For those who haven’t read – India is currently all ablaze with discussions around the anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare and his (Swedes – make no mistake this Anna is an 80 year old guy) engagement of large amounts of the Indian middle class around a proposal for new anti-corruption measures. The goal is good, but the proposals seek to weaken many democratic institutions in the process of trying to stamp out corruption (including power of judiciary) making them somewhat problematic. I won’t give a summary of it all – but for your “allmänbildning” (“general knowledge” in Swedish) this is, for better or worse, probably one movement that will be added into the history books (and probably somewhat ignored in western news and history classes leaving you and your offspring potentially horribly ignorant unless you follow my advice and read up on your own).
While getting my phone fixed today, I passed through crowds of middle class peeps with flags, Anna-caps and face paintings. As I entered the phone fixers office, I met a couple who were out to buy an iPad. Being buyers of such an expensive product (representing the annual salary of your average domestic worker) they are naturally upper middle class. Probably tired of the bribes that pervade any official dealings in India, they were probably supporters of the Anna Hazare movement (disclaimer: I didn’t ask them). However, what they didn’t seem to realize was that the question they were being asked by the vendor as I entered the shop was inexorably linked to the issue of corruption – “with or without bill?”
See, in India, almost anything that you buy can be got with or without bill. With bill (at least ostensibly) means that such things as service tax (10.6%) have been levied. With bill thus means that the price of whatever you buy will be considerably higher. When the choice arises of whether you want to pay 30000 or 35000 rupees for your iPad (for which warranty is given by Apple regardless) official corruption might not be the thing that is on the top of your mind and that piece of stamped bill paper might not seem so relevant. But in fact, in the end, if these middle class consumers truly care about corruption, they also need to ensure that they pay taxes. It won’t solve corruption, and the Indian government are currently doing fairly well with revenues, but it is a crucial step and an important behavioral change in order to bring money into official systems.