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The Bhushans are not the issue, the Lokpal is

April 26, 2011 15:25 IST

Those indulging in malicious propaganda against civil society nominees on the Lokpal panel are playing into the hands of a venal government wholly unserious about advancing the cause of the anti-corruption movement, says Virendra Kapoor.

The 16th century Italian philosopher, Niccolo Machiavelli, most explicitly stated that for the sake of retaining power a ruler need not bother about norms or scruples. Anything, and everything, from cold-blooded murder to deceit, forgery, fraud, torture, use of sheer force, et al, was fine in the single-minded pursuit to win and preserve power.

That in the land of M K Gandhi, the Manmohan Singh government would forsake any concern for means to retain power only proves that the Italian philosopher has made the Father of the Indian Nation irrelevant.

A most naked pursuit of pragmatic policy might have begun in 1969 when Indira Gandhi, after duly proposing the name of the presidential candidate, N Sanjeeva Reddy, openly worked for his defeat. But Singh can take heart that though he is a late entrant to the rough and tumble of politics he has in a short span of time mastered the Machiavellian brand of politics.

We need not dwell here how, in spite of presiding over what is easily the most corrupt government in free India, Singh has tried to distance himself from various corruption scams. (Shades of Indira Gandhi again who washed her hands of all wrongs, including the Emergency excesses, while taking full credit for all good things.)

Even when he knew full well that his Telecom Minister A Raja was about to perpetrate the biggest ever fraud, his failure to stop Raja in his tracks has not attracted the most valid charge of dereliction of prime ministerial duty.

But the ruling dispensation seems to have plumbed the depths of depravity following the constitution of the Lokpal panel. Whatever residual respect that one might have still retained for a 'clean' prime minister was lost once a carefully orchestrated campaign of calumny was unleashed against civil society nominees on the Lokpal panel. Truly, Singh can claim to be a worthy successor to the amoral politics so deftly and so vulgarly pursued by Indira Gandhi.   

Of course, we had no doubt that vested interests would try and torpedo any move that threatened them. The proposed institution of Lokpal to fight corruption in high places clearly was not to the liking of some very important people in the government and outside in the Congress party.

Because the government had to concede the demand of the fasting leader under duress, it was never comfortable with the idea of allowing civil society activists to co-write the Lokpal bill. Therefore, a campaign to malign the reputations of the anti-corruption activists was launched. While an old report was pulled out to accuse Anna Hazare of corruption, sections of the media were co-opted to target the father and son duo of Shanti and Prashant Bhushan.

Maybe the Hazare-led NGO was wrong in spending a little over Rs 2 lakh to organise a public function to felicitate him on his birthday. (By that yardstick, all Congress-led governments attract the charge of corruption given that they waste tens of crores of taxpayers' rupees annually in taking out ads to mark the birth and death anniversaries of the members of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.) That was the solitary charge which had persuaded a former Supreme Court judge to indict the social activist.

In the case of the Bhushans, the services of a freelance political operator now desperate for a platform were commandeered to try and tar their image. An old CD with telephonic conversations of the political orphan with a number of people was doctored to hit the Bhushans. The objective was to show the father and son duo in poor light and thus provoke a demand for their removal from the Lokpal panel.

The authenticity of the CD was in doubt for several reasons, an incidental one being the media outlets pressed into service to splash its dubious contents on front pages. Also, right at the start of the forged CD the political operator is heard saying that he is sitting with Shanti Bhushan, a claim belied by the categorical assertion by the senior Bhushan that he has never ever met the politician.

Now, even before the dust kicked up by the controversial CD could settle, the onslaught against the Bhushans was sought to be doubly reinforced by another report about their having helped themselves to two farmhouses in New Okhla Industrial Development Authority. The charge was that the senior Bhushan and his younger son, Jayant, also a lawyer, were favoured in the allotment of the farm houses by the Mayawati government.

The unremitting assault on their character had only one objective, viz, to embarrass them into quitting the Lokpal panel. Congress leaders publicly attacked the Bhushans, with general secretary Digvijay Singh taking the lead. And the Congress-friendly newspapers and television channels magnified that criticism manifold.

However, in all three specific charges, the Bhushans had a very credible defence. They had not underpaid the stamp duty on purchase of the 1930s bungalow in Allahabad. They were its bona fide tenants for more than half a century when the landlord as per an agreement transferred it in their names a few years ago. The stamp duty was fully in conformity with various Supreme Court rulings in such cases.

As for the CD, it was clear that it was a cut and paste job. Those who cite the findings of a government lab to certify its authenticity would do well to remember how the influential killer of Jessica Lal had managed to produce two bullets in the forensic lab instead of the one he had actually used, the objective being to derail the investigation. When the government itself is a party to the fudge, no official lab would dare go against it.

Now for the NOIDA farmhouses. It is forgotten that the Bhushans had applied in response to a public advertisement offering farmhouses on stringent preconditions. The Bhushans applied. Since they along with a number of others met those conditions, they were allotted the two farmhouses. A former law officer of the United Progressive Alliance government who too was allotted a farmhouse dragged the UP government to court not because he had any principled objection against allotment. No. He was unhappy with the location of his farm!

So, how are the Bhushans at fault for having been successful applicants of a farmhouse scheme by the UP government? If Mayawati wanted to favour the Bhushans by such an allotment, how about the scores of other individuals who too likewise were allotted farmhouses under the same scheme?

The point is simple. Those indulging in malicious propaganda against civil society nominees on the Lokpal panel are playing into the hands of a venal government wholly unserious about advancing the cause of the anti-corruption movement. Even if one assumes that the Bhushans are no angels, their services in ensuring that the proposed Lokpal is not a toothless entity can prove immensely useful.

In any case, as custodians of our democratic system the onus to remain steadfast to strict norms of conduct is on the prime minister and his ministerial colleagues. Insofar as the Bhushans are concerned, that expectation ought to be tempered by the fact that they do not claim to be the leaders of the country.

Yes, ideally, every citizen should be law-abiding and correct in his behaviour. But given the grip greed and sleaze have come to have on large sections of the society, which would necessarily include the so-called pillars of the media, the Bhushans ought not to be condemned merely because they are standing up to the entrenched authority. We should allow them to write out a fine and powerful Lokpal bill.

Virendra Kapoor