Corruption and Social Relations

The debate over corruption is often dominated by moralist and judgmental viewpoints. And in this sense, the discourse around corruption has been influenced by an attitude of ‘class.’ Therefore, corruption is often described as political ascendance of self-interest which intensifies social, economic and political inequalities; loss of material and human resources; induces social fragmentation; creates conflict that propels a society into a constant cycle of institutional disorder and violence. This description of corruption lacks historical and cultural contextualization.

Diverse experiences reveal the relationship between corruption, development and politics as demonstrated in the recent history of third world countries, particularly in Asian, African and Latin American. They show that corruption is not limited to systemic self-interest. In fact, despite its eroding effects, corruption forms part of the fabric of social, cultural and political relationships. Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz emphasized that, “Corrupt behaviour is, therefore, not only driven by greed and structural forces, but also by informal codes of conduct associated with reciprocity ties within particularist and communitarian social networks.”

More broadly, corruption emerges from within many political and cultural structures in which it serves key hierarchical functions, thereby contributing to the political, as well as, the cultural status quo. In an ironic sense, corruption when ‘well—managed’ can contribute towards creating a sense of ‘political stability’ within a status quo of injustice. However, when corruption is “mismanaged” it may result in political stability and conflicts. This implies that when a situation is engendered by corruption, it is affected more by the “changes” in the pattern of corruption than by the existence of corruption itself.

The relationship between corruption and political stability or for that matter the interactive dynamic between corruption, conflict and peace is probably the most complex, and yet at the essence of the peace movement. At its heart, it means understanding the nature of corruption within its historical and cultural context, while keeping in mind that self-interest and self-preservation are not the only motivators of corruption. The most crucial aspect while engaging with corruption is to evolve a process to transform the relationship between corruption and cultural structures that function on informal codes of conduct and reciprocity within closely knit hierarchical networks and relationships. Perhaps addressing this difficult aspect of corruption presents the biggest challenge.

In the Naga context, the political and cultural dynamics are not just re-enforcing one another, but, at times, they seem to indicate that they have become one monolithic force. This makes it all the more difficult to clearly differentiate the relationship between corruption and social, cultural relationships. However, if Nagas are concerned and determined to engage the question of corruption, they will need to go beyond identifying and naming the consequences of corrupt acts. The very relationships that corruption has nurtured with political structures and social, cultural relations and networks will have to be exposed as well.

It needs to begin by re-examining the dominant definition of corruption!