Festival of Bribery

DE05PERISCOPE4_JPEG_944177gThe festival of lights is over. Hindus, and particularly Indians, all over the world are just about finishing celebrations and getting back to bed.

However, I had to take note of an article that appeared on Facebook this morning. It spoke about how the festival is used as an occasion to bribe government officials and those in important positions in exchange for favours – it could be the passing of a contract tender, a promotion, a transfer, seeking a cushy job, or just about anything.

I remember as a youngster I used to envy a friend whose father was in an “important” government position. This boy  always spoke about how he go “so many things” and how he had a room full of the choicest toys and games. He said when he wanted something, he was asked to wait until Diwali to get it – since his father would simply tell someone and it was delivered!

On Diwali day, I remember sitting in my balcony watching rows and rows of cars drive up to this boy’s house and deliver baskets of fruits and sweets, in addition to other gifts, including bicycles, footballs, cricket bats and hockey sticks.Well, that was then. I recalled those moments as I read this piece, reproduced below.

It makes interesting reading and I can vouch for every word being true “to the best of my knowledge and belief.”v

“It was once known as the festival of lights.
Gradually it has transformed itself to the national festival of bribery. Bribe givers now wait for an entire year for Diwali so that they can openly slip in not just cash gifts, but also jewellery and wads of notes to those they wish to please.

Politicians, officers, bureaucrats, policemen, journalists, excise, income tax and now VAT(value added tax) officials form the circle where bribe givers line up on Diwali. The simple old plateful of sweets is passe and meant only for lower middle class neighborhoods.

The joke doing the rounds is that a school-going son of a senior officer expressed his surprise that “sweet shop owners now manufacture jewellery as well”. Why? Because the sweet box that his father received did not contain sweets, but had jewellery tucked in.

Officers of some industrial towns are the most coveted persons during Diwali. A Diwali in one of the grand cities is worth millions for the top bosses. No wonder, knowing culture of accepting gifts, very often officers would be transferred on Diwali eve. This was one way to make sure that officers receive lesser gifts. After all, few, if at all, would go and hand over a gift to an officer who has already been transferred.

Politicians who receive the most gifts from all sections of society including bureaucrats are forced to splurge on the media during Diwali, though by their standards the gifts tend to be cheap. The then Chief Minister of Indian state of Punjab Capt Amarinder Singh was one of the first to raise the bar on gifts for the media. Instead of the routine cardigan or watch, which was the standard gift doled out by the Department of Information and Public Relations in Punjab, the CM replaced the “official” gifts with personal ones. Four bottles of liquor meant that he became a rare CM to offer liquor as a gift to journalists, in a country where prohibition is
recommended by the Constitution. A year later, not to be left behind, the Akali Dal joined the bandwagon. Its leader leader Sukhbir Singh Badal too joined the race, and his brother-in-law personally went to media persons delivering suit lengths.

His media advisor was always famous for his gift culture and is credited to have corrupted some Delhi-based editors as well. His Diwali visit to Delhi was famous when he spent a few days in Delhi distributing gifts.

On Diwali day, the entire market in North India remains open, but it is not just for sales. A Patiala-based cloth merchant informs says he does not sell a single yard of cloth on Diwali but is forced to keep the shop open for the half a dozen inspectors that come for collecting Diwali’. His regret this year is that one more official has been added to the list – the VAT guys.

But officers rule the roost while receiving gifts. Many have a huge box placed at the entrance just for people dropping their visiting cards. And back lawns of palatial government houses are often reserved for gifts. For those foolish enough to go with sweet boxes and dry fruit, a customary check on the false bottom of the sweet boxes is made so that there are no wads of notes hidden there.
Otherwise, that is meant for their servants.

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