Here’s the real reason why sociologist Ashis Nandy should be in the dock of public criticism. There is almost no evidence whatsoever to substantiate his observation that the backward classes and Dalits are seen as more corrupt because they are less good at hiding it than their upper class compatriots.
Nandy is facing police investigations for saying at the Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF) last week that “most of the corrupt come from the OBCs and the scheduled castes and now, increasingly, scheduled tribes, and as long as this is the case, the Indian republic will survive.” (Read the full text here)
It is obviously the first half of the sentence that got everyone’s goat, not the second. In fact, if at all India has more corrupt people from the OBCs and SC/STs, it can only be because they constitute a much larger share of the population. The upper castes don’t exceed 15 percent of the population, while OBCs/SCs/STs constitute more than 70 percent.
The convoluted logic Nandy used to make his observation was not intended to show Dalits or OBCs as more corrupt, but merely as being more inept. He is effectively saying that the upper castes are more sophisticated in their corruption while the backwards are really backward in their ability to hide the stuff.
Is this really so?
This morning’s Indian Express investigates Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati’s alleged corruption. The story reveals a level of sophistication comparable to those practiced by the so-called upper classes or castes. Says the Express story: “During Mayawati’s third term as CM…the real estate business of one of her younger brothers, Anand Kumar, expanded like never before… Kumar’s companies constitute a key link in an elaborate network of business associations that involve builders in Noida and Greater Noida, national real estate giants Jaypee, Unitech and DLF, and a company linked to the son of Mayawati’s aide and Rajya Sabha member Satish Chandra Misra.”
Anybody who can create a web starting not with oneself, but a relative is hardly unsophisticated. In contrast, we have upper class YS Jagan Mohan Reddy currently cooling his heels in jail for his own property and related deals.
Let’s also not forget, Mayawati has paid no political price whatsoever for any of her land deals, but BS Yeddyurappa, a Lingayat from Karnataka, had to sacrifice his chief ministership for his inability to hide them well. A Dalit has got the better of someone who’s not so backward.
Consider what Nandy said about poor Mayawati’s inability to hide potential corruption compared to the upper classes. “If I do a good turn to Richard Sorabji, he can return the favour by accommodating my nephew at Oxford; if it were in the United States, it would be a substantial fellowship. Ms Mayawati doesn't have that privilege. She probably has only relatives whose ambition was to be a nurse or run a petrol pump. If she has to oblige somebody or have somebody in the family absorb the money, she will probably have to take the bribe of having 100 petrol pumps, and that is very conspicuous, very corrupt indeed. Our corruption doesn't look that corrupt, their corruption does.”
Even when it comes to petrol pumps, Nandy has proved himself wrong.
It is worth recalling that it was the sophisticated upper class ministers of the BJP-led NDA who were caught in a petrol pump allotment scam in 2002.