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Dirty Tricks Department

This should have been expected.

The father and son duo of Shanti and Prashant Bhushan have taken on the mightiest of the land and ended up making powerful enemies over the years.

One need not read Mr Shanti Bhushan's autobiography to understand this.  Just a cursory glance at the names and some of the keywords associated with the Bhushans should be enough: From Indira Gandhi to Rajiv Gandhi to Narendra Modi. From Anil Ambani to Ratan Tata. From Bofors to Spectrum 2G. From Supreme Court Chief Justices to the CVC and the UPA government.

Those who don't hate their guts for taking on the corrupt, seem to have a problem with their fearlessly taking on the cause of various underdogs — be they the victims of communal riots in Gujarat or encounter specialists in Delhi or Dantewada, the assorted "desh drohis" that some seem to simply want exterminated— Tribals, Maoists, Kashmiris, Arundhati Roys, the displaced, sundry accused and convicts on death row.

Or now their espousal of the Lokpal Bill.

While a closer scrutiny of those involved in the campaign was to be expected, and is even welcome, the disinformation campaign launched in right earnest last week seems to have gotten more and more vicious against Mr Shanti Bhushan ever since his name was announced as the co-chair of the joint committee to draft the bill.

And when, on the eve of the first meeting of the joint committee, a CD suddenly surfaced, purportedly showing him,  in conversation with Mr Mulayam Singh and Mr Amar Singh, suggesting that the judge handling a case referred by them could be bribed and that his son Prashant could help in the matter, it seemed just a bit too much of a stretch.

Mr Shanti Bhushan has rubbished this CD as fabricated. He has also registered an FIR:

The said CD is clearly a fabricated CD as I have never had any conversation with the afore-named persons. The contents of the said conversation are defamatory in nature. It appears that the said CD has been fabricated in order to malign me. The afore-named journalist has not left the CD with me but it must be there in the Indian Express office at Bahadurshah Jafar Marg. This is clearly an offence of forgery under Section 469 of IPC which is a cognizable offence. Further, it is apparent that several persons are involved in this fabrication and therefore, it is a clear case of conspiracy also under Section 120 B of IPC. This is a very serious matter which needs to be investigated immediately. I therefore request you to immediately register a FIR and start the investigation into the commission of criminal offences stated above.

Mr Prashant Bhushan adds that while the voice on the CD may well be his father's, it appears that different conversations seem to have been spliced together. He also maintains that his father has never met Mr Amar Singh and demands an immediate forensic evaluation of the CD to settle all doubts once and for all.

There is no dearth of ironies in this episode, not the least of which is that Mr Prashant Bhushan has for some years in the past been consistently waging a legal battle [eg, see here and here] demanding that earlier CDs of Mr Amar Singh and Mr Mulayam Singh's conversations, about just this sort of alleged "fixing", though tapped illegally, be made public.

It is also not a secret that till Mr Prashant Bhushan filed his complaint in the 2G Spectrum Scam, Mr Anil Ambani — who is known to be close to Mr Amar Singh — was not in the dock as an accused in that scam.

It is also well-known that Mr Amar Singh has of late been close to a certain section in the Congress, known for what may euphemistically be called realpolitik.

It is significant that not even remotely has anyone — not even Mr Amar Singh — ever hinted at anything of this kind against the Bhushans, though various CDs of Mr Amar Singh's conversations with Mr Mulayam Singh have done the rounds for some years now.

The Bhushans, if anything, have made it a mission to wage a relentless war against corruption in higher judiciary. Not a squeak has hitherto been heard against them of any financial misdemeanours.

Given all this, Mr Shanti Bhushan does seem to have a valid point when he says that all of this appears to be a desperate attempt "to discredit the members of the committee & derail the bill"

Much as one might feel otherwise at a personal level, on a matter of principle it's no one's case that the Bhushans be given a free pass only on the basis of their reputation and excellent track record.  Fairness demands that an immediate and urgent investigation be conducted, as indeed is being demanded by them, to get to the bottom of this.

And that — one does not have to be a Sherlock Holmes to conclude — precisely seems to have been the calculation in releasing this CD at this juncture.

This latest episode underscores the need for exactly what it perhaps seeks to scuttle — an independent investigative authority with credibility.

SHORT TAKES
17 Apr 2011, 10:18:48 PM | Sundeep Dougal

This is what the TOI said today:

A discreet investigation conducted in a well-equipped laboratory by experts whose skills have been enlisted for investigation into important cases, has endorsed that the CD was not spliced and ran as a continious conversation.

The experts, however, say they can`t yet establish if the voices in the CD were, indeed, those of Shanti Bhushan and others, or fake. "To reach a conclusion on that count, we need voice samples of all the persons concerned to match with those recorded on the CD," said a person familiar with the findings of the examination of the CD.

Interestingly, yesterday, Mr Vinod Sharma writing in the HT had also mentioned a "report by an agency that specialises in such examinations" without naming it.

17 Apr 2011, 09:47:05 PM | Sundeep Dougal

So will the TOI and Vinod Sharma of HT at least now name which forensic labs they used for the Shanti Bhushan CD? http://bit.ly/gV9wyy

17 Apr 2011, 12:31:38 AM | Sundeep Dougal

The Telegraph captured the farce that is Amar Singh quite evocatively:

Amar, who is no longer a part of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, soon jumped into the fray to confound the confusion. Amar spoke to the media with gay abandon, neither categorically denying nor confirming the conversation but managing to sow many seeds of doubt.

While he tentatively denied remembering any such conversation, he said he might have had 14,000 conversations with Mulayam Singh and many of those could have been related to legal issues. He said the CD appeared to have been doctored but didn’t deny the voice was his....

Amar wanted to know who made the CD, repeatedly asking, “Is Pappu ka papa kaun hai (Who has fathered this CD)?” He denied having leaked the CD himself but hinted at too many conspiracies at work.

17 Apr 2011, 12:23:53 AM | Sundeep Dougal

The Pioneer provided the following masala, attributing it to police sources:

According to police sources, the CD, which is yet to be recovered by the police, contains telephonic conversation between Bhushan, SP supremo and Amar Singh in which they were discussing about paying Rs 4.5 crore allegedly to Bhushan for filing some Public Interest Litigations (PILs). “The complainant told us that the journalist threatened him by saying he would circulate the CD in the market,” the official said adding, “After receiving the complaint we searched the newspaper’s office to recover the CD but to no avail. We also questioned the journalist who refuted the charge and said that he had only approached Bhushan to get his comment on the alleged CD.”

17 Apr 2011, 12:23:15 AM | Sundeep Dougal

The interesting thing is that the Bhushans were not given any CD. Vinod Sharma in the Hindustan Times does not tell us which forensic agency it was that specialises in such examinations:

However, a forensic analysis of the CD revealed “the conversation was continuous — without any break and (the) said audio file appears to be not tampered”.

The following could of course be determined by anybody looking at the file properties and Vinod Sharma in the Hindustan Times does not tell us which forensic agency it was that specialises in such examinations:

The report by an agency that specialises in such examinations says: “It was noticed that the CD was having an audio file, named as 1.MP3 recorded on 15/01/2006 at 12.16 hours of size 2,260KB. The duration of the recording is of 1 minute and 55.559 seconds.

“The file 1.MP3 was burnt on the CD on 15/01/2006. The analysis further shows that the software 'itunes' was used for recording the said file and CD was burnt using an Apple Macintosh System,” the report continues.

When told about the forensic report obtained by HT on its own initiative, Bhushan said: “Only a part of the voice looks like mine. If you are saying the conversation is continuous, then it is a case of somebody having imitated my voice.”

17 Apr 2011, 12:21:57 AM | Sundeep Dougal

After the usual health warnings that the paper "cannot vouch for the authenticity of the CD or of the conversations", the Indian Express pointed out:

Both Amar Singh and Mulayam said they couldn’t recall the conversation. Shanti Bhushan denied having ever spoken to Mulayam Singh or Amar Singh which Amar Singh contradicted; Prashant Bhushan said that “such a conversation cannot take place.”

...The Bhushans agreed that one of the voices in the clip “largely appears to be that of Shanti Bhushan” but claimed that the talk could be “spliced”.

...On Wednesday night, Shanti Bhushan had told The Indian Express that he had never met or spoken to Mulayam Singh Yadav or Amar Singh. Interestingly, Prashant Bhushan today told reporters at a press conference that his father had met Mulayam several times but not Amar Singh.
 

17 Apr 2011, 12:18:08 AM | Sundeep Dougal

The Indian Express describes the contents of the CD thus:

...The clip purportedly has Amar Singh telling Mulayam that Shanti Bhushan was “sitting next to me” and Prashant — “a very famous” lawyer — can get some of his (Mulayam’s) work done (“wo kaam kara denge”). He then refers to an “Andhra matter” and names a judge.

Shanti Bhushan is then purportedly heard talking to Mulayam directly during which he makes a reference to a Rs 4 crore payment. That voice is heard saying that Prashant ‘manages’ very well (“Prashant bahut achcha manage karte hain...iske liye bahut zyada paise ki zaroorat nahi hai, chaar crore rupaya bahut hai”)

The purported voice of Shanti Bhushan is also heard asking Mulayam to “arrange” for Prashant (“aap Prashant ka intezaam kar dijiye”).

It’s not clear when this purported conversation took place but at one point the man supposed to be Shanti Bhushan refers to one “Bhardwaj” — apparently a reference to former Law Minister H R Bhardwaj who is now the governor of Karnataka — which can be an indication that this conversation might have happened sometime before May 2009, when Bhardwaj was the Law Minister.

Bhushan is heard saying that Bhardwaj was corrupt.

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