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Anna's team: A lamentable letdown

April 25, 2011 13:46 IST

In the whole sordid series of happenings after Anna Hazare broke his fast, the only side to emerge with credit is the government. In fact, it is outshining the civil society, says B S Raghavan.

From the moment Anna Hazare started his indefinite fast demanding the finalisation of a strong and stringent Lokpal Bill, based on his draft Jan Lokpal Bill, by a joint drafting committee comprising an equal number of representatives from the government and the civil society, I have been a fervent supporter of both the fast and the demand, and even openly rejoiced at the government's capitulation.

When Baba Ramdev and a few others voiced their objection to the purported 'nepotism' inherent in the inclusion of Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan, father and son, in the JDC, I rubbished it saying that they had outstanding credentials as legal luminaries and their being father and son was only incidental.

I even went far out on a limb and gave expression to my suspicion about the government setting up and playing different groups of civil society against one another, and stoking controversies about Anna and his team being fascists, cat's paws of the sangh parivar, wreckers of the checks and balances of the Constitution and parliamentary democracy and the like, deliberately to scuttle the bill.

Cardinal prescription

I now publicly repent for putting my trust in a group of people who arrogated to themselves the appellation of civil society and began strutting about as the God's anointed to pronounce upon the integrity or the lack of it of the rest of mankind.

Their antics remind me of a graphic usage in Tamil language describing the fate of a garland in the hands of a bunch of monkeys.

The one cardinal prescription which, in the opinion of the team surrounding Anna, is an imperative qualification for the different personages on whom the bill casts different kinds of responsibilities, beginning from the Lokpal himself to the lowliest constable in the investigating machinery under him is that they should not only be, like Caesar's wife, above suspicion, but actually be known for their 'unimpeachable integrity' and also 'should have demonstrated their resolve to fight corruption in the past.'

But when it comes to themselves, they do not hesitate glibly to put forward alibis, excuses, tergiversations and rationalisations, to argue why they need not be demonstrably above reproach of any kind whatsoever.

Soon after the first meeting of the JDC, a CD containing some very unsavoury bits of conversation between Shanti Bhushan and Mulayam Singh blew up in the public's face. This was followed by other accusations of undervaluation of a property for payment of stamp duty and the allotment of unusually large prime plots worth several crores of rupees in Noida.

Smokescreens

Since then, the Bhushans, ably supported by the likes of Arvind Kejriwal, Dr J P Narayan and Kiran Bedi, (who have all fallen to the rock bottom in my esteem) have been outdoing themselves in advancing tenuous, and even specious, pleas, hiding behind smokescreens of their own making.

First they asked why the CD surfaced now, when the Bhushans and other members of the Anna team had been working on the Jan Lokpal Bill for more than a year.

My answer is simple: They were not such white hot public figures then. In fact, I myself did not know, until Anna Hazare's fast, that such a group was working on the bill. When one becomes a high-voltage public figure, they come under the scanner and dirty linen, if there be any, gets washed.

The second smokescreen is that the CD's authenticity has not been established; on the contrary, some private labs have denounced it after elaborate tests. My answer is two-fold: The government testing laboratory has found no abnormality in it, and I would, any day, go by a government laboratory's certificate. Any disagreement about authenticity can be easily resolved by entrusting the examination to another government agency in India or abroad.

The apologists for the Bhushans, then, took the stand that whatever they were being accused of were mere allegations which 'should not be allowed to win'. Dr Narayan of the Lok Satta Party went one step further, paying copious tributes to the 'impeccable credentials' of both the Bhushans and asserting flatly that they do not require certificates from anybody.

He added by way of insult to injury that 'even in the hypothetical case of some members' credentials being suspect, the focus should be on what they have to say and not what they are.'

Do these defenders of the indefensible realise what they are talking about? Isn't it outrageous that a committee meant to draft a bill demanding 'unimpeachable integrity' and demonstrable resolve 'to fight corruption in the past' should itself consist of persons who are yet to clear themselves of the charges leveled at them damaging to their professional integrity?

Don't the apologists understand that their contrived justification to accommodate the Bhushans will leave a black mark on the bill in people's estimation for all time to come?

Is India so starved of legal experts of high competence and calibre that only the two Bhushans, and none else, will do? Here, the plea of Kejriwal, Bedi et al is that the duo knew each and every punctuation mark of the bill, and their presence is, therefore, an absolute must.

This provokes me to ask: Have the apologists mortgaged the good sense and discernment expected of them?

Sordid series

How long does it take for an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer to come to grips with the provisions of a bill, however complex it might be? Why, Shekhar Gupta, editor, The Indian Express, in an article 'We the thieving people' published on April 23, has made an impressive clinical analysis of the various clauses of the bill! Is it the contention of the champions of the Bhushans that the bill is so complex and incomprehensible, except to the Bhushans, that a Fali Nariman or Soli Sorabjee will find themselves out of depths in it?

In the whole sordid series of happenings, the only side to emerge with credit is the government. In fact, it is outshining the civil society.

My appeal to Anna Hazare is that he should not fall into the trap laid by some of the unthinking members of his team, but should gently have the Bhushans out of the JDC, bring in any two brilliant and eminent lawyers commanding universal respect for their irreproachable credentials and restore to the civil society component of the committee the needed degree of credibility. I can assure him there is no dearth of such lawyers in this country.

B S Raghavan