Team Anna Strikes Back

Published: Wednesday, Aug 01,2012, 15:48 IST
Team Anna, rita paul uk, kiran bedi cases, arvind kejriwal fast, anna kejriwal real story, anna anshan, jantar mantar, ibtl

Corruption is rife in India. It is entrenched within society – so much so that many in India accept it as a way of life. The main casualties are the most vulnerable in India’s vast 1.2 billion population.  Corruption is uncontrolled due to the serious lack of accountability. The only light at the end of a very dark tunnel is the grass roots campaign group- India Against Corruption [IAC] - a movement expressing the collective anger of the people of India against the situation that affects them on a daily basis.
IAC- Great Britain writes this -

“Corruption is root cause where rightful recipients of development and/or basic services are either stolen and/or diverted to the benefit of a select few leading to the continued status quo since independence – be it the uplifting of the less privileged and access to essential services for a common mans daily life. The common man faces this on a daily basis in his interaction with various public bodies and institutions which has sapped his self-esteem and (so far) been impotent to address with any solutions”.
Team Anna : Led by Anna Hazare, India’s leading social activist, the campaign has survived a turbulent year. Hazare managed to inspire and mobilise a generation of people, all willing to effect a change. Anna possesses the qualities absent from today’s leading ministers – a set of principles, honesty, integrity and a sense of simplicity. His team consists of the feisty tough iron lady by the name of Kiran Bedi and a man who has shown great strength during difficult times – Arvind Kerjriwal. The group has sound voluntary support from huge numbers of individuals throughout India. Its networking has been astounding and its ability to mobilise individuals is admirable.

IBTL Columns

Whistleblowing Reprisal : This campaign group has turned its hand to whistleblowing – raising concerns about corruption by the ruling Indian government. All whistleblowers face the fate of strategic character assassination and this was detailed in this BBC article.

At the time, Arvind Kerjiwal said

"I don't think this is just a series of incidents that have taken place in the last one or two years. It is becoming a pattern. These attacks can have a demoralising effect in the crusade against corruption.".
Common methods of character assassination by the establishment include - false cases, defamation of character through the media, false arrests to make a public example and to prevent support from others, public humiliation, indirect methods to suppress freedom of expression etc. Of course, in India  whistleblowing can commands the highest price – a person’s life in some cases. We conclude that this campaign group treads the path of fire to raise their cause in the public eye.

As the government has access to a bottomless pit of public money to abuse and misuse for their nefarious ends, we can observe the serious difficulties that have to be faced by this anti- corruption group. The wrath of a government with its reputation on the line is no doubt a tough opponent to contend with. The public persona of this Indian government is dependant on its historical roots in India’s Independence. Using this, it still commands the sympathy of the voter. The present day is nothing like the past. The ugly reality is kept from the public and concealed under their carpets away from prying eyes. Naturally, anyone who exposes their secrets will be subject to reprisals. This is the phenomena observed by the actions taken against IAC.

India’s Corruption Record : The Indian government has always stated that Team Anna has made unreasonable allegations and demands but has never qualified what they mean by that. While they wish to develop an almost virginal innocence in the public eye, the evidence shows quite the opposite.

The history corruption is summarised by Dr William Gould. The ruling party – Congress has been plagued with sex scandals, allegations of scams,  corruption and dishonesty,  black money  being concealed away in Swiss banks etc.

The BBC does a good job of summarising the main controversies and scandals to hit the current government. India’s season of scams was detailed by the BBC correspondent. The website Corruption in India has a detailed summary of the main news stories.

It doesn’t assist the government that many members of parliament have criminal records or are being investigated for crimes.

All this questions whether the current government is indeed fit to govern. Even though this government has managed to monopolise the media and lull the public into a false sense of security, they do not actually have a very good pedigree or track record. Public money is essentially used to conceal their misdemeanours when it should effectively be used to address accountability and ensure transparency.

We can therefore see that there is a definite reason that justifies the existence of India Against Corruption. Without them, those who are vulnerable would have no hope.

Team Anna’s Fight : In 2011,  Hazare initiated a Satyagraha movement to campaign for a stronger anti-corruption Lokpal (ombudsman) bill in the Indian Parliament, the Jan Lokpal Bill (People's Ombudsman Bill) . This Gandhian created a storm on the 5th April 2011 at Janta Martar in New Delhi attracting  mass media attention and thousands of supporters.

Bollywood actors such as Aamir Khan joined the movement but many bigger names surprisingly remained stayed worryingly silent. More recently, the reasons for Bollywood’s silence were given by Kiran Bedi. She blames it on the issue of black money.

By the end of July 2011, the cabinet approved a draft Lokpal Bill keeping the Judiciary, lower bureaucracy and Prime minister away from the Ombudsman’s reach. Team Anna rejected this version and commenced an indefinite fast from the 16th August 2011.

During that period about ten thousand people throughout the country sent faxes directly to the government requesting a stronger bill. Hazare was arrested a few hours before the hunger strike. The reason given by the police was the failure to meet the conditions set by them – limiting the protest to 3 days with only 5000 supporters. He resided in the infamous Tihar jail for week as he was refused bail. People were furious at this oppression and violation of human rights occurring in broad daylight.

There were a number of arrests of the main individuals involved in the group. The most memorable scene was Kiran Bedi telling the police that they were not doing their job. It was the first time anyone had seen the police utterly speechless.

After mass support and protests for his release, the police decided to do the right thing within four hours. Hazare though refused to leave Tihar jail insisting that his unconditional demands for a fast be met. The fast continued and support was immense.

From Ramlila to the December 2011 protest saw many changes. Mumbai’s MMRDA Ground was not successful.  The public  did not turn up to the protest and the mainstream media took a gleeful opportunity to write broadly negative columns about the end of this anti-corruption crusade. Since then Team Anna has been subjected to a barrage of allegations, efforts to suppress their freedom of expression through privilege notices and revolving door false cases/allegations.

The Final Battle : The campaign group have survived a very long journey of hardships simply by the use of their brain power, determination and stamina. Team Anna struck back last week with the   Final Battle Against Corruption – dubbed as “Do or Die”.

The first day saw NSUI members trying to disrupt the fast unsuccessfully. Thousands of people did appear to support the campaign contrary to the luke warm responses by the media.

Unfortunately, in many cities throughout India, peaceful protests were prevented. In Kolkatta, people were arrested as they gathered for a peaceful protest. In Pune, volunteers for the campaign group were arrested while in Mumbai there were 50 arrests during a peaceful protest.

About eight buses from Bhatinda with 1000 supporters were stopped from entering New Delhi. Supporters for the group have worked tirelessly to circulate actual photographs of the protest that dispels the myth created by the mainstream media – that there is dwindling interest. The mainstream media have been concentrating on head count rather than the actual issues of corruption at play.

The reality was far from it, Team Anna’s magic was indeed working again as pictures showed protests throughout India.

Of course, this was met by threats from the government who announced police intervention. A sabre rattling Manish Tewari quipped

"I hope the authorities’ in-charge of law and order situation in the capital or outside would discharge their duty. The right to protest is the right of every individual but self-restraint is equally important. It is integral part of Indian culture."”
The police also declared that no provocative speeches should be made. My question is this – what is defined as “provocative”? To date, no one in government or the police has a definitive response to this.

The spectre of potential violence was rising as we spotted Editor in Chief of the IBN network Mr Rajdeep Sardesai tweet that evening.

"Violence of the mind is a short step away from physical violence. See it on twitter every day, what price Jantar Mantar next?"

Fresh from the shot across the bows came the allegation that Team Anna’s supporters had manhandled female reporters. Team Anna immediately issued an apology. The mainstream media enthusiastically gushed to write miles of column inches on this. Indeed, no one had seen such fizzing enthusiasm for any other issue of public importance that Team Anna had raised.

Unfortunately, on the 30th July 2012, India’s power supply was cut off for north India causing a near complete black-out. This has continued until the time of writing the column. While, the events to suppress the protest and the power cut can not yet be laid at the Indian government’s door, it is an amazing coincidence that is of political advantage to them – slowing the process down and preventing mass publicity by crippling technology. Undeterred by this, the protests around the country have continued to flourish.

Team Anna though believes that the Indian government may have been involved. Of course, we will never know what the real facts of the power failure were apart from its notable convenience to Congress. It also provides a very useful distraction for the media to feature, conveniently diverting interest from the protests.

Anyhow, I felt it useful to summarise the antics of the Indian government in suppressing the views of Team Anna. This is my analysis on the coincidences that have occurred. This is presented to provide the a different dimension to the theoretical account of Team Anna’s journey to justice.

Role of the Media : The Indian media have been criticised for downplaying the issues raised by IAC. Their representative at IAC – Great Britain had the following to say:-

Essentially the media works towards the macro signals given by those in power who control and are in charge of the media regulations. While, constructive criticism is welcome, supporters generally feel the media is focussing on the wrong issues. Instead of speculating about the numbers attending or if Anna’s magic (ugh!) has waned they should be asking tough questions of the 15 tainted ministers. All allegations are in the public domain and so far not one media house has dared asked them their side about the allegations. It’s the elected representatives who should have been held up to a greater level of scrutiny and accountability not the messenger e.g. Team Anna who are only voicing what the nation feels

An interesting Tweet written by leading journalist Nikhil Wagle at the end of July 2012 stated as follows

“Govt is not happy with media. They think media is giving coverage to Annaji. Ministers call journos and threaten you will repent”.
Whatever the truth to the above statement relating to the alleged pressures by the government, India’s media has done much to damage the reputation of India Against Corruption thereby causing the loss of many faithful members of public.

During the previous fast in 2011, reports from individuals present at the grounds tweeted that some journalists were seen having lunch with Congress members.

The mainstream media stand accused of downplaying the number of people attending the demonstrations while actual pictures taken by individuals uploading it to social media showed a different situation. Colleagues attending the demonstrations reported that their mobile networks were jammed therefore there was a coincidental and timely communication failure reducing their ability for citizen reporting directly from the grounds.

In the recent protest, Kiran Bedi told the media

“The response to our agitation is above expectations. The media has been instructed to downplay the agitation by the government. Some people in the media have themselves told me this. Letters have been sent (by the government) with regard to this.” She, however, denied knowing who in the government directed the media to downplay the agitation”
Kiran later told me

“shared what was being said by members of media itself. Based on disclosures and interviews published and on Utube!"
The disenchantment and frustration with the mainstream media was demonstrated recently when a number of members of the public began to heckle journalists.

The public reaction to perceived biased mainstream media has been to take their opinions to the social media in droves.  This has been done for sometime now and has clearly become a clear and present threat to the reputation of the government.

The government found that they could not control the information circulating in the social media. In an effort to prevent information dissemination, the worrying frequency of internet censorship events commenced in 2011.

Internet Censorship : Following the protests by Team Anna over the last year, it is interesting to note the governmental response. Internet giant, Google reported 225 instances of India asking for online content censorship marking a sharp rise of 49 percent in the second half of 2011 coincidentally occurring during the time frame of the campaign.

The Guardian UK reported

Twitter is seething over the news that internet giants, including Google and Facebook, have been told to remove offensive content from the web following a court order from the Indian government. Some say that India is becoming a censored state, just like China”.
The definition and boundaries of words that can be” offensive” has never been outlined.

Most notable was Shashi Tharoor’s outburst in the Economic Times.

Tharoor said "public order and communal harmony were higher priorities for the nation and maintenance of these priorities could sometimes entail reasonable restrictions on liberties." He said an individual's rights have to be limited in the event that they are violating the rights of large groups to live in peace.
He continued "democratic freedoms should not become licence to incite people to discriminate, attack, defame or malign innocent fellow citizens. With all rights come responsibilities." His keynote address to the gathering elaborated the universality of human rights and reasonable limits on this concept based on local cultural and social requirements”

That was all well and good until I asked Tharoor about the yardstick of assessment for “discriminate, attack, defame or malign fellow citizens”. Where do we draw the line?  Tharoor has failed to respond to my basic question therefore we can safely assume that his party and the ruling government have no yardstick apart from there “subjective nebulous interpretation” and it is this aspect that is open to abuse by the authorities.

All that is required effectively is for someone in government to howl that he does not like being criticised that is effectively the start of a totalitarian regime.

Privilege Notices : I once wrote to Madam Speaker in relation to Privilege Notices issued by members of Parliament. Unsurprisingly, there has been no response to my questions.

Anyone who wishes to read about these notices should access the link here. It contains a good description and cites its origins from Erskine May an aged parliamentary practice book from 1844 England. Are English principles of governing a island applicable or appropriate to a Indian population of 1.2 billion people who have different traditions, cultures and temperaments? This outdated concept is being applied the modern day where individuals are entitled to basic human rights.

At present, the balance of rights appears to be tilted towards the parliamentarian as there is no protocol or directive balancing the interests of the complainant with the civilian. The civilian appears to have no rights to a reputation, no remedy to the damage caused and no consideration of their civil liberties. It therefore cannot be right to allow the current processes to remain as they are. All that is required for a Parliamentarian to issue a notice, is a broad dislike of what is being said about him or her. It is effectively a very good way of suppressing freedom of expression, undermining the critic and causing mass negative publicity with the sole intention of discrediting the individual.

In the case of Team Anna, privilege notices started to fly out of parliament on a regular basis. India Today stated that both Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kerjriwal were served with privilege notices. They were both defiant and refused to apologise. Prior to that, in August 2011, Om Puri and Kiran Bedi were slapped with notices. This led us all to question whether India was indeed a democracy or a totalitarian regime with no accountability.

Mudslinging : The members of Team Anna have been subject to counter-allegations and have been vindicated. As the spokesman for IAC- GB tells us

Team Anna has always been open about their dealings and welcomed a simultaneous Independent Investigation into allegations of their own "alleged" wrong doings. The trumped up charges against Kiran Bedi (ngo funds misuse, Bhusan property tape) have all fallen by the side due to the lack of any concrete evidence and shown up to be the sham charges that they were”.

More recently, an interesting finding by the local courts is worth mentioning. Kerjriwal had caused a political storm by his speech at the Ghaziabad rally early this year. He had said that Parliament was filled with “murderers, rapists and dacoits”. A complaint was filed by Mr Jitendra Sindhu. On the 28th July 2011, the local court dismissed a complaint seeking the prosecution of Arvind Kerjiwal for his alleged offensive remarks. District Judge Hussain dismissed the complaint citing that commenting on the workings of MPs does not amount to a raging war against the government. Quite rightly, Team Anna stated that petty allegations were used to divert attention from the real issues at hand. It is also notable that when allegations are made, the mainstream media screams about them from the rooftops but when the individuals are cleared, few will write about it.

So while Team Anna has been subjected to revolving door allegations, placed under the microscope umpteenth times, their allegations against the Indian government have been overlooked with no inquiries and no scrutiny.

Team India – Working Together : The work of India Against Corruption has its world-wide supporters. UK NRIs continue to show their solidarity and support during the week of fasting. Renowned sports commentator, Charu Sharma was interviewed by IAC – GB. He said

I compliment all of you. You are doing a fantastic job. I deeply value your work. So much more needs to be done”
Anupam Kher, a leading actor told the media

"I, as a citizen of India believe that corruption has reached new heights and Anna Hazare and his supporters have taken this initiative to fight this malady. I believe that I should participate in this movement, as corruption has severely affected the social and political fabric of our country. If we won't support this movement or not participate then our children or subsequent generations will get a country that is hollow in all respects,"
These people demonstrate the importance of the movement created by Team Anna. IAC –Great Britain added :-

“We have to expand this to the wider political class and not just the Indian government. The Indian government has not kept its word by presenting a version that is deeply ineffective and a weak Lokpal bill in Parliament, which it always intended to do. What then, was the need to go through the charade of consulting with Team Anna. Its actions recently like meeting secretly with Anna and promising to clear a stronger Lokpal when all along their aim was to split and cause rifts in the team.

The Parliament/ political class has also let down Indian citizens after agreeing to the 3 points in principle – 1) Citizens Charter 2) lower bureaucracy to be under Lokpal through appropriate mechanism and 3) establishment of Lokayukytyas in the states.  Parliament after agreeing a “sense of the house” is now at a stage of splitting hairs (sense of house is not a resolution etc.) and going back on its word given to citizens of India in putting the 3 points in action”
This summarises the ambitions of this movement – it works for the people.

Power to the People : The current government with assistance of their media has created a situation of lethargy where doubt has been created in the minds of the people of India. The time has indeed come to put these doubts to one side and believe that while Team Anna may have their failings, their heart is in their right place. They have fought for the interests of the Indian people. As I have shown, the individuals have placed themselves in the line of fire because they believe in the greater good. I write this during a time when half of India is in darkness – Team Anna provides the only light through this. It is therefore important to put all differences of opinion to one side to fight for the greater good.

Almost sixty-four years ago Winston Churchill wrote

“Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, free looters; all Indian leaders will be of low calibre & men of straw. They will have sweet tongues & silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power & India will be lost in political squabbles. A day would come when even air & water would be taxed in India."
The Indian Government has proven Winston correct and placed India in disrepute.

Only, the Indian people with the help of Team Anna can prove Mr Churchill wrong and take back what is rightfully theirs. Throughout history, India has been looted. It is time for the Indian people to preserve their resources, to develop themselves into one of the world’s leading economy, to be a first world country and one that works on eliminating the serious problems that has plagued its most vulnerable – malnutrition, high levels of farmers deaths, crippling poverty that is bringing the country down to its knees.

This is the time to have faith in India Against Corruption – because they are the only hope left for a better future. India deserves a better chance, a chance to recover, a chance to be the best and a chance to be free of corruption. This can only be achieved if we support each other in the same cause. Each individual nationally and internationally should be supporting this cause – to uphold the sense of integrity, honesty and decency that should be the Indian identity.  No matter how small the individual role is, collectively everyone’s effort in the same cause will make the difference that is required.

The Indian people hold the power to make their land a better place for the future. As Gandhi once said, it is a case of – Do or Die.

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