Comment Pieces

Why do we need to go after the small guy?

Posted on March 28, 2014

Why go after the small guy who asks for paltry sums? This is the question one is asked when one speaks about retail corruption in India. Though retail corruption in India is huge and has angered many Indians, after the 'corruption event' is over and forgotten, a certain sympathy crops up for the 'small' guy who asks for small sums.

The sympathy is certainly misplaced given the amount of retail corruption in the country. Maybe it is also because of the perception that while there is wholesale loot going on in the country, chasing the small guy is not seen as an in-thing.

The truth is that the small guy is the weakest link in the chain. The bribe chain which begins with him extends upwards. One can rant and rave about coal scam, 2G scam and about gas pricing but if there is so much of loot going on for so long, how is that the loot is going on without a word being uttered.

Many government contracts are manipulated from the word GO. From the technical bid to the financial bid to the cartelisation of various vendors to the final awarding of the contract, it is a seamless operation. This is more brazen when it comes to the distribution of natural resources, as the Governments neither have the wherewithal to monitor the same nor does it have requisite experience in handling such issues.

But the silence over the big guy and his big contract depends on the amounts earned by the small guy. The petty bureaucrat and the peon is the key to the culture of silence in the Government.

It was while following up on a story on the liquor industry in Chennai that I stumbled upon a peculiar arrangement that the industry had with the state government of the day. The state government limited the number of liquor players in the state and the politicians and the key bureaucrats were paid off for restricting competition.

One would think that such an anti-competitive measure would have a lot of questions raised in courts and in the media. There was no word at all in the media and not much of a legal hassle. How could something happening in such a 'cash rich' industry, which is the cynosure of all eyes, get away with such murder in broad daylight?

It can happen and it happened because there was no one to squeal. No one to break the culture of silence. No one to play whistleblower. Why could not employees, or trade unions in the sector raise the issue of such an unfair business practice, one wonders?

It is because that the spoils of power are shared and the small guy is amongst the beneficiaries. The Indian government system is unique in the way it distributes the spoils of power. While those higher in the food chain get the choicest of menus, those lower also have their share of the cake.

Their share of the cake emerges when big people in the government look away when complaints are registered against the small guy. And mind you, if you get the government to act upon your complaint on the small guy, all hell will break loose.

The culture of silence will be broken and the brotherhood of the corrupt will cease to exist as we have broken their camaraderie and their mutual give and take. 

This is the only way to fight the corruption in the system. The small guy is the weakest link in the system, and when we get him, he starts having a lesser stake in the system and it is only time that he starts spilling the beans. He is the one who knows the system and who knows about what all is taking place. He is silent because he gets a few peanuts and when these are denied to him, he will speak out.

Let us hit out at the weakest link in the chain.

K Venkatesh