The image of Team Anna has taken a beating. Some very un-Gandhian behaviour has been unmasked on the part of Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal and the Bhushans. But while politicians in the Congress and other parties may laugh their heads off, they must not imagine for a minute that public anger over corruption has diminished one whit.
This anger was catalysed and channelled brilliantly by Anna Hazare, but has a force that greatly transcends his Jan Lokpal demand. It will not end with allegations of sleaze.
The analogy is not exact, but Mahatma Gandhi was also accused of hypocrisy and unacceptable behaviour. He declared repeatedly that means were as important as ends, and so violence could not be a means to end British colonial oppression.
That’s why he ended his first Satyagraha, when some agitators burned a police station at Chauri Chaura.
At his subsequent trial, Gandhi ji declared he had committed a ‘Himalayan blunder’ in thinking such an agitation could be launched without risking violence. Yet, Gandhi ji ignored violence aplenty in subsequent agitations, notably the Quit India movement. The British complained bitterly that he had forgotten his homilies on means and ends.
Again, Gandhi ji’s habit of sleeping next to young women to prove he had overcome sexual desire was utterly scandalous by the moral standards of his time. He gained a saintly halo by living in poverty, yet Sarojini Naidu revealed that ‘it took a lot of money to keep Gandhi ji in poverty’.
All these episodes provoked much jeering. Yet, it did not diminish his aura or mass following. He was seen as having human weaknesses and quirky behaviour. But he remained a Mahatma.
Anna Hazare is no Gandhi, and his followers are even more flawed than Gandhi ji’s followers. Yet, they too will retain their anti-corruption credentials despite revelations of their dubious behaviour.
Hazare should remember Gandhi ji’s dictum that before going on Satyagraha, you should cleanse your own minds and hands, and reform yourself even as you to seek to reform others.
Hazare has lashed out at some hypothetical ‘gang of four’ for trying to tarnish the reputation of his team. Sorry, this will not do. The reputation of his team members deserved to be tarnished. They are not innocent victims of false accusations; they are guilty of behaviour ranging from dubious to possibly criminal. Gandhi ji would have gone on a fast to cleanse his own movement after such an episode. Hazare is not contemplating any such thing.
Kiran Bedi is a winner of a gallantry award that gets a big discount on air fares. But she has been charging full fare and pocketing the discount, at the cost of various sponsors of events, including government institutions. She has sometime charged business fare but travelled economy, further increasing her cash collection. This amounts to fraudulent misrepresentation to make money, even if the cash went to her NGO.
Kiran Bedi says that she did not handle the cash personally, and it went straight from her travel agent to the NGO. This is a poor defence. Narasimha Rao and Amar Singh also claimed they did not personally handle the cash they allegedly paid MPs in return for votes, but did this cleanse their reputations?
Many political crooks say they made money for their party, not for themselves. Remember, A R Antulay, former chief minister of Maharashtra, was prosecuted for corruption when sundry builders ‘donated’ large sums to his NGOs. Antulay was later exonerated – no connection could be proved between the donations and specific favours – but his reputation was ruined.
Kiran Bedi says she will return all the surplus money gathered. That is not enough. If she has claims to being Gandhian, she should go on a self-purification fast.
Another Hazare team member, Arvind Kejriwal stands accused by Swami Agnivesh, a former team member, of diverting funds donated to the anti-corruption movement to his own NGO. If proven, this is embezzlement. It will be no defence to say that his own NGO is also participating in the anti-corruption movement.
Besides, Kejriwal has failed to pay the government a bond of 9 lakh for leaving government service prematurely to pursue his RTI agenda. He may be right in thinking the government is targeting him for his crusade, yet, why should the government finance his personal agenda?
The Bhushan family boasts of yeoman crusaders for honesty in public life, and has justly won plaudits. Alas, the family has got two lucrativefarm plots in Noida at many crores of rupees belowthe market price. They should surely surrender these plots voluntarily.
Whether or not Team Hazare makes amends to the public remains to be seen. They will be subject to jeers and sniggers for a long time. Yet, this should not be mistaken for a scam that will end their anti-corruption campaign. Whatever they have done pales into insignificance compared with the thousands of crores being made by politicians.
It would be nice to have squeaky-clean crusaders. But even flawed ones will do. If Jayalalithaa, with her dreadful record, can be viewed byvoters as a means to oust the corrupt DMK, then clearly, India is fertile territory even for flawed crusaders. The key issue is not the purity of Team Hazare, but the impurity of politicians.
We need institutional change to penalise law-breakers. The Lokpal Bill is no more than a start. We must overhaul the whole police-judicial system to make India a land with justice.