Are we a Kleptocracy?

Kleptocracy Defined

Kleptocracy is defined as a government by those who seek status and personal gain at the expense of the governed. Does it sound familiar? Does it seem like governments that we know of? Kleptocracy is also aptly defined as ‘rule by thieves’. All over the world, especially maturing democracies resemble kleptocracies, and one of the principal reason being that the population of these democracies is mostly uneducated or not fully aware of the true meaning of accountability and good governance and of course are ignorant about their rights. The ignorant populace considers the political class as appointed to rule over them instead of thinking them to be part of an accountable system.

Accountability Systems Tweaked

One of the primary attributes of such kind of governments is that the justice delivery system is so tweaked and designed that there hardly can be justice and other agencies responsible for accountability so manipulated to ensure unaccountability. It is also observed that developing democratic countries are more vulnerable to the emergence of this style of governance. The nude display of wealth by the legislators and politicians with questionable or no known sources of income is also a hallmark of kleptocracy. The emergence of kleptocracy can be seen to be a flourishing seed emerging from the copulation of corruption and politics. The kleptocrats are political professionals adept in the art of winning elections despite indulgence in serious corruption and at times direct siphoning of public money.

Politics, a Profitable Business

The kleptocrats consider politics as a business and for that matter a very profitable business. When illegal deals, kickbacks, real estate partnerships come freely and smoothly without any liabilities there can be no other business like this one. The most attractive part of this ‘political business’ is that there is almost no risk of any state agency getting after you. The fact that you are well protected and immunised against any legal action for the offenses and fraud on the public makes it more adorable as a profession.

Mafias and Cartels

Kleptocrats are thorough professionals and emotions like nationalism, nation’s cause, development, are mere words for them used almost daily. Whatever works in getting elected is the right path and action for them irrespective of whether it may cause social unrest or even violence. Mafias and cartels flourish during kleptocracy. The more the evidence of such mafias and cartels emerge it proves that they control legitimate and illegitimate businesses, there is a flourishing kleptocracy.

State Buildings, a Safe Haven

Feeble voices of dissent from civil society mean nothing for kleptocrats and are minor irritants in their business dealings. State buildings harbouring these powerful kleptocrats are nothing but mere centers for dubious and shady dealings and that too safely and under state surveillance and safety.

Testing Whether a Kleptocracy?

Do you see no accountability agency interested in fixing liability? If yes, you are in a kleptocracy.

Do you fear approaching the police to register a criminal offense against the high and mighty or even otherwise? If yes, you are in a kleptocracy.

If the law-abiding citizen fears the law enforcers, it is a healthy kleptocracy.

Do you while pursuing a complaint of corruption, feel threatened and frustrated? If yes, you are in a kleptocracy.

Do you feel that even the courts would do no justice? If yes, you are not only in kleptocracy but a mature and developed kleptocracy.

Kleptocracy is a deception game and the master kleptocrat is almost always a successful politician and vice versa. They are the best when it comes to creating this illusion of democracy. There could possibly be benevolent dictators and autocrats but not a benevolent kleptocrat because the wealth created by the kleptocrat is for himself and his coterie and partners. If the country’s foundational core is based on human rights with mechanisms for protecting those rights you will always find that these mechanisms have been rendered so weak almost fading them into non – existence, sure signs of a kleptocracy.

Has India turned into a Kleptocracy?

Almost every investigative and accountability agency today in India is perceived to be mere puppets in the hands of the government. Recently the evident trend is of the state police merely acting as instruments of the state to crush dissent and making the independence of the police machinery seem like a joke.

Judicial Delays and Dissent

Judicial delays in India is a norm and is one factor that has led to the belief that no offender can ever be punished. The criminal justice system is turning out to be a process of empty formalities. Undertrials languishing in prisons for years is something which does not disturb anymore. The emerging trend to crush all dissent using the police and the wayward and painfully slow criminal justice system makes the scenario more depressing and hopeless for the law-abiding citizens.

Mafias Galore in All Categories

The existence of various mafias meaning organised crime syndicates in India is not merely by accident but by design. No mature democracy with rock-solid accountability and robust law enforcing machinery upholding the rule of law can have any mafia raise its head. The land mafia, the sand mafia, the mining mafia, the drug mafia, sandalwood mafia, human trafficking mafia, the begging mafia, name it and you will find a history of each of these syndicates. It is sad but an unfortunate fact. The fact that every Indian is aware of some or the other kind of organised crime or syndicates clearly points towards a kleptocracy.

Corruption takes away everything

The Indian constitution provides for everything that a robust and functional democracy should have but the ground realities reflect the opposite for what the constitution stands for. Corruption and unaccountability are the foundation of human rights, fundamental rights, and civil rights violations. Corruption takes away everything, it takes away the right to a dignified life from the common citizen. When you helplessly witness blatant violations of the rule of law, your helplessness is the symptom of a stabilised kleptocracy.

Accountability institutions hijacked

The most disturbing trend is the hijacking of almost all accountability mechanisms at all levels. Activists with solid evidence of corruption seem like fools when they display their material evidence on social media, it is for everyone to see but no-one to act. The RTI Act 2005, one of the most extraordinary citizen – empowering legislation any democratic country has ever seen is being slowly reduced to almost nothing, thanks to the smart and calculated move of the elected governments by hijacking the entire system by appointing ex – bureaucrats affiliated to the governments and trained in unaccountability appointed as Information Commissioners; is surely a sign of kleptocracy, emerging and getting stabilised. The no. of scams since independence is alarming but more alarming is the result of the inquiries and no convictions.

Reforms, Mere Words

Police reforms and judicial reforms are mere words used sometimes to create hope. There is absolutely no political will seen to bring about any police or judicial reforms to ensure what the constitution promises. The Contempt of Courts Act is again a controversial legislation that immunises the judicial system and its officers from any kind of review. If ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ then there can be no justice whatsoever for the next fifty years and beyond and certainly that is a scary prospect.

The Dark Monster of Administrative Silence

Administrative silence is another one of the most extraordinary mechanisms evolved by the administrators and governments to make the system totally unaccountable. Just recollect how many times you have made an application followed by silence. Recently I have pointed out through one of my blogs about S.154(3) CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure) wherein despite a clear statutory requirement for a written order, the competent officer remains silent and the applicant has to understand that his silence is to be interpreted as rejection albeit without a reasoned order. Despite clear guidelines by the Supreme Court to the police for registration of offenses, there is a clear violation of the set directions of the Apex Court. Why should all these not be termed as the symptoms of a kleptocracy? If not, then these are certainly not minor aberrations.

This article is not just mere analysis based on news and facts but the author’s personal experience with some accountability agencies ranging from police to academic institutions. So, there is no doubt and you will agree that we are a stabilised kleptocracy with a well-oiled systemic design to suit the needs of this system. The mere hopelessness witnessed and seen around leaves no room for doubt that we have shackled ourselves with the vultures waiting for their turn. With nearly 50 percent of MPs in the Lok Sabha having criminal records there can be nothing but kleptocracy, the term banana republic seems like a more respectable term.

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  1. Ashish Gavande

    How to correct this then?


  2. naseerbj

    Wish there were simple solutions. A people’s movement is required. Unfortunately, the ultimate power lies with the people and that is the power to vote. It starts with choosing the right candidate. There are various civil society activists who are fighting corruption but they do not get enough public support. People want change but are not ready to fight for the change or even support the fighters. The solution is visible but the actions required rest with the citizens, a few can do nothing.


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