By Kul Bhushan
Corruption and black money are India’s twin national concerns now. In fact, they have become the top national priority since last April when anti-graft crusader Anna Hazare unleashed his campaign that has dominated the media ever since.
Corruption is endemic. How can it be cured? Will corruption end with the passing of the Lokpal and Lokayukt bills? Most people are not sure but say that these laws will be a good start. To get an overview of the deep rot of corruption that has infected every working level of Indian administration, indeed the entire society, a dispassionate overview of the epidemic was sorely needed. Now you have a concise book on corruption that makes up the DNA of India today.
This new book, Corruption in India, by Bibek Debroy and Laveesh Bhandari, Konark (Rs 350) documents the scale of this problem successfully and describes how it works. The book also shows how corruption has reached a high degree of sophistication and how it usually evades all the laws and enforcement agencies designed to punish the culprits. The book is full of horrendous facts presented in charts that make your eyes pop out as you wonder why and how we Indians created and tolerate so much corruption.
For a start, it lists the major scams from 1948 to 2011. Another table shows that growth in major scams from 1940 to 2010 reported scams which increased by 112 per cent during this period. Corruption in India is measured against the same menace worldwide with a number of parameters by Transparency International, and other indices of economic freedom. Here again, India puts up a dismal show. Around 50 such tables profiling various aspects of corruption form the backbone of the text that is non-sensational and non-emotive.
The text examines how corruption robs the poor with various national schemes to relive poverty; how public works fill the pockets of the corrupt; corruption in trucking, fertilisers, exports, SMEs and public-private partnerships; and the institutions and laws designed to investigate and punish the corrupt.
So, what conclusions does the book present? The government thinking and action against corruption has failed miserably despite all the checks and balances and the long list of laws to punish the corrupt. The authors say that it is unfortunate that corruption has become a matter of habit in governance.
Thus there is a need for strong, democratic and transparent institution to combat this menace. Monitoring and punishing the corrupt government servants is critical. Not just the Auditor General but the media, the courts, and the civil society are all key combatants in this anti-corruption war. The criminalization of politics involving massive outlays to fight election that must be recovered after getting elected is yet another major cause of corruption. All these combatants are examined and their strengths and weaknesses listed. “Democracies have an inherent advantage of being responsive to public pressure,” concludes this book. “In the end that is what will carry India through, provided each individual and collective sustains the pressure. We end where we started.”
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The Hugging Mother
Who has hugged thirty one million people
— Kul Bhushan, who has experienced her loving embrace after quelling for nine hours
Thirty one million is the number of people she has hugged round the globe by 2011. Yes, thirty one million – a staggering number. No wonder she is known as ‘The Hugging Mother’ worldwide.
Curiously, 31 million is about the estimated number of overseas Indians. So among these 31 million of all religions and races, there many millions of overseas Indians as the hugging mother travels to Australia, the Far East, South East Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, North and South America every year.
This dark, roly-poly, ever smiling, middle aged woman always dressed in a white sari with a mark on her forehead is “Amma” meaning mother, but her full name is Mata Amritanandamayi Devi. As a spiritual leader, her unique quality is that she physically hugs each and every person who comes to her prayer meetings – no matter how long it takes. And it does.
Since people come in thousands, queuing up for her hug, waiting patiently for hours for their turn, she carries on until she has given her shoulder to every one for a few seconds. So, sometimes she ends up hugging for more than 20 hours without a break! And at the end, she is as fresh when she started.
How can she do it? Amma says: “As long as these hands can move a little bit and reach out to those who come to her, and as long as there is a little strength and energy to place her hands on a crying person’s shoulder and caress and wipe their tears, Amma will continue giving ‘darshan’. To lovingly caress people, console and wipe their tears, until the end of this mortal frame is Amma’s wish.”
The second outstanding quality is her concern for the poor and the needy. She reaches out to them by feedings thousands of poor every day, caring for orphans, widows and the old, proving affordable houses, monthly pension for the old, legal advice, insurance, clinics, hospitals and hospices, nursery, primary and secondary schools, colleges, a medical college, a pharmaceutical institute, a nursing, engineering, computer science, management and industrial training and even a university named after her.
What’s more, whenever and wherever there is a natural or manmade disaster, be it earthquake in India or Haiti, tsunami in South East Asia or Japan, she rushes with relief.
The basis of all this humanitarian work is her spirituality which people experience when they come in contact. She is oozing with love from every pore. Her teaching is simple rustic and touches the heart. Although she speaks only Malayalam, her speech makes direct contact even in translation. Finally, when she sings devotional songs, she carries everyone to another world. Yes, she has the mystic quality, loud and clear.
Born in a poor fisherman’s family in Kerala in 1953, she left school when nine years old and started to help the family with household work and gathered food for her family’s cows and goats. In this task, she met many poor and started to give away food and clothing to them while spontaneously embracing them to give them comfort. As a fourteen-year old, she was discouraged in this. But she carried on. Despite repeated efforts of her parents to marry her, she declined. At 21 years, she declared her God-realisation and a year later, she started to initiate her disciples now numbering hundreds of thousands.
As many people came to her home to become her disciples, a foundation was established for her spiritual work and to end world suffering. These twin aims have kept expanding worldwide for over three decades. Her biography, Amma, by Swami Amritaswarupananda Puri published by Amrita Enterprises (Rs 100) describes her struggle against her relatives, cynics and miscreants who tried to destroy her and her work. In simple, colourful language, this well produced paperback describes her tempestuous early life and the expansion of her global mission.
Amma comes alive a new, superb coffee table book, Amma’s Advice, Traditional Wisdom for Modern Times, published by Konark (Rs 3,500). To get a real feeling of her persona and teachings, you should first leaf through and then read her words quietly to digest them. In hundreds of full colour photos, Amma comes over as innocent, peaceful, caring, tender, holy, serene, devout and always loving. Amma’s advice is simple, universal and straight from her heart. As former President of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam writes in the Preface, ”Amma the mind’s doors to wisdom which allows the light of eternal peace. The new thought and light clears the mist around our thinking and makes one self-centered.”
Tastefully designed with top quality printing, this book is a treasure. It is the next best experience after Amma’s hug.
* Published in print edition on 10 February 2012