Corruption past and present

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 Few year’s back I asked my father about accepting gifts (read bribes), a ritual widely performed in Government Sectors. He looked rather diplomatic to the question, but answered like a historian, he said, “Well, you see there is a historical basis for this. When the English were our masters, they used to give backshish, a gift for some favor, or even a kind of reward for a job nicely done. Eventually this became the practice, since our Civil Service owes a lot to the English; somehow this unwanted practice entered our system.”

                I seriously doubted about its historical accuracy, as is always my habit to dig out something from the past, I eventually came up with something. I am an open hearted man you see, I don’t keep anything for my future best seller, and I simply throw up everything in my blog. So here is what Tavernier said almost 350 years ago about his presents to the Mughal nobles and above all the Emperor (Aurangzeb).

                “All the presents which I made, to the Great Mughal (Aurangzeb), to Shaista Khan and to Zafar Khan, uncles of his majesty, as also to the Grand Treasurers of the King, to the stewards of the Khan’s houses, to the Captains of the palace gates, and further to those who on two occasions brought me the khilat, or robe of honour, on the part of the King, and as often on the part of Zafar Khan, and as often on the part of the Begum, his sister, and once on the part of Zafar Khan-all these presents, I say, amounted to the sum of 23,187 livres.

                So true it is that those who desire to do business at the courts of the Princes, in Turkey as well as in Persia and India, should not attempt to commence anything unless they have considerable presents ready prepared (ready taiyar), and almost always an open purse for diverse offices of trust of whose services they have need.”

                Does that sound close to the recent scandal on AugustaWestland chopper deal? That someone convinced the honchos of the chopper company doing business in India is impossible without bribe. And eventually that someone, be it middleman, or anyone, pocketed a huge amount of cash for playing a crucial role in passing the deal. Since it is evident that, “somebody has taken money in chopper deal,” it goes without saying that gifts were also disseminated to the other players (big or small) as well.

                Sir William Hawkins, the English Ambassador who visited the court of Jahangir, gifted valuable jewels to Jahangir’s sister Sakrununnissa Begam, he wrote,” knowing the custom of these Moores that without gifts and bribes nothing would go either forward or be accomplished, I sent my broker to seek out for jewels fitting for the King’s sister.”

                All these bribes and gifts were offered to please Emperor Jahangir, and to the selected ladies of the Harem, to persuade the Emperor to give permission for opening up a factory in India. Somehow Hawkins got well with Jahangir, in fact both were romantic in their own way, Jahangir always tipsy, drinking the best wine, while Hawkins an ordinary sailor who had made romantic adventures. The friendship, shall I call that, went in such direction, that Hawkins had to marry an Armenian lady a member from the Mughal Harem.  The permission to establish was factory was granted but this did not become a huge success, William Hawkins went home despaired, and disgruntled.

Sir Thomas Roe

                Although William Hawkins who drank copious amount of wine, found a friend in Jahangir, matters didn’t go in the way expected. For turning the wheels of change Thomas Roe was sent instead, who showered bountiful gifts to Nurjahan and Jahangir. In his list of gifts included, toys, elegant mirrors, fairbone lace,China bed sheet and an English coach, especially the latter created a sensation at the court. But these gifts are peanuts when we compare the gifts of the King of Bisampore (presented to Jahangir). Thirty six elephants, two with chains of beaten gold, two with silver chains, and the rest with brass chains. Along with these he sent forty first class horses and jewels of ten lakh Rupees! The English certainly could not give gifts of such nature; in fact their gifts were so paltry that Emperor Jahangir wondered if the King of England was a great king after all!

                However Thomas Roe did not take much time to express his true desire to Jahangir- the commercial treaty between Hindustan and England, “which should place the position of the English in India on a firm and lasting basis and secure them against all oppression by the provincial rulers.” I guess similar dream is still borne by some foreign dignitaries/heads, who unexpectedly over a span of few years tour India little too frequent.

                Like Hawkins, Thomas Roe, Tavernier who showered gifts on people regardless of big or small, the Indian corruption machinery still works on this pattern. In the Bofors scam a similar network was engaged in making the deal happen.  As I said there is always something in history which shows that with respect to time, the nature of men have not changed a great deal . No law, no norm, no court, no order can make man come to the track of righteousness or honesty unless he himself chooses to get rid of this evil.  It is also interesting to notice that the history does not change much, the players do change, but their actions do not.

Sumit Soren is the founder of Livelystories. Basically an Agricultural Engineer, Sumit has interest in varied topics. He regularly writes on tribal history, internet and science related topics.

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