Call me a simpleton but I have a view that if you are inviting guests at your home, even if you don’t go for a full fledged renovation to attract oohs and aahs, you are at least going to clean up the place. But guess what, this basic etiquette practiced the world over is lost on our well oiled full time practicing politicians and ministers of the Congress govt. in India.

Corruption has always been a curse in India but it used to hurt only Indians and the world at large too did not care much since we were impeding our own growth; but ever since we opened up our markets due to reforms it has become a global issue and the world does care – because it wants to do business with us. Just for the record these reforms were initiated by the same man who has dug his head in the sands like an ostrich these days, refusing to see the lion of corruption willing to gulp him and his government down.

Once every year our newspapers print a Corruption Perception Index, in which Transparency International ranks the countries “by their perceived levels of corruption, as determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys”. In 2010 India ranked 87th on this list of 178 countries. In 2009 we were 84th, so it means in one year three countries that were previously perceived to be more corrupt than us, passed us by and downgraded our position.  So should we hold a grudge against those countries or should we take a cold hard look at ourselves and admit to ourselves that we need to do something about it?

In the last few months Anna Hazare has raised the issue of Jan Lokpal bill to tackle this issue of corruption head on. But what does the Govt. do? It tries to discredit all members of the team by either nitpicking about non-existent issues against them or trying to project them as opposition stooges. But say, for argument’s sake, even if Anna Hazare is an opposition stooge as they claim or even if each and every member of his team is corrupt to some extent, does that exonerate the Govt. of its responsibilities or take away from the fact that we have in the last couple of years seen some of the biggest scams exposed in public? None of these scams cost less than a few hundreds of crores to the Indian public. The 2G scam in highlight these days cost us a much as a few thousands of crores. And the Govt. of India, more specifically, the Congress party is trying to divert the attention from this by pointing out that Arvind Kejriwal has not paid income tax of approx 9 lac rupees and Kiran Bedi has diverted a few thousands to her NGO by travelling economy class and charging her sponsors for business class fare. This would have been quite funny only if it wasn’t so damn serious.

For the last few months I have been reading in our newspapers comments from some of our top notch businessmen and management leaders – people like Ratan Tata, Azim Premji, NR Narayanmurthy – that corruption is hurting business in India. The multiple windows that ask for bribes, the lower bureaucracy that takes ages to move files and the list goes on… make it an extremely tough and frustrating task to set up a business in India and to operate it at its optimum level. Western countries which have a no bribe policy find it easier to setup offices and manufacturing units in other countries and quite often they do. But what do the esteemed politicians from the Congress party do? They try to bury the Jan Lokpal and these days are definitely trying to postpone it indefinitely till they think the public will forget about it. If the representatives democratically elected by the people of a country develop their own agenda and totally ignore the popular public demand, refuse to have a reasonable dialogue with the people the public is thronging out to support in hundreds of thousands of numbers all over the country, <strong>should we still call democracy a government “of the people, by the people, for the people”?</strong>

At a time like this when negative sentiments are high against the government – due to the various scams that were exposed in the last couple of years; due to the fact that the government refuses to acknowledge that corruption is the biggest demon facing Indians and the rest of the world alike; due to the fact that inflation is at an all time high and the economic growth is showing depressing figures  – what does the man once responsible for the dynamic reforms – that made India an economically viable option for the world at large and brought within the reach of millions of Indians a lifestyle they could only dream of earlier – do?

He wants FDI in single brand retail outlets. I won’t get into the nitty gritty of how to protect the interests of the small retailers or manufactures etc. I’m sure the kirana storewallahs and mom &amp; pop stores will act enough in their own interests.  I won’t even oppose FDI. Why should I? With proper checks and balances in place it will all work out for the benefit of this country.

What I will, however, say is BAD TIMING, MAN (pun intended). And a worse approach. Trying to bring in an FDI policy now – when the nation is in an economic downward spiral, inflation is in double digits, public morale is low due to these reasons coupled with the huge amount they perceive these politicians must have made in these multi crore scams – is nothing but bad timing and a lack of foresight. Not just this they didn’t even have enough of a debate to discuss the move’s pros and cons. Worse of all, the Govt. was trying to sneak this in believing that the opposition party’s attention was diverted elsewhere and this bill would pass without a murmur. Suspiciously, this bill wasn’t even discussed with most of their own partymen. Really makes you suspect their motives, especially in these times.

Now couple this with the fact that public wants the country clean of corruption. Our industry leaders want a corruption free India. And most important of all – and if you are really serious about your FDI you have to take this very very seriously – the foreign companies want a clean India (and I’m not just talking about removing the garbage from the roads, though I wouldn’t complain if they did that often enough).

It just doesn’t make business sense to me to open up OUR markets to foreign companies to do business here before cleaning up OUR act so that WE are a better place to do business in. From a man who is an economist and has been our finance minister, this lack of vision and the lack of will to do anything about it, is nothing less than shocking.

So to re-quote my heading – FDI and Jan Lokpal, has the Congress Govt. lost the plot?