Pillorying the government of the day for pervasive corruption is the easy thing to do, whereas it might just be an escapist option. It helps those of us who are neither in politics nor in the government to pretend that we are not tainted, and therefore have the right to point fingers at politicians, who we assume are not. The truth, as recent events have brought home forcefully, is that corruption has permeated fields that have nothing to do with politics and government. The cricket establishment is a disgrace, and now suspected of far worse than the misdemeanours of the Indian Olympic Association, for which that body has suffered the deserved misfortune of being thrown out of the international Olympic movement. If it is spot fixing in cricket, it has been widespread doping in wrestling; problems persist in half a dozen sports bodies, whose recognition the government has withheld. You could argue that it is politicians who mostly run the sports bodies, except that none of the people around Mr Kalmadi were from the world of politics. In any case, the cricket boss is a businessman. And what does one make of Ranbaxy - once a poster boy for the emerging India, but which now stands exposed for falsifying its research results, and then selling what must presumably be described as adulterated drugs to unsuspecting consumers, at home and abroad? The US authorities have slapped a penalty of half a billion dollars (about Rs 2,800 crore), but where have India's own drug authorities been all this while? What about the criminal liability of all those who were in the company and part of the fraud? What is the responsibility of the company's directors of the time, including many well-known worthies - who, according to the whistle-blower, chose to ignore the red flag that he waved? The building collapse that killed 1,100 hapless garment workers in Bangladesh has undermined that country's $20-billion garment export industry, and raised systemic questions about building regulation.
At home, now that Wockhardt too has run into trouble with the US authorities, what is the message to the world about India's drug industry - seen not so long ago as a global winner? When fraudulent accounting at Satyam cast an international shadow on India's IT services sector, the damage was contained because the other companies in the field were squeaky clean and Satyam itself was quickly sanitised through changes of management and ownership. Ranbaxy casts a darker shadow, because faking drugs is a more lethal business than faking accounts - though bogus financials too can cause suicides, as the Saradha mess in West Bengal shows. The older of the two billionaire brothers who sold the company five years ago (and now run hospitals) has pleaded an angry innocence because five years have passed since he stepped out of the company, but the faking of research results was taking place on his watch, and liability for that is independent of whether the Japanese who bought the company in 2008 did proper due diligence. No system-wide questions are answered by doing nothing. If the canker is widespread, there have to be systemic solutions. An obvious step is to come down hard on anyone who is caught, as a lesson to everyone else. System legitimacy suffers only when businessmen find ways of avoiding being brought to justice. But perhaps the worst outcome would be to treat this as just one more kind of reality TV, for nightly entertainment. All troubling questions can be evaded if we just watch Arnab Goswami shout at, hector and pillory his "guests" for an hour every night, for thereby we've earned our absolution!