An ominous sign for government
31 Jan 2012 11:31:00 PM IST
Here is a telling contrast in fighting corruption. The nation has seen in the last couple of years two distinct endeavours to fight corruption. One is the fight for a new anti-corruption law with the blessings of even the suspects. And the other is identifying the suspects and fighting them under existing laws. Anna Hazare and his team have launched an agitation for an anti-corruption law — the Lokpal Bill — without which, they told the nation, corruption could not be fought or contained. In their enterprise against corruption they first appealed to Sonia Gandhi for her support to fight corruption! And she also wrote to Anna offering her support! Subramanian Swamy, on the other hand, took the view that corruption could well be fought under the existing anti-corruption law provided the corrupt are targeted directly. First, he filed an application with the prime minister for prosecuting A Raja for his role in the 2G scam. Next he applied to the prime minister for sanction to prosecute Sonia Gandhi, whose support Anna had sought to stop corruption. Swamy, a seasoned politician and accomplished intellectual, knew that without the visible picture of the corrupt, corruption is a theoretical issue — a point which the apolitical Anna and team had missed.
How Subramanian Swamy has cornered the UPA finally is not a complex story. The 2G licence issue had all the trappings of an open air theatre scam from the day the licences were fraudulently issued, namely, on January 10, 2008. When the government was covering up the 2G issue, everyone was merely wondering how to fix the government. But Swamy acted. He filed an application on November 24, 2008, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for permission to prosecute A Raja who had issued the 2G licences. At that time Raja was a powerful minister in the ministry of UPA-I, being from the DMK that was dominant in the alliance. The anti-corruption law mandates that no court can look at a complaint against a public servant “except with the previous sanction” of the authority competent to remove the public servant from office. Since Raja was a minister, who could be removed by the PM, Swamy approached the PM for the sanction.
The likes of Sibals and Chidambarams were perhaps laughing at Swamy. But Swamy persisted. He kept on writing letters to the prime minister reminding him about his application. He ceaselessly kept talking about it in public and through the media. But the prime minister, as he is sworn to in most matters, kept silent. The silence of the PM had made the government and the ruling party happy. But Swamy moved the Delhi High Court for a direction to the PM to take a decision on his plea. The high court dismissed Swamy’s petition. The ruling government and party were in ecstasy. But, undeterred, Swamy moved the Supreme Court. The PM had written to Swamy on March 10, 2010, that Swamy’s plea for prosecuting Raja was premature as the CBI was investigating the matter — a response authored by amateur legalism. After having trivialised Swamy thus, on April 26, 2010, the PM told the media — which asked him whether Raja’s statement that he had the approval of the PM to do what he did — that Raja had consulted him before issuing the licences. That what the PM had accepted as consultation, Raja has asserted as permission.
Swamy also complained to the Supreme Court about the inordinate delay by the PM in deciding the matter. Meanwhile, the 2G issue had exploded on the face of the government with the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India saying that the loss to the government was, on the lower side, some `69,000 crore and could be as high as `1,75,000 crore. The Supreme Court, seeing the government prevaricating at all levels, began monitoring the CBI investigation of the scam. The petition by Swamy too became part of the 2G scam litigation in the Supreme Court. The CBI did file charge-sheets in some cases of scam, including Raja as an accused in all except one. But Swamy’s plea to the PM to prosecute Raja and the PM’s inaction on it survived for consideration by the Supreme Court. The apex court did go deep into the matter, called for the records of the PMO and asked for an explanation from the PMO for the delay. By now, the ruling party and the government stopped laughing at Swamy. It became the turn of Swamy to laugh at them. It is the plea of Swamy to the PM to allow him to prosecute Raja which has been decided by the Supreme Court on January 31, 2012, in a landmark judgment.
First, the court has set aside the judgment of the Delhi High Court that had refused to direct the PM to decide on Swamy’s plea. Second, it has ruled that it is the constitutional right of a citizen to move to prosecute any public servant. Third, the authority to whom the application is made for permission to prosecute should take a decision within three months and if, within four months, no decision is taken, the permission shall be deemed to be granted. The import of the Supreme Court judgment is evident. The court has clearly indicted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for delaying the decision on Swamy’s plea. It has also directed him to decide on Swamy’s plea in 90 days. The court has also said that Parliament should lay down the guidelines for 2G prosecution. Finally, the court has said that for ordering inquiries into corruption against any public servant, criminal courts do not need sanction.
It may appear at the first sight that the judgment is against Raja and the PM. But, in substance, it is just an ant-bite on Raja and an embarrassment for the PM. Raja, already charge-sheeted, is in jail. The PM will have no difficulty in allowing one more complaint — that of Swamy — against Raja. But the real danger lies in the other application by Swamy — for permission to prosecute Sonia Gandhi — which the PM has labelled as “premature” and ducked. Under the anti-corruption law, the PM can sack Sonia, the chairperson of National Advisory Council, even though he himself may be removed by her. Swamy can now ask the PM whether the complaint has matured. He can also move the criminal court for inquiry against Sonia Gandhi for which, the Supreme Court has ruled, no sanction is needed. Swamy’s statement that he “can bypass Vadra and go straight to Sonia” is ominous. The Congress cannot laugh at him now.
(Views expressed in the column are the author’s own)
S Gurumurthy is a well-known commentator on political and economic issues.
Sandeep Pandy has always been a suspect leftist. His outright denunciation of the nation-state and his discomfort at Jammu-Kashmir being part of Bharat put him squarely in the company of other traitors like Prashant Bhushan. We must be beware of Asha for Education, Sandeep Pandey’s creation that will eventually create thousands of zombies like Sandeep.
Noted social activist and Magsaysay award winner Sandeep Pandey on Sunday lambasted Anna Hazare for calling Jammu and Kashmir as an integral part of India.
“Anna has been in military. If you serve in government and especially the armed forces obviously it will be difficult to overcome the feeling of nationalism”, Pandey said when asked about Anna’s statement.
“People like us who believe in Gandhian philosophy feel nationalism, caste, region or religion has divided people. Entire problem is about the concept of nation state. We have to get rid of this concept and have a world where there are no national boundaries”.
Medha Patkar, however, echoed view of Anna calling J&K as integral part of India.
I could not help sharing this with you. It may not be politically correct, but it expresses people’s angst about corruption and Congress.
Last One Is
A side benefit of Anaa Hazare’s agitation: True colors of Muslim. Christian and Dalit leaders are out in open for all to see. These Muslim leaders, who have nothing to do with democracy world over, who ask for enforcing Sharia law wherever they have a clout, who do not let a Hindu procession pass without creating trouble, are suddenly in love with democracy and parliament. Their gripe is that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Dr. Subramanian Swamy and Varun Gandhi are with Anaa. That Kiran Bedi and Kejriwal had supposedly opposed appointment of a Muslim for the position of Chief Information Commissioner. These “democratic” leaders have no compunction in denying others their rights. They want to decide who can and cannot support Anaa. Well, those days are coming to an end pretty fast because their sugar daddy, Congress is on its last legs.
Zafaryab Jilani and his ‘head in the sand’ cohorts are shouting from the roof tops. Self styled messiahs of the Dalits and Christians like Udit Raj, Kancha Ilaiah, John Dayal and Joseph D’Souza want reservations within Lokpals and Lokayuktas and yet they talk of democracy.
Whether it is singing of Vande Mataram or Sarswati Vandana, or Ram Manidr at Ayodhya, they have missed the bus to join the mainstream many a times. These time they are missing the bus once again but this is the last bus. All thinking citizens should expose these characters, not because of their religious persuasion but because of their anti-Hindu tirade. let us throw them in the dustbin of history.
Gaurang G. Vaishnav
Courtesy: Indian Express
Why the Ramlila Surge Worries Minorities and those on Margins
Says Akhtar-ul Wasey, Director, Institute of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia: “The issue of corruption is such that there’s tremendous pressure to join the crowd. Because if we oppose this particular movement, they will say we are corrupt. Price rise, corruption and unemployment have given a fillip to such forces. Corruption ki aarh mein, (in the garb of corruption) they want to push all kinds of defeated and empty slogans and agendas. Now the government’s timidity in the face of a crowd is fanning this instability. Muslims, of course, want corruption to end but don’t want to make common cause with elements that want to rock the system, the only preserve of our rights and freedoms.”
No wonder that Deoband’s new Mohtamim, Maulana Abul Qasim Nomani, has said that they have not supported this movement: “The movement is basically suspect. The security and protection of Parliament and (to honour the) glory of democracy is the duty of every citizen.”
Mahmud Madani, MP and a leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, the only prominent Muslim face among the 20 founders of India Against Corruption — Team Anna’s virtual platform — is now in Saharanpur and practically in communicado. Zafaryab Jilani, member of All India Muslim Personal Law Board, has made it clear that the Board has nothing to do with this agitation. Says Maulana Ahmed Khizar Shah Kashmiri of the Tanzeem Ulema-e-Hind: “The idea behind this campaign is to weaken Parliamentary system and democracy and this is a blow to secular India.”
Maulana Umer Ilyasi of the India Imam Organisation has called the campaign a “political conspiracy” saying: “There is no question of any one person being above the country’s Constitution and Parliament. There is no question of Muslims being part and parcel of this.”
This chorus is heard the Urdu press as well. The Mumbai, Kanpur, Bareilly, Lucknow and Delhi-based Inquilab on August 17 interviewed several prominent community leaders, including chief of the Jamat-e-Islami, Maulana Jalaluddin Umri. Their refrain: We agree with the need for a strong Lokpal but not with the method of pushing it through.
Critics are also wary of those who have clambered aboard the Anna bandwagon. Ramdev may have stepped back but there are questions about the more urbane Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and his Art of Living and youth factions who shared the stage with the anti-reservation Youth for Equality. Less than 10 days ago, they took part in the Hindu Unity Day, in Texas. Also present was Subramaniam Swamy, most recently in the news for writing that Muslims should be denied voting rights if they do not accept their “Hindu legacy.”
Indeed, reflecting this unease, Dalit activists and writers including Udit Raj, Kancha Ilaiah, John Dayal and Joseph D’Souza, have argued for reservation in the Lokpal set-up for SC/STs, OBCs and minorities “to ensure that there is no injustice done to the backward and marginalised.”
The politics of Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi may be fuzzy but their association with certain “causes” has raised questions, too. Last year, Kejriwal and Bedi herself led the drive to target the Chief Information Commissioner and insist that Bedi be made the CIC. In fact, when then CIC Wajahat Habibullah resigned last year and there was a chance that M M Ansari (now Kashmir interlocutor) would take over, Kejriwal lobbied with Leader of Opposition L K Advani keen to ensure that his name not be accepted.
Kejriwal and Bedi have also shared platforms put up by Youth for Equality and Art of Living. On March 1 in 2009, for example, Kejriwal and Bedi addressed the Youth for Equality and talked of both terrorism and corruption. Youth for Equality has blamed reservation for shrinking opportunities.
Archbishop of Delhi Father Vincent Concessao, a founder-member of the IAC, is nowhere to be seen. Contacted, he told The Indian Express: “This is pressure and a fast unto death is suicidal…there is no way we will allow for our established Parliamentary practices to be bypassed. We are with the issue but not with the means. How can they say only one particular version of the Bill is to be followed?”
And Manish Tiwari takes issue with Anna Hazare’s birthday celebration expenses???
Hindustan Times: 24-page issue; 14 RG ads amounting to 7 broadsheet pages
The Times of India: 32-page issue; 21 ads amounting to 9 broadsheet pages
Indian Express: 28-page issue; 15 ads amounting to 6½ broadsheet pages
Mail Today (compact): 36-page issue; 11 ads amounting to 6½ compact pages
The Hindu: 24-page issue; 13 ads amounting to 5 broadsheet pages
The Pioneer: 16-page issue; 11 ads amounting to 3¾ broadsheet pages
The Statesman: 16-page isuse; 7 ads amounting to 3 broadsheet pages
The Telegraph: 26-page issue; 9 ads amounting to 3¾ broadsheet pages
The Economic Times: 16-page issue; 2 ads amounting to ¾ of a page
Business Standard: 18-page issue; 2 ads amouning to ¾ of a page
Financial Express: 22-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1¼ pages
Mint (Berliner): 16-page issue; 0 ads
“A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs 60 or 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs 300 crore.”
AND THAT CONGRESS MEDIA MAN MANISH TIWARY WAS SAYING SOMETHING ABOUT ANNA BEING CORRUPT OVER SOME CELEBRATION HIS FOLLOWERS ORGANIZED ON HIS BIRTHDAY??
Venky Vembu Aug 16, 2011
By a curious alignment of planets, Anna Hazare has captured the imagination of an India that is crying out for fundamental change. Gurinder Osan/AP
The events of recent weeks, culminating in Anna Hazare’s detention this morning, mark in many ways a defining moment in India’s evolution as a democracy. The upsurge of popular sentiment in cities across India this morning in solidarity with Team Anna’s detention is stunning. And the readiness with which people who normally go to elaborate lengths to avoid engagement with “dirty” politics are now courting arrest or are otherwise organising public protests – or even just quietly observing a day’s fast at home — to give expression to their sense of disgust with the UPA government’s handling of the Lokpal Bill exercise is quite unprecedented in independent India.
I know of professionals who have taken leave from their investment banking jobs abroad, where they earn six-figure dollar salaries and bonuses, just to be in India today to be part of this movement. One of them has even prepared his young wife for the inevitability of his arrest – which in his family would normally be considered a shame and a scandal – and has been organising protests in Mumbai for the past few days.
At NRI gatherings of Indians Against Corruption, the energy of young Indians sharing ideas to make India corruption-free has been palpable. The extent to which they are ready to step outside of their 9-to-5 grind and donate time and money for the biggest public cause that confronts India is a surprise – even to them. They say they used to think of themselves as apathetic to politics. But now, they’ve found a cause they believe in.
Watch images from the protests
This is the second time in the past few months that Anna Hazare has convincingly demonstrated the popular, mass-based nature of the support that his campaign enjoys, across class, caste and religious distinctions that normally divide us. We first saw it in April, when he launched his fast at Jantar Mantar, and electrified India. Since that time, he and his team have had the entire political establishment — and, to be honest, a cross-section of media commentators – clueless about how a man with little or no financial resources can command so large a following with only rustic simplicity and the power of a message that has great resonance with millions of people.
So, the fact that Anna Hazare and his team enjoys enormous goodwill with a large-enough constituency of people who are sick of corruption and jaded with politics as usual and who have completely lost faith in the political establishment in its entirety is blindingly obvious.
The question then arises: how can Team Anna now leverage this goodwill? Should it continue to remain the “outsider” calling the political establishment to account? What are the odds that it can succeed? How can it channel the deep-seated distrust of the political establishment and bring about demonstrable change.
To address that, it helps to assess the extent of “success” that Team Anna’s campaign has had. It’s beyond dispute that Team Anna’s one major success has been in giving voice to and amplifying the popular disgust with the top-down, 360-degree corruption that pervades our public life — and in showing up starkly that for all the power games that go on with the various political parties, they are pretty much united in their opposition to a strong Lokpal institution.
Yet, while Team Anna gets full marks for elevating the issue of corruption to the top of the agenda and for creating mass awareness, its attempts beyond that have only met with limited success. For instance, the Lokpal Bill that’s now before Parliament is a mere shadow of the strong anti-corruption agency it envisaged. And even those who are willing to stand up and be counted along with Anna aren’t fully convinced that Team Anna’s Jan Lokpal is the answer to corruption. If you can’t convince even those who support you, what chances do you stand against those who oppose you?
It is in that context that Team Anna needs to formulate a forward-looking political strategy.
Since it’s the current UPA government that is now doing its damnedest to water down the Lokpal Bill, it’s fair to say that it will pay a big political price when general elections are due next in 2014. By default, an alternative political formation could then come to power. But even in the event of, say, a BJP-led grouping coming to power, there’s nothing to suggest that it will work to change the system because it’s now too entrenched in the wily ways of electoral game-playing (as was demonstrated most strikingly in its handling of affairs in Karnataka). The BJP has thus far adopted only a wishy-washy stand on the Lokpal Bill, which validates the suspicion that it doesn’t want to alter the rules of the political game too drastically.
Enter the political arena
In any case, why should Team Anna do all the grunge work only to see another status quo-ist party ride on its back and come to power? Why not bite the bullet and enter the “dirty” political fray yourself?
It’s true that Anna Hazare has a disdain for electoral politics as it is practised now, where – in his words – people sell their vote for a bottle of liquor. He also considers himself “unelectable”, given the reality of the political arena. Yet, the biggest criticism that cripples the movement today is that since it is not elected – “or electable” – it has no right to influence the discourse on the Lokpal Bill, now that it is before Parliament.
It’s not just Congress lackeys who make that criticism. Even non-Congress politicians andinsightful commentators make that point.
On that count, Team Anna’s best days as an agent of change from the “outside” may be already over. From here on, it only risks elevating its politics of confrontation, which could erode the political goodwill it now enjoys. It’s perhaps time for Team Anna to enter the political arena and work for change from within.
Even if it does that, it doesn’t have to become just another political party. With the goodwill that it now enjoys and the energy it has infused in its supporters, it can change the way politics is played in India. What it lacks in money power, it can make up for with a bottom-up movement that, as has been already demonstrated, enjoys great resonance. In any case, as we saw with the routing of the DMK in Tamil Nadu, money power stands no chance when a people are set on throwing out a corrupt regime.
The challenges to becoming a mainstream political party are formidable, particularly when you’re (for now) only a one-issue party. But that issue – corruption — is one that is right at the top of people’s consciousness. And as the only political force that today enjoys a nationwide profile, is untainted by corruption, has a vision for changing the system – and a volunteer force that can more than compensate for the money power of its opponents with boots-on-the-ground campaign, Team Anna has enormous strengths in this battle.
Moments such as this come only once in a generation. By a curious alignment of planets, Anna Hazare has captured the imagination of an India that is crying out for fundamental change. It is time for it to seize the moment, stop being an outsider that has exhausted its influence as a change agent, enter electoral politics, and recreate an India in its own image.
“Saala jhooth bolela, kaali dilli ka chhora saala jhooth bolela” was a soulful but rebellious rendition of a Bhojpuri song which found resonance across eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in 1988-89. A rather little-known Bhojpuri singer named Baleshwar Yadav sung this song at the peak of the Bofors controversy and alluded to the involvement of the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in the corruption scandal by referring to him as “kaali Dilli ka chhora (lad from black Delhi)”. Given the melodious nature of the Bhojpuri language, this song was certainly coarse. Yet, it struck the chord with the Bhojpuri belt.
Obviously, in people’s court Rajiv Gandhi was held guilty of the Bofors pay-off in 1989 even though in legal parlance he was innocent. That Baleshwar Yadav’s song conveyed a far deeper political message than legal language was evident in 1989 elections when the Congress was decimated in the polls. Though Rajiv Gandhi and his cohorts tried to defend their position by applying legalese, it only made an adverse impact. V P Singh grew in stature and acceptance, not because of application of his superior oratory or logic but because his political idioms were carried to people like Baleshwar Yadav.
Obviously, the government of the day cannot be faulted for its lack of understanding of India’s political history. Prime minister Manmohan Singh is essentially a career bureaucrat whose brush with politics is self-admittedly a fortuitous event. But there is a battery of leaders within the party who know it quite well that the application of legalese and superior logic is bound to recoil on the government. This is significant in view of the fact that the government has marshalled top-notch lawyers in the garb of politicians to defend its position.
Take, for instance, the spirited defence put up by union home minister P Chidambaram, HRD minister Kapil Sibal or law minister Salman Khursheed who have been targeting and attacking Anna Hazare as if they were performing in a court of law. In a series of press conferences, these ministers have given long expositions on constitutional matters related to individual’s rights, role of parliament and judiciary and executive in a democracy.
The Congress has simultaneously unleashed another lawyer-turned-MP, Manish Tewari, to call Anna names and describe him and his associates as “company” quite akin to the D company. There is no doubt that the government and the Congress have jointly unleashed a battery of lawyers to employ their language to demolish Anna Hazare’s campaign, vilify him and neutralise him with their superior skill of logic.
Contrast this with Anna Hazare’s one-liners coming straight out of innocent rusticity prevalent in India. He offered to serve Kapil Sibal and carry a “bucket of water” for him (“Sibal ke yahan paani bharoonga”) if the Lokpal turns out to be ineffective in tackling corruption. He is not ashamed of showing his ignorance about the complex legalese employed by legal hawks, academia or social elites of Delhi. His certain expressions may sound “anarchic” to constitutionalists. But is India not called a “functional anarchy” by the same set of people?
By all indications, Anna’s political project of getting India rid of corruption has found greater acceptance among people despite the superior logic of his opponents. However, it appears quite amazing that the opposition has still failed to assess the mood of people and has been relying more on the prowess of legalese and complex language and less on its political instincts to comprehend this phenomenon. This is evident by the manner in which the principal opposition, BJP, has not been as forthright in its political response as its ally, Nitish Kumar, with regard to Anna Hazare’s campaign.
There are many instances in Indian political history when people rejected sophisticated language of rulers and opted for a coarse and rustic idiom which found resonance with the people. Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s famous line “Singhasan khali karo ki janata aati hai” (vacate the throne lest people come) was an instant hit during the emergency period though there were cries of “India is Indira and Indira is India” in a very sophisticated English language by Devkant Baruah.
16 August 2011, 11:09 AM IST
A clueless UPA has done what every autocrat does in times of defeat. Crush, show the state power, and stifle the people’s voice and then look around with a stiff neck — hey, any one else? Unaware of the meteoric suddenness with which events unfold, the ruler never realizes that it’s the people who once powered him to ascendancy and it’s the people who will take back that mandate. We love to think we are immortals. Rulers cling to power as if both are made for each other, forever. Anna was willing to talk. He was placid. He didn’t denounce ministers and walked an extra mile to speak to Sonia and her entire power packed group, with Prime Minister and cabinet members. He was given to understand that everyone wants to end corruption. The same ‘red carpet at airport and savagery in Ramlila ground’ style governance unfolded minutes after Anna left the high-profile meeting. Minister after minister mocked at his ideas, in signed articles and on screen. ‘If you want to educate a child, Lokpal will not help,’ said the one who was on the committee to draft the bill. Then why did he accept to be on the committee? Ending corruption does mean providing more for the children’s education and drinking water to the villages. But hate knows no logic. So much was the muck being thrown on anti-corruption campaigner Anna that he had to write to Sonia that Congress leaders were trying to derail the process of drafting the Lokpal Bill by a smear campaign, and she must restrain her colleagues. Nothing happened. By God’s grace, that time she was ok and in Delhi. We wish her early recovery and a healthy long life, but does she have the same sentiments for Anna? If yes, then why this brutality against him by those who are close to her? If anything happens to the old, frail-bodied Gandhian, what will be the consequences? Daily doses of acidic allegations, to the extent alleging he is corrupt, convey a definite message on behalf of the UPA.
It’s not a joke that the common Indian, children and the aged, are feeling an affinity to Anna and not with those who are out to crush his movement and put an inhuman pressure on him. The one who so transparently leads a historic campaign, without any crutches or a well-oiled framework of organization, relying entirely on people’s good faith in goodness, is being attacked by Gandhi cap driven khaki. I believe nothing can be perfect, even Lokpal. But what then is meant by a human endeavor? It’s the closest we can inch towards creating a better environment to nail the bad. Like any other law, that might not be an answer to everything, still there has to be a rule of law and new laws need to be enacted and it helps. Lokpal has to be discussed and passed by Parliament. But how does a fast derail or challenge that process? Anna was assured something, and Lokpal bill draft contains something else. Who ditched whom? Is Anna at fault if he is anguished and feels backstabbed? Even if the government thinks he is being unreasonable and too adamant, is this the way to stop a citizen’s protest and curb his democratic rights? Can this government ask Rahul to limit his entourage to fifty persons and twenty cars? And not to go to Bhatta Parsaul or Amethi? What is not doable to a Congressman, how can that become a lawful act against any other citizen?
Courtesy: The Pioneer
August 05, 2011 11:36:46 PM
If the former Telecom Secretary’s statements are meant to be brushed aside as discredited nonsense, why should a discredited IPS officer be taken seriously?
As it finds itself increasingly beleaguered, the Congress is talking itself into one trap after another. Two recent instances stand out.
In the midst of the telecom scandal trial, Mr Siddhartha Behura, former Telecom Secretary, told the court of a crucial meeting that apparently took place on December 4, 2007. The meeting, Mr Behura claimed, was attended by Mr P Chidambaram, then Finance Minister, and Mr D Subbarao, then Finance Secretary. This meeting decided upon the pricing of 2G licences, he has said. His contention is that he, as Telecom Secretary, only implemented the decisions taken at this meeting. In a sense, he has sought to expand the ambit of culpability.
Responding to Mr Behura’s charge, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal was dismissive. “We have looked into records,” he said, “the records show that there was no such meeting. Neither Mr Chidambaram nor Mr Subbarao remembers any such meeting.” He also warned of “the danger of taking arguments made on behalf of an accused, and treating them as evidence and gospel truth”. Mr Behura, the Telecom Minister added, would attempt to save himself “even on the basis of non-existent facts”.
For all one knows, Mr Sibal may be right. Perhaps Mr Behura is indeed lying and attempting to implicate others in a show of desperation and bravado. If that is the case, the UPA Government needs to oppose him tooth and nail.
Now consider another example. In Gujarat, Mr Sanjiv Bhatt, an officer of the Indian Police Service, has spoken of a meeting at the Gandhinagar residence of Chief Minister Narendra Modi on February 27, 2002. This was on the evening of the Godhra train incineration. Mr Bhatt has alleged Mr Modi asked that Hindus be allowed to “vent out their anger” and wanted Muslims to be “taught a lesson”.
Potentially this is explosive stuff. A police officer is actually saying a Chief Minister asked his administration to back off and allow a state-backed massacre of innocent people. However, the Modi Government has denied Mr Bhatt was in the meeting of senior police officials that the Chief Minister called on February 27, 2002. The then State police chief has refuted Mr Bhatt’s contention that he was in the room that day. Mr Bhatt, it is said, was simply too junior to have attended the meeting.
It has also been established that Mr Bhatt has been in touch with activists such as Ms Teesta Setalvad and with the Congress’s Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly. In e-mail correspondence that is now before the court, he is offered legal support and coaching for his deposition before the Special Investigative Team by Ms Setalvad. He exchanges documents with the Congress leader, Mr SS Gohil, and asks him for a Blackberry phone. He tells another police officer to find out where Haren Pandya, a Minister in the Gujarat Government who was later assassinated, was on February 27, 2002.
The SIT, set up by the Supreme Court to look into the Gujarat violence, had asked Mr Bhatt if Pandya was present at the meeting. Presumably, Mr Bhatt was so engrossed in listening to his Chief Minister that he didn’t notice who else was around. Alternatively, could it be concluded Mr Bhatt wasn’t around himself?
Mr Bhatt has had a controversial career. He faces court cases for misuse of official authority. He has been involved in land-grab cases. In one incident, he was charged with framing a person who had a property dispute with a then judge of the Gujarat High Court. The National Human Rights Commission passed strictures against Mr Bhatt in this matter and fined him for “falsely involving a person in a criminal case … (and violating) fundamental human rights”.
Disciplinary action was taken against the judge as well. The judge appealed before the Supreme Court, but unsuccessfully. The judge’s lawyer, as it happened, was Mr Chidambaram, now Union Home Minister. Today, of course, Mr Chidambaram glosses over that old association and his party praises Mr Bhatt’s “courage”.
Mr Bhatt’s history has led to him having run-ins with the Gujarat Government. He has also been denied a promotion. His career is at a dead-end. Isn’t there enough reason for him to resort to desperate measures and attempt to resurrect himself “even on the basis of non-existent facts”, to borrow Mr Sibal’s expression?
If Mr Behura’s statements are meant to be brushed aside as discredited nonsense, why is Mr Bhatt supposed to be taken so seriously? Does the Congress believe all non-existent meetings are irrelevant but some non-existent meetings are less irrelevant than others?
In another episode, the Jan Lok Pal Bill activists led by Anna Hazare released preliminary findings of a survey they said they had conducted in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk Lok Sabha constituency. The survey apparently showed overwhelming support for the activists’ version of the Lok Pal Bill. To be fair this proved nothing. The Hazare-driven Jan Lok Pal Bill is severely flawed and will end up creating a bureaucratic monster.
However, what was worth noting was the Congress’s reaction. Mr Manish Tiwari, the party spokesperson, invited Mr Hazare to contest the 2014 parliamentary election from Chandni Chowk (now represented by Mr Sibal) and essentially convert that battle into a referendum on competing versions of the Lok Pal Bill.
This is an interesting methodology, one that places primacy on the democratic process and reduces all debate to judgement only by the electronic voting machine. It is worth considering whether Mr Harsh Mander can be put up as the National Advisory Council candidate from Madha or Baramati, take on Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, and convert a constituency contest into a referendum on competing versions of the Food Security Bill.
Alternatively, Ms Setalvad (or even Mr Bhatt) could be the joint Opposition candidate from Maninagar in the December 2012 Gujarat Assembly election. This could then be presented as a referendum on alternative narratives on Gujarat in the past decade.
Those two final suggestions may sound facetious and silly. They are; yet no less offensive is Mr Tiwari’s mocking invitation to Anna Hazare to join electoral politics. Indeed, it is the Congress’s sudden belief in the purity and integrity of the political process that is so astonishing. In Gujarat, it has used extra-political means to fight its opponents. With the NAC, it has used extra-political mechanisms to draft and push through legislation. Having built the kitchen, it suddenly can’t stand the heat. How convenient.
Offence is not always the best defence. Delhi’s ruling establishment is learning it the hard way. For the past few weeks, the UPA, the Congress and its megaphones have gone cacophonic with questions over the colour of the movements led by Anna Hazare and Ramdev against black money and corruption.
The reaction of the Government and the party to civil society’s champions defies not only logic but also consistency. They decided to defame and deride the same leaders whom they treated like manna from heaven until last week. Both Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had written personal letters to both the reformers, praising them for their relentless drive against the same cause to which, both claimed, the Congress is equally committed. Over a dozen ministers were deputed to plead and pray together with Baba and Anna. No doubt, Manmohan Singh and Sonia later put together a very effective team comprising spin doctors, legal eagles, filibusters and sagacious leaders to deal and tame the rising revolt against the establishment. The team led by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was expected to rein in both the crusaders by dialogue, debate and database.
They were also under instructions that if they failed in their endeavour, they should not spare any page in the rulebook to derail and demoralise the civil society groups through the use and misuse of the ever-ready investigative agencies. As the public outcry against the system acquires monumental proportions, the Government has devised a dangerous mechanism of dealing with dissent in a democracy. The message is clear: Join Us or Perish.
Once Anna and Baba refused to fall in line, the ruling establishment dubbed them as communal, corrupt, thugs and agents of unknown enemies of the state. But the Government fell into yet another trap for which they weren’t ready. Those who oppose both Anna and Baba chose to ask some questions like:
● Who were the donors who provided huge funds to both these campaigners?
● How are they spending their money?
● Why don’t civil society leaders declare their assets to the public?
● Are civil society leaders divided on many issues?
● How can a few selected people be allowed to dictate the nation’s agenda?
● Why do they want a live telecast of the proceedings of the panel on the Lokpal Bill?
● Why have they taken the support of organisations like the RSS and other allegedly communal organisations?
Interestingly, none of these issues were raised by any of the senior ministers who spent over 50 hours with Anna and Ramdev at the cost of government functioning, pleading for the agitation to be called off. As the Government and opinion-makers it sponsors mounted a tirade against Anna and Ramdev, they received an equally powerful rebuttal to each of the doubts raised about their motives. Team Anna turned the tables on the Government by putting out the assets of each key team member on their website.
Anna also ensured his website was brought to date by uploading the names of the movement’s donors, money spent on each rally, travel and so on and so forth. An earlier attempt to tar the image of Shanti Bhushan and his son by circulating a fake CD fell flat when two contradictory reports were handed over about the veracity of the discs. The Delhi Police have conveniently chosen to forget all about the case. Some prominent Government leaders issued veiled threats, promising reprisals against those who were part of the civil society movements. In Baba’s case, the threats were implemented; the Government selectively leaked reports on his business empire. It also sent out clear signals to all its departments to dig deep into the yoga guru’s past and present to try sabotage his future.
If the Government’s moves were aimed at silencing and demoralising both Baba and Anna, it failed miserably. Instead, it only brought them together.
Allegations of a division among civil society ranks were exposed by a massive protest fast at Rajghat by Anna and his team. They argue that when Parliament proceedings are telecast live, what is the problem with doing the same with the Lokpal Bill meetings? Civil society leaders were particularly upset with the way the Government treated Baba. Questions posed by the establishment were answered to with more inconvenient questions to the Congress and the Government. The most devastating question was on the legitimacy of the National Advisory Council led by Sonia. If, as the Government points out, unelected leaders like Anna and Baba are forcing it to set the tone for legislative business, then why is the NAC, with unknown members, being allowed to summon government files and officials for a brief on every law that the Government proposes to enact? The prime minister and all political parties are under pressure now to force ministers and leaders to declare assets on regular basis. Now, the public will ask the leaders to declare how much money was spent on each rally and also the names of donors who contributed towards these political shows.
Even the Election Commission that has failed to take any serious action against political parties for not filling their annual returns correctly will have to pull its socks. No political party has ever given out the names of those who give them money to run their political establishments and fight the elections.
According to credible estimates, over Rs 80,000 crore is spent by parties every five years on contesting polls and meeting their running costs. Most leaders now travel only by chartered planes.
It is now time to come down to earth. If the Government continues with its strong-arm tactics, it should be ready to confront a tsunami. After all, arrogance does bring agony.