in USA and one sense an actual trial and even a possibility of justice. The way the Indian community from Ambani to Godrej reacts is intriguing. Corporate India comes out with a shower of good conduct certificates almost suggesting that philanthropy and corruption don’t go together. But what corporate India is reluctant to face is that in the rule of law, a crime is a crime. It does not make a difference, whether you belong to the Indian school of business or the slum next door.

The next report is not about corruption but the battle against it. Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare sit together like two status. The distance between the two is enormous. What holds them together is strategy and idiom. Anna Hazare provides the focus and Ramdev the crowds. But more critically, there is a hybridization of two Indians. Hazare evokes the swadeshi idiom and Ramdev the civilisational one. Amdev begins from health and parents a medical theory of the economy. Black money is presented as pathology.

One suddenly asks whether the logic of corruption and that of reform speak different language. The news presented has little to do with the rule of law or the difference between public and privates spaces. The populist logic speaks of electoral power as a collage of patronage. One is almost grateful when a politician is honest but power seems to make corruption an index of its potency. If Jagan is one face of electoral power as populism, Yeddyurappa is the super contractor, providing stability using corrupt contracts to forge an alliance of stability. It almost seems to suggest that to combat corruption, one needs a different language of culture understanding. The rule of law emerges as an import we don’t know what to do with.

The irony is that when Ramdev and Hazare throw up new idioms, our secular liberal left audiences see red at saffron and parochialism in white. They feel that civilisational stories do not fit the legislative process of law.

The TV kaleidoscope is deeply revealing. By juxtaposing events and confusions, it asks if law and politics are talking past each other. Is reform world bank style speaking a dialect we’re indifferent to? Does the Indian mind see the logic of corruption as an extension of the Jajmani system or what local Delhites call “social service”? Maybe this clash of dialects in the Babel of corruption explains why reform sounds like happy rhetoric insulated from the real world of deals and destinies. TV has posed a riddle – the question is who will solve it?

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