No sooner had they withdrawn their agitation, the activists came under attack on various counts. First, they were charged with “blackmail”. Then, the legitimacy of their claim as representatives of civil society was questioned. Thereafter, charges tarnishing the image of the crusaders of the agitation were made. An old case pointing to alleged financial irregularities in Hazare’s Hind Swaraj Trust was hurled from the Congress flanks.
Hazare himself made a political blunder when he praised the Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, leading to serious infighting. Perhaps the huge popular support that the anti-corruption agitation got from all over the country intoxicated the leader’s judgment and he began playing to gallery and in the process slipped. Hazare was severely criticized by his own fellow travelers like the Narmada Bachaao Andolan leader Medha Patkar, the noted danseuse and social activist Mallika Sarabhai. Even Swami Agnivesh and Arvind Kejriwal were not too happy with Hazare’s sudden outburst, but they wanted matters to be sorted out internally.
The political class was just waiting for this. It seized the opportunity and quickly linked Hazare to having his support base in the Sangh Parivar and the RSS, pointing to the large number of sadhus and sants like Yoga guru Ram Dev, who had supported the agitation. In fact the latter along with his supporters had at one stage even tried to hijack the agitation but fortunately could not. Thereafter the political class unleashed a relentless attack against the leaders including a smear campaign targeting their reputation. In this bid the former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh lent a generous helping hand to the Congress leaders. Soon a CD surfaced which posed a question mark on the reputation and integrity of senior Supreme Court lawyers, the father and son duo, Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan. They were not only supporting the anti-corruption stir but were to be the chief legal architects of the Lokpal Bill on behalf of the activists.
To the utter embarrassment of the social activists, the Bhushans have been charged with an alleged illegal land purchase deal in Uttar Pradesh. The CD purportedly contains audio clippings of a phone conversation, allegedly between Shanti Bhushan, Samajwadi Party (SP) supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and former SP leader Amar Singh. In the conversation, the senior Bhushan is allegedly assuring the two party leaders that a judge could be managed. The Bhushans have said the CD is doctored. They have sought a criminal investigation into it and have even filed a defamation case against Amar Singh. The latter however, stuck to his guns and even demanded senior Bhushan’s voice sample for comparison. This controversy led to a vociferous demand for ouster of the Bhushans from the drafting committee, while the activists insisted that they could not sacrifice them at any cost.
The smear campaign continued unabated with top Congress leaders Digvijay Singh, Manish Tiwari along with former SP leader Amar Singh daily targeting the Bhushans’ presence in the committee, and now Digvijay Singh has dragged Karnataka Lok Pal Justice Santosh Hegde into the controversy as well. Hegde who is also a part of the Lokpal bill drafting committee was so incensed that he wanted to quit but has been prevented from doing so by the social activists so far.
Meanwhile the controversy involving the Bhushans intensified each day, with the media lapping up various versions and matters escalating further. The Bhushans have earned the wrath of many in high places by filing public interest litigations (PIL) against them and tarnishing their image. It is interesting to note the remark of Union Home minister P Chidambaram surrounding the CD controversy: “This is a season of allegations and I am glad that there is a growing realization that reputation is also important.” He had assured a proper investigation into the matter.
The Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL), which examined the CD, reported on April 21st that the CD contained the original voice of Shanti Bhushan and Mulayam Singh and that it had not been doctored. The Bhushans however claimed that they had also got the CD examined by two world renowned private laboratories- one in the USA and the other based in Hyderabad, and both the labs had reported the CD to be a doctored one.
Even more interesting is the changed stance of the Bhartiya Janata Party. The BJP which had initially claimed to be supportive of the Hazare-led anti-corruption agitation is now trying to disassociate itself from the stir. Until a few days ago, the BJP leader Arun Jaitley had been dubbing the CD controversy involving the Bhushans as a “smear campaign”. However, BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said on a TV channel recently that in view of controversy surrounding the Bhushans, they should quit the bill drafting panel. It is thus quite clear that no political party is in favour of some self-proclaimed representatives of the civil society dictating to them what to legislate and how to legislate.
Even the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati has demanded that a dalit (scheduled caste) representative be included in the Lokpal drafting panel. This clearly indicates that the politicians of all hues are united in derailing the enactment of any Lokpal Bill. They would not want a Lokpal, so intrusive and so powerful that it can peak into the sources of income of even the high and mighty and demand explanation and seek action against them, if the income is found to be ill-gotten.
The CFSL report has placed the social activists in a quandary with regard to their drafting committee representation. The Bhushans may be forced to quit. Clearly the prospect of any Lokpal Bill getting drafted jointly seems to be fast receding into the background. One should not be surprised if the whole enterprise of creating a central Lokpal is once again put on the back burner. As a matter of fact why should the political class, be interested in bringing a law that compromises their privileges, or subverts the corruption-friendly arrangement which has gainfully and fruitfully served them all these years?
It is worth nothing that not everybody in this political class is corrupt. As a matter of fact there may be more honest than corrupt people, but they go along with a system which is by and large corruption-friendly. The Sonia Gandhi headed National Advisory Council (NAC) which is a civil society interface and consists of many noted social activists, has often prodded the government in the right direction but it too has remained helpless before the Tsunami of major scams.
While people understand that corruption like crime cannot be totally eliminated but they also believe that if a government wants, it can certainly check and curtail corruption. What people cannot accept is the open loot of public money by high authorities, with brazen political connivance and governments acting as mute witnesses. Thanks to many vigilant and upright citizens in several spheres of our lives and above all a socially alive judiciary, the apex court in particular, the people can hope for protection against corruption.
At the moment however, the political class has outmaneuvered the social activists spearheading the anti-corruption stir. But it will also have to take note of the growing popular anger over the spate of recent corruption cases, which came to light since the Commonwealth Games and the unfolding of the 2G Spectrum scam involving huge amount of public money. This anger could lead to massive social upheavals and chaos. It was this popular wrath, and not the personal charisma of Hazare or Bedi, that had brought people, particularly the young out in the streets, in support of the anti-corruption stir all over the country, apart from those who converged at the Jantar Mantar.
Bisheshwar Mishra is a senior journalist