Needed for India: Transparency and Accountability, 'Through and With' Democracy

Highlights of the discussion with Nachiket Mor, Vinod Rai and Adi Godrej in Mumbai on July 12, 2012. (8 min., 51 sec.)

MUMBAI, July 12, 2012 — India's democratic institutions need to continue moving away from the "business of politics," and focus more on making government organizations and companies accountable and transparent.

Exploring how to implement such a shift, Asia Society India Centre presented a discussion on "Accountability and Transparency, Through and With Democracy," with speakers Vinod Rai, Comptroller and Auditor General of India, and Adi Godrej, Chairman of Godrej Industries and President of the Confederation of Indian Industry, Chaired by Nachiket Mor, Chairman, Sughavazhvu Health Care.

These leading figures in government, industry and the social sector all agreed that Indian democratic institutions are working, but that there's room for improvement in their relationships with the citizens of India. A better democracy, they argued, starts with complete transparency and accountability.

The discussion started off considering the responsibility of government institutions to the people. As taxpaying citizens, the people funding the government should be able to see exactly where their money is going. "All government institutions should be repositioned to focus on accountability," said Rai. "If you are a member of government or want to become a member of government, you need to be prepared to live in a glass house."

In defending India's still-young democracy, Godrej historicized government institutions, claiming that "developing democracies have always faced symptoms of economic corruption." Although these symptoms are unfortunate, the continued push for more accountable institutions remains worthwhile — "short-term pain is worth the long-term gain," claimed Godrej, in a phrase then emphasized by all three speakers.

Discussing democracy's role in shaping modern India, Mor pointed out that "the system of democratic government and free markets is capable of delivering the most value across the world… institutions are the most basic links between democracy, markets and accountability." For India, what needs to take place next requires "civil society to step up and keep the pressure on institutions to remain accountable and transparent."

Rai, who as the Auditor General has uncovered major cases of government corruption, agreed: "There needs to be a paradigm shift in the way the government works," he said. "Corruption will end once our politicians finally stop the quid pro quo happening back and forth between government institutions and companies."

The programme was presented with our Outreach Partners from World Trade Centre Mumbai, Think Social, UnLtd India and All India Association of Industries.

Reported by Harold Sheffery, Intern, Asia Society India Centre