In the classic movie, The Godfather, the eponymous character Don Corleone runs a mafia family business. One of his key business strategies is granting favours to people. This is done with the understand ing that the person taking the favour ‘might’ have to return it another day. It’s a calculated move, but things are still kept pretty loose. The nature and timing of the return favour, or whether it wil even be taken or not is unknown. One of the Don’s most famous lines in the film was: “Someday — and that day may never come — I’ll call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day , accept this justice as a gift on my daughter’s wedding day .“
Powerful people work like that.They have a reserve of power, which they can use to help other powerful people and get help in return. It’s an amazing system to multiply power. And if you know India well, you know our high and mighty operate in exactly the same way .
Money and power mix well.Hence you often see an intermingling of industrialists and politicians (often called a close family friendship) to enhance their power even more. In particular, businessmen in highly regulated sectors tend to network with politicians more than others.
On the surface, one can claim there is nothing wrong with it. After all, what is so wrong in making friends and helping them? Sometimes this help might even be when the other person is in genuine distress. Also, since the nature and timing of a return favour — or whether one will ever be taken — is unknown, who can find fault in it?
Such behaviour becomes even harder to classify as righ or wrong as the help may not be monetary . It isn’t a case of a politician being paid heaps of money for passing a shady tender. That would be a straightforward bribe, a direct give and-take transaction, something most Indians understand as corruption. Favours are much harder to classify .
What then is the issue? Why do people get so agitated when DLF gives Vadra cheap land, or if some ministers help Lalit Modi? Maybe the owners of DLF did genuinely love Robert Vadra, and wanted to give him a gift to kickstart his business. After all, they didn’t ask for anything in return right then. Maybe the ministers are fond of Lalit Modi as a person and a friend, and all they want to do is help him out, while not technically breaking any laws. Isn’t it ok then?
Well, it isn’t. The problem arises because every time a politician (or his or her relative) accepts a big favour, a return favour is booked as due in their account. What and when that favour will be sought is unknown. Similarly , whenever a politician grants a powerful person a big favour, it often means a favour was taken before or will be taken later. This business of giving and taking favours with powerful businessmen is not something politicians were elected for. They were elected to do the country a favour.They are supposed to spend their time, energy and judgment and use their power for only one purpose -to take decisions in the best interest of the nation. When they accept or give favours to the chosen few, at some level, the nation is betrayed. Voters’ trust is eroded if they find out their leader is busy collecting and granting favours, supposedly in the name of friendship and humanity , but only with the chosen few.
The politician is mostly at fault here, because he or she is representing the people. However, it is unfair to only blame the political class for this favour-swapping culture. We Indians love to take favours from the powerful whenever we get the opportunity . From booking railway tickets to getting a government job, we have little hesitation in asking some one powerful to help us, even at one powerful to help us, even at the cost of compromising fairness and merit. Our business community is at fault too, as they love to cozy up to politicians at the slightest chance. From ‘harmless’ wedding invites, Diwali gifts and party invitations to offering their business resources, clever businessmen are keen to do politicians a favour, only to have them return it someday . Sadly, the return favour sought from a politician is often unethical. In such circumstances, netas need to be extra careful and avoid the temptation of taking favours. There is no free lunch; no businessman did any thing for a politician out of sheer love.
All of us citizens too need to rethink our boundaries in our friendships and relationships when it comes to favours. Are we as a culture going to place the greater good of society first? Or we want to operate like the mafia, we help ourselves and those close to us, even at the expense of the nation?
The best strategy , in all this, is to try and avoid taking favours, as that’s where the slippery slope begins, particularly for politicians. Bollywood is rarely the inspiration for what one should do in life, but one line from Salman Khan’s Bodyguard movie is apt. He says, “Do me a favour.Don’t do me any favours.“
Would be nice if our politicians put up this line outside their offices, wouldn’t it?