Dialogue October-December, 2011, Volume 13 No. 2



Business and Individual Ethics, some musings

Arun Bhagra*



1. The last fiscal could be, in my opinion, classified as “Annus Horribilus” of our Motherland; as especially in the last six months the skeletons came tumbling out of the cupboard, raising a stink to the high heavens. Commonwealth Games, 2G Scam, Radia tapes, Adarsh Society, Murky land allotments and nepotism  in Karnataka, CVC's appointment  have hogged the headlines and air time on the print and electronic media. And for the first time in our history as a free nation, an entire session of the parliament was stymied, with nil transactions on the 2 G scam JPC issue.

2. it’s but natural that the political parties are trying to score brownie points in their endeavors to take the moral high ground. But as an ordinary citizen, now a part of the so called “civil society” as a pensioner, I wonder why such scams have happened and what can we do to restore the confidence of the “common Indian” in our system of Governance.

3. Ethics, like an elephant, is easier to describe than to define. But to me, Ethics can be defined as “values and Rules that distinguish Right from Wrong”. These apply equally to individuals and organizations.

There are five Universal human Values as enunciated by Shri Sathya Sai Baba

Satya or Truth

Dharma or Righteousness

Shanti or Peace

Ahimsa or Non-violence


Prem or Love.

And Rules are the same for everybody.

5. The test is a simple one- "Mirror test”, coined by the doyen of management thinking, late Peter Drucker-

   As the story goes, the most highly respected diplomat among all those of the Great Powers in the early years of the twentieth century was the German ambassador in London. He was clearly destined for higher things, at least to become his country’s foreign minister, if not German federal chancellor. Yet, in 1906, he abruptly resigned. King Edward VII had then been on the British throne for five years, and the diplomatic corps had been planning to give him a big dinner. The German ambassador, being the dean of the diplomatic corps—he had been in London for close to fifteen years—was to be the chairman of that dinner. King Edward VII was a notorious womanizer and made it clear what kind of dinner he wanted–at the end, after the dessert had been served, a huge cake was going to appear, and out of it would jump a dozen or more naked prostitutes as the lights were dimmed. The German ambassador resigned rather than preside over this dinner: “I refuse to see a pimp in the mirror in the morning when I shave.”

    Thus, every morning, are you able to establish eye contact with your image in the mirror while shaving, without flinching and do you ask yourself “what kind of person am I seeing?”

6.  Integrity, being honest and truthful, even if it hurts, is a part of an individual’s ethical conduct. In my opinion, the unmitigated crisis in the world economy, post September 2008,events of 26/11 at Mumbai, the corporate fraud at Satyam and the 2G scam  - all represent a crisis of man’s character and manifest the overarching greed to “grab  the mostest at the fastest, means be damned.”

7. Corporate frauds at this gargantuan scale, total lack of preparedness to combat the ten terrorists, who struck most brazenly at Mumbai, and the insubordination of the crooked Junior Telecom Minister A Raja, can only happen if there is a systemic rot and erosion of sense of values and devotion to duty. Such putrefaction always starts at the top.

8. Thousands of years ago, in the Bhagvat Gita, Lord Krishna had stated

 “Yadyad acharti sresthah tattadevetaro janah;

Sa yat pramanam kurute lokastat anuvartate -3.21

Swami Ranganathananda (late head of the Ramakrishna Mission) translated the above as-

“Whatever the superior person does, that is also followed by others;

What standard he or she demonstrates by action, people follow that.” He had also commented thus, “That is why today, with corruption at the top, corruption has reached down from top to very bottom. So, the people at the top must be of high standard of Conduct” (Universal Message of the Bhagavad Gita, vol 1, page 288, July 2000).


Why Do Big Fish Escape?

9. Thanks to the deep penetration of the print and electronic media, the ubiquitous internet and personal experience, everyone in our country is aware of Corruption (defined as ‘misuse of entrusted power for private gain’ by Transparency International, TI, Berlin) and its all-pervasive impact on our daily lives.

10. Common place activities like seeking admission for a child in school, or getting a driving licence, or seeking a NOC from the Police for Passport application, or access to land records, or getting an electric connection for your abode, or a ration card, etc; one can scarcely get by without having to grease some palms, on outstretched, or subtly placed hands!

11. A nationwide “India Corruption study” conducted by Transparency International, India, in 2007, revealed that Rs 883 Crores was the extent of bribes paid towards petty corruption faced by BPL(below Poverty Line) households in one year, with 25% +(Rs 215  Crores) being paid to the Police, the Law enforcers!

12. TI’s annual CPI (Corruption Perception Index), depicts on a scale of 1(highly corrupt) to 9(highly clean) “the degree of public sector corruption as seen by business people and country analysts. In the latest CPI, released in October, 2010, India’s CPI was 3.3, ranked at 87 out of 178 countries. China is ranked at 78, with CPI of 3.5. We can take cold comfort from the fact that excepting Bhutan, our South Asian neighbors rank lower and thus, perceived to be more corrupt nations!

13. One recalls that, in1985, the then PM, Shri Rajiv Gandhi had lamented that only 15 paisa out of 1 rupee reached the poor. Two and a half years ago, his son, Shri Rahul Gandhi, remarked that only five paisa out of 1 rupee meant for welfare schemes reach the grass root beneficiaries (The Hindustan Times, September 24, 2008).                                                          
14. In the Xth Plan Report the Planning Commission has observed that “Corruption is most endemic and entrenched manifestation of poor governance in Indian society, so much so it has almost become an accepted reality and a way of life.”
5. On 26th August 2009, the PM, Shri Manmohan Singh while addressing the CBI and State anti-corruption bureau stated that “The inflated project costs consume scarce resources which could have been better used in other important areas. — The malaise of corruption, so sapping our efforts to march ahead as a nation, should be treated immediately and effectively. — High level corruption should be pursued aggressively. There is a pervasive feeling that while petty cases get tackled quickly, the big fish escape punishment. This has to change.—It must be ensured that innocent officials are not harassed for bonafide mistakes, even while the corrupt are relentlessly pursued and brought to book.—”
16. We have been reading, in the past eighteen months or so, with great awe about:-

(i)    Alberto Fujimori, President of Peru, from 1990 to 2000, getting sentenced for 7.5 years in prison, for corruption (reported by RNW on 20 July, 2009)
(ii)    Chen Shui-bian, President of Taiwan from 2000-08 getting a life term  for corruption along with his wife, plus a fine of US$ 6 Million (reported by Reuters on 11 Sept., 2009)                                           (iii)   In the UK, the public had raised a hue and cry last summer when a newspaper exposed the falsification of claims and misuse of entitlements by MPs, across the political spectrum. The Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, was compelled to resign (wef 21 June, 2009) over this “MPs expense accounts scandal”.           
On 18th May, 2010, Huang Gyangyu, once reputed to be China’s wealthiest person was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment on corruption charges involving insider trading, illegal business dealings and bribery.                                                                                  
(v)    A few days ago,
Liu Zhijun, China’s railways minister since 2003 was sacked and is under investigation for allegedly embezzling more than 800m Yuan (£75m; $121m). Liu is alleged to have received huge bribes when handing out contracts for the country’s high-speed rail network (BBC News, 1st March, 2011).

17. Despite arrests of A Raja, and a retired Lt Gen (Sahni) of the Indian army, can we imagine such events, embodying accountability among those at the highest echelons of power, happening in India, ever?

18.  Why do big fish escape in our motherland?  In my view, it’s because of

(i)    The increasing criminalization of politics and politicization of bureaucracy – this has led to a cozy nexus between the corrupt officials and their similarly inclined political masters. The three Ps of Postings, Promotions and Punishments, where politicians have a say (Joint Secretary/SAG upwards), are used to reward the dishonest and corrupt and marginalize/silence the honest individuals.

(ii)   The time consuming procedure for getting a sanction to go ahead (for Jt Secy/Senior Admin Grade and higher ranks), the actual investigation and trial (assuming that case reaches this stage). They are open ended as no time lines have been mandated.                       
(iii)   The lack of protection to “whistle blowers”
no one likes a tattler, is an adage but the duty of CVC, to protect whistle blowers is oft neglected and the whistle blower ends up getting the short end of the stick from the corrupt superior(s).

19. How do we ensure that “corruption is no longer considered a low risk, high returns” activity in our country?

20. There has to be a strategy and it must be executed. Key steps in my considered opinion are:-

(a)   India should ratify the UNCAC (UN Convention Against Corruption). We have been wavering ever since signing this legally binding, global anti-corruption instrument on Dec 09, 2005. The UNCAC promotes international cooperation in prosecution of criminals, removal of bank secrecy, extradition of offenders, tracing, freezing and confiscating of proceeds of corruption (stolen assets) from anywhere on the globe. 120 countries, including Pakistan, China and Bangladesh, have ratified the UNCAC; GoI’s dithering indicates a lack of political will and/or, commitment to effectively fight corruption.                                                                           

       Even the CVC, in its draft national anti-corruption strategy summary document, has stated that “UNCAC is the first legally binding global instrument that has benchmarked the desirable standards for effectively combating corruption. India is a signatory to the UNCAC and it should ratify it at the earliest”.

(b)  Officials have to maintain professional integrity. After all, it is they who “show the loopholes which can be exploited/built in” or act as “pathfinders” for the political masters. At the higher echelons, specially bureaucrats and Generals need to display, as exemplars of their particular Civil/Armed Service necessary professional integrity and a backbone, or ability to stand up to extraneous pressure(s).

(c)  Passage of Lok Pal Bill whereby our legislators and even the PM can be held accountable for their conduct whilst in office and subject to prosecution, if and when warranted. This has been hemmed and hawed about, in the Parliament, for over a dozen years, with no concrete result.

(d) Passage of the Whistleblowers Act, so that a whistle blower is protected from harassment and vindictiveness by the “corrupt system and /or, superior(s)”

(e) Implementing recommendations of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission, concerning ethics, like

     (i)  Forfeiture of illegally acquired property of corrupt public servants

    (ii)  Disqualification of candidates seeking elections who are charged serious criminal offences
           involving moral turpitude

(f) Setting up of special anti-corruption courts with mandate to hold daily proceedings and avoid unnecessary adjournments. Bihar government has displayed strong political will in conducting speedy trials of high profile criminal politicians who had held civil society to ransom.

(g) Adopting Integrity Pact (IP) in major government departments for transparent and corruption free dealings with major suppliers/contractors, say with a threshold of Rs 100 crores and more, in each case. Many PSUs have adopted IPs. The Ministry of Defence, too, post Tehelka, has provided for an IP in its Defence Procurement Manual, 2006. CVC has circulated an SOP for adoption of IP on 18th May, 2009; the latest in a series which began in December, 2007.

(h) Displaying on web sites, list of corrupt individuals and punishment meted out to them; along with list of banned organizations. For example, the World Bank has debarred 351 individuals and companies from receiving bank contracts and list is displayed on its website. On Indian Railways, such a list is a secret, hush hush document?

(i) India must integrate determined anti-corruption measures into its national security and foreign policy as the US has done with its IAGGA (International Anticorruption and Good Governance) Act, of 2000. The then US President, George Bush’s observations of August 2006 hold good for us too:-

“High level corruption by senior government officials, or kleptocracy, is a grave and corrosive abuse of power and represents the most invidious type of public corruption—. It impedes our efforts to promote freedom and democracy, end poverty and combat    international crime and terrorism. Kleptocracy is an obstacle to democratic progress, undermines faith in government institutions and steals prosperity from the people. —”

(j)  We must seriously consider selecting potential civilian officers via   the “catch them young” philosophy which the British, as the world’s greatest colonial power, had  pioneered and adopted in 1741 to train Artillery and Engineer officer cadets at the RMA (Royal Military Academy) at Woolwich; the forerunner of Sand Hurst, where the first Indian GCs (gentlemen cadets, Field Marshal KC Cariappa was among 31 of the maiden batch) of the Indian Army received the “King’s Commission” as subalterns. The same conviction led to establishment of the USMA (US Military Academy) at West Point, in 1802.

    These training establishments ensure that youngsters in their formative years are educated, trained and inspired to develop adequate professional skills and imbibe personality traits and values of self-discipline, loyalty, integrity, devotion to duty, honor, selfless service, fidelity, respect & courage; to enable them to function as able leaders of men, under any circumstances, in peacetime and on the battlefield. The SCRA scheme of recruitment into the IRSME via the UPSC, after class 12, since 1927, can be an effective role model.

     To inspire and sensitize the youngsters towards ethical conduct, they can be exposed to

 (i)  the concept of “six pillars of character” and their corresponding traits. viz.  
    Trustworthiness (Integrity, Honesty, Reliability, Loyalty)       
    Respect (Golden Rule, Tolerance and Acceptance, Nonviolence,  Courtesy)
    Responsibility (Duty, Accountability, Pursue Excellence, Self  Control)
    Fairness (Fairness and Justice, Openness)
    Caring (Concern for others, Charity)                                                               
    Citizenship (Do your share, Respect authority and law).

(ii) remind ourselves to break free from the embrace of the “family that holds us captive”. Desire is the mother. When a strong desire is thwarted, twins are born, viz. Anger & Jealousy. On the other hand, its fulfillment leads to birth of the third child, called Attachment. Increased attachment gives birth to the fourth child, Greed. And its quenching results in birth of the youngest child, Egotism. Sai Baba has aptly stated, “Put this mother to sleep, then the children will vacate the house.” There is no end to human desire and one must keep in mind the time tested equation for Happiness, viz.

                                    Happiness = No. of desires fulfilled

                                                           No. of desires entertained


i.e. happiness can be increased by a reduction in the number of desires. So, try and put a ceiling on your desires. And first deserve, then desire.

(iii) an Honor Code, which simply states (for the railway SCAs) that “An SCA will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do.” Tolerance is the basis for corruption. No organization can be corrupt if the majority of its members report unethical conduct.

(iv) Ashram lifestyle e.g., at Bihar School of Yoga, Munger — to learn to look within, use techniques of yogasanas, pranayama and meditation, to combat mental stress and maintain high energy levels.

Final thoughts

21. There must be greater openness and trust between the GoI and the ordinary citizens; one has witnessed the disconnect between the “rulers and the ruled” after retirement. India must draw apt lessons from the recent happenings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya. The world is crying out for decent people, men of character and impeccable integrity; who are principled and valiant.

 22. Let’s also remember the following words of US President John F Kennedy:-

“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”

23.  Let us also mull over this thought – provoking poem.



















24. Finally, vividly recall and would like to share an immortal sentence, penned by an illustrious 19th Century American Army Sapper officer, General (CSA) Robert E Lee.

     He belonged to the West Point Class of 1829. And between 1852 & 1855, as a Major, Lee became the Superintendent (Commandant) of the USMA and inscribed:-

     “There is a true Glory and a true Honor: the Glory of Duty done –the Honor of the Integrity of Principle.”

25. In my own experience, too, nothing else matters in anyone’s career of rendering service, with honor, to the Motherland, through any ethical organization, within the government or in the private sector.


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)                                                Astha Bharati