- Kiran Bedi Accused of using inflated travel bills and overcharging NGOs. She says the money was used for good causes.
- Prashant Bhushan Beaten up in his office by assailants who attacked him because he said he favoured a plebiscite in Kashmir.
- Justice Hegde Cong leader Digvijay Singh accused him of going slow on a Lokayukta report against the BJP govt in Karnataka.
- Arvind Kejriwal First, the I-T dept demanded dues from his time in the IRS. Now, he’s charged with diverting donations.
- Shanti Bhushan Was accused of getting two Noida plots as a ‘gift’ from the UP govt. The Allahabad High Court quashed the case.
“Even we were taken aback by the donations people gave to the movement. No money was taken without issuing a receipt. All members, as also the public, knew that receipts were in the name of the Public Cause Research Foundation (PCRF). Why is there a malicious campaign against us?”
—Arvind Kejriwal, responding to Swami Agnivesh’s question why donations for India Against Corruption were deposited in PCRF’s account
October has been a cruel month for the Anna Hazare movement, directed against corruption and pushing for a Lokpal bill. Those who are part of the movement say the government has trained its sights on them. Some even see a pattern in how members of Team Anna have been targeted—first by the income-tax department, then, allegedly, by the dirty tricks departments of the government and the Congress. “Hang us all, but pass the Lokpal bill,” Arvind Kejriwal, a key member of Anna’s team, was prompted to say, having faced the ignominy of his former employer, the Income-Tax department, asking him to repay certain dues, and having seen Prashant Bhushan, another key member, being beaten by an unruly bunch that said a statement he made on Kashmir was “sacrilegious”.
But it’s not just October. Right from April, when the movement against corruption captured the popular imagination and forced a reluctant government to include civil society members in a discussion on the Lokpal bill, there has been pressure on the core committee members of Anna’s team who, quite fairly, have been expected to be above suspicion. Indeed, as some sceptics have asked, “If Kejriwal hasn’t paid certain dues, shouldn’t he explain why? If Kiran Bedi has cooked her accounts, shouldn’t she explain what prompted her to do so? If members of the movement are receiving donations, shouldn’t that be properly accounted for?” Surely, the committee members are obliged by their own standards of morality to come clean.
“Kiran Bedi, it appears, has only directed funds to her favourite cause,” says Ashis Nandy, a social commentator. “She has been flamboyant and arrogant in the past and there are many in government who would relish her present discomfiture. But I think people can see a pattern in the attacks on members of Anna’s team. There’s discomfort people feel about corruption in public office, and I don’t think such attacks will turn the public away from them.”
But first, let’s address the key question that was raised, first by Swami Agnivesh, once a supporter of the movement, now “a deeply hurt man”, who has demanded that donations made to Kejriwal’s organisation be made public. “I’m not accusing anyone of pilfering money. I am only demanding a complete audit,” says Agnivesh. Asked if he knew all along that donations were being made to Kejriwal’s PCRF, he said he did, but explains why he was seeking an audit only now. “I had to swallow a lot of humiliation and insults in the last couple of months, and the cause of the campaign is important for all of us. I was deeply hurt that neither Kiran Bedi nor I was asked whether we wanted to be part of the draft committee. I would have refused. But nobody asked me,” he says.
|“The charges will not lessen the public’s trust in Anna’s crusade, the culmination of what we’ve been seeing for 40 yrs.” Ashis Nandy, Social commentator||“By getting into politics, the Anna team will harm itself. Disgust with corruption led to disgust with politics.” Soli Sorabjee, Former attorney general|
|“The only way the govt can attack us is to show that we are immoral or unethical, for the power we wield is moral power.” Rajagopal P.V., Team Anna member||“An audit of my NGO will be over by month-end. We first had to return to banks cheques from unknown donors.” Arvind Kejriwal, Team Anna member|
|“I saved money to put it back into my NGO. How is that a crime? Is that corruption? Why are we being hounded so?” Kiran Bedi, Team Anna member||“I am deeply hurt by what Team Anna did to me. I swallowed the insults. I haven’t accused anybody of swindling.” Swami Agnivesh, Social activist|
For his part, Kejriwal says the audit will be completed by this month-end. “Our first responsibility was to issue receipts to people, then return cheques from unknown sources to the banks from where they were issued and then make everything public. It has taken us time, but the government anyway gives six months for audits—and we haven’t violated any law.” As for accepting money on behalf of PCRF, he says this was because it was a registered body with an office, and therefore convenient as a recipient.
Members of Anna’s team say Agnivesh’s outburst is linked to his gradual estrangement from them. At one time, he was seen as one of the prime movers of the campaign, but later, some sting tapes emerged showing his purported proximity with people in government. Agnivesh says the tapes hurt and disturbed him, but what hurt more was the manner in which he was later slighted by Anna, Bedi and Kejriwal.
Anna’s team members have all been targeted, as was expected. But then, crusaders’ hands must be spotless.
The second target has been Kiran Bedi, whose lampooning of politicians (for which she remained unapologetic) riled both the political class and even sections of the public. She now stands accused of inflating travel expenses and overcharging her NGO hosts on several occasions. Her travel agent’s office has been “visited” by income-tax authorities seeking details of her itinerary. Bedi says she has done nothing wrong. “I travelled economy class, while my hosts got me business class tickets, at a concession I’m entitled to as a gallantry award winner. Where’s the question of stealing? The difference was ploughed back to my NGO. Why are we being hounded?” she asks. Nevertheless, she has to explain why she overinvoiced fares instead of seeking direct donations. Some say she can’t absolve herself easily and point out she has claimed inflated airfare from two or more organisations whose functions she attended, for travelling in the same flight to the same destination on the same day. But Kejriwal stands by her. “Hang us, hang Bedi if she’s found to have indulged in corrupt practices,” he says.
The third target has been Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who has singlehandedly spearheaded a series of public interest litigations on wide-ranging issues like the 2G scam, in the process embarrassing the UPA government. His mistake? At a public gathering in Varanasi on September 24, a question on Kashmir was posed thus: “You have carried out a referendum in several places for the Lokpal bill. What is your view on Kashmir?” Answering in his personal capacity, Bhushan said that the views of the people of Kashmir should first be gauged, and if they favour plebiscite, it should be respected.
Despite the 24x7 media, it was a fortnight before this comment reached Delhi, was fanned into a flaming issue and made an excuse for beating him up. It’s not difficult to attribute larger motives to the attack, for the emotive Kashmir issue has indeed created some fissures in the movement. Asked to expand on Bhushan’s Kashmir comment, team member Rajagopal P.V. excused himself, but says he is committed to the anti-corruption movement. “Such targeting is only to be expected,” he says. “You’re putting your hands in the beehive and you will get stung. The choice is between submitting to it and standing up against a corrupt, oppressive system.”
Earlier, Bhushan’s father, Shanti Bhushan, had been targeted: CDs of a purported conversation Bhushan senior had with Samajwadi Party leaders Amar Singh and Mulayam Yadav surfaced. Forensic analysis from the government lab at Chandigarh and a private laboratory in the US said the CD seemed to have been doctored.
In retrospect, virtually no one in the movement has been spared. In April, Congress troubleshooter Digvijay Singh launched a salvo against Justice Santosh Hegde, raising doubts about his ability as the Lokayukta of Karnataka to check corruption under the Yediyurappa government. Hegde had offered to quit. Many believe Digvijay’s ire goes back to when he was chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and Hegde was a Supreme Court judge. Corruption charges had been levelled against two of Digvijay’s ministers and Hegde had given adverse rulings.
The systematic targeting is not lost on political scientist Yogendra Yadav. He says, “There’s no doubt the campaigners are being targeted not only by the political establishment but also by elements in the media. People will be judged not by the source of information but by the nature of the disclosures. Kejriwal is not hiding anything. As for Bedi, she won’t be put on par with those she targets, but she has to explain her actions.”
All this raises the question: Has the movement lost its shine? No, says Nandy emphatically. And former attorney-general Soli Sorabjee says, “It’s very unfortunate these setbacks have occurred to a movement that started off so well. I see them as counter-attacks. In the eyes of the public, whose disgust with corruption is linked to Hazare being an apolitical man, it is important that politics be kept out of the movement.”
That the movement is undergoing a subtle change is evident from the issues it espoused to the political causes it now seeks to embrace. And, as Yadav says, when a movement succeeds, certain alignments are bound to take place. But the goal does not appear to have changed—those in power should be made accountable. As crusaders who draw strength from the moral power they wield, it would only be appropriate for members of Team Anna to take the first step of making themselves accountable.