Purity of action, always

Burden of civil society

The Team Anna has dealt a further blow to its credibility, which was already at a premium, by rejecting charges against Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal and supporting the decision to campaign against the Congress candidate in the recent Hisar bypoll. Though Anna Hazare himself was away from the meeting of India Against Corruption due to his maun vrat, his new blog appeared like defending Kiran Bedi’s ‘air ticket controversy.’ Anna subsequently sacked his blogger. What Kiran Bedi has done may not be a big scam, but it is, doubtless, a case of moral turpitude and may invite even criminal action.

 Anna calls himself a Gandhian and people also revere him like one which is why he could mobilise such a huge popular support for his campaign. So, let me remind him and Bedi of an incident of similar nature from Bapu’s life. He had gone to London in 1932 to participate in the Round Table Conference by sea route.

There he met C F Andrews who asked him how he was returning. Gandhi told him that he was going back by ship. Then Andrews bought him an air ticket. Gandhi took the ticket, got it cancelled and took the money, came back by ship and deposited the money with the account of Harijan Sevak Sangh and sent the receipt to Andrews. Bedi could have told her hosts that they would have to pay the full fare but since she was entitled to discount, the difference should be donated to her NGO, and the receipt could have been given to them.

In fact, charging full fare itself is dishonest as discounted tickets are available now and hardly any one decorated with gallantry medal needs to use it for discount. Now, she says that she would return the surplus money, and her comrades aver that it is between her and her hosts; how anyone else is concerned? So, if someone voluntarily pays bribes to an officer, why should anyone else get crossed? 

Funny explanations are being proffered which hardly carry any conviction with the people.  Arvind Kejriwal also says that he would return the money to the Income Tax Department. Why has he agreed now when he did not owe any money to the department? He could have gone to the court if he was being harassed.   
  
Facetious argument       
The argument adduced to justify the campaign against the Congress in Hisar is equally facetious. They ratiocinate that other candidates gave in writing to them promising to support the Jan Lokpal Bill whereas the Congress candidate did not. Further, it is the Congress party which can help pass this bill, and so it is legitimate to put pressure on it.

Fine. But these activists are not so naïve to take an undertaking by a candidate at the face value which does not have any binding value. Moreover, an MP hardly enjoys any freedom after the enforcement of the anti-defection act as s/he has to abide by the party whip and the undertaking is meaningless. Are commitments made in the manifestos ever implemented? Had it been so, our country would have become paradise. Even commitments made on the floor of Parliament are not honoured.

There is also an element of cunning in the selection of Hisar where the defeat of the Congress was a foregone conclusion so that they could flex their muscle that they are in a position to influence the outcome of elections. However, a deeper analysis suggests that had Anna’s influence been so palpable, Ajay Chautala, who is not seen as a paragon of virtue, could not have bagged over 3.5 lakh votes.

Swami Agnivesh, in an interview alleged that Anna was admitted in Dr Naresh Trehan’s Medanta hospital which was given land by the Chautala government at a throwaway price, and it was the strategy of team Anna to get Ajay Chautala elected. Questions have also been raised about Anna getting admitted in a corporate hospital, and not in a government hospital as aam aadmi.

Whatever, Team Anna may say, these are ominous developments which have weakened the civil society which plays a crucial role in a democracy as it is supposed to keep a check on the absolutist government.

The term ‘civil society’ gained currency in the context of Stalinist states in Eastern and Central Europe as it talked of a limited and accountable state in which rule of law, political and civil liberties, a free media and a vigilant civil society formed the bedrock of democracy and citizenship rights. It got further attention and credibility after the success of the ‘Velvet revolutions’ in the erstwhile socialist societies. Civil society in India asserted itself in a big way in 1974 under the leadership of Jayapraksh Narayan against the unresponsive political leadership which resulted in the change of guard at the Centre for the first time in 1977.

A vigilant and vibrant civil society is a must to keep the powers that be on tenterhook so that they don’t back out on their commitments. Let us not forget the words of John Curran, the eminent Irish orator and legal luminary and Member of British parliament that ‘the condition on which god hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.’ Civil society does not mean only Team Anna. Others also must play their role.

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