“Jugaad” and Retail Corruption

With the country’s attention focussed on fighting corruption, it is perhaps a good time to take a look at the genesis of corruption – and try to see why corruption was not always the hydra-headed monster it is thought to be today.

It has often been said that India’s best resource is the “jugaad” among our people. What is “jugaad”? It refers to some sort of improvised, jury-rigged solution to a problem demanding attention.

Tata Nano is often held out to the poster boy of the great Indian “jugaad” and the story of how Ratan Tata saw a family of four travel on a two-wheeler and conjured up the idea of creating the world’s cheapest car is often repeated. “Jugaad” is thus frugal engineering.

But is there more to “Jugaad”? Let us take another look at the meaning of the word – improvisation is at the heart of it. Just as how the sight of a family of four traveling on a scooter is common in our country, let us consider a few other equally common scenarios and understand “jugaad” at work in those:

Indian motorists are in perennial hurry. Amber, for them, is not the call to slow down and be cautious, but rather to accelerate hard and jet past the impending red. Needless to say, a few motorists get pulled up for such and for other offences. The first reaction of those pulled up would be to hand over a small note and avoid the stipulated penalty.

Millions of people migrate to other cities due to reasons of education and employment. And then they try to procure a domestic LPG connection in their own name. No sooner than they are faced with the unbelievable obstacles in the process that they discover that a few currency notes can make the process simpler, hassle-free, and swift.

In each of the above cases, the person was in a spot of trouble and discovered the simplest and quickest way out of it. In other words – they applied their “jugaad” to get out of the sticky situations.

An economist I personally respect – Swaminathan A. Aiyer – once wrote, “The creativity in unethical activity is, with rare exceptions, not fundamentally different from the creativity that yields frugal engineering.”

While we take to the streets under the leadership of Anna Hazare and while the media goes ballistic over the corruption in our country, let us remember that “jugaad” and corruption are closely related. Corruption is nothing but “jugaad” on overdrive; while one is celebrated globally, the other is vilified. Seen in this light, it is easy to realize why a Jan Lokpal Bill is no solution for our corruption woes.