Are Indians endemically corrupt as a people?

2G scam, CWG scam, mining scam, Adarsh housing scam, NREGA scam, coffin scam, matchfixing scam, denotification scam…. There is no escaping India’s favourite four-letter word in the papers and on television, and in everyday conversation.

Everybody—ministers, MPs, MLAs, industrialists, godmen, corporate executives, film stars, corporate executives, cricketers, anti-corruption activists—everybody, it seems, is in it, in some form or the other, to bend the rules and make a quick buck or a trillion.

As Rajat Gupta, the India-born former head of McKinsey, the global consulting firm, enters the overflowing hall of the shame, for his alleged role in insider trading involving the Sri Lanka-born Tamil, Raj Rajaratnam, the columnist Malavika Sangghvi asks a pretty obvious question in Business Standard:

“As the global poster boy of corporate India stands arrested and faces trial, I think the time has come to raise that awful question that has been the elephant in our drawing room for years: are we (how do I put gently?) endemically corrupt as a people?

“Think about it. Some of the world’s biggest scams originate here, our bandwith for unscrupulousness takes in intricate byzantine multi-crore schemes as well as the petty potholes-on-the-street-kickback-to-penny-pinching authority variety. We know scams, rackets, tricks and cons in all their creative genius, while our heroes, leaders, poster boys and icons all tumbe off their pedestals with sickening regularity.

“In India, misconduct or fraud or wrongdoing has no caste or class barriers, it is common to all, the great unifier, the one truly democratic creed that we all subscribe to.

“The holy river that we bathe in to cleanse ourselves of all sins is muddy and filled with garbage, the milk that we drink first thing in the morning is adulterated, the air that we breathe has been mortgaged to polluting industires, we elect people with criminal records to Parliament, our leading film stars have served a sentence in a jail or two, and our cities are vast sprawls of vested interest.”

Read the full article (if you can find it!): Business Standard

External reading: ‘Indians are c*****s’

Photograph: Rajat Gupta (centre) in happier times with Reliance Industries’ Mukesh Ambani (left) and GE’s Jack Immelt (courtesy MSN)


Also read: India’s most secular religion has to be corruption

Ramachandra Guha: “India’s too corrupt to become a superstar

CHURUMURI POLL: Do B-schools have a problem?

Do they teach this at Harvard Business School?

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28 Responses to “Are Indians endemically corrupt as a people?”

  1. Shrikant Narasimhan Says:


  2. sharaba Says:

    Pranab Mukherjee is a cheater

    Here he wants last package for his state. and if we tell the same
    people talk about corruption!!

    Its just what would happen to state which has a different party than the centre which is happening in Karnataka.

    else where is 10-15 crores of money here and 1500 crores for reliance….

    take one more and shove it to your congress ass.

    rajasthan also.

  3. Vinay Says:



  4. Alok Prasanna Kumar (@alokpi) Says:

    This could do with some breakdown (couldn’t find article so going by the extract which, I guess captures the tone of the piece)

    Corruption, at its core, is a breach of trust.

    Many kinds of offences are, at their core, breaches of trust. Adulteration, forgery, cheating, bribery, among others involve another person inviting you to place your trust in them and then betraying your trust for their own benefit.

    I think the point is better made if we don’t include all sort of law breaking into one category and try and find a universal explanation for the same. Movie stars break laws across the world, murderers and rapists find their way to power in democracies everywhere, so neither are uniquely “Indian” problems so to speak. Obviously given that there are more Indians than anyone else, save the Chinese, we will see more instances than many.

    If breaches of trust and faith are on the rise in India it is because India is in a transitional state from a predominantly rural polity to a predominantly urban polity.

    It seems like a simplistic cop out, but let me explain why I think this is important.

    In a village everyone knows everyone else, and knows their place in the village and by extension, everyone else’s. In a settled urban economy, even if we don’t know everyone and everyone’s place in society, we know the rules by which our place in society is guaranteed. By rules I don’t merely mean the laws of the day, but also the rules of a capitalist economy and interpersonal relationships as well.

    In a transitional society, we are neither here nor there. We don’t know our own place in society, and we don’t know the rules (apart from the formal laws themselves) to help us find a place in society. This leaves us with only one option: Anything goes. As long as I can get away with it.

    We need to accept that we are a society in transition and such things are a feature of transitional societies, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attempt to evolve and implement the rules and morals that guide a society through these transitional times.

  5. Nastika Says:

    By pareto rule of thumb, 80% Indians are corrupt. But the failure to find even one suitable Lokayuktha candidate for Karnataka makes me think its 100%.


  6. sanjeeva Says:

    Yes, Any doubt about it! The reasons are many – actually tens and tens. But, I think one primary reason is the faulty basic tenet of our ethics. I think in our legal system it is said that let hundreds of culprits escape but not a single innocent should be punished. In my opinion it should actually be the reverse. Let tens of innocents suffer but not a single culprit should escape from punishment. When a surgery is done to remove a tumour or affected part, lot of good blood flows out. This is essential to treat a disease-affect person. On this analogy, to restore the health of the nation, start punishing the culprits and make it fast. Within no time, the effect will be visible. But, I wonder will it happen ever! As long as people know that “kuch nahi hota hai”, we remain like this.

  7. Mysore Peshva Says:

    That sounds like an endemically Marxist question asked by someone that has never read Vivekananda, Gandhi or Rolland. It suspects a great, ancient people of late weaned, unfortunately, on too much Macaulay and too little Tagore.

    The question, for its sweeping generalization alone, is as ridiculous as Shri. Rajat Gupta’s unlikely pettiness. But I guess any question is legit when Marx is one’s deity (except of course Marxist questions of Marx himself.)

  8. div Says:

    I do not think people of India are “inherently” more corrupt. Basically, we have not put proper systems in place from prime minister’s office down to the local municipality. You may argue that this in itself might be due to the fact that Indians are endemically corrupt. But I think this is due to a few people trying to preserve their interest. We seem to be perennially stuck in a bad system because stakes are too high for people who are in power to change this system.

    Looking at America, it almost seems like the definition of corruption is different there. CEOs of huge corportions take care of US treasury and advice the government how to act, insurance and bank companies just do whatever they want by just changing the laws and then get away. Same with the oil companies. Basically, there you just get the laws changed so that what you are doing is still legal. The fact that there is very little or no corruption at the grass root level there can be attributed to having the right systems in place.

    And when you talk about Rajat Gupta, you don’t talk about people like: Bernard Murdoff, Rupert Murdoch, Enron and so on.

  9. G Says:

    Don’t know if they are ‘endemically’ corrupt…However, majority of Indians are corrupt for sure

  10. Vijay Says:


  11. the colonel Says:

    the short answer


    thew long answer


  12. Brahmanyan Says:

    Yes. Reasons are many, but important is that we have the most inefficiant Government under a weak leadership. We need strict enforcement of anti curruption measures from top to bottom.

  13. emptymind Says:

    what can we expect from from those Indians whose religions itself is fake, bribing god and godman for all thier sins. see the expenditure of marriage of their kith and kins , hieght of vulgarity.
    stupid engish speaking elite Indians who finds every tom ,dick harry getting billionaire as their role model and preach us to follow them getting more corrupt and how to make money without sweating.

  14. emptymind Says:

    Corruption offshoots from Greed and Hatredness. On one hand , we allow the competition of Greed and Hatredness ,legalize it, on the other hand we talk of end of corruption, dualistic thinking.

    Corruption-free India is just a myth if we allow these ugly, vulgar competition.

  15. kris Says:

    Our caste system is the root cause of all corruption.

  16. Raghavendra Kini Says:

    If you had asked this question many decades earlier the answer would have been different. Indians have evolved into corruption as a survival strategy. It is either bribery or a stone wall for the common man.

    Since we are talking about the US, in that country people can rise to fight small- and mid-scale corruption at the village or town level because the system is by and large clean at that level, even now. Corruption happens far more at high levels. There is a revolving door between the fed and Wall St. Big companies and the US gov have a too cosy relationship.

    However here in India the cancer of corruption starts from the clerk at the government office down the road till the PMO. In the last 20+ years I can’t remember anything getting done without bribing a bunch of people in power. Now a days I have to go through a tout with connections, pay a lumpsum and get my “work” done.

    I have done my part, but at age 60 I don’t have the energy or motivation to fight this disease any more. Yes maybe I am selfish, maybe I have given up, but at some point in our lives we decide family and our life comes first, and we just try to get along.

    Bottom line is – living a life of dignity in India is pretty much impossible without huge problems in your life, you really need to be endemically corrupt to live in India.

  17. harkol Says:

    Human beings are flawed, Indians are no special. When faced with scarce resources, the natural human instinct of survival, expresses itself in many forms. For eg. – Jugaad is a survival instinct of making do with what’s available. Greed & Selfishness is another Survival instinct to build up for future (and for progeny).

    If you see history of nations, corruption has been integral part of it everywhere. Roman civilization, US history all have gone through rampant corruption, before more stringent systems brought forth the other natural survival instinct – Fear (of law in this case). One can look up the huge corruption scandals of USA in 19th century, that involved top politicians (even upto presidents). eg: Crédit Mobilier of America scandal. Such scandals led to a movement and a “Progressive era” in US, that made a much better system.

    The problem in India is lack of balance. We have incentives for greed (opporutnity), but no disincentives (Fear of punishment). Fixing that will balance the natural instinct.

    @Naastika You read Pareto wrongly. Pareto says 80% of the problems arise from 20% cause.So, all it takes is 20% corrupt to create problems.

    100% can’t be corrupt, because corruption is ‘a deviation’ from a system (the norm). If 100% were corrupt, then that is “the system”, not a deviation.

  18. Shree Kar Says:

    @Sanjeeva, “….. to restore the health of the nation, start punishing the culprits and make it fast. Within no time, the effect will be visible….”

    You are absolutely right, Sir!

    This has already started happening. With so many bigwigs in custody, the new CM Sadananda Gowda now refuses to even look at cases for denotification.

    New York was once upon a time the crime capital of America. After he took over as Mayor in 1994, Rudy Giuliani adopted an aggressive enforcement and deterrent strategy involving crackdown on even relatively minor offenses like graffiti, etc., on the principle that this would send a message that order would be maintained and that the city would be cleaned up. Under his leadership, New York City transformed itself into America’s safest Big City.

    Coming to India, Nitish Kumar also used the same strategy. Over 48,500 criminals were convicted, including over a dozen MPs and legislators.

    Autonomy for the police and a swift justice system is needed.

  19. 'mudi'malnad Says:

    There are no ‘role models’ for kids. you form an opinion, culture some habits while growing up by looking at people who are honest, patriots, intelligent and famous(??hazare) and by making them as our role models. Now all left is yeddi, kummi, raja kani etc

  20. Gaampa Says:

    Come on. The wall street melted. The Freddie and Fannie May are melting. Who benefitted? Not a single white person was arrested for the financial woes of America today. They find two Indians and put them behind bars for insider trading. It’s the crudest joke America could have played.

    America’s judiciary is a joke. I have seen it up close and personal. The joke starts with the silly “Plea Bargain” system.

    It’s sad that India or Indians are not rallying support for Gupta and inistead caning him…

    Soo wrong

  21. Faldo Says:

    We must learn to accept our society with warts and all. The more we know about our problems, the better chance we stand of finding a cure. America of the 1800s too was in the grip of many similar issues. No country would ever evolve into a progressive nation without churning. The unearthing of these monumental scandals and the incarceration of many leading lights of society is part of such a churning process. Corruption is not just an ethical problem but also caused because of improper or inadequate knowledge of systems. The implementation of the right systems would be a gradual process which can be hastened with education, awareness, better access to resources and reform.
    We must also not forget that for all the strides that have been made since independence, India is still a poor country with close to 50% living below a dollar a day. Under such conditions most people would be rather be worried about their bread and butter than bothering too much about corruption.

    @Harkol – Well said >> ‘We have incentives for greed (opporutnity), but no disincentives (Fear of punishment). Fixing that will balance the natural instinct.’
    Punitive measures for people deviating from the system are good but to that I would add that we need more people who appreciate and know the system in the first place. Deming’s suggestion for managers might be applicable here as well.

  22. twistleton Says:

    Make being honest easier, than making being dishonest more difficult -the latter doesn’t work.

    People who are corrupt have sufficient contingency measures at their disposal: money, good lawyers, etc..

  23. Shree Kar Says:


    Interesting point on the American sense of justice.

    However, Gupta was not the first to get caught. There were others too. Check here:

    This is the right time to take forward the arguments of eminent economists like Milton Friedman who have advocated legalizing insider trading.

  24. Chole Says:

    No, we are not. Look at the Indians who migrate to other countries with cleaner government. They are no more corrupt than the others there. I as an Indian would love to live in a corruption free environment and help create one to the best of my ability.

    Unfortunately we have no way of this ever happening here in India and we are forced to live in corruption. Even the RTI laws have not helped – RTI activists get killed regularly. Fact is if you want to live here you need to be crooked. The system teaches you that and forced it on you.

  25. pdk Says:

    It could also be that I (or Malavika Sangghvi for that matter) being an Indian, keep totting up the Indian names among all the names that come up tagged with the ‘corruption’ word. Finally it looks to me that Indians are endemically corrupt. I’m sure there is a name for that habit of the mind. A cognitive bias based on the availability heuristic? Confirmation bias?

    And Indians are endemic believers in numerology. e.g., Malavika Sang’g’hvi), R’e’itesh Deshmukh, and so on and so forth.

  26. Aneesh Says:

    The photo description should read “GE’s JEFF Immelt”. Not Jack Immelt!

  27. kartik Says:

    i used to think it is only myself who thinks all indians are corrupt. but now i am happy that atleast you also think the same way that all indians are corrupt

  28. Utpal Says:

    To be Indian is to be corrupt. Corruption is ingrained in our genes. If you are not corrupt, you are not Indian. In that case, you should leave this Great country and settle down somewhere in the West.

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