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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 October, 2003, 11:19 GMT 12:19 UK
Diwali highlights Indian bribery

By Charles Haviland
BBC correspondent in Delhi

Hinduism's biggest festival, Diwali, reaches its culmination this Saturday, and as always in India it is a signal for people to let off firecrackers, gamble on cards and spend, spend, spend, particularly on gifts.

A Hindus select garlands of marigolds at a flower stall in Delhi
Diwali is a time for giving and receiving
But the gift-giving has a darker side in the shape of bribery, and year on year the presents are growing ever more extravagant.

India may not be a rich country, but it is a place where people are used to being extravagant to fulfil objectives.

These include social obligations such as weddings but also more murky goals such as securing business contracts through bribes.

Festivals, above all Diwali, are especially convenient times to indulge in this because of the gifts people lavish on each other.

This Diwali the luxury is greater than ever.

Government ban

Gifts being marketed to woo the corporate people include premium Lebanese chocolates; cut glass from Slovenia; silver dominoes and diamond-crusted idols of the elephant god, Ganesh.

One company says its gifts are especially suitable for chief executive officers - the stress-buster, a silver ball rolled in the palm of the hand to relieve pressure, and miniature wooden Zen gardens.

Alarmed at the growth in bribery, the Central Vigilance Commission recently banned government officers from accepting gifts, whether at this time or any other.

But it is not at all clear the practice is on the way out.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee recently described bribes as a "convenience tax", a description with which many who live here would certainly agree.

Clearly, oiling the wheels at Diwali now demands something more than a tray laden with sweets.

Are you celebrating Diwali? Send your pictures to newsonline.ukdesk@bbc.co.uk

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