E-mail Interview by Mr. D. Murali, Deputy Editor, The Hindu Business Line with Govindarajan Suresh, Founder, SIV-G (Self Imposed Vigilance for good Governance - February 2008

1)  How do you define the oft-used phrase and word such as good governance and corruption?

Definitions do well in scoring marks in exams.  Anything and everything in this world can be defined.  Nevertheless, none of them can be defined completely and perfectly. 

An attempt to define good governance would be like defining ‘rain’.  How could rain be defined?  Perhaps it is easy to understand by saying; when there are dark clouds and when there is a cold breeze or in short, when there is an environment conducive for the dark clouds to transform themselves in to water droplets, then it said is to be raining!  So, rain is an effect of certain causes.  Later on, the rain itself becomes a cause for many other effects.  The same is the case with good governance.  It has to be looked at from the ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ point of view. 

Good governance is an effect of various causes, which are mainly conditions.  In a society or country where there is :

(i)    Rule of law 

(ii)   Values (ethical and moral) in practice with probity in public life 

(iii)  Consciousness to protect the physical environment 

(iv)  Conducive environment for each and every individual to realize his or her full potential 

(v)  Maximum productivity and 

(vi)  Value based Systems in every sector and field of operation (System is the combination of set of rules, regulations and procedures)

then that society or country can claim itself as a good governed society or country. 

When it comes to corruption it has to be seen differently.  There is a general perception that ‘heat’ and ‘cold’ are opposite to each other.  Same is the case with ‘light’ and ‘darkness’. These are not true.  The absence of ‘heat’ leads to ‘cold’ and the absence of ‘light’ leads to ‘darkness’ and vice versa.  Similarly, if we are able to get an answer to the question “the absence of what leads to corruption?” then we would have found the simple definition for corruption.  A deeper analysis will show that it is the absence of integrity which leads to corruption. Having said that I must mention what integrity is. 

Integrity is ‘dharma’.  To bring anything together is ‘dharma’.  When people come together in any form is the first pulsation of divinity.  In other words, to bring people together in any form is dharma.  One which holds together is dharma.   For example, the solar system, the innumerable stars that are around are following certain principle or set of principles, some rules, some laws and they are subject to change that is dharma.  In a family, the family members are held together; that is dharma.  In a locality, in a society, various types of people following very many things, various economics, political, social, cultural, religious functionalists for a society, can pull on together, which is dharma.  Dharma is the principle of life.  This principle of life is in everything.  Similarly, in human beings, when the set of values (inherited and acquired) are held together and are demonstrated for common good and thereby producing harmony and peace, it becomes a dharma, which is known as integrity. 

2)  Is 'vigilance' in the sense that we use in India something unique? Why so?

Yes.  Vigilance is something unique in India. 

Eternal vigilance is the price for liberty, it is said.  Shakespeare in Tempest uses the word ‘vigilance’, for alertness.  There are some traces of ‘vigilance’ during the American Revolution when some self appointed vigilance committees existed.  These committees were subsequently dismantled after formal governments and administrative mechanisms were established. 

In India, during the colonial times, the presence of ‘vigilance’ as a function existed in the form of instructions and guidelines issued by the higher authorities to their subordinates to ensure proper administration and prevent misuse of authority.  However, due to the expansion of activity of government, huge public funds were handled by government servants and they were vested with vast powers.  This has led to mounting aspirations and provided ample scope for misuse of authority and breeding of corruption.  Complaints against administration started pouring in.  The ‘vigilance’ mechanism, which was basically meant to check the misuse of authority, which by all means intended to prevent corruption, has shifted its direction towards fighting corruption.  And today we see our approach is focused mainly towards fighting corruption and not preventing corruption.  I see a very big difference in ‘fighting’ corruption and ‘preventing’ corruption.  Why should we allow corruption to flourish and then try to fight it out? Why not change our approach totally to prevent it at the first place? 

Basically, vigilance is a function which has to be applied in every sphere of activity in our life.  But in India, when you say ‘vigilance’, it is immediately related to anti-corruption.  Other countries do not seem to know ‘vigilance’ the way we do it in India.  I was in Passau, Germany in 2006 amidst 45 anti-corruption practitioners and academicians from 25 different countries.  In March 2007, I was heading a Group of delegates in the Commonwealth Study Conference with 170 delegates from 35 countries (Commonwealth countries).  In December 2007 I attended the UNITEN International Business Management Conference in Malaysia where I met many practitioners / academicians all over the world.  During my interactions with my counterparts from different countries, I did not come across anyone saying something called ‘vigilance department’ or ‘vigilance officer’.  In fact, when I introduced myself as ‘vigilance officer’, the question came most of the time from the other side was, ‘what do you do, by the way?’

Therefore, I strongly believe that ‘vigilance’ is unique to India and I am sure that it is not merely for fighting corruption that it was evolved.  As I mentioned earlier, I find a big difference between ‘fighting corruption’ and ‘preventing corruption’.  Perhaps, it is for the later that ‘vigilance’ might have been introduced in India.  Jayanthi Suresh (my wife) is researching on this uniqueness of vigilance in India.  I hope she confirms my view after completing her Ph.D!

3)  Where do you find corruption the max? (public vs private). And what are the antidotes?

I would say, corruption is maximum wherever there is corrupt human being, immaterial whether it is public or private.  As Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘there is everything in this world for the human need but not for human greed”, the corrupt person is trounced with greed.  The corrupt person does not differentiate between public service and private service or whatever!   Above all, everyone is from the same society and the two sectors are neither isolated nor insulated.  In fact, they are complimentary to each other.  Therefore, it is very difficult to say which part of the society is more corrupt and at the same time both the sectors are responsible for it! 

There is a myth that corruption exists only in public service.  This perhaps is true from a common man’s point of view.  For a common man, corruption in public service is visible because of his day to day experience in getting the services from the authorities.  Whereas, the common man is not directly affected by the corruption in the private sector and mostly he is not aware of it at all.  Many times, the victims of corruption are clueless that they were so because of corruption.  They blame their own destiny! 

It is to be noted that in the indulgence of corruption, there are always two parties.  One is the beneficiary who bribes and the other is the facilitator who misuses the authority for personal gains.  This situation applies to both public and private.  Both these parties come from the same society.  Therefore, there has to be a common approach to the issue of tackling corruption for the society as whole.  Under the present scenario, there is only one way to this approach.  That is the ‘flushing out’ effect!  Let us take this example.  We want to clean up the ‘Coovam’. What should be our approach?  It should be a two pronged approach; (i) Keep on adding pure water in to the Coovam and (ii) Stop adding more dirty water in to it.  The Coovam is cleaned.  The same approach should be applied in the case of corruption in every sphere.   And here, I find the solution in SIV-G : Self Imposed Vigilance for good Governance.

We have to fight for right and fight for our rights.  Do we need any Act to guide us what is right?  And that is where I find Self Imposed Vigilance would be working in oneself.  Incidentally, when we talk about right, we must talk about the Right to Information Act, which is viewed as one of the most powerful Acts in the world!  It is high time to make full use of this Act, particularly against corruption.  In dealing with any situation of corruption in public service, one must fulfill all the requirements of the system.  Despite of that fulfillment, if the work / service are not forthcoming, the RTI has to be used as a weapon.  For doing that one must be aware of the requirement of the system and the RTI.  Here is an antidote available now for corruption.

4)  You speak of oneself being vigilant. Is this a slow process that may take a long time to be effective? What are the myths about corruption?

Yes.  I call it ‘self imposed vigilance’.  We have now come to a stage that we are vigorously practicing things which we are supposed to be doing naturally!  I am talking about walking and laughing which we started practicing!  In the same list, we have to add honesty and vigilance also.  We are very vigilant in our personal front.  We have a different degree of vigilance for different purposes.  We must quickly realize that our life is a combination of four personalities in ourselves namely, personal, professional, social and spiritual.  Each one is weaved over the Self and each one tremendously support each other.  Therefore, an early understanding and realization of one’s nature and Self and keeping a vigil over one’s own activity will make a very big in one self and then the society.  After all, it is every atom in the atomic bomb which makes it very powerful.  

Yes, this process could be termed as slow for taking a shape of a complete Movement.  Nevertheless, as a standalone process, it is not slow because of the human growth and numbers. When it is sown in children and youngsters, it will grow with the human growth.  It will multiply and synergies when such positive elements meet in groups and will together radiate positive energy which in turn changes the surroundings.  In the sense, the positive energy has to be focused and tapped right from the childhood.  Can we find a child doing nothing?  They are bubbling with the energy which has to be directed to sublime and shape the future of the nation.  Is it any way different from the Gurukul system?

What is needed is a fraction of second to pass on the spark.  Beware, SIV-G has now been recognized as a movement.  I would like to quote from what Mr. P. Shankar, former CVC said about SIV-G in his message.  He said, “What you have started (SIV-G)  is indeed a very valuable movement for, once the youth of the country recognize corruption as a weed to be destroyed from our midst and show themselves as determined to fight it and not be passive, we can, indeed, hope for a good future for the country”.  He also said, “We cannot and should not wait for a Mahatma to come and fight for this.  Each of us should raise our voice and the resultant roar should frighten the evil forces of corruption.” 

The myth about corruption is that it is a universal phenomenon.  Fine, let it be so.  But why is it more in one country and less in another country. 

Another myth about corruption is that it can not be rooted out.  Here I prefer to look at ‘slavery’.  Slavery doesn’t exist now the way it existed in 1850s. Patrick Glynn, Stephen J. Kobrin, Moises Naim in their book “The Globalisation of Corruption” said “1990’s could be to Corruption what 1850’s could be to Slavery”.  So, there are silver linings that Corruption will follow the path of Slavery.

There is yet another myth about corruption is that when there is corruption in a society, it the every individual of that society who are responsible for that state of affair and not that the machineries are to be blamed for that.

5)  How do you explain to the young that corruption does not pay, especially when examples of flourishing corrupt people are not uncommon? Also, how do you think that values can be instilled?

First of all, one must be clear about what success is.  Is it to be rich…  to be a world icon… to be famous…… to be rich and famous….. or to be a great visionary leader..  or what else?  And one has to have logic for thinking so.

I only recall the story of (I think), Aristotle.  One day when he was sitting at the border of his village.  A stranger, who wanted to migrate and settle down in this village approached him and asked him, “Do you have thieves in your village?” Aristotle said, ”yes”.  Then the stranger asked, “Are there people who fight with each other in your village?”  Aristotle said, “yes”.  Then the question comes from the stranger, “Do you have people indulging in bad habits in your village?”  Aristotle’s reply again was a ‘yes’.  Hearing all these ‘yes’, the stranger moved on to the next village.  After a while another stranger came and approached Aristotle.  This man also started with a question.  “Do you have honest people in your village?”  Aristotle said, “yes”.   Then he asked, “Do you have people in your village who have concern for others”  He said again “yes”.  Then the third question is, “Do you have disciplined people in your village?” Again the reply was “Yes”.  Then the stranger happily entered the village to settle down once for all! 

So it is important to know what you want to be and how you want to be!  There are good numbers of examples available on either side.  You cannot blame Google for providing bad search results!  You have to blame yourself for providing such key words for search.  Therefore, it is up to oneself to look up for the role models and derive inspiration.  One has to always look at the complete success story of a person or a business enterprise and not the success alone.  The means of success is more important than the success itself.  It is sad that in the present scenario ‘get on, get honour and get honest’ has become the order of the day, which in fact, should have been the other way round.  One must clearly understand that for flourishing, corrupt people need corrupt environment, which is not going to remain for ever.  

There is another misconception that lessons can be learnt only from the success stories.  It is equally important to look at the failure stories of individuals as well as organizations.  The list of multinational companies which vanished from the Fortune 500 list is to be looked at seriously. 

For instilling values, what we need is a fertile field to sow the seeds.  I prefer to approach it in a different way.  This is what I would call the MIME Management, i.e. the management of Mind, Intellect, Memory and Ego.  It is the mismanagement of MIME, particularly the predominant ego, which is the cause for every human disorderliness(so called problems).  The MIME, which otherwise is known as ‘Antakarana’ (inner instruments) along with the outer instruments (five sense) constituting subtle body is responsible for every human behaviour.  Therefore, the input through the five senses and the processing through the Antakarana determine the outcome i.e. the human behaviour. 

The solution therefore, lies in managing the ego by having ideals, particularly higher ideals.  To fix an ideal in life man must look beyond the self-centered boundary.  He should conceive a goal beyond the precinct of the narrow mind.  The intellect must aim for something higher than the mind’s pretty attachments and desires.  The higher the goal, the greater the potency in action.  The goals set by higher ideals produce fruitful results rather than those of lower ideals towards accumulation of wealth and indulgence in earthly pleasure.  The necessity arises to man to resort to an act like corruption because of his ideals being lower or entirely absent. 

Above all, it is the emotional attachment to the Nation that will help in preparing a fertile ground for instilling values.  After all what is emotional attachment?  When we have emotional attachment towards the nation, we call it ‘patriotism’; when we have it towards to the workplace, we call it ‘loyalty’; when we have it towards family and friends, we call it ‘love and affection’ and when we show it to everyone, we call it ‘humanity’.  So, it is the same thing which we apply for different purposes and when we lack this emotional attachment in one place, we will be lacking in every other place and the result is before us to see. 

During my visit to Germany, I had interaction with the delegate from Finland, which is always ranked as one of the least corrupt countries in the CPI list.  I asked her, “What is it in the people of Finland that makes it a least corrupt country? Is it something in your gene?”  Her reply was, “Nothing, we just pick up things from our surroundings!”  Similarly, I asked a delegate from New Zealand showing a corruption news headlines in a Indian Newspaper, “Do such corruption cases appear in the newspapers in New Zealand?”  His reply was, “No. Never” Then he said, “Corruption perhaps does not affect the common man in our country and that is why it is not appearing in our newspapers!”  I think these are certain indicators through which the national character is built. 

Rajaji said, “National character is the keystone on which rests the fate and future of our public affairs, not this or that ‘ism’”.  Therefore, ultimately, we have to build a national character.  It is the totality of the character of each individual that makes what could be called national character.  What is important for building national character?  Is it accumulation of wealth?  Definitely not!  It is awareness combined with braveness which will build national character. 

It is in this context of building National Character, I would suggest the students and youngsters to declare their Individual Social Responsibility (ISR), like the CSR and fulfill them.  I am very keen to popularize the idea of Individual Social Responsibility (ISR).  Why should we pass on the responsibility to the Corporates entities which are hundreds in numbers? If we contribute through ISR, it will be in millions and the impact will be unimaginable even if the contribution is minimal.  I would strongly urge that the first project any one under ISR should be to demonstrate one’s honesty in all walks of life.  There cannot be a greater contribution to the society by an individual than this little one as ISR! 

6)  Is there a metric for corruption? Does it take many forms? Any taxonomy of corruption.

There are many metrics available for corruption like the Corruption Perception Index, Global Integrity Index and so on.  But what is the point in measuring it when there are very many forms of corruption existing and the modus operandi changes all the time.  Oscar Wilde said, “The thief is an artist and the policeman is only a critic”.  The real glory will come only when the thief takes over the role of the policeman to criticize his own art and reform himself.  So the focus should be more on such reforms. 

Therefore, I fundamentally differ in the approach on measuring corruption and metrics on corruption and so on.  Why should we waste our time and energy in analyzing the different metric and forms of corruption when it is not the same every time?  That is the reason SIV-G is evolving a metric called Vigilance Perception Index (VPI) and Corporate Governance Perception Index (CGPI) for different sectors.  

Ultimately the best metric of corruption is available with each one of us and that is the real metric because that is based on our own experience.

7)  With power often in the hands of the corrupt, can good governance and fight against corruption be at the risk of stiff opposition from the powerful? The corrupt can cartelise.

Corruption is not the only exception for this risk.  There are many issues as well.  Perhaps, a Quit India II (corruption, terrorism and other evils to quit) will be the solution to this situation. 

8)  Is there something seriously amiss these days that we are talking more about ethics and good governance nowadays?

Yes.  We are missing something fundamentally.  We are miserably failing to realize (even try to know) the purpose of life.  We try to do it after trying everything else which is not under our control!  That is why I feel that one should evolve a four lane personality (Personal, Professional, Social and Spiritual) as early as possible, instead of waiting for the Maslow’s theory to work. 

I am forced to think this way:  We have so much of valuable treasures in our scriptures.  We have so many spiritual leaders and we have so many places of faith.  Despite of that why there is so much corruption.  In this context I am forced to think that if you have so many doctors, so many hospitals, and so many medical shops, then what does it indicate: we have so many diseases.

Perhaps, the greatest mishap happened in the human evolution was immediately after the First World War.  Instead of thinking ‘how to avoid wars in future” we started working on “how to fight a better war”.  This combined with the ever mounting consumerism has continuously putting pressure on human being to be greedy, selfish and what not.  These are the layers which prevent one from looking at oneself and knowing ones real nature.  And that is where SIV-G has to be invoked!

9)  What can be the deleterious consequences of not handling corruption with the full force that it demands?

Corruption is very bad when the people starve because of it.  Corruption is very bad when people die because of it.  There are studies which revealed the impact of corruption on the economy of the country.  Corruption is bad when it helps the anti-national elements in their activities.  In short, corruption will affect every contributing factors of good governance and the country will go to doldrums.  Fortunately, corruption cases still make good headlines and nobody openly claims that one is corrupt.  Otherwise, we would have by now had the ‘best corrupt person of the year’ award! 

10)  Is there a disconnect between the 'talk' about good governance and the reality?

I think so!  This is not new to us.  With the possession of innumerable treasures like our scriptures, Vedas, Idhikasas, Puranas and so on and with the present state of affairs, definitely there is a disconnect.  I was cornered when I presented the ‘three monkeys of Mahatma Gandhi” to the German Professor when I was in Germany.  He asked me, “Suresh, do the people in India know about the meaning of these three monkeys?”  When I said they do, he asked another question, “are they in practice?” i had no answer!  Every lesson is in the books and not in practice.  We as a country are very good at thinking and planning and poor in implementation.  The recent Global Integrity Report 2007 confirms this aspect, particularly in the area of anti-corruption. 

11)  Any other points of interest.

A couple of points for the youngsters! 

(i) Do not restrict yourself to become a money making machine.  Aim for something very big and become a leader; you do something worthwhile and others follow, then you become a leader and it has nothing to do with position or status and 

(ii) Understand the limitation of technology.  It is like an Ass, which does not know the value of weight it is carrying.  Use it for human good and not for human pleasure alone!

12)  One more question: On your idea of NVC.

“Light a candle, the darkness vanishes.  There is no point in cursing the darkness”, said Rabindranath Tagore. The mission of SIV-G is to light as many candles as possible by instilling self imposed vigilance in the young minds and make them realize the importance of good governance.  SIV-G has an exclusive and unique website www.siv-g.org to carry on its mission.  In fact, Mr. N. Vittal, former CVC remarked, “the content and coverage of the website are such that it will bring attitudinal change among the mass, which is the fundamental requirement for achieving larger goal of any society”.  Periodical online essay contests are conducted at the site on the theme ‘good governance’, ‘integrity’, ‘honesty’ and so on for the school and college students.  It is in this process, SIV-G is able to light the candle and identify the young minds which can light more candles.  The basic premise is to tell the youngsters, ‘this is right, do it’ instead of telling them ‘this is wrong, don’t do it!’ 

To accomplish this mission SIV-G is desirous to establish a network of students in each and every educational Institution (both colleges and schools) across the nation in the form of, “National Vigilance Corps (NVC)”, on the lines of NSS and NCC.  The NVC will ensure Self Imposed Vigilance on themselves and then instill in others in their surrounding with the synergizing and multiplying effect to ultimately make good governance a reality in the days ahead.  The NVC is expected to undertake the following activities:

• Form NVC group and create discussion forum within the institution on self imposed vigilance and good governance;

• Organise periodical interactions / meetings to identify areas lacking behind in realizing the goal of good governance;

• Take up projects on such issues which are identified and get it implemented; and

• Educate masses about the importance of good governance and create awareness.

In fact, I have approached two Chief Ministers (Delhi and Gujarat) with the proposal of NVC and requested them to establish NVC in their respective states.  I have also written to the Chief Minister of UP about SIV-G.  These proposals were made last month and the responses are awaited.

(NVC has taken the shape of NGC (National Governance Corps) and was launched by SIV-G in December 2008)

13)  One more question, Suresh: What, according to you, can be the five guiding principles (or techniques) that can be put to practice by a fresh grad entering a job, and a budding entrepreneur?

The five guiding principles which I can suggest to put into practice are:

(i) Self disclosure – speak out or send out clear signals right at the beginning of your career that you stand by certain ethical values and demonstrate such values in your work and exhibit your honesty.  Remember, honesty is doing the right thing even when no one is watching!  For entrepreneurs, it is important to come out with a code of ethics while evolving the systems for the enterprise and equally important is to stand by those laid down codes;

(ii) Be sure that you do not become an object for blackmailing – do not do anything which gives room for others to blackmail;

(iii) Be fair and transparent in all your actions.  Fairness comes when your action or decision does not make the other party to lose.  Such fairness must be visible to others.  If at all you had to violate any of the existing system and procedure, it has to be only to benefit the organization and do it in a transparent way.  Soon you will find such violations gets updated to the existing systems and procedures!;

(iv) Learn how to call a spade a spade and learn to tell ‘no’.  Do not be a ‘yes’ person and allow ‘yes’ persons around you;  Remember Tata once scrapped one of his proposals after a board meeting when everyone said ‘yes’ to his proposal!

(v) All the above four principles can be put into practice only when you know yourself and believe in yourself.  With this belief, comes an absolute faith in God, no matter what, you are bound to succeed.

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