Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ambanis vs Tatas - The Ethical Debate

Paraphrasing G. Vijayraghavan, founder of the first IT park of the country, "The ministers are corrupt because we, the people, make them corrupt." The realization struck me for the first time that day. The logic really was that simple. The act though wasn't. The opportunity costs, as we perceive, is too high for us to be ethical in our actions. And, we have internalized the 'easier' way out. We choose a 500 bribe for a 10,000 profit because it seems only logical to us. 500 is only a small amount after all, right?

But what we fail to comprehend is that this compromise of ethics is never a one-time thing. It's a downhill slope. Just the fact that you did it once will come back and hit you in the face when you try to deny it the next time. And the amount and the extent will keep on escalating. Saying no to corruption has to start with you. If, for instance, the 400 yatris on the train pledged to say NO to corruption, and they in turn influence their friends and family to do the same, the impact will definitely be felt. It's not going to be easy. But it's going to be worth it.

Good news is that there is support. Shaffi Matther, a noted social entrepreneur and public policy activist has undertaken an initiative Bribe Busters through which he encourages people who have been asked for a bribe to report to him confidentially and the organization ensures that the corrupt official meets his match. When I asked him how does he handle the repercussions of open confrontation, he said that, "To put in a nice way, we are happy to do it in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and not in Bihar or Uttar Pradesh." Pretty practical, I would say. Atleast it's a start!

All said and done, the opportunity cost of not paying the bribe sometimes was a common topic for debate on the Yatra because of obvious 'practical' reasons. A particularly insightful remark by a previous yatri and now a volunteer with the team, Sandeep, summed the discussions up pretty well. He opined that it is imperative on our part to come up with our list of non-negotiables and then stick to it both in our professional and personal lives. This list can be modified as you grow as a person and your priorities change. But with the list in place, you must learn to draw the line and define you own moral value system.


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