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Impact of Corruption on India’s Policy

Assessing the impact of corruption on India’s polity and administrative service over the last quarter century has enabled me to gauge the progress made by India’s politicians in tackling one of the country’s biggest problems. In analyzing the impact of corruption on India’s polity over the last 25 years, I highlight corrupt practices by Indian governments during the time-frame in question. I conjecture that the problem of corruption in India’s polity is a ubiquitous one, and that corruption has carved out a niche in India’s polity.

Additionally, I elicit the criminalization of India’s politicians by discussing the impact that money has on the functioning of contemporary Indian democracy. I also link corruption in India’s polity with increasing levels of corruption in the country’s private sector. I use this to conjecture that the usurpation of the country’s economic wealth by a privileged minority is part of a corrupt businessman-politician nexus, which is detrimental to Indian society.

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I gauge the impact of corruption on India’s administrative service by incorporating the views of several Indian and international experts. These opinions collate to describe the ineptitude of India’s bloated administrative service, providing explanations for the service’s inefficiency. My research highlights the impact that corruption has brought to bear “nepotism among administrative officials, a “license-permit-quota Raj’s system and professional ineptitude” on India’s administrative service. Finally, I linked corruption in India’s bureaucracy with the country’s underachieving economy.

While much of the essay is critical of India’s politicians, I juxtapose criticisms of India’s politicians with corrective measures being undertaken in my conclusion. In doing so, the reader is left to decide whether or not India is any closer to dealing with the issue of corruption within its polity and administrative service, and whether India’s aspirations of being an economically developed country can ever be realised.


Title Page


“Independent India’s Chequered Beginning”

“The Plague of Corruption Besetting India’s Polity”

“India’s Distended Bureaucracy: A White Elephant”

“What Does The Future Hold?”



Independent India’s Chequered Beginning

In a charismatic speech delivered to India’s Constituent Assembly on the eve of the country’s independence, Jawaharlal Nehru proclaimed ¡°A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation long suppressed finds utterance”.

On 15 August 1947, Indian citizens were, for the first time, given the opportunity to independently chart the course their lives would take. While India made remarkable strides during the formative years of its independence towards achieving societal equity, political turmoil enveloped the country following Indira Gandhi’s declaration of a state of emergency in 1975 . In many respects, that event marked a shift in the development of India’s democratic institutions.

Over the last 25 years, there has been a sharp decline in the public conduct and moral values of India’s politicians. Interestingly, the rise in the levels of corruption among India’s decision-makers has been juxtaposed by the country’s rapid economic growth. Over the last 23 years, India’s economy has grown at an average rate of six percent per annum, making it one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

Unfortunately, ubiquitous corruption among members of India’s business community has prevented the percolation of India’s newfound economic wealth to the common man. Consequently, India’s recent economic successes have had a minimal impact on the lives of the millions of Indians living below the poverty line. The evident gap between the haves and have-nots in Indian society will be discussed in this essay. The usurping of India’s economic wealth by a select few has been further exacerbated by the incompetence and corrupt nature of India’s administrative service. For India to have realistic aspirations of becoming an economically developed nation, it is imperative for the country to have a fully functional, transparent civil service.

Despite the negative impacts of corruption on India’s polity and administrative service, the country has made significant progress towards becoming a fully-fledged democracy. With the world’s largest electorate, the Indian Republic has successfully conducted 14 general elections, all of which have been found to be free and fair, predicting compliance with international standards.

An independent judiciary has ensured that India’s democratic constitution has been upheld and that the fundamental rights of Indian citizens have been maintained. An apolitical, independent media has brought corrupt malpractices by Indian government officials and business leaders to the public’s attention, ensuring that a certain degree of accountability is maintained. More importantly, the division of power between the civilian government, judiciary, and the armed forces has been consistently adhered to throughout independent India’s history. While democratic constitutions were drafted in Bangladesh, Burma, and Pakistan, they were all nullified by military takeovers.

The highest echelons of India’s armed forces have ensured that the army’s role has been limited to substantiating, and not over-shadowing, the civilian administration’s functioning. Additionally, the responsiveness and vitality of India’s 600 million-strong electorate cannot be underestimated; the resounding 1977 election defeat of Indira Gandhi’s Congress (I) Party and the 2004 election defeat of A.B. Vajpayee’s National Democratic Alliance are two such cases in point.

On both occasions, the incumbent government’s” aspirations of securing a further five-year mandate from the Indian electorate were dashed. Their deluded impressions were nullified by effective opposition campaigning, who, by promising to address the issues that directly affected the common Indian, scored upset victories.

While there are several positive aspects of India’s democracy, intrinsic problems remain. Apart from rampant corruption in many aspects of India’s public administration, stark economic disparities persist. There are, in many respects, two Indias; one made up of 300 million educated, affluent middle- and upper-class Indians, and another with 800 million economically deprived and socially shunned people, still awaiting their share of India’s economic prosperity.

Almost 60 years after independence, the perpetuation of such a discernible gap between the rich and poor is indicative of the lack of progression in the lives of many ordinary Indians. Such a clear economic differentiation between Indians is a direct result of the endemic corruption that has firmly taken root in India’s polity and administrative service during the last 25 years.


The Plague of Corruption Besetting India’s Polity Of the 159 countries surveyed, the NGO “Transparency International” found India to be the world’s 88th most corrupt country in its 2005 “Corruption Perceptions Index”. The survey, relying on work carried out by reputable research institutions, gauges the degree to which corruption is believed to influence a country’s polity (i.e. its governmental administration). It is notable that lesser developed countries like Rwanda and Burkina Faso have a higher CPI ranking than India’s, despite having considerably lower standards of living and healthcare.

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The alarmingly high level of corruption in India’s polity juxtaposes the fact that India is among the world’s most rapidly emerging industrializing nations. Despite being the world’s most populous democracy, corruption is a major problem among India’s politicians. Over the last quarter century, this problem has been worsened by the increased criminalization of India’s polity and the inability of India’s political leaders to convert good intentions into effective legislation. This has resulted in a lack of accountability among India’s legislative bodies.

The ubiquitous problem of corruption among the highest echelons of India’s polity was first brought to the public’s attention by N.C. Vittal, India’s Central Vigilance Commissioner from 1998 to 2002. By publishing the names of 85 IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officers who were charged with corruption on his commission’s website in 2000, Vittal did more to highlight the issue of corruption in India than any public sector employee before him. His findings only helped highlight the reality that modern-day Indian politics has undergone a paradigm shift from what it was like even 25 years ago. The rapid industrialization of India’s economy in the intervening time period predicates that politicians stand to gain much more from their positions of influence than ever before, effectively heightening the stakes for election to political office.

This has made today’s Indian parliamentary elections exercise in monetary power, where the winning candidate is ostensibly the wealthiest one. While the Indian Election Commission recommends that a maximum of 150,000 Indian Rupees be spent by candidates contesting for a seat in the Lok Sabha (India’s Lower House of Parliament), candidates have been known to spend upwards of 20,000,000 Rupees on election campaigns. This effectively decimates the level playing-field over which elections in a democracy should be contested; the absence of a cap on the amount that can be spent during election campaigns hands wealthier candidates an unfair advantage over their opponents.

Over the last 25 years, this added dimension to the contesting of Indian elections has resulted in the increased criminalization of India’s polity. This worrying trend was directly addressed by India’s then-Prime Minister I.K. Gujral on the country’s fiftieth Independence Day. He conceded that corruption was ¡°¡­eating into the vitals of the country” , and he drew people’s attention to ¡°The nexus between the corrupt and politics” as ¡°¡­criminals are entering politics” . By juxtaposing the incumbent Indian cabinet with Rajiv Gandhi’s at the time of his December 1984 election victory, the criminalization of India’s polity can be elicited. Gandhi, forced into national politics by his mother, Indira, after the death of his brother Sanjay in a 1980 air-crash, donned the mantle of Prime Minister with a cabinet manned by respected statesmen, many of whom were stalwarts of his assassinated mother.

Conversely, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh currently presides over a cabinet that counts six convicted criminals with charges of murder, rape, arson, and embezzlement against them among its ranks. In 1984, public accountability would have rendered such an occurrence unthinkable. However, the financial clout that these criminals wield has accommodated their inclusion in India’s cabinet. This effective criminalization of the country’s highest civilian decision-making body makes a mockery of Indian democracy; instead of being served by astute decision-makers, Indian citizens are being governed by its most influential citizens, many of whom have clearly used illicit means to command such influence. The criminalization of India’s polity does not bode well for future generations of Indian citizens.

While every Indian Prime Minister in the last 25 years has been cognizant of the threat posed by corruption, no one has passed effective legislation designed to tackle it. When asked to assess the risk posed by corruption to India’s polity, Indira Gandhi dismissively countered that ¡°Corruption is a global phenomenon”. Her non-committal remark encapsulates the attention paid by her administration towards thwarting corrupt practices. Her son, Rajiv, inherited a polity ridden with corruption, compounded by an ever-expanding bureaucracy that had become a “Committed civil service” during his mother’s tenure. His desire to rectify India’s corrupt polity was clear within a year of his tenure; in December 1985 he addressed the dangerous levels of corruption in India when he remarked ¡°Corruption is not only tolerated but even regarded as the hallmark of leadership.

The flagrant contradiction between what we say and what we do has become our way of life. At every stage, our private self crushes our social commitment”. Coming to power with an overwhelming majority in parliament, passing legislation designed to address the issue of corruption would not have been difficult for him to do. Unfortunately, his efforts were diverted by other matters of state, like the economy. His sobriquet of being “Mr. Clean” proved ironic; his reputation was significantly tainted by the A.E. Bofors Scandal. His failure to explain away the allegations of corruption levied against him proved to be the deciding factor in his 1989 election loss to V.P. Singh.

During the 1990’s, India had six Prime Ministers. Apart from P.V. Narasimha Rao, none served their full terms, and all led coalition governments. Predictably, the over-accommodating nature of their governments effectively disallowed them from tackling the omnipresent threat posed by corruption to India’s polity. While Rao¡ªPrime Minister from 1991 to 1996 ¡ªis best remembered for ushering in a series of economic reforms that sparked the liberalization of India’s economy, allegations of corruption enveloped his administration, eventually implicating him.

By adopting a passive stance towards tackling corruption, Indian governments have failed to rectify one of the most formidable problems confronting India’s democracy. Their lackadaisical attitude has dampened the impact of India’s economic growth on the country’s living standards. While India’s economy has grown at a rapid rate over the last ten years, the fruits of this economic prosperity have not accrued to the common man, and are instead being enjoyed by a privileged minority.

An effective measure of ascertaining the extent to which economic prosperity has dissipated through society is to consider a country’s gross domestic product per capita. India’s G.D.P. per capita is lower than Pakistan’s, and almost half that of China’s. A significant factor contributing to this anomaly is prevalent corruption among the highest levels of India’s business community, which aids and abets corruption among India’s politicians.

Corruption in India’s economy has undermined attempts made to upgrade the country’s infrastructure. Long-term economic growth can only be sustained by having a developed infrastructural system in place, capable of maintaining increased trade. Despite the allocation of substantial amounts of money for road development, India’s road network continues to be underdeveloped. Moreover, India’s ports, vital for the exporting and importing of goods from the country, are inefficient. The same can be said of the country’s airports.

These infrastructural problems point to a lack of forethought and planning by India’s bureaucrats. As will be discussed, the burgeoning size of India’s bureaucracy¡ªtogether with the ineptitude of the country’s bureaucrats¡ªhas resulted in a laborious decision-making process. Corruption and inefficiency are significant obstacles inhibiting India’s attempts to realize its full economic potential.

In a 2006 review conducted by the Hong-Kong think-tank ¡°Political and Economic Risk Consultancy”, international businessmen surveyed felt that corruption in India’s private sector was a “major concern” . Moreover, they felt that corruption was “an average-sized deterrent”, dissuading them from investing in India . This reinforces a warning issued in a 2000 Indian Supreme Court ruling, which stated that, if unchecked, corruption could cause India’s “socio-economic-political system” to disintegrate.

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To ensure that the rapid advances being made by India’s economy are sustained and that national wealth is equally distributed among all sectors of society, it is imperative for corruption in the Indian economy to be effectively dealt with. Measures should be taken to ensure that government funds set aside for public works are not misallocated. By Rajiv Gandhi’s own admission, only 15% of all government aid allotted to welfare programs reached the people the money was intended to assist. Two inferences can be drawn from this: a majority of government money is siphoned away by officials, and corruption in India’s polity has been perpetuated over a considerable period of time.

The corruption in India’s polity can only be addressed by passing legislation that reinforces value codes among Indian politicians. Indian lawmakers can empirically draft legislation, prescribing “Codes of Conduct” for Ministers and Members of Parliament. By holding them accountable to national legislation, more credibility will be brought towards the Indian government’s fight against corruption in the polity. Additionally, seeking assistance from countries that top Global Anti-Corruption Indices can help Indian whistle-blowers incorporate international expertise in resolving the problem they confront.


India’s Distended Bureaucracy: A White Elephant

The inability of independent India’s leaders to modify the county’s pre-Independence administrative system proved to be significant in the perpetuation of corruption within India’s bureaucracy. While colonial India’s administrative system was effective in carrying out the functions of the British Raj¡ªcollecting taxes, maintaining law and order, and upholding the status quo¡ªit was unable to modify itself into carrying out the task of serving, rather than subjugating independent India’s citizenry.

While India was still newly independent, officers from the Indian Civil Service (later modified to the Indian Administrative Service) capably led India’s bureaucracy, efficiently carrying out the tasks assigned to them by the government. Regrettably, the last 25 years have witnessed an ebbing away in the caliber of India’s administrative officers. Rampant corruption among Indian bureaucrats and the politicization of the Civil Service has significantly contributed towards this demur, creating a situation where India’s bureaucracy has become a “White Elephant”, wielding enough clout for politicians to refrain from reforming it.

In 1998, the Hong-Kong think-tank ¡°Political and Economic Risk Consultancy” rated India’s bureaucracy as being among the most corrupt in Asia . Several factors substantiate this assessment. The rapid rise of India’s economy has led to a huge inflow of foreign investment, with an increasing number of foreign firms competing for permits to set up businesses in India. This increased competition for limited vacancies widens the scope for corrupt practises to occur. Moreover, the number of people working in the Indian Administrative Service has risen exponentially since independence from 1,440,000 employees to 3,870,000 today . Understandably, this substantial increase in the workforce has led to greater levels of red-tape. To undercut this inefficiency, many individuals and private companies have resorted to bribery.

The extortionate nature of India’s bureaucrats has been compounded by the politicization of the I.A.S. While induction into the Service was entirely meritocratic at the time of its inception, corruption now plays a significant role in the selection of candidates. Recently, serious infringements in the morality of I.A.S. officers have been brought to the public’s attention with cases of corruption in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Nagaland, and Maharashtra. These isolated incidents reinforce a worrying trend.

The politicization of the service has, among other things, resulted in the delegation of power to individuals who may not be the most adept in handling the responsibility delegated to them. On India’s Independence Day, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan warned that ¡°¡­when power outstrips ability, we will fall on evil days” . In many cases, the power being designated to Indian bureaucrats far out-strips their administrative ability. Like the corruption in India’s polity, rampant corruption in India’s bureaucracy threatens to undermine the societal workings of the country in years to come.

The bloated size of India’s bureaucracy is another matter needing urgent attention. With over 3,870,000 employees, it is only natural for nepotism to take root between officials at different rungs of seniority. India’s Deputy Prime Minister at the time of independence, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, specifically cautioned against the politicization of the civil service. In a letter dated 15 October 1948, he warned that ¡°The Service must be above party and we should ensure that political considerations, either in its recruitment or in its discipline and control, are reduced to the minimum, if not eliminated altogether”.

The idea of gaining promotion in the service through underhand means was perpetrated during the last years of Indira Gandhi’s tenure, some 25 years ago. As is mentioned by Madhav Godhbole, Home Secretary during Mrs. Gandhi’s Prime Minister-ship, ¡°A new breed of civil servants who were ambitious and wanted to go places fast, quickly came into prominence. “Be committed (to the ruling political party) or get omitted” was the slogan of the rat race”. While Mrs. Gandhi strenuously denied these allegations, this shift in the mindset of Indian bureaucrats marked a significant turning point in the affiliations of Indian civil servants. Instead of serving India’s citizenry, ambitious civil servants began serving the interests of the ruling party to win promotion. The rot within India’s bureaucracy can be traced back to Mrs. Gandhi’s tenure 25 years ago.

In arriving at possible solutions for resolving the rampant corruption among India’s bureaucrats, the present situation must be carefully considered. The current salaries being awarded to India’s politicians and bureaucrats are a pittance when compared with the salaries being awarded to their counterparts internationally. By awarding salaries to government employees that are far below what is required to survive, Indian legislators are effectively compelling members of the civil service to seek alternative ways of making money. It is therefore only natural for them to forge illicit ties with opportunistic individuals.

This is an internecine relationship; the bureaucrats” ability to provide good governance is inhibited by their ulterior commitments to individuals, while the polity as a whole is at a loss as it is not being efficiently served by its administrative service.

Therefore, any meaningful attempt to thwart corruption in India’s bureaucracy must begin by appointing a Pay Commission with the mandate of adjusting the pay scales of India’s civil servants in accordance with international standards. In many East Asian countries, the policy of awarding government employees high salaries has led to an increased level of integrity among the countries” administrators. To begin fighting an effective battle against corruption in the bureaucracy, India must follow their lead.

What Does The Future Hold?

India’s independence leaders were mindful of the task assigned to them at the time of independence. During his 15 August 1947 address to India’s Constituent Assembly, Jawaharlal Nehru reminded his audience that ¡°Freedom and power bring responsibility” . Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, who later became India’s President, talked along similar lines when he reminded Indians that ¡°A free India will be judged by the way in which it will serve the interests of the common man” . During the last 25 years, an increase in corrupt practices by India’s politicians, administrative officials and business leaders has created a situation wherein India is no longer fulfilling its full potential.

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Corruption in India has transcended the simple giving and receiving of bribes; it has become a part of the psyche of many people engaged in governance and business. As was mentioned in an editorial in India’s “Economic Times” newspaper dated 11 March 1998, ¡°This ideology (of corruption)¡­will have to be reshaped”, ¡°before radical changes can be implemented” . In contemporary India, the interests of the common man are no longer being met, as was alluded to by the aforementioned 2000 ruling of India’s Supreme Court. Inter alia, the ruling forewarned that ¡°Corruption in a civilized society is a disease like cancer which, if not detected in time, is sure to render malignant the polity of the country (India), leading to disastrous consequences” .

It is not impossible for India to rid itself of corruption. There have been historical precedents for Indians to draw inspiration from; eighteenth-century Great Britain was ¡°notoriously corrupt”, but over a 50-year period metamorphosed into ¡°a regime of extraordinary public probity” .

This remarkable turnaround was achieved by undertaking several reforms, including the instating of a meritocratic administrative service and the implementation of legislation guarding against corrupt practices. Though Indian politicians have many potentially effective ideas to combat corruption, they lack the political conviction necessary to covert their proposals into reality.

Over the last 25 years, numerous commissions have been set up by Indian governments to assess the threat posed by corruption and to map a way forward. By many accounts, corrective measures are already being taken. Between 2005 and 2006, the think-tank ¡°Political and Economic Risk Consultancy” reported that the level of corruption in India had substantially decreased, from a rating of 8.63 to 6.76 on a scale of ten.

This is the most significant fall in India’s corruption rating over the last decade, and if this is anything to go by, steps in the right direction are already being taken. Apart from the aforementioned proposals put forth to combat corruption in India’s polity and administrative service, another tool useful in furthering India’s battle against corruption is public accountability. During the last two decades, public accountability has steadily eroded, with fewer cases of corruption against government officials being levied in courts.

Furthermore, logistical problems have resulted in a massive backlogging of legal cases, causing major delays in bringing cases to court. To better ensure accountability, measures should be taken to rectify this.

In the words of P.V. Srivastava, ¡°an adequately paid political class which is honest and independent and which is thus capable of providing clean, efficient and pro-people governance to the country (India)” will resolve India’s corruption problem. However, it is important to bear in mind that, in spite of losing the incentive to be corrupt, some people continue to engage in dishonest practices.

Public liability is the only viable solution for bringing such people to book for their actions. As Kofi Annan once commented; ¡°We have the means and the capacity to deal with our problems, if only we can find the political will”. The political will of Indian politicians has been in short supply over the last 25 years, yet it is the only impediment standing between India overhauling the corruption within its polity and administrative service.



Jawaharlal Nehru 1947-1964
Gulzari Lal Nanda * 1964, 1966
Lal Bahadur Shastri 1964-1966
Indira Gandhi 1966-1977, 1980-1984
Morarji Desai 1977-1979
Charan Singh 1979-1980
Rajiv Gandhi 1984-1989
V.P. Singh 1989-1990
Chandra Shekhar 1990-1991
P.V. Narasimha Rao 1991-1996
H.D. Deve Gowda 1996-1997
Inder Kumar Gujral 1997-1998
A.B. Vajpayee 1998-2004
Manmohan Singh 2004-

* – Acting


Dr. Rajendra Prasad 1950-1962
Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan 1962-1967
Dr. Zakir Hussain 1967-1969
Varahigiri Venkata Giri * 1969
Muhammad Hidayatullah * 1969
Varahigiri Venkata Giri 1969-1974
Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed 1974-1977
Basappa Danappa Jatti * 1977
Neelam Sanjiva Reddy 1977-1982
Giani Zail Singh 1982-1987
Ramaswamy Venkataraman 1987-1992
Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma 1992-1997
Kocheril Raman Narayanan 1997-2002
Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam 2002-

* – Acting


1952 Congress Party
1957 Congress Party
1962 Congress Party
1967 Congress (I) Party
1971 Congress (I) Party
1977 Janata Party
1980 Congress (I) Party
1985 (by-election) Congress (I)Party
1989 Janata Dal Party
1991 Janata Party
1996 Congress (I) Party
1998 United Front
1999 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
2004 Indian National Congress Party



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