During the last three decades, our society has progressively become more money-centric, greedy and selfish. In this new India, the cancerous growth in corruption has given birth to the noveau-riche class. This is the first part of a two part series
The 'Black (money) Rich' is a burgeoning community, mostly consisting of government servants using its authority for amassing wealth through bribes from people by covertly helping them break laws or by extorting money from hapless citizens. On the other hand, money solves most of the problems of the poor. Both, urban and rural poor folk are busy surviving from one day to the next. A little more money coming their way is a matter of mental relief and a day filled with happiness. When a poor family gets enough money for roti, kapda, makaan and can live within their means, it is largely free of tensions. There was a time not so long ago, when there were millions of such poor or lower middle-class families enjoying a culturally and socially rich life in spite of shortages and a hand-to-mouth existence. Everyone in the family shared the burden of poverty. As a young man, I have seen how imagination and innovation replaced money with enjoyment and celebrations in their daily life. I knew hundreds of such families, where sharing of work and pleasure came naturally. My school friends supplemented their family incomes by delivering newspapers and milk early in the morning. During Deepavali, they made and sold colourful Aakashkandils (lanterns) and often showed great imagination and skill by offering innovative designs. I was amazed by their creativity when they produced games and models from knick-knacks, for which they always got a pat on the back from our teachers. Poverty and happiness coexisted; smiles and laughter came easy in their life.
What is worrisome, is the changing life and values in India during the last three decades as our society has progressively turned more money-centric, greedy and selfish. In this new India, the cancerous growth in corruption has given birth to the noveau-riche class. Let us call them Black Rich or 'B-rich' for convenience. The fast growing tribe of this B-rich class consists of small-time politicians (often, vividly caricatured in Bollywood movies), partners in the businessmen-bureaucrat-politician nexus and their middlemen lining their pockets, revenue inspectors and tax collectors, the police, license and permit inspectors and babus right down to the doorman, who uses his miniscule power by demanding speed money unlike the bakshish he often got in the past for showing curtsey. Traditional black money generators like the drug mafia, extortionists and those in sex trade are now bolder and menacingly fearsome.
Many of them once belonged to the lower middle-class and do not possess life skills to earn more. Their power is derived out of their position in administration, that allows them to corner citizens by depriving them of their rights and extorting money to allow them to enjoy what is rightfully theirs. Of course, when they are at the receiving end, they would use their substantial ‘black’ income for bending rules and procedures! Money comes easy to them and is often in sums of thousands or lakhs. Many small babus, for instance, at the Octroi Post, earn thousands of rupees a day! Now corruption has become a way of life.
Construction industry is one of the biggest corrupt chains, widely supported by unscrupulous builders and developers who need a variety of permissions in the course of their business. Since it is a part of the cost structure that the bribe giver can easily recover, he pays with a smile. At least 10% of the price that one pays today to buy a property goes into the pockets of government officials and the municipal corporations dealing with builders. In some state governments, builders are appointed as ministers for urban development!
It is alarming to note the deeply embedded corruption at all levels of government hierarchy. Media stimulated greed designed to strengthen consumerism and the corroded administrative system in our chaotic country have indeed turned out to be a deadly cocktail. Not that anyone cares, but I felt expressing early caution by showing how black money ultimately hurts the corrupt and their families might help at least some of them to regain sanity.
This rotten tribe of B-rich is an antithesis to the khandani rich, whom many of us hold in high esteem. Their generosity is seen in charitable hospitals, clinics, sanatoriums, libraries, museums, schools, and research institutions. Their contributions from decades ago still serve the community and especially alleviate the problems of the economically challenged classes. Money has always been a corollary of the great vision, extra-ordinary wisdom and culture of these rich. These men and women wear their wealth very elegantly. They conduct themselves in a gracefully simple manner and are always modest and gentle while dealing with anyone. Unfortunately, they have increasingly become a rarity over the years.
On the other hand, the rich business class are from amongst the traders, bankers, corporate honchos and software tribe. These people are money-centric and always appear somewhat edgy; uncertain of tomorrow. This lot measures itself and others in terms of money and is often driven by greed and jealousy. The old yardsticks of greatness like sacrifice, wisdom, scientific research etc. are no more of any value. The measure of success or greatness is the accumulation of riches, the means to achieving them do not matter! They live in tension and consequently almost always end up becoming profitable clients of medical consultants. Constant stress of competitiveness takes its toll on them. Their lifestyle may be luxurious, but peace and happiness are in short supply. Having said all this, these rich are a class apart from the B-rich.
(PS Deodhar is founder and former chairman of the Aplab Group of companies. He is also the former chairman of the Electronics Commission of the Government of India and was an advisor to late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on electronics. He also was the chairman of the Broadcast Council in 1992-93 that set in motion the privatisation of the electronic media with metro channels.