Wednesday, March 29th, 2023 12:46:51

India’s Julian Assange

Updated: November 3, 2012 2:00 pm

Arvind Kejriwal joined the Income Tax Department, which has the distinction of being one of the most corrupt departments in the Government of India, second only to the anti-corruption watchdog, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Although there are indeed honest officers within the Income Tax Department, few of those manage to reach the higher levels of the service. Instead, they watch helplessly as politicians manipulate the ascent of officers known to be pliable. The Indian political class, which to date has refused to surrender the vast legal powers of the British colonial state, uses Income Tax as a means of harassing opponents. Any officer has the legal right (under British-era law reinforced by fresh edicts enhancing the discretion given to the state and cutting to insignificance the rights of the citizen) to demand of a taxpayer that she or he come up with financial records that are many years old. Except for accountants—and crooks, who are usually meticulous in keeping (false) records—most normal individuals of moderate income spare themselves the bother of keeping records of their few transactions. Business, because these days, almost all leading politicians ensure that they and their families get heavily involved in trade and commerce. In times past, the Indian caste system created a firewall between those who governed a country and those who did business. Those who drew up the code many thousands of years ago understood that power was likely to be abused, if harnessed in the service of moneymaking. However, these days, across the world, money and power go hand in hand. Only a millionaire such as Mitt Romney could have won the Republican nomination for President of the US, succeeding another scion of a wealthy family, George W Bush. As for Bill Clinton, although he started off in life in a hardscrabble way, by now he has amassed about $100 billion in donations to his numerous foundations, a lot of the money coming from donors based in the GCC, who are traditionally generous with their money. As for President Obama, while in his (disastrous) debate with Mitt Romney he equated the two in wealth, the fact is that Obama is a pauper compared to Romney, although of course much richer since he became a Senator, with most of the money coming from royalties accruing from his many books.


During Anna Hazare’s primary fast at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar it was speculated in these columns that his endeavor suited Mrs. Sonia Gandhi inasmuch as it diverted public attention from ongoing corruption cases to the Lokpal Bill. Some doubt was raised about Team Anna’s political affiliations. On June 4, 2012 it was pointed out in these columns: “It is universally accepted that the most powerful politician in the UPA is Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. According to popular belief the PM cannot move an inch without her blessing. How odd, then, that Team Anna can wax eloquent about all ministers and the PM but not one Team member even once has dared utter the name of Mrs. Gandhi… Arvind Kejriwal quite understandably demands investigation by an independent agency to probe alleged corruption of cabinet ministers including the PM. Admittedly Mrs. Gandhi is not in the cabinet. But is her power and share of decision making in doubt? And does not the fact that Switzerland’s most influential journal categorically stated that a Swiss bank account of over 2 billion US dollars in the name of Rajiv Gandhi existed, the fact that a former official KGB Commission member Yevgenia Albats has written in her doctoral research book that the KGB funded Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, the fact that an official spokesperson of the Russian government acknowledged to media that such funds were indeed paid by the Soviet government to Mrs. Gandhi in order to protect its foreign policy, merit in the view of Kejriwal an investigation by a credible agency? It may be considered unfair to doubt the integrity of Team Anna. But to dispel such unhealthy speculation there is a simple solution. Let Team Anna demand an investigation of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi in the same manner as it does of 14 cabinet ministers. It is an easy litmus test. Will Team Anna take it?”

Much water has flown under the bridge since then. But recently for the first time Mr. Kejriwal after separation from Mr. Anna Hazare launched an attack against Mr. Robert Vadra based upon an earlier media report. The real depth of the Dynasty’s commitment to Mrs. Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law is not quite clear. Doubts about Mr. Kejriwal’s affiliations were not fully dispelled. After attacking Mr. Vadra, Mr. Kejriwal in a newspaper interview had sympathetic words for Mr. Rahul Gandhi and fulsome praise for the late Rajiv Gandhi. He described the late leader as one who best understood the real problems of India. Soon attention was partially diverted from Mr. Vadra to Law Minister Mr. Salman Khurshid who became Mr. Kejriwal’s latest target. A TV channel’s expose was seized by Mr. Kejriwal to launch his frontal attack against the Law Minister. Mr. Kejriwal occupied Parliament Street and wowed to stay put till Mr. Khurshid resigned or was sacked from office. He sent a letter to the Prime Minister with his demand and announced that he would take the next step after receiving a response. No response came. But then on that same day, October 15th, a curious sequence of events occurred.

Congress General Secretary Mr. Digviajy Singh alleged on TV that around 2005 Mr. Kejriwal was introduced to him by Swami Agnivesh while all three were in America. According to Mr. Digvijay Singh Mr. Kejriwal sought his recommendation for induction in the National Advisory Council headed by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. Swami Agnivesh endorsed Mr. Kejriwal’s request. Mr. Singh did the needful but Mrs. Gandhi did not oblige. Within a few hours of this news Mr. Kejriwal denied Mr. Singh’s allegation but he suddenly also announced the suspension of his protest against Mr. Khurshid in Delhi. He decided to shift it to the latter’s parliamentary constituency in Farrukhabad. From this it appears that the resignation demand has been given up and the battle is postponed to the next election at the hustings. That is not all. Mr. Kejriwal also reiterated subsequent to Mr. Singh’s allegation his decision to expose the alleged corruption of the BJP President Mr. Nitin Gadkari on the following day. These inexplicable decisions not surprisingly have raised a few eyebrows.

People cannot be blamed if the sudden twists and turns taken by Mr. Kejriwal create doubts in their minds about where he really stands. The politics of change is very serious business. Mega media publicity is a heady intoxicant. But if unaccompanied by solid results it can result in an awful hangover. Perhaps Mr. Kejriwal and his colleagues need to pause and introspect. Are they on the correct course? Undeniably they are destroying the credibility of the political class. But are they simultaneously building up their own credibility?

 By Rajinder Puri

Despite the coyness of Mitt Romney in revealing financial details, the reality is that US politicians are much more transparent about their assets than their counterparts in India. The country’s most powerful politician. Sonia Gandhi, travels abroad frequently on corporate jets and stays in pricey hotels, often with several family members in tow. Yet for the record, Sonia does not have an automobile or even a decent television set! Of course, the Income Tax authorities dare not ask her or her family members any questions, for fear of the officers responsible getting subjected to vindictive action, despite her son-in-law (for instance) being worth at least $100 million despite having no obvious intellectual advantages. Each time there is an expose of the wealth of a politician (and these are few, given the reality of instant retaliation against the whistle-blower), the cry from politicians across the spectrum is that the individual making the revelations ought to have “gone through the system”. Of course, those giving such advice are not unaware that court processes in India take decades to complete, besides burning away so much time and money that a legal battle becomes a whole-time occupation that can send a person into penury faster than a major illness does.

The fact is that 99 per cent of political wrongdoers in India escape legal accountability for their depredations. Their only punishment is bad publicity, which too is rare, given the fact that most media outlets shy away from exposing the foibles and the misdeameanours of the truly powerful. When excerpts from the telephone conversations of a well-connected lobbyist, Niraa Radia, surfaced some years ago (allegedly via a telecom company which sought to protect its monopoly against newcomers), there was a hue and cry against the “breach of privacy” involved. Even today, the full tapes have not been made public. Had India been as much of a democracy as the US, soon after the Radia tapes became known, a book would have been published giving the full transcripts. In India, a country where courts routinely block publication of material found offensive to a few, this will not happen. Indeed, there are many Niraa Radias who in tapped conversations reveal the sleazy underside of policymaking in India. However, their conversations are kept secret by agencies eager to protect not the average citizen but their political and bureaucratic bosses. Sadly, rather than expand the boundaries of freedom of speech, even courts in India move in the opposite direction. Recently a Supreme Court bench under the then Chief Justice Kapadia in effect gave liberty to influential individuals to (supposedly temporarily) stop publication of facts damaging to themselves by decreeing that there were sharp (though undefined) limits to press freedom. The fact is that in a country drowning in corruption such as India, freedom of speech and of the press needs to be expanded rather than curtailed.

Enter Arvind Kesjriwal. The youthful crusader has become an Indian version of Julian Assange, with anonymous officials giving him information on wrongdoing by the powerful. Because of the popularity of those involved in the anti-corruption crusade, media outlets are afraid to censor the Kejriwals. According to friends of his, the anti-corruption activist has detailed reports on the wrongdoing of several influential politicians, including BJP President Nitin Gadkari and BJP Chief Ministers Arjun Munda and Raman Singh, besides several from the ruling coalition. Hopefully, Kejriwal will not lose his nerve and halt his exposes. Hopefully he will not cherry-pick his targets but release all the information that has come into his possession. The country needs to know the truth about the few who are running—or rather, ruining—the country in their name.

By MD Nalapat



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