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Confusion confounded; ‘doctored’ CD, the Bhushans and the Lokpal Bill

April 21, 2011

The civil society had appointed  Anna Hazare, Swami Agnivesh, Shanti Bhushan, his son Prashant Bhushan, Santosh Hegde, the Lokayukta of Karnataka and Arvind Kejriwal to the committee that would draft the Lokpal Bill with consultations from the government representatives that included P. Chidambaram, Salman Khurshid, Kapil Sibal and Veerappa Moily. A meeting took place between the two sides. There was a demand that all meetings be video recorded. Later however it was decided that it will be audio recorded. The next meeting between the two sides to thrash out the Lokpal Bill will be held on 5th of May, it was mutually decided.

Amar Singh, former Samajwadi Party leader

What transpired in the meeting no one has given details. What is know is that soon after the meeting a CD surfaced that had voices of Shanti Bhushan, Amar Singh, the erstwhile Samajwadi Party leader and the leader of the SP, Mulayam Singh Yadav. In this CD Mr. Shanti Bhushan is supposed to be having a conversation with Amar Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadav in which he is saying that a judge can be fixed for a sum of Rs 4 crores. This conversation, it seems took place in the year 2006.

Soon after the CD surfaced, it took the nation by storm. Prashant Bhushan it seems sent the CD to a forensic lab in the US and a copy of it to another lab in India. According to Prashant Bhushan the report from the forensic lab concluded that the CD was doctored and words had been spliced. But the more important fact is that the timing of the CD is suspicious. Why has a conversation that took place in the year 2006 made public right after the esteemed lawyer and his son (who is also a distinguished lawyer) were nominated to represent the civil society that will draft the Lokpal Bill along with the government representatives.

The best of critics of the Bhushans concede that senior Bhushan is an extraordinary legal mind. But the charges on the Bhushans did not stop with the CD. It has now been unearthed that they have been given a farm land for a quarter of the current market price in NOIDA by the Mayawati government. It has also been alleged that they have undervalued a transaction in which they have purportedly paid less property tax than they should have. Similar is a charge of undervaluing property value in a transaction where they purchased property in posh locality of Allahabad. In short, Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan have been laid bare in public and they have had to make clarifications time and time again.

In the meanwhile, the Delhi police has come up with a CFSL (Central Forensic Science Laboratory) report which says that the controversial CD is authentic. I must also add here that soon after Prashant Bhushan called a conference claiming the CD to be doctored the next day both Hindustan Times and Times of India ran a story claiming that the said CD is genuine. Vinod Sharma wrote in the Hindustan Times claiming that the Amar Singh, Shanti Bhushan and Mulayam Singh Yadav CD isnot a fake. It is intriguing as to how Vinod Sharma could claim so early that the CD is not doctored when no one else knew about it. Remarkably the Times of India ran a similar story but without any journalist’s name under it. It now appears that both HT and TOI had perhaps sourced their story from government and therefore could claim early on that the CD was genuine. Or that they knew which way the CFSL report would go.

There are also stories doing the rounds that there are more than one version of the CD floating. Is the CD that was sent to the CFSL the same as the one Prashant Bhushan sent to the US and got it checked here in India?

Prashant Bhushan has sued Amar Singh as the man behind the ‘fake’ CD. He has also sent a notice to Mr Digvijay Singh for defamation. The Bhushans have refused to give interviews to the media and have not been available for comment in the last day or so.

There is a debate going on in the country whether people with dubious credentials should be part of the drafting of the Lokpal Bill that is meant to be a check on graft in the country. Opinions are divided. The civil society is backing the father-son duo and wants them to continue on the panel. There are other voices that believe that even an iota of doubt should be enough for anyone on the panel to step down. It maybe added here that the members of the panel from the civil society have disclosed their personal fortune and remarkably Shanti Bhushan has moveable and immovable assets amounting to more than Rs 100 crores. This has taken many by surprise.  I may add that when someone asked as to why the government representatives have not declared their assets Digvijay Singh retorted that every politician has to declare his assets before elections. When pressed further, as to why not now he refused to entertain the question.

Shanti Bhushan claimed that he had never met Amar Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadav. Amar Singh now claims that Mr Bhushan was flown in a chartered plane by Samajwadi Party to Allahabad twice to appear in a case for them and had been paid Rs 50 lakh in cash. He wondered aloud whether Shanti Bhushan had shown that money in his income tax returns in the year 2006!

Clearly, the Lokpal Bill has stirred up a hornet’s nest. The government has chosen to hit below the belt. It is true that government has reservations regarding the shape of the Lokpal Bill as envisaged by the civil society. It is also true that Prashant Bhushan and Shanti Bhushan are supposed to be Maoist sympathizers and have fought cases for Arundhati Roy sometime back. The government has a point that Lokpal Bill should not mean centralization of power in a body that is supposed to fight corruption. Their fear is that rather than fight corruption the Lokpal could be used to further the interests of forces whose interests are in contrast with those of the state.  All these fears are legitimate. The Lokpal cannot be a supra-governmental body1. In that the government is right. Lokpal cannot be used as an instrument to usurp the democratic fabric of the polity. Yet to target individuals on the panel from the civil society is also in bad taste.

As for Shanti and Prashant Bhushan, it will be good if they relinquished their position on the panel. Too much has come in public domain for them to continue. It is equally intriguing as to why Swami Agnivesh and Kejriwal are so insistent that the Bhushans remain on the panel. There are other legal minds who are equally competent if not more competent to help draft the Lokpal Bill. Must the Bhushan’s remain on the panel? I would suggest other with no political leanings like Soli Sorabjee, Fali Nariman and Ram Jethmalani represent the civil society. Even a whiff of political leanings may lead to a Bill that may not be true to the values it is supposed to represent.  As for Amar Singh and his barbs – they make good prime time viewing. Once in his element, the man can go on and on. I don’t think he is taken too seriously by anyone.

The crusade against corruption must go on. Individuals with dubious credentials must give way to those with unimpeachable public probity. And let the nation have a Lokpal Bill that passes muster both with the public and the political and bureaucratic class. And once men of substance sit down together such needless demands as video/audio recording of the proceedings will become meaningless. Let such men who command the confidence of the nation sit together and draft a Lokpal Bill that helps curb corruption, which is the aim of such an institution. The trivia can wait.

Notes:

1. Anna Hazare, Lokpal Bill and the Red Brigade by Ullas Sharma https://sharma24.wordpress.com/2011/04/07/anna-hazare-lokpal-bill-and-the-red-brigade/

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