Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sideshows mar anti-corruption drive


The ongoing controversy over the Lok Pal Bill has centered around two issues: The method adopted by social activist Anna Hazare to have a say in the drafting of the anti-corruption legislation and the credentials of his nominees on the panel that is responsible for drafting the Bill. Let us for a moment keep aside the first aspect and concentrate on the other because that is what has captured the headlines of the television channels and newspapers. Certain people have raised doubts over the credibility of Anna Hazare’s people. The obvious question that arises out of this is: What are the credentials of the people levelling the charge? This needs to be understood because those making the allegation have to be above board themselves — ironically, this is the argument that Anna Hazare’s detractors have proposed in condemning the inclusion of the civil society panel members.

Leading the critics’ pack is the senior Congress leader, Mr Digvijaya Singh. He has targeted a panel member, Mr Shanti Bhushan because the former Union Law Minister has been supposedly caught on tape striking a deal with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. Regardless of the fact that the authenticity of the tape has been contested and the final word is yet to be said, Mr Singh continues to berate the veteran lawyer.

As if that is not enough, he took on another member, the Karnataka Lokayukta, Mr Santosh Hegde — one who commands far greater credibility than Mr Singh ever did in his long political career. The Congress leader believes Mr Hegde has done more talking than acting as the Lokayukta — in other words, he has not acted against the BJP Chief Minister of the State. So, it all boils down to politics, is it not, Mr Singh? He seems to have forgotten that given the legal confines, Mr Hegde has performed admirably and has succeeded in maintaining the spotlight on corruption high places in Karnataka.

For sometime now, the Congress leader has been on a spree, making irresponsible statements and damaging his credibility further with each one of them. So much so, that few even within his own party take him seriously. He questioned the Batla House encounter — in the process belittling the sacrifice of a police officer who took on the terrorists; he ridiculed the Union Government’s policy towards combating the Maoists and spoke passionately for the Red ultras who mindlessly kill innocents and damage Government property; he made fun of the Union Minister for Home Affairs, Mr P Chidambaram and called him “intellectually arrogant”; he raised doubts over the Samjhauta blast case, providing a handle to Pakistan to up the ante against India.

Why then should his criticism hold credibility? A few days ago, a Madhya Pradesh court directed that Mr Singh be charge-sheeted over irregularities in a case involving a shopping mall project in the State. He may well protest innocence, but so have his targets. If the Congress leader is mired in allegations, how can he challenge the credentials of others? He has acquired a larger than life image because the electronic media, always looking for juicy comments, latches on to every silly word that he utters, and also because he has got away with his irresponsible conduct due to the Congress High Command’s blessings.

The other principal player in the campaign to discredit the panel’s non-Government members is Mr Amar Singh. If there is to be a list of the country’s most discredited politicians, the obstreperous former Samajwadi Party leader will surely figure among the top entrants. His constant flip flops, his willingness to align with any one or discard any one purely for personal gains, and a complete absence of a political conscience are his hallmarks. If there are rumours that the tapes allegedly implicating Mr Bhushan have been ‘sponsored’ by him, it is because he has that sort of a sordid reputation. Again, we do not know the truth behind that charge, but the allegation lends itself to the possibility that it is plausible. After all, the alleged taped conversation happened way back in 2006, and it could not have suddenly come out into the open without somebody’s orchestrated attempt.

The Samajwadi Party had dumped Mr Singh after it alarmingly realised that he had led it to the brink of disaster and discredit. How amusing that a person who openly admits to have lured (with chocolates or something as innocuous?) Opposition party legislators in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly to the SP, should be demanding the resignation of others on the ground of propriety!

Besides these two great political warriors for probity in public life, we have had fringe players doing their bit to discredit the civil society panel members — and, wonder of wonders, they belong to ‘civil society’ itself. So, what has angered them, and how credible are they? Take Ms Medha Patkar’s case. The anti-Narmada dam activist shared the dais with Anna Hazare at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, but a few days later turned dissenter, asking the social activist to choose his friends carefully. She also admonished him for not consulting the larger civil society in conducting his campaign. Another similar critic emerged from the tinsel town in Mumbai — the super secularist film maker Mahesh Bhatt, who ranted over Anna Hazare’s ‘authoritarian’ attitude. Both these reactions emerged after the social activist let slip his admiration for the role of Mr Narendra Modi in promoting rural development in the State. It is not a coincidence that both Mahesh Bhatt and Medha Patkar are among the Gujarat Chief Minister’s most bitter critics — with their hate blinding them to any kind of objective assessment that brings out Mr Modi in good light. Their response also demonstrates their willingness to subordinate the larger cause of corruption in public life to their parochial agenda.

Soon after, a whisper campaign was initiated by people who have blatantly played the minority card for political and personal gains that Anna Hazare is actually an RSS man in disguise. After all, what better way is there than this to dent the solidarity among the non-Government members of the anti-corruption Bill panel! We will have to wait and see if the smear campaign eventually achieves its real goal — that of derailing the process of tightening the noose around corrupt public servants.