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11 May 2011

Against Or Allied To Corruption?

How Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Co took the unassuming people of this country for a ride

[Click on the headline to hear Shambhu Dutt Sharma speak]

The 5-8 April spectacle at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, was nothing but a corporate conspiracy of expending the energies of the Great Indian Huddle-and-Muddle Class, as mass mobilisation by Baba Ramdev and satyagraha by veteran Gandhian Shambhu Dutt Sharma was making them increasingly jittery. The unfolding of the events also suggests, at least in hindsight and going by the confessions of a drunk journalist, that the UPA Government was complicit in the act of trickery.
When the pressure was building up: Baba Ramdev addressing
a rally at Ramlila Maidan on 27 February 2011; the group went on to
submit a memorandum containing 10 demands to the President

To grab maximum eyeballs, the show was timed conveniently to fall between the end of the ICC World Cup tournament and the beginning of DLF-sponsored Indian Premier League. If the organisers had been driven by conviction, the India against Corruption (IaC) conveners would have dared to stage the programme in the middle of the World Cup. And a heavy attendance at New Delhi's designated spot for demonstrations despite the occasion's clash with a popular TV spectacle would have proved how concerned the assemblers actually were about the sorry state of the country.

The 93-year-old veteran Gandhian, Sharma — also the founder of Transparency International (India) — had been pressing for the same bill (Lokpal) and more for ages at the spot where IaC conducted its show later. His team, called the Gandhian Seva Brigade (GSB), had been on a relay hunger strike at Jantar Mantar for the last six months of 2010, pressing for the implementation of recommendations of the 1999 Law Commission report, which included confiscation of property of government functionaries found guilty of corrupt acts and proscription of candidates facing prolonged trials related to corruption from fighting elections [the last demand has incidentally found support from the last four Chief Election Commissioners as well]. When into their sixth month of peaceful demonstration, members of GSB came across those of IaC, and some information about the struggle were shared with the latter. This writer does not have information regarding the people IaC's members met in the period between that meeting and 30 January 2011.

On the Martyr's Day, IaC was supposed to arrive at Jantar Mantar to meet Sharma and seek his blessings for an anti-corruption drive. However, the rally they had called at Ramlila Maidan drew such a massive crowd that the whole lot couldn't possibly proceed to meet the Gandhian. Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and a few others made it nevertheless.

The mention of an incident that happened backstage that day is warranted here. Some enthusiastic youths had brought to the Ramlila ground posters of much-maligned Suresh Kalmadi and A Raja so that they could be blackened in a display of protest and bring indignation to the alleged masterminds behind the Commonwealth Games (CWG) and 2nd Generation telecom spectrum allocation (2G) scams respectively. The organisers protested. With the alibi that the posters were going to turn the movement political, they ordered their removal. A fellow activist who was witness to the cover-up wondered how serious these people were in fighting corruption. Also, a former Supreme Court advocate, who has long left his flourishing practice of law to devote all his time to social causes, refused to share dais with IaC conveners after he detected an agent of the Tata Group, sullied by the infamous Niira Radia tapes, in their midst.

Anyway, Anna Hazare's motley team, leaving other demonstrators behind, did meet Sharma that evening. They sat at his feet and requested him to handover the charge of his movement to them so that they could further the agenda on a bigger scale. Impressed by their zeal and a promise for a better support system for the protest, an unassuming Sharma obliged, only to find within a few days that the issue was derailed with a politically significant climbdown from the demand for the law to mere representation in the bill's drafting committee. The IaC, clearly firing shots from the shoulders of a noble but uneducated Anna Hazare, did not even feel it fit to take the conceiver of the movement — who happens to be a qualified lawyer as well as a veteran of both the 1942 Quit India Movement and Jayaprakash Narayan Movement — into confidence to decide whether it would be morally (or even practically) right to give the people's movement such a sudden, arbitrary and distracting direction.

The sheep that didn't know where they were being herded:
Much of this crowd (photographed by the writer on 5 April 2011)
comprised RSS swayamsevaks and activists of Bharat Swabhiman
Any political observer worth his salt will tell you that a real revolutionary never speaks the language of compromise. A revolutionary does not make a demand with the consideration of whether or not it will be accepted by the authority. If finally you are leaving the fate of the bill at the mercy of Parliament, to what avail was this "Second Independence Movement"? [This nomenclature was yet another display of the city-bred middle class's ignorance of contemporary history, completely oblivious of the JP Movement of the 1970s]

Thereafter, the whole media was herded by an unseen force, as they united for the propaganda of a swelling population of demonstrators at Jantar Mantar. Clear falsehoods — like 15,000 people having congregated at Jantar Mantar, when the fact is that the said spot could by no stretch of imagination hold that many people — were propagated to create a false impression of groundswell. Obviously, since none of the declared organisers of IaC had that kind of money to buy the whole of the Indian electronic media (the print media, barring frivolous papers like The Times of India, were sceptical throughout), they must have had corporate backers. As a lifelong crusader against corruption Vineet Narain noted in the 27 May seminar organised by KN Govindacharya's Rashtriya Swabhiman Andolan, "71 OB vans gathered at the spot even before the story could unfold and develop" was a good enough reason for raised eyebrows.

Outside Delhi, the television channel crews hurriedly huddled a few people at various spots and photographed them to purport the idea of 'popular' support for Hazare, even as the residents of those respective cities wondered where, if at all, the shows were going on!

In fact, The Indian Express wouldn't have bothered, had one of the well-meaning members of the otherwise fake uprising, lawyer Prashant Bhushan, not gone about the town maligning the Reliance Industries. Things were perfectly fine for the said newspaper till the time Sonia Gandhi and her acolytes alone were IaC's targets. But how could Mukesh Ambani have allowed the newspaper, which is virtually his show, to sit back and watch the proceedings as a mute spectator when it was his reputation at stake, quipped more than one senior journalist whom this writer met with to organise the aforementioned seminar. Ergo, Pratap Bhanu Mehta's intellectual reservations about the Jan Lokpal Bill was not enough; the image of the Bhushans needed to be tarnished in retaliation so that their allegations regarding the legatee of the 'polyester prince' lose steam. Of course, the father-son duo must explain why they should not be deemed hypocritical for being a part of a movement that, among other things, aims at curbing the political executive's discretionary powers when they have themselves enjoyed the fruits of such discretion by the Uttar Pradesh Government. But why should the rest of the country miss the wood for the trees?
End of farceGovernment negotiator
Kapil Sibal claiming an equal share
in 'victory of democracy'

In the meantime on the government front, a drama of reluctance was being staged, which was only in accordance with the play's script that had to wind up before the IPL so that Kapil Sibal's team could claim an equal share of grace by touting the government's 'sensitivity' and hailing the 'victory of democracy', and the assembly of part-time, bleeding heart patriots could go back home to watch pop cricket, and resume their jobs in the corporate sector (whose corruption does not bother them). The negotiators in the government panel like Law Minister Veerappa Moily and the communications minister knew very well that the likes of civil society representative Kejriwal stood no chance of winning any round of negotiation while encountering their legal brains when the drafting committee would get down to work, irrespective of the latter's bona fides. Out of the legal eagles in the 'civil society' panel — Shashi and Prashant Bhushan, and Santosh Hegde — the first has not been physically fit enough to stand gruelling sessions of bargaining. The second and third have already contributed to the cause by drafting the Jan Lokpal Bill, IaC's version of the proposed/demanded law; they have nothing more to add. Now, how are you going to deal with two of the sharpest legal brains of the country with the handicapped team of a former IRS officer and a former driver in the Indian Army? [No offence meant for any of the professions; it's just a question of educational qualification and professional competence]

Finally, let me also share what the government thinks it has done to the people. A senior journalist of Hindustan Times, known for his proximity to the Congress 'high command', accidentally or on purpose, stumbled upon the head of NGO 5th Pillar, after the latter had conducted a Delhi chapter of his public awareness programme at the India Habitat Centre in collaboration with TI. The journalist has similarly been in touch with the leaders of many other public movements in the country, those in particular who are Delhi-based. After a few drinks, this is what he came out with (overheard): "Revolution? What revolution? We have spent people's energy already. They think they have done their patriotic bit... They're not going to come out of their houses and offices before another 10 years."

Meanwhile, GSB has been maintaining a benign silence in the public on the issue despite lamenting the act of treachery in private circles. Some concerned citizens are of the view that, IaC's act of betrayal notwithstanding, Hazare's team cannot retreat now; for, a movement after being launched perforce becomes public property and ceases to be its leaders' intellectual property. Hazare, though a Gandhian, is no Gandhi. No Chauri Chaura can lead to a withdrawal of this age's Non-Cooperation Movement which is overdue. If for nothing else, to prove that allegations such as the one made in this article are false, IaC has to abandon its behind-the-scene allies and forward the baton of an impending people's revolution, just as the Congress could no longer afford to remain a mere interface between the British Empire and its Indian subjects, and keep acting as a safety valve that releases indigenous resentment off and on, a few years after it was established by AO Hume.

The original: Shambhu Dutt Sharma (second from left of
the frame) fasting at Jantar Mantar, where Team Anna
would hold their demonstrations much later, after having
usurped the issue from him
Till then, the Vineet Narains and Prashant Bhushans of the world must kiss and make up [the latter refused to share stage with the former on seeing his name in the list of speakers in the seminar by RSA]. My senior colleague Sudesh Verma's invite was turned down by Father Dominic Emmanuel to avoid some embarrassment he can best explain. On my seeking information about the latest development in negotiations between IaC and the government, Kiran Bedi struck me off her friends' list on Facebook. Constitution expert Subhash C Kashyap said he could attend our brainstorming session only if former CJI JS Verma agreed to come too, and Justice (retd) Verma said he'd rather avoid repeating his stand and that he was loath to studying the merits of demands made by a certain baba (reference to Baba Ramdev, whose 10 demands made to the government were studied by the posse of experts convened by the RSA on 27 May).

Dear patriots, to overthrow the Mafia that rules the country at present, the power of any one of you will not be enough. Forget your little differences and join hands for the legitimate rights of the people. Nitpickings can wait, freedom can't.


Sources of information: Gandhian Seva Brigade's members Shambhu Dutt Sharma and SK Agarwal, former CBI joint director BR Lall, constitution expert Subhash C Kashyap, former Supreme Court Bar Association secretary Ashok Arora, 5th Pillar national convener MG Devasahayam, Jago Party member Surya Prakash Loonker, activists of RSS and Bharat Swabhiman who had lent their support to Anna Hazare during his 5-8 April hunger strike, besides this writer's interaction with other people named in the article

8 comments:

sandeep said...

After reading your article should we still support Anna Hazare and his team? Is there no hope remained for citizens of this country?

Surajit Dasgupta said...

Bear in mind that it is virtually impossible to guide a people's movement exactly according to a predetermined script even after its leaders are bought up. Here two things are important: the credentials of Anna Hazare and public expectation. If you have read my article carefully, you must have noticed that I have cast no aspersions on the septuagenarian Gandhian. In all probability, he did/does not know about the backstage parleys that some of his comrades were/have been indulging in with the powers that be. Let's hope he remains the honest man he has always been.

Second, now the expectations of the people -- as also that of the lower-rung activists of India against Corruption -- with respect to the 5-8 April movement are so high that even the members of the team whose integrity is doubtful will find it difficult to surrender totally to the wishes of the government and its corporate backers.

Having said that, I am not sure how long Arvind Kejriwal can resist the temptation of a Padma Bhushan, which, sources in the government say, he has been lobbying for (as he had once lobbied for the Philippine Ramon Magsaysay award). I am also not sure Kiran Bedi would stand her ground once a plum post is offered to her by the government, compensating for the post of Delhi's Commissioner of Police that refused to come her way. I have some hope for Prashant Bhushan, but am not sure why, in all his public speeches, he targets Reliance Industries alone while sparing other questionable players in the industry. That leaves us with his ailing father Shanti Bhushan and former Lokayukta of Karnataka Santosh Hegde, the latter being the least flamboyant and least talked about member in the IaC panel. Furthermore, he has made his position a bit tentative by sending across mutually conflicting messages through his interviews with The Indian Express, on one occasion expressing his reservations regarding certain provisions of the Jan Lokpal draft, on another occasion saying he wouldn't like to remain a part of the IaC panel any more, and then retracting both the statements.

Also, Bhushan (Sr) and Hegde have, as explained in the article, already contributed to the cause and do not have much to add.

The cloud's silver lining now is the nationwide anti-corruption sentiment. This will keep throwing new leaders of people's movement every now and then. Out of them, there will be someone whose honesty is not only beyond doubt but also who is not a lousy manager like Baba Ramdev.

Banjot Kaur said...

At the outset I would rather not like to venture into the credentials of the activists, but rather the merits of the bill drafted by them. The rationale behind saying so is that if their version is in actuality superior to the government's one and would help us to better deal with corruption (against which there seems to be no handy weapon at present), and if the peoople's support behind this movement can actually help the bill get passed, I wouldnt mind Kejriwal getting a Padma Bhushan after that and Kiran Bedi also some reward, because as a commoner what really matters to me is something which can provide me some relief against this system which has virtually eaten up my very right to exist. Who does it, what reward he/she gets doesnt bother me...in a situation of types Catch 22.

Now coming to Kejriwal. Sir, the Padma Bhusan theory is based on a hypothesis only, as you yourself say that it was merely told by some sources (whose motive and credentials cant be beyond the scope of doubt). As much as I know of Kejriwal, it is just not that he has simply popped up with IaC or even the RTI thing. This IIT pass out former IRS officer, I think, did some ground level work. Starting with Missionires of Charity to Nehru Yuva Kendra, to founding of Parivartan, where like minded persons started with helping commoners get rid of bribe in I-T dept, Electricity dept. et-al. Then after a short stint with Aruna Roy's MKSS, experimenting with RTI in Delhi, and consequently using it to prevent Water privatization in Delhi and so on and finally resigned in 2006 as IRS officer. I was wondering why did he do so when today like many officers he would have owned assets worth I better not write rather than living on Ashoka fellowhip and just received Magsaysay award and founded Public Cause Research Foundation using its money. Today apart from this Iac, he is also working on lesser discussed idea in public fora-direct democracy. Sir, I may be labelled as naive, but this is what I know.

About Kiran Bedi, yes Delhi Police Commissioner post was a dear loss to her, which she has herself confessed, but again your theory of her accepting a plum post is based on hypothesis.

So far as hijacking of the movement from Shambhu Dutt Sharma is concerned, if it has really happened, then it is shameful and there is no justification for it absolutely at all. But here again , for me as a commoner, if the better version of the Lokpal Bill gets passed, then I as a commoner would be more than happy and in all probability would either remember both the Gandhians or forget both of them.

At the end, thumps up to your views
"No Chauri Chaura can lead to a withdrawal of this age's Non-Cooperation Movement which is overdue"

Surajit Dasgupta said...

Banjot,

First, as far as Kejriwal is concerned, of course you are considered worth a movement only after you have had some track record in the field to write home about. This applies to his being approached by activists as well as the target of the activists (the government, that is) -- to lead a movement or to sabotage the movement respectively.

Second, the possibility of Bedi's 'rehabilitation' or 'mainstreaming' is not a figment of my imagination. It is what is being discussed in Congress circles. And on being subjected to this question, the former IPS officer struck me off her friends' list on Facebook. Was that act of turning incommunicado befitting of a person in public life? Was she not under the obligation of putting to rest the speculations about her future course?

It is undeniable that the movement of Lokpal was appropriated; it wasn't IaC's brainchild. Nobody in the said outfit is denying it either. What, pray, was the motive behind asking Sharma to withdraw his satyagraha? It's always one or more government representatives who plead with an activist in such cases. Why was IaC playing that role?

It also disturbs us to note that these people have turned overnight celebrities and, unlike the pre-April period when they were seeking everybody's support for the Jan Lokpal Bill most humbly, now refuse to (a) share dais with other organisations that are fighting the establishment's corruption and (b) entertain phone calls that these well-meaning people make to ask for solidarity and consolidation of all patriotic forces. If these organisations -- there were, in all, at least 34 banners of different organisations that I had photographed at Jantar Mantar on 5 April -- had been equally rude earlier, the April spectacle would have turned a damp squib. Gratitude, anyone?

Banjot Kaur Bhatia said...

Sir,

Let me be very unambiguous. Frankly speaking, before going through your blog on this issue, I had just heard the name of veteran activist Shambhu Dutt Sharma and didn't about the whole episode in such depth. I repeat that if IaC has committed this act, then I condemn it in the strongest possible terms. Also if IaC refuses to share dias and credit with the like minded people just with an intention of concentration of all limelight on them (and there is no other conflict of ideology; because like both kejriwal's organisation and MKSS work on RTI, still MKSS is not willing to share dias with them due to some ideology issue), then it is sheer arrogance on their part and iam pretty sure this whole movement will die down itself because they succeeded so much with aam admi's support only.

So far as Kiran Bedi's act of striking you off from her friend list just because you posed some uncomfortable questions is concerned, I must submit that it is not an appropriate act for a person in public life.


Sir, I was wondering if these all questions can be posed to them in a press conference (which are organised by them every now and then) by some sane journalist, if they are not ready to answer it otherwise. Let the picture become crystal-clear for me, you and above all, the aam admi, with whose support the movement rose to such a height. (Or they can be sent this a questionnaire through mail). Sir, I earnestly want the picture to be clear.

But again, I would humbly submit one thing that I personally would like the whole debate to be centered around the merits and demerits of both the drafts, because at the end of the day this is going to matter 'the most'. Yes the face is important, but not more than the thought itself, so why divert our energies towards a lesser important aspect. Let me here submit that I myself dont agree with many of the aspects of the IaC's draft. So I would request you if you could share your valuable thoughts on the drafts as well.

Surajit Dasgupta said...

About the Jan Lokpal Bill:

I am against bringing judges into the ambit, as the issue of corruption in the judiciary can be addressed more competently and constitutionally by the Judicial Accountability Bill.

However, I favour bringing both the prime minister and the whole bureaucracy under Lokpal's jurisdiction.

Surajit Dasgupta said...

The mainstream media is finally acknowledging this story: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/94yrold-gandhian-regrets-handing-over-lokpal-baton-to-team-anna/872591/

When this blog-post was published, however, all parties with starry eyes or some vested interest had dismissed this as a conspiracy theory.

Abbas Jalis Rizvi said...

For a Machiavellian, end surely justifies means. But the end how much noble it may sound was not right with the kind of means the team got into. Lay aside the conspiracy theories, or lucrative profiles to buy out loyalties, these so called activists were conducting themselves in no better light. And what revolution? Revolution is when an entire society either changes it's civic system or cuturally shakes it's way of thinking. Mobocracy is already there so no shake up is required, and overthrowing democracy, that is not a revolution I would like to see. Corruption has to be tackled, but accepting the dictat of few others from current some is not the solution. The debate is long, and in fight of idealism character surely counts.
But a wonderfully synchronised chain of information.

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