Amit Varma: Where Anna Hazare Gets It Wrong

Corruption is inevitable in India because the government has too much power. If a hotelier did not need 165 licenses — and there is no reason why he should need any — that would be 165 bribes less to pay. (I’m assuming one bribe per license, which is honestly quite optimistic.) If our mai-baap sarkars did not have control over so many elements of our lives, there would be less scope for chai-paani. In practically every area of our lives, there is government interference or oversight, either overt or covert. And, to repeat that old cliche one more time because it is both pithy and true, power corrupts. That’s just human nature.

So what is the solution to corruption then? Since the problem lies with power, you need to tackle that first. You need to, first of all, question the many ways in which the government controls our lives. Completely dismantling the license-and-inspector raj is one way to do. Scrapping every ministry that has no reason to exist, at both the central and state level, would be another. (We’d be left with just three or four of them.) Governments should exist to implement law and order, to protect our rights, and to provide basic services — nothing else. The more we move towards this ideal, the closer we come to rooting out corruption.

That would be the ideal solution. I wish I could see a path leading towards it but in the current system, it is hard to argue that checks and balances is not one of the better solutions out there.