Kiran Bedi’s fudging of her accounts — after she charged her hosts for business class travel when she actually flew economy class — is undeniably ‘fudging’, and must be called so even though the difference in the airfare was ostensibly to go to her NGO. Bedi should have done the correct thing by telling her ‘sponsors’ that flying business class would be unnecessary. However, since the airfare suggested business class travel, the balance after paying for an economy class ticket could have been donated to the NGO with a separate cheque. Many were uncomfortable when Bedi was running her NGO while being a serving police officer. They believed that there would be a clear conflict of interests, since a lot of people would be tempted to offer Bedi largesse in the form of donations to her NGO.
There are a number of questions that come to mind. Why do people in India try to beat the system and defy clearly-defined norms? Why do most want to make a quick buck whenever the opportunity presents itself? Does the problem lie in the mindset of the people, or does it stem from the fact that India went from being a scarcity economy to a command economy with no real array of choices? On the one hand, it is a cultural norm in India to give ‘chanda’ in an attempt to assuage a guilty conscience; on on other hand, one never ceases to ask for more. Can small acts of ‘corruption’, like fudging airfare accounts, be overlooked, while bribing a government official for an illegal licence remains an offence? Also, is it right or wrong to have to bribe an official of the government to do his job? Finally, why do leaders not root out corruption from all the departments in the government they are responsible for?
From accounts and accountability to policies and everything that affects governance, ‘fudging’ or a lack of transparency is the prevalent mechanism in Indian society. The problem lies with the Indian mindset. All those who are guilty of indiscretions are equally culpable, irrespective of the scale of the crime. Anna Hazare should not have defended Bedi. He should have said that her actions were wrong. Such double standards from self-anointed, ‘clean’ men like Hazare are completely unacceptable in a democracy. Corruption and malpractices have to be fought at many levels. This starts with a rewriting of the existing processes of governance and a reworking of the system of delivery of goods and services. The effort has to begin from within the government; otherwise, there will be endless street protests, ‘fasts-unto-death’, destruction of public property and lives, and disruption of work. The voice of the people is never heard, and so they protest out of sheer desperation.
Leaders sit in their ivory towers, completely disconnected from the people. They are responsible for societal strife and upheavals but do not act when corrective measures are demanded. India has been let down by its ruling dispensation. As a result, a liberal civilization like ours is vulnerable to potentially fascist forces. This has happened elsewhere in the world. India should learn some hard lessons from history. Overriding the tenets of the Constitution and violating individual fundamental rights for personal gain are frightening developments in the country. In an effort to appease radical fringe elements and garner ‘support’, our political parties have been reduced to playing murky games in the name of electoral politics. The deterioration in the mindset of our political class and in our administrative services is pushing India to the edge of disaster. It is high time that an able leader took on the responsibility of getting the country out of this mess.
Monday, October 31, 2011
Anna Hazare is already planning his next move, with Team Anna having put up a united front in the face of controversies surrounding some key leaders, say his supporters. But political analysts say repairing the damage to the anti-corruption movement will be easier said than done.The core committee of India Against Corruption (IAC) - the umbrella organisation of the Anna movement - held a crucial meeting in Ghaziabad Saturday after coming under attack from within and outside. But it decided against disbanding the committee and warned the government against targeting its leaders."Hazare is a strategist who can understand the ways of the government and the political forces working against the movement. He may take the next step in revamping the movement without disowning the current leaders and giving an impression that he is undertaking a cleansing act," an IAC leader told IANS, not wishing to be identified as he was not authorised to speak to the media on the group's functioning. .Hazare, 74, who is on a "maun vrat" (vow of silence) since Oct 15 and was therefore absent from the meeting, Sunday met key team members Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Prashant Bhushan at his native Ralegan Siddhi village."He will utilise the interaction with Team Anna leaders Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bushan to take stock of the organisational set-up," the IAC leader said.
"Hazare is a veteran who will try to consolidate the gains of his two fasts in New Delhi this year and continue his mission for a strong Lokpal bill. He will use this phase of silence as an occasion for introspection and plan his future course. His aim is to be remembered as the leader who led the agitation for the enactment of the Lokpal bill."Bedi, a former top and one of those dogged by allegations of financial impropriety, told IANS, "There are no cracks in the movement. The popular support to the movement continues."But political analysts disagree."The credibility of Team Anna has been deeply dented. The movement is in a precarious situation and the leadership in disarray," Mridula Mukherjee, professor in New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, told IANS.Kerala-based political analyst B.R.P Bhaskar told IANS over phone: "Allegations of financial misappropriation by Bedi and Kejriwal have tarnished the image of the IAC to some extent. We have to see whether Team Anna sorts out their problems."Besides Hazare, other leaders like activist Medha Patkar and former Supreme Court judge N. Santosh Hegde did not attend the core committee meet and cited pre-fixed engagements as reasons for it.Only 16 of the original 26 core members of IAC were present. Two members - Gandhian activist P.V. Rajagopal and Magsaysay award winner Rajendra Singh - have already resigned to protest the politicisation of the movement.As the leaders of the IAC allege that the "dirty tricks department" of the government was working to tarnish the image of the movement", ministers have been discreet."It (rift) is their internal affair. It is between them. Why should we involve ourselves in it?" Law Minister Salman Khurshid had told reporters when asked about divisions in the Team Anna.While allegations of financial impropriety were levelled against Kejriwal and Bedi, Prashant Bhushan was attacked by rightwing activists for his suggestion for a plebiscite on the Kashmir issue. Hazare himself criticised Bhushan for the statement.Kejriwal, described as autocratic by Rajendra Singh, has said he is ready to mend his ways.As for the criticism that the movement had been politicised with Kejriwal running an anti-Congress campaign in the recent Hisar Lok Sabha seat by-poll, he said they would not have done it, if the letter of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, assuring the tabling of the Lokpal bill in the winter session of parliament, had come earlier.
But will these efforts by Team Anna leaders be enough?"The IAC leaders don't have the depth, track record or the stamina to lead a genuine movement, unlike our freedom fighters," Mukherjee said. "What is worrying me is the demoralisation likely to set in from the floundering of the movement."
Team Anna members say a vengeful establishment is using all its dirty tricks against them
- 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 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.
Sunday, October 30, 2011
'What do you make of Kiran Bedi?' It was Pertie but what was surprising is that he sounded as if he genuinely wanted to hear my view. Normally Pertie prefers to do the talking. "I'd say there's one key question." I was enjoying this rare opportunity to hold forth and determined to makethe most of it.
"As Justice Hegde put it, did Bedi get the permission of the organisers or not? If she did, then she's done nothing wrong asking for a business class fare but traveling economy and depositing the savings in her own NGO.""But that's not all he said." Pertie's interruption took me aback. "Hegde added a critical rider. He said this is not simply a question of informing them after the deed is done but of asking their permission in advance. The important point is the organisers should have a real opportunity to say no if they want to.""Hmmm". Pertie was clearly well informed. "Suppose the organisers were only informed afterwards but did not raise an objection. Isn't that also okay?""That's presenting them with a fait accompli and what you don't know is why they didn't object. It could be because they've no objection but it could also be because it's too late to object without endangering the event to which they've invited Bedi. The truth is there could be many reasons and all of them don't let her off the hook.""What about looking at it differently." Somewhat hesitantly I tried to advance another view. "The organisers were willing to pay business class fares and if part of that money is diverted to Kiran Bedi's NGO - and not her personal account - it hardly matters in financial terms to the organisers. As far as they're concerned there is no additional liability and they're paying an amount they are anyway willing to pay. So why does she need their permission in advance?""Because it's their money, that's why! And they have a right to decide how its spent. They may be happy to spend it on her travels but not donate it to her NGO. That's their prerogative.""But she diverted it to a good cause." I thought this would clinch it."Hang on, she isn't Robin Hood and the organisers aren't the wicked Sheriffs of Nottingham. Many of them are also charities. Some are also NGOs. They're not awash with money and they too have pressing needs. This is more like robbing Peter to pay Paul."
"So what should Kiran Bedi have done?" I was genuinely curious."Simple". Pertie looked triumphant as he said it. He had laid a trap and I had walked straight in. "First, when she accepted their invitation she should have asked the organisers if she could split the money between her travel costs and her NGO. Then, she should have asked for two cheques. One for the travel agent to pay the airfare and the other in the name of her NGO as a donation.""And you really think that makes all the difference?""If she cares about doing the right thing it makes a whopping difference. But if she doesn't then the only difference between her and the politicians she attacks is the sums of money involved. Big or small, it's still improper.""Anyway, she's returning the money. So isn't it settled?""Except that suggests she was wrong to take it in the first place! But, I agree, it's better than hanging on to it."
The crusade that Anna Hazare started had all the makings of bringing about a social revolution. The topic of corruption is one which strikes a chord in all of us. But some months down the line, the core issue seems to have been overshadowed by the personalities in Anna's group. And therein lies the vital flaw. It is when so much is seemingly invested in the so-called incorruptability of the core members of the Anna Gang that it moves into dangerous ground. And this probably explains why the Anna Gang is tilting at windmills today to explain away the foibles of its members.It now seems that this paper has played its part in influencing Anna Hazare. Or, at any rate, in influencing Raju Parulekar, Hazare's Pune-based authorised blogger. When the term 'the Anna gang' was introduced in the media via an HT editorial some months ago, the idea was to a) describe Anna and Co. as a tight, dedicated bunch taking on the establishment and b) to get the ludicrous term 'Team Anna' (it's not a cricket team!) out of the system.Now it turns out that Hazare-Parulekar has picked up the word 'gang' and turned it loose on four 'mysterious' members of the establishment who have made life difficult for the Anna Gang. In the blog, Hazare wrote earlier this week: "I do not blame all the ministers from the Congress party or the government as a whole. There are some righteous and committed people in the government but they cannot raise their voice because of this 'gang of four'."While Congressman Rashid Alvi and much of the media have howled in protest about the usage of the 'derogatory' word to describe four upright members of our Parliament, Digvijaya Singh, tongue firmly in his tweet, said, "Anna has blogged against gang of four? Who are the lucky ones? I am curious!"But this 'gang of four' business is the sideshow. I'm assuming the Fab Four - or whoever else are the gang members - will shrug off the description manfully. It's the Anna Gang that seems to be imploding. And this time, they can't just blame it on being victimised.Santosh Hegde and Medha Patkar have increasingly made their discomfort with the Anna Gang's unfocused approach public. Another member of the group, Kumar Vishwas has written an open letter to Hazare, calling for the core committee to be 'broad-based'. What started off as a campaign against systemic corruption and for a strong lokpal law looks dangerously like becoming a wishy-washy, amorphous and squabbling rant against any critic.Let's be clear about one thing. The Anna Gang was never going to be non-political. The core issue - pushing for a strong anti-corruption law at a time when the government has been bombarded with charges of corruption under its watch - is political. What has played against the Anna Gang is its no-holds-barred entry into the fringes of electoral politics, something it insisted it was too high-minded to get into.If the Anna Gang was above politics, it is passing strange that its most prominent members went to Hisar where a very political process in the form of a by-poll was going on. And just in case there was any doubt that politics was very much on the agenda, Anna Gang member and political activist Arvind Kejriwal specifically asked people not to vote for the Congress, going further by asking people not to give the party a single vote in UP as well. If that is not politics, then what is? If such calls must be made, then it must come from those who are beyond reproach.The charge of inflated bills against Kiran Bedi wouldn't have made any theoretical difference to the anti-corruption cause. A fat man can rage against cholesterol. But in the lean field of Indian politics, such a charge spells hypocrisy, something that more than anyone else, Hazare supporters outside the hardcore support base are unlikely to ignore. It certainly doesn't help matters when we get to see window panes shatter as some people throw stones from inside a glass house. It is simply not good enough to say that accounts were fudged in order to benefit her NGO. If she felt that her NGO was deserving of donations, then she could have said so upfront. It also does not wash when she says she has returned the money, the original sin was taking it under false pretexts in the first place. By this logic anyone caught with their hand in the till can claim that once the money is returned, no offence was committed.Power corrupts; power without accountability corrupts with corrosive power. It isn't the end of the line for the Anna Gang. An emphatic, visible spring-cleaning with the focus back on the real job at hand - pushing for a strong Lokpal Bill - can rescue the campaign. And for that to happen, not only can we do without a divided house among the crusaders, but we can also do with a more focused political campaign which ensures that next month, Parliament passes a Bill that we all need, that we all want as one giant gang of Indians.
Saturday, October 29, 2011
The Team Anna core committee is likely to recommend its own dissolution at its crucial meeting on Saturday and authorise Anna Hazare to put in place a new arrangement.
The anti-corruption movement that had shaken up the government only a few weeks ago is now facing its stiffest challenge from within as its key members had been charged with corruption and authoritarianism.
While two members, former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde and social activist Medha Patkar, have decided to stay away from Saturday’s meeting, a third, Kumar Vishwas, wrote an open letter to Hazare, calling for broad-basing the core committee.
Saturday’s meeting will also test the group’s grit amid charges against three of its senior leaders. While Arvind Kejriwal faces a government deadline to repay more than Rs9 lakh he owes to it and Kiran Bedi admitted to have claimed inflated travel reimbursements, Prashant Bhushan got brickbats for his support for a plebiscite in Kashmir.
Vishwas's letter urged Hazare “to suspend the present core committee and create a new system to enable us to see a corruption-free new India”. The letter is being seen as part of the strategy to bring back the focus on the lokpal bill.
Vishwas appears to have the backing of majority of the core committee members, who are likely to accept his suggestion of authorising Hazare to reconstitute the team.
In a related development, Hazare's Pune based official blogger, Raju Parulekar, hinted that the core committee might be expanded. He said working and steering committees would also be in place soon.
The embattled Team Anna received a fresh salvo from a former member, Magsasay Award winner water conservationist Rajendra Singh, who accused Kejriwal and Bedi of refusing to listen to concerns over the campaign against corruption being turned into opposition to a particular political party.
“During Anna's fast, I felt many times that the campaign was turning political and we warned against it. But, they (Kejriwal and Bedi) were not willing to listen. We didn’t make it an issue as it would have harmed the campaign,” he told HT.
But, Singh is willing to forget and forgive provided Kejriwal admits that the political campaign in Hisar was a mistake and will not be repeated.
Although the team members were not forthcoming on Saturday's agenda, but it has been learnt that the meeting will cover all the controversies the team has been lately facing.
Friday, October 28, 2011
Boy, Kiran Bedi has to pay a big amount to the taxman for profiting from her over-invoicing.
The Income Tax Department has sent notices to the two NGOs run by Team Anna member Kiran Bedi to find out whether they are engaged in commercial activities.
"We are not targetting any particular NGO or charitable trust. Infact, we have sent notices to several organisations, including those run by Kiran Bedi. We want to see if any one of these are engaged in commercial activities also," a senior Finance Ministry official said.Bedi, who had founded India Vision Foundation and Navjyoti India Foundation, however, denied that her NGOs were engaged in kind of commercial activity.
"We are not engaged in any commercial activity for profit and every year we have been filing our account statement before the Revenue authorities (sic). We are in this work for making the difference in people's lives and making them better, self-reliant citizens," she said.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) enjoy tax exemptions under the Income Tax Act as they are engaged in charitable activities and provide education and medical relief to the poor.
Bedi, a former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, is a key member of Anna Hazare's team which has launched the anti-corruption crusade and is fighting for an effective Lok Pal Bill.
Bedi was in the news recently for allegedly inflating travel bills and overcharging hosts
Team Anna has a grand goal to achieve. It should not wither away after coming this close.
In just two months after the team spearheaded independent India’s biggest mass movement against corruption and forced the political class to eat humble pie, there are signs that it is sinking deeper and deeper into the morass of ego tussles, personal differences and ideological confusion. It’s fast losing the moral sheen.
Its most vocal and visible members are in a crisis of credibility after being accused of ethically indefensible financial irregularities. Members are moving out of the core team citing serious differences with the dominant miniscule group. Anna Hazare, the symbol around whom the country rallied around, has gone silent. It is obvious that Gandhian is not comfortable with the antics of his team members.
This is not the direction the anti-corruption movement was supposed to take. It started off with the noble purpose of having a strong Lokpal Bill. It managed to force Parliament to accept its views in the face of great opposition. Not many agreed with the over-the-top attitude of some of the members which bordered on disrespect for democratic institutions and reflected sheer arrogance. But these are the people who were on the verge of delivering the near impossible. So their indiscreet moves were forgiven as acts of over-enthusiasm.
Now that the bill is in the last laps, the team has to stay together and stay focused on achieving its objective. It needs to introspect deep and hard and get its act together. In this context, it is not a bad idea to either expand or reconstitute the core committee.
Raju Parulekar, Anna’s official blogger, has said that the team would be expanded to address the perception that some of the members were acting in selfish interest. It comes close on the heels of the note of Kumar Vishwas, a member of the core team, seeking disbanding of the core team and induction of new members. He says the Team Anna members were facing attacks from detractors on serious charges like corruption. While fending off the charges, the team was losing out on valuable time in its anti-corruption crusade.
If the unstated aim of the proposed exercise is to find a way to neutralise Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi, who have done as much good to movement as bad, it does not surprise. Both had become controversial earlier by taking an unnecessarily confrontational position against the government, now their actions are resulting in core committee members deserting the team. Worse, they have come under the public scanner for financial impropriety.
Former Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde has been airing his dissatisfaction against the duo in public for some time now. Rajendra Singh, a Magsaysay award winner, who had left the committee along with PG Rajgopal a few days ago, has said the popular and media support to Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign in Delhi had gone to the head of his aides and made them arrogant. According to media sources, he has described Bedi and Kejriwal as the most arrogant members of the team who are in the habit of throwing their weight around and imposing themselves on others.
Both have been on an attention-grabbing spree since the movement surfaced. Many of their decisions in the last two months have been questionable; the worst perhaps was to oppose the Congress candidate in Hisar, in the process backing indirectly the cause of supposedly more corrupt candidates. This move led to serious fractures in the team besides creating the impression that the two were using the movement to further personal agenda.
The best option for the Team Anna is to use Bedi and Kejriwal in roles that are less controversial. But it is easier said than done. There’s no denying the fact that they are the most articulate and popular faces of the movement besides Anna. They have been the soul and the moving force of the anti-corruption movement since it began. Without them it would lose vitality and energy.
Anna has a difficult choice to make. But the more serious question now: Is he the real leader of the movement? He is its great symbol but how far does he control his team and its activities on the ground? It is not clear yet. For all practical purposes it has become Kejriwal’s movement — it was so to begin with actually.
Can Anna do without the help of his commander-in-chief ? He has to take a position. It is time he broke the vow of silence and asserted that the cause is bigger than individuals.
Ramlila Donations swallowed up by Kejriwal-Sishodia. Says not possible for IAC to open new bank account
This is deceit at its highest element. While its true that India Against Corruption (IAC) is a movement and not a legally registered entity that meets bank eligibility norms to open an account, the simple solution was to establish a new trust with all core committee members of the Anna Team as members.
What prevented Kejriwal to explore this alternate route? Obviously it is the money and the one that controls money controls the movement. It appears Team members do not object to Anna controlling the finances but find it a revulsion that this shady, Ford Foundation funded duo, Kejriwal-Sishodia doing so. This explains the revolt by many key members of the Anna Team.
Anna Movement Cannot Open Bank Account: Kejriwal
India Against Corruption (IAC) "can't have its own bank account" as it is not an organisation but a movement, Arvind Kejriwal said here Friday, a day ahead of a crucial meeting of its core committee where allegations of financial impropriety against him and another Team Anna member, Kiran Bedi, are likely to be brought up.
"IAC is not an organisation. It is a movement. It can't have its own account," Kejriwal told IANS in an SMS, replying to a question on whether the IAC will be opening a bank account to receive public donations.
Kejriwal's reply comes in the wake of allegations by Swami Agnivesh - a founding leader of the IAC who has now parted ways with it - that Rs.70-80 lakh collected during Anna Hazare's 12-day fast at the Ramlila ground here in August were siphoned off to Kejriwal's private trust - Public Cause Research Foundation (PCRF).
Agnivesh had also said that Hazare suggested a separate bank account for the IAC.
But like Kejriwal, another IAC leader also said only a registered organisation can open a bank account. "Since the IAC is not an organisation, it could not open an account," the leader added.
The core committee is also likely to announce the schedule of publication of the accounts of donations during the Ramlila Ground fast.
However, Agnivesh told IANS it was "delayed action coming after public criticism and pressure from Hazare".
Hazare, Hegde, Patkar won't attend India Against Corruption meet
Several prominent members of India Against Corruption (IAC), including N Santosh Hegde, Medha Patkar and Anna Hazare himself, are expected to be absent from the organisation's crucial core committee meet here Saturday.
The meeting comes in the wake of allegations of financial impropriety against IAC members Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi and the attack on another member Prashant Bhushan by right-wing activists over his comments suggesting a plebiscite on the Kashmir issue.
Patkar told TV channels that she would not be attending the meeting, but hoped the committee would hold "free and frank" deliberations on all issues.
Hedge, a former Supreme Court judge, told reporters in Bangalore Friday he would not be attending the meet as he had some personal engagements in Mumbai."I don't think Anna's strength lies in the core committee or people's honesty in the core committee. Anna's strength lies in the common man's fight against corruption...That's his strength, it's not a few people in the core committee.""I am not out of Team Anna, with a rider that my commitment to Team Anna is in regard to a strong Lokpal bill and fight against corruption. Beyond that, I am not with anybody," Hegde was quoted as saying.He had criticised the political turn of the movement when Kejriwal led an anti-Congress campaign in the Lok Sabha by-poll to the Hisar seat recently.
Hazare, who has undertaken a vow of silence in his village Ralegan Siddhi since October 16,will also not be attending, an aide had told the media in his native village Ralegan Siddhi.
"My health still does not permit me to give up my 'maun vrat'. There is still some swelling on my feet and the knee troubles me a lot," Hazare wrote in his latest blog post Thursday.
Two members of the 26-member core committee - Gandhian activist PV Rajagopal and Magsaysay award winner Rajendra Singh - had resigned recently protesting against the politicisation of the movement under Kejriwal. Singh had described Kejriwal's ways as autocratic.
Kumar Vishwas, a member of the core committee, Friday urged Hazare to re-organise the committee to give it a new look, TV reports said.
Its Official: Gang 4- Kejriwal, Sishodia, Bedi and Bhushan to be castrated. Anna Team to be re-structured!
If this step materializes, it will give the Team Anna that much needed second life by dropping or even castrating politically partisan and petty criminals like the Kejriwal-Sishodia-Kiran Bedi-Prashant Bhushan Gang of 4, whose antics killed Anna Team 1.
Hopefully Team Anna II will be constituted by matured individuals with high integrity and would not engage in cheap hyperbole, childish pranks (Hisar by-elections) and anachronism (plebiscite for Kashmir) and instead of taking a confrontational attitude, would collaborate with the government in enacting a reasonably strong Lokpal bill.
Team Anna core panel likely to be restructured
The split in the core group of Team Anna seems to be growing with a growing clamour for its restructuring.
The core committee of the team of anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare is likely to be expanded or even reconstituted.
Anna's official blogger Raju Parulekar on Friday said that the team would be expanded to address the perception that some of the members were acting in self interest.
According to the new structure, Team Anna is likely to have a driving panel and a steering committee, of which the latter would take the major decisions and its members would also keep changing.
Meanwhile, a core Team Anna member Kumar Vishwas wrote to Anna Hazare calling for the existing team to be disbanded and a fresh one appointed in its place.
In his letter to Hazare, Vishwas demanded the reconstitution of the core committee.
He pointed in the letter that it was worrying how Team Anna members were facing repeated attacks from anti-Anna campaigners on serious charges like graft.
Vishwas further added that by spending time on defending such charges, the team was losing out on valuable time in its anti-corruption crusade.
Key Team Anna member, Kumar Vishwas, Friday, wrote a letter to Anna Hazare suggesting that the core committee be dissolved and a new system be put in place to take the movement forward.
In his letter, Vishwas says that “corrupt forces” are trying to derail the movement and hence there is an urgent need to relook at the core committee arrangement.
Vishwas stressed that there should be no core committee; in its place there should be a ‘hardcore committee’ that would be the real representative of the crores of people of the country.
Importantly, Key figures of Anna Hazare's team are scheduled to meet in Ghaziabad tomorrow sans the Gandhian, who is on a vow of silence, to discuss the crisis facing the team after they were enmeshed in a series of controversies.
Speaking to Zee News, Vishwas said that he has written the letter to Anna because he is concerned about the way forward, he said, “It (movement) has become individual centric and has deviated from the core issue of the Lokpal Bill.’
Dissolve core committee: Team Anna member
Another prominent member of the committee, Justice Santosh Hegde is also not attending the Core Committee meeting owing to some prior commitment in Mumbai.
When Zee News asked him today about his views on whether the core committee be dissolved, Hegde said that ‘it is good idea’ but left the decision on Anna Hazare.“If Anna wants to do it, we can do it, if Anna wants to continue with the committee then also I am ok,” he said.
The Core Committee meeting comes against the backdrop of a series of allegations against key members like Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi as well as resignation of two prominent activists Rajinder Singh and P V Rajagopal citing the political turn taken by Hazare's anti-corruption movement.
The meeting also comes amidst a renewed attack on Hazare by Congress leader Digvijay Singh, who alleged that the Gandhian's anti-corruption agitation as well as that of yoga guru Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravisankar were part of an over-all plan of RSS-BJP to divert attention from right-wing terror.
Team Anna has been on the backfoot with Bedi battling charges of overcharging her hosts by inflating travel bills and Kejriwal being accused of depositing donations collected for Hazare agitation against corruption in PCRF as well as its anti-Congress campaign in Hisar bypolls.
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, another member, also triggered a controversy by advocating plebiscite in Kashmir, evoking strong opposition from Hazare and other team members.
Kejriwal hobnobbing with CM: The Uttarakhand Raksha Morcha has expressed concern over team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal “hobnobbing” with Uttarakhand Chief Minister BC Khanduri.
In a letter to Gandhian and Social Activist Anna Hazare, Lt-Gen TPS Rawat(retd), president of the Morcha, has urged him to check Kejriwal from giving clandestine support to the “corrupt” state BJP government. He said Kejriwal should have met the civil society in the state before hobnobbing with the CM.
He reminded that the BJP had changed chief ministers on two occasions, which evidently reveals the sorry state of governance in the state. Rawat also pledged to support the anti-corruption crusade of Anna.
NGOs, Kiran Bedi, The Media: Who’s The ‘Farest Of Them All?
Courtesy: Farzana Versey, CounterCurrents
Kiran Bedi is indeed wrong, but when media persons sit to judge her it is a bit of a laugh. Clearly, they do not look in the mirror.
Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to question all sorts of voluntary agencies and their modus operandi, we have a situation where a person is pinned down for wrongdoing without a backward glance at how the whole NGO business works, often with the media’s involvement.
Kiran Bedi has been fudging her bills, where she charged inflated amounts from her hosts. The main source was airline tickets. She would travel by economy class, that too at a discount because of her gallantry award, and charge business class fares. We now have these sanctimonious NGOs tell us that they took it at “face value”. Most NGOs send the tickets themselves. So, why did they let her use her travel agent? And what sort of auditing departments do they run? The reason for keeping quiet is not that they were afraid of Ms. Bedi’s wrath – they obviously did not mind shelling out Business Class fares – but because their finances will lead to many question marks.
This is my point. The media and certain activists have taken a convenient yo-yo stand on the Jan Lokpal Bill campaign. They propped him up and were completely besotted by Team Anna. After they were done with the photo-ops of the caps and the fasting and dancing, they realised that there were chinks in the armour. No one was interested in the deeper questions – it came down to superficial put-downs.
Let us get this fudging business clear. Kiran Bedi has admitted to it and says she will return the excess money that she wanted to use for her own NGO. Where do the NGOs get this kind of money that they can afford to invite people from different cities for seminars? I have often posed this query when we rubbish other institutions. Do you know that most of the activists themselves travel Business Class, stay at fancy hotels, and order the best food – for what? To gupshup about the state of the nation, the homeless, female foeticide, dowry, terrorism, communalism?
Check out the number of people who have left their high-paying corporate and bureaucratic jobs to “serve the nation” or “become useful members of society” or, “fight communalism”. They could do all of these by continuing to work. The reason is that activism has become a paying proposition. Have you seen the huge ads put up in newspapers inviting you to attend some conclave or the other? Is it affordable or even appropriate to shell out this kind of money on overheads? Besides government grants, there is a good deal of foreign sponsorship and donations from industrial houses. While the international ‘intervention’ often comes with some amount of side-effects (pushing of substandard products and services clubbed with the do-good, feel-good stuff), some of the Indian business black money that is not stashed away in banks abroad is routed to charitable organisation, with income tax exemption.
Why does the media not raise a voice about this? Has the media ever questioned journalists who attend these same seminars? Oh yes, the same journalists who give inflated bills to their accounts departments for their travels and hotel stays and “related expenses”. Journalists who sit at the desk and make phone calls but charge taxi fare for the quotes. Journalists who try to get tickets and freebies because they think they are in a position to ‘arrange something’. Journalists who do not have to spend a paisa at restaurants and spas because they just might mention it, in passing, in their next column. Journalists who give us scoops that are fed to them by interested parties or who conduct sting operations that are again paid for by interested parties.
Of course, it is not only the media at fault, but also those who host such talks. Corporate India’s ladies who lunch get a big high when they invite a person who can indeed talk and add to their resume. They flash such people as trophies to display their own worth as ‘aware citizens’. That some media people are doing their evening show with this group should be an eye-opener rather than a can-opener.
If, as some commentators wish to know, why people from public office enter the fray late in the day to become part of NGOs, then one might wish to ask them why they have timed their queries now and not for all these years. Do they ponder about it when they go on government-sponsored junkets?
The problem is that this whole Anna Hazare campaign has been a sham, and revealed more shams both on the inside as well as on the outside. It showed us how the ruling party and the opposition got to pay politics; the arrests also reveal a lot about those who got away without a scratch to their reputations. It is rather disingenuous of Digvijay Singh to say that if Kiran Bedi can offer to return the money, then every bribery case can be closed by saying the bribe-taker will return the money, including, A. Raja.
This is some gumption. A minister in the government of India is caught in a scam of frightening proportions and another government person uses this as an analogy. He is also quite gung-ho about such a thing happening at the highest level. The 2G Spectrum scam is not just about bribes, but also about how the nation was taken for a ride with the government, big industrialists and lobbies involved. It is about how the government functions and not merely who took how much. This case has come under scrutiny; many others do not.
If political agencies get a chance, they try to co-opt the activist groups. Most are willing to go along because it is the easy option. In some cases where they need the government to act, it does become a crucial mutual involvement. Therefore, if a political party invites activists, and they fudge figures about travel expenses, then what will the political parties do? Why not question the complete lack of balance by media groups? One can understand individual commentators taking a particular position, but why do they blatantly follow the newspaper/TV channel line? Where is their independence? Those who talk about objectivity should really look in their own backyards. There is favouritism everywhere and the media indulges in it as much as politicians, and the ‘activist’ role of the media should also come under scrutiny.
Tavleen Singh, Indian Express columnist, while raising some important points, makes a rather shocking comment: “My own observation is that many NGOs working in India appear to be funded by organisations bent on ensuring that India never becomes a developed country… In order for India to become a halfway developed country, we need new roads, airports, ports, modern railways and masses more electricity. In addition, according to experts, we need 500 more cities by 2050. The odd thing is that the NGOs who oppose steel plants, nuclear power stations, dams and aluminum refineries in India never object to the same things in China.”
Is this the definition of development, and the only model? As I have already said, many NGOs do have an agenda, but not only if they are funded by organisations that do not wish to see a developed India. By this logic, Gujarat should have no NGOs. And why must Indian NGOs object to what happens in China? Has the Indian government opposed the self-immolation of Tibetan monks and nuns in support of the Dalai Lama’s return? Has the BJP done so? Has the media done so?
Forget the NGOs for a while. Think about how these plants were to come up, who was to be uprooted and how it would affect the environment. If this development is only for those setting up factories and making India technologically advanced, then why are we still the hub of western-powered outsourcing? Are the NGOs involved here?
Why absolve the fat cats of business only to hit out at the NGOs unless they are specifically playing dirty? How many media people have taken free jet rides, attended fancy wedding functions abroad and written glowing accounts of them? Will they be sanctified as the facilitators of development? Or do they need to get closer to the seats of such power or perhaps such development? These are trick or treat queries. Ask them we must, for there is much beyond Kiran Bedi, whose banshee persona was in fact given a boost by the media when they needed her sound bytes. They were birds of a feather, until she was grounded.
The still-feathered ones have taken wing and are giving us a bird’s eye-view.
Farzana Versey is a Mumbai-based writer. She can be reached at http://farzana-versey.blogspot.com/