Why has corruption become such a small issue?

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: We can all quibble over the credibility of the CNN-IBN-Deccan Herald pre-poll survey depending on which electoral barstool we are sitting on till result day. But one of its most striking features is a small but startling insight it gives into the mind of the Karnataka voter.

The CSDS pollsters doing the fieldwork for the survey, read out this passage to respondents:

I am going to read out a few issues which are likely to influence the voting decisions of voters in Karnataka. In deciding who to vote for, which of the following issues is likely to influence your voting decision the most?

Out of every 100 respondents, 38 of them said the lack of basic amenities and infrastructure would influence their voting decision; 21 of them said the condition of farmers; 11 of them said the stability of the government would influence their voting decision.

Just 8 out of every 100 respondents said corruption would influence their voting decision. In other words, 92 out of every 100 people indicated that corruption wouldn’t didn’t indicate that corruption would influence their voting decision.

This, in a State which has been exposed to mind-numbing images of sleaze and graft over the last decade, so much as to be called the “Bihar of the South.”

Chief ministers and their families (and sons-in-law and girlfriends) buying up property worth tens of crores. Ministers counting notes on live television. Ministers treating portfolios like their family fief, legislators building educational and shopping complexes, apartments and hotels. Mine owners hopping around in helicopters. Lok Ayukta unearthing crores worth “disproportionate” assets from officers and clerks.

Etcetera.

Why, in a relatively poor State that has seen such a torrent of corruption, has corruption ceased to be an important issue for the voter when he stands in front of the electronic voting machine? Why is the voter not bothered about the personal aggrandisement, at his cost, of those whom he elects?

Have we become desensitised to corruption with so much of it all around us? Has corruption become a way of life, a part of our lives? Are we not bothered because we are just concerned about “getting our work done”? Have we started accepting corruption as a necessary evil, something which won’t go away come what may?

Have we somehow factored it into our lives for all time to come?

Ravi Krishna Reddy, the NRI techie standing from Jayanagar, has sent out the following promise:

“If elected, I will not buy any property during my tenure. I will also not run any other profit making business. I will meet my and my family’s expenses from my salary as a legislator and my wife’s salary.”

Is such an open declaration of intent of integrity something we, as voters, don’t like or don’t trust? For all our protestations, do we see vicariously power-politics as an short-cut to quick money? Do we want our leaders to make it big, make it rich, and live in style? And if he or she is of our caste, community, religion, language, the better?

Are we very forgiving or very foolish?

Are we caught in a feudal trap, where we want our leaders to be like rulers?

Or, are we all hopelessly corrupt in our own little ways, which is why we are so subliminally sympathetic of those who practice it so openly, so brazenly, so unapologetically?

Is that why the words “sketch” and “deal” have become such an integral part of Kannada popular culture?

Also read: How China changed the politics of Karnataka

Photograph: courtesy Press Trust of India