Anna’s Boat Rocked
Anna Hazare’s campaign against corruption is threatening to become a misguided missile. The Congress party and the UPA government must be secretly grinning from ear to ear to see Anna’s chakravyuh getting eroded. Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh’s public digs at Anna camp, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal’s alleged press de-briefings (denied by Sibal himself) and the entry of the man for all seasons Amar Singh with the Shanti Bhushan CD controversy have all severely rocked the Anna Hazare boat.
The “Congressification” of Anna Hazare’s campaign against corruption is on course. The civil society is now in the news for all the wrong reasons. The entry of Amar Singh on the scene means more theatrics are to ensue. Already the circumstances in which the born-in Kolkata Thakur rocked Anna Hazare’s boat are a suspect.
L’affaire Shanti Bhushan CD is fast becoming a free-for-all as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too jumped in the fray and insinuated that the former Samajwadi Party leader has raked up the controversy at the behest of the Congress to derail Anna Hazare’s campaign. BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi has gone on record saying, “The Government has given out a contract to some people to defame and malign Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign. However, these attempts will not malign the campaign.” Naqvi said the onus was on Amar Singh to explain who sponsored the Shanti Bhushan CD.
A full-fledged war has already broken out between former union law minister Shanti Bhushan and his lawyer son Prashant Bhushan on one side and Amar Singh on the other. Ironically, arch-rivals the BJP and the Samajwadi Party are on the same side of the fence in the whole controversy as both are supporting the Bhushans and opposing Amar Singh. The Samajwadi Party has expectedly given a clean chit to Shanti Bhushan saying he never had the conversation with Mulayam Singh Yadav. The Bhushans, both of whom are members of the joint drafting committee on Lokpal bill, have already slapped a contempt case against Amar Singh in the Supreme Court over the controversial audio CD. The CD has Shanti Bhushan’s conversations with Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh about “fixing” a judge for Rs 4 crore.
Amar Singh too has not held back his punches and has lodged a complaint with Delhi police against Prashant Bhushan. A livid Amar Singh said at a crowded press conference: “Since my taped conversation is illegal as said by (Attorney General) Goolam Vahanvati in court and the law officer also said that the letter given to Reliance Infocom for tapping my phone and the signature of the police commissioner was forged. Despite that, excerpt of that tape was read by Prashant Bhushan. I will tell him ‘papa don’t preach’. It shows the illegality and he played it so it’s a case of contempt of court. I am going to file a defamation case against Prashant Bhushan and Swami Agnivesh for naming me.”
The result is now in front of everyone to see. The Shanti Bhushan CD controversy, not the clauses that are being discussed to be incorporated in the Lokpal bill, is dominating the political firmament. As for the government, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram said the Delhi police would consult at least two forensic labs to verify the audio and the authenticity of the CD. Chidambaram said: “This is a season of allegations and I am glad that there is a growing recognition that reputations are also important. I have been assured by Delhi police that free, fair and thorough investigations will happen into the Shanti Bhushan CD case.”
Moreover, the rift between Anna Hazare and the UPA government is showing signs of widening, evident from the Gandhian leader’s angry letter to Congress President Sonia Gandhi on April 18 in which he complained against Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh and Union Minister Kapil Sibal. Anna Hazare asked Sonia to advise Singh and Sibal “not to derail the process (of drafting the Lokpal bill)”, a strong statement indicating a veiled threat.
However, Anna Hazare has taken care by not specifically naming either of the two, though his description of the two leaves no doubt about whom he is talking. In a clear reference to Digvijay Singh, Anna Hazare said: “One of the general secretaries of Congress party has been making many statements in the press in the last one week. I assume that he has the support of the party to make such remarks. Most of these statements are factually wrong, which makes one believe whether his only intention is to create confusion, mislead people and derail the ongoing discussions in joint committee.”
Singh had said that Rs 50 lakh was spent on Anna Hazare’s four-day fast at Jantar Mantar which Anna Hazare’s associate Arvind Kejriwal refuted and said the money spent on the fast-unto-death programme was only Rs 10 lakh. Anna Hazare said in his letter to Sonia: “They have not even spared me, even though I have lived a simple life following on the path of truth. However, I am happy that despite all their efforts, the vested interests could not dig out anything of substance. This has only raised the reputations of civil society members in the eyes of public.” And then Anna Hazare asks Sonia: “Do you personally approve of his statements?”
Digvijay Singh dropped a bombshell on the eve of the first meeting of the joint committee for drafting the anti-graft Lokpal Bill on April 16 by raising questions over the credentials of some members of Anna Hazare’s movement, including the Bhushans who are members of the joint committee, and also tossed some uncomfortable questions at Anna Hazare himself. Singh accused the Bhushans of avoiding property tax and wanted to know why Anna Hazare has kept social acitivists such as Harsh Mander and Aruna Roy out of the joint committee, though they are more competent, honest and dedicated than those who are on the panel. This is what Singh said about Anna Hazare: “He has been surrounded by some section of people who are only trying to sort of push their own cause.”
On Sibal, Anna Hazare complained that “A minister indicated at informal meet we had been influenced.” Sibal promptly joined issue with Anna Hazare and issued a press release denying making any statement about members of the Lokpal Bill joint drafting committee after its first meeting. He said he did not hold any informal meeting to debrief journalists after the official briefing. “After the meeting, journalists followed him to his home and sought details about the meeting which he refused to divulge. The statement attributed to him that ‘the civil society members have succumbed to government pressure’ is patently false. No such statement was ever made by Sibal,” the release said.
Things were going on well till the CD controversy erupted. As recently as on April 17, Anna Hazare had publicly sent positive vibes and announced that he would accept Parliament’s decision if it were to reject the Lokpal bill as this democratic institution is “supreme”. He extended another olive branch to the government by saying that he would be flexible on his August 15 deadline for passage of the Lokpal bill if he found the government was on the right path.
On another favourite poser by Anna Hazare’s critics that representatives of all political parties should be consulted in preparing the draft for such an important institution as Lokpal, the 73-year-old social worker said he was willing to involve the political leadership of the country. “We have to take everyone into confidence, including the political class. If they have doubts we will discuss with chiefs of political parties,” he said. To a provocative question whether his detractors were right in describing his crusade against corruption as “terrorism of principles”, Anna Hazare said he had no problem with this description as long as the motive behind it was public good. “It is not wrong to say that we are engaging in terrorism on principles. But it has to have an element of public welfare in it. This is necessary, otherwise it would lead to dictatorship.” Anna Hazare has dismissed allegations of his linkages with the RSS and pledged to distance himself from any person who would try to make political capital out of his agitation.
Anna Hazare’s letter to Sonia Gandhi is a powerful indicator of his increasing frustration with the “rotten system”, to borrow Rahul Gandhi’s words used in a different context. Incidentally, Anna Hazare has praised Rahul for his commitment to fight corruption. For last two decades Anna Hazare has been holding campaigns against corrupt ministers and officials in Maharashtra. Now for the first time, he has trained his sights at much loftier targets.
The reason why Anna Hazare endeared himself to the nation as Aaj ka asli Gandhi and why his 98-hour-long fast- unto-death was such a runaway success, though the BJP and the Left parties had also tried to take to streets on the issue of corruption was because he was looked upon as the messiah. Why the politicians failed to galvanise the people across the length and breadth of the country and Anna Hazare succeeded is because he was perceived to be Mr Clean and completely apolitical. His campaign is vital for the country and must not be allowed to be derailed. The 73-year-old Gandhian needs his own Amar Singh.
By Rajeev Sharma