Captain caught & bowled by controversies

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(Dhoni at the age of 8)

A little before noon on March 27, lawyer Harish Salve bowled the first bouncer against Mahendra Singh Dhoni in Supreme Court. Until then, the focus was on N Srinivasan, the disgraced cricket administrator, in the courtroom of Justices A K Patnaik and F M I Kalifullah. Salve tore into Dhoni, almost calling him a liar. The captain is “guilty of corrupt practice”, he thundered, by telling Justice Mukul Mudgal Committee that Srinivasan’s son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan was just a “cricket enthusiast” and did not play any role in IPL team Chennai Super Kings, owned by his father-in-law. The ace lawyer did not stop and took to Twitter to slam Dhoni, “a cover up to save Meiyappan is corruption. I can’t believe the captain (Dhoni) of CSK did not know Meiyappan’s role”. As the courtroom drama played out, Dhoni was miles away in Bangladesh leading India in the T20 World Cup and Srinivasan recovering from a cataract surgery. Only days before, the Indian captain filed a Rs 100 crore defamation case against Zee News Network for airing allegations that he was involved in IPL betting and spot-fixing.

Mahi, as his friends call him, has travelled a long way after debuting with a duck in international cricket in a wintry December 2004 in Bangladesh to become the country’s successful cricket captain and the sixth highly paid athlete in the world with an earning of $31.5 million. With just 100 days to go for his 33rd birthday, Dhoni now finds himself in the midst of a roaring credibility crisis despite having many firsts and peculiar achievements in his record books. He occupies a special place in India’s cricket history as the country’s most successful cricket captain who won T20 and ODI World Cups. Mind it, even a captain like Saurav Ganguly could not achieve this feat.

Every time he was on the verge of losing captaincy, Dhoni bounced back with spectacular performances and with a veto from Srinivasan whenever selection panel contemplated a change. Fans were ready to ignore all these because they could identify the cricketer with themselves.

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Many found inspiration in the then 23-year-old debutant with long locks who guarded the wickets. From discards Munaf Patel to Piyush Chawla in the past and current India players Bhuvanesh Kumar to Mohd Shami, he almost opened the gates for small town boys flooding the Indian dressing room, playing important role in the destiny of the cricketing history. It was a dream run for ‘Mr Cool’ or ‘Captain Cool’, as fans and cricket writers love to call him.

He was unleashing a new dream, a new India where a self-built man or woman can achieve anything. An ordinary Indian was trying to live it when controversies started trickling in. Into his fourth year in international cricket, he was chosen the captain and sixth year, he got a whopping endorsement of Rs 200 crore. Ganguly had become captain in the eighth year of his career and Sachin Tendulkar in the seventh. Dhoni was success personified for many.

Perception started changing since last May with the arrests of cricketers in IPL spot-fixing case and those like Meiyappan in betting case. Suddenly, the focus was on the captain. Nobody pointed fingers at him for indulging in illegal practices but with Meiyappan behind bars, doubts were raised. Dhoni’s proximity to the just ousted BCCI chief came under scrutiny and his role as Vice President of India Cements owned by the former. Adding to the woes was “unverified information”, as termed by Mudgal committee, about India-capped players and a statement of a Tamil Nadu IPS officer G Sampath Kumar pointing fingers at prominent faces. It was also speculated in media that Kumar had named Dhoni in his statement to Mudgal panel, which was handed over to the Supreme Court in a sealed cover and whose contents are not in public domain, along with Meiyappan for indulging in illegal activities.

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It was like a proverbial deluge of negative reports about him soon after. Reports also emerged about him holding stakes in a sports management firm owned by his close friend Arun Pandey that manages four India-capped players – Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Pragyan Ojha and R P Singh. It raised serious questions on conflict of interest but later Dhoni divested his stakes.

As Salve put Dhoni’s integrity on question, the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) staunchly defended the wicketkeeper-captain, saying he has not said what Salve had quoted. Union Minister and BCCI office-bearer Rajiv Shukla wanted that nobody should be dragged without substantial evidence. Reports suggested that Dhoni has offered to quit India Cements and captaincy of CSK but Srinivasan rejected it as he appeared to fight it out till the end.  The fighter that Dhoni is, he might win this battle on and off the field at the end.

However, this time, the victory off the field will come with a price tag, as he may have to share the baggage of filth attached with it. But it is not time yet to condemn the small town boy who made it big. Wait for the Supreme Court to uncover the sealed report.

(Article appeared in Spotlight of Deccan Herald on March 30, 2014)

War for ballot fought in cyber space

Last Monday, two cyber incidents happened. One boomeranged on Narendra Modi, the BJP Prime Ministerial hopeful, while the other arose curiosity among his followers. The good news for Modi was the buzz created by his personalized Holi greetings to followers on Twitter. But within hours, over enthusiasm by a section of his warriors virtually hit him as Wikileaks took to twitter to debunk as fake their claims of an endorsement of Modi by its founder Julian Assange.

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Welcome to the war for the ballot fought in cyber space this summer as the 2014 election is not fought on the streets alone. Facebook, Twitter, Google Hangout, WatsApp, and Youtube – you name it and every tool is used. Hashtags are hurled at opponents like ‘brahmastra’. Supporters, paid and otherwise, are out in strength to transform themselves into trolls to malign someone else’s leader. With the war on, #Pappu, #Feku and #YoKejriwal among others are fighting to manage and sometimes manufacture perception and debates thus helping to maintain the propaganda machinery.

It was the Tahrir Square protests in 2011, which nudged the Indian politicians to the challenges and opportunities of social media. Even before, our politicians had realized social media’s multiplier effect. In 2011, L K Advani’s blog was two years old, Modi was already on twitter and Shashi Tharoor had to quit Union Ministry following controversy over IPL erupted on twitter. They were the early birds but it took the anti-corruption movement of Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal to show the power of cyber tools in mobilizing youth to take on UPA government on corruption.

When Kejriwal formed AAP in 2012, his backroom boys were once again active mobilizing supporters, reaching out to people to convince them why they fell out with Anna Hazare and building the AAP brand. They brought transparency into the ways of mobilizing man and money. People started to get a feeling of involvement, techie-supporters developed applications for donations and a full-fledged cyber cell was set up.

With over 15 crore youth to vote for the first time in this election, none could turn its face against the new media. It was like ‘Hobson’s choice’. Modi knew it in 2009 itself and dived into it. He built a team of young professionals to manage his cyber persona. Modi tweeted his mind on issues, greeted prominent personalities on their birthday and remembered great men on their death anniversaries. His supporters flooded social media with statistics on Gujarat to build a development man persona for Modi. He ‘hung out’ with party workers on Google, made BJP start providing live feeds of his rallies and discussed issues over a cup of tea and streamed it live on internet. Reaching out to many was his goal and he built his claim on being Prime Ministerial candidate.

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This dragged a reluctant Congress to go aggressive on social media as the party and its leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, were badgered by BJP and AAP. The problem for Congress was the reluctance of Rahul to enter social media. The party conceded space to BJP and AAP by its hesitance. Congress woke up only after BJP trolls trended #Pappu, which could mean a simpleton, to make fun of Rahul. The Grand Old Party retaliated in style with #Feku to target Modi to depict him as a leader who just floats wrong information. Later, senior leaders Digvijay Singh, Kapil Sibal, Shakeel Ahmed and Manish Tewari and young brigade led by Deepender Hooda MP became active on social media to take on anti-Congress propaganda. Rahul finally did a Google Hangout earlier this month.

In such platforms, the drill is same for all parties. Congress, BJP and AAP are doing it big. What the players have to keep in mind is that there are 16.48 crore broadband users while 14.30 crore could access internet on their mobile phones. The social media handlers have to be glued to what is happening, check whether opponents are up to and target them, share videos and news links laudatory about own party and negative about opponents.

All the big ones have their own core cyber team deciding on what to share and make it a trend. Messages are sent from the core team to streams of supporters across the country who tweet it or post it on Facebook and other platforms. The core teams look for opponents’ embarrassing tweet or statement to corner them.

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A member of a party cyber cell explained the modus operandi. They have identified around 20,000 supporters who will set the ball rolling by tweeting with a pre-decided hashtag conveyed to them through mails or WatsApp message. “This help in making it a trending subject like #Pappu and #Feku. Both were generated hashtags and not spontaneous. We also monitor the social media and give a fitting reply whenever needed,” he said.

A small move can be disastrous. So one has to be careful, he warns. The core team will also see to it how to increase follower base, even by buying followers.

Smaller parties also have not shied away with CPI(M) being the latest entrant on Facebook and Twitter. Sharad Pawar (NCP), Lalu Prasad (RJD) Mamata Banerjee (TMC), Omar Abdullah (National Conference) and Aditya Thackeray (Shiv Sena), and their parties came on social media. Pawar is going to have a Google Hangout soon. Not to be left behind, Samajwadi Party has bought rights of a Billy Joel song ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ and adapted it for “Man se hain Mulayam Irade Loha hai” (He is soft-hearted but iron-willed), which were shared in social media.

A sting operation last year had shown that at least a dozen IT firms several small companies were offering services to politicians to enhance their image and malign opponents. The sting operation by ‘Cobrapost’ claimed that some of the service providers told undercover reporter that they generated debate on Sardar Patel’s legacy and against Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar after the Patna blasts. One of the conversations also purportedly showed attempts to malign Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi.

Though internet is having a bigger role in the 2014 campaigning, no leaders or experts expect it be the game-changer this time. At the best, a study claimed, it would be a game influencer in about 150 constituencies. But parties are not willing to leave the field open for opponents as internet penetration is increasing even in rural households.

(PS: An edited version appeared in Spotlight section of Deccan Herald on March 23, 2014)

Social media to be a game changer: BJP IT cell head

Social media is making its presence felt in 2014 elections campaigning. For Deccan Herald, I spoke to Dr Arvind Gupta, Convenor of BJP IT Cell, about his party’s online presence and strategy. The interview appeared in the Spotlight section of Deccan Herald on March 23, 2014.

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(Dr Arvind Gupta)

On social media role in 2014 elections compared to earlier polls
In 2009, we had an internet reach of two crore Indians and it has now grown ten times. Young lot are taking to it like never before. Actually, there was nothing called social media then, probably it came around the beginning of 2009 elections. We have 81 crore voters now, 20 crore or 24 per cent are on the internet. They are concentrated in a certain basket and they spent a lot of time on internet. So it is a game changer.

On BJP strategy for social media campaigning and countering opponent’s attack
For us, it is not only as a campaign tool but an engagement channel. It is more of information, listening and engagement channel. It sets the agenda, the discussion topic and it is the voice of every Indian. We counter bad information. We have live content on our internet platforms. I do not see this in any other parties.

On allegations of debate manipulations, trolls
This is a myth the losers create. I personally believe 95 per cent of the entire thing is done by the right people. But there are always some abuse, trolling and all.

On opponent’s online presence and strategy
It is for you to say. I feel we are far ahead. Narendra Modi is the most googled, most followed person. BJP is the most active party on the social media. How others fare, I can’t comment.

On impact of social media in constituencies
I have already said that it will have an impact on 160 seats. In my opinion, India will have three types of elections. One is the digital election in 160 seats where social media has a big role. Around 180-200 seats will witness the typical elections and remaining will have a mix of both social media and traditional style. For us, social media is not just internet. We are using mobiles very effectively. Our supporters can now listen to Modi’s speech through their mobiles.

The Train has left, with the Master aboard

The chirpy and witty Sardar, who celebrated life with wine, women and letters, finally left his station without a return ticket. Khushwant Singh, the author of acclaimed partition saga ‘Train to Pakistan’, left behind a mountain of words he weaved on lives, both fictional and non-fictional.

With the latest gossips on lips and a glass of scotch in his hand, he entertained the ‘who-is-who’ of the capital in the evening durbars at his home in Sujan Singh Park, near the posh Khan Market in Delhi, before he fell ill. He even loaned Manmohan Singh Rs 2 lakh when the Prime Minister needed money to hire taxis for campaigning when he contested for South Delhi Lok Sabha seat.

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Singh, who edited the Hindustan Times and Illustrated Weekly of India, was close to Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi and supported Emergency only to earn the wrath of liberals. He fell foul of Indira after he supported Maneka Gandhi after Sanjay’s death and Singh’s son Rahul believed that his father was politically naïve. “He became close to Indira Gandhi but championed the cause of Maneka Gandhi after the death of Sanjay Gandhi. Later, he fell out with the same Maneka,” the son said.

If one knows Singh only for “naughty” writings, then he may be doing an injustice to a writer on history of Sikhs or Ghadar movement, the first armed rebellion in India, or of Maharaja Ranjit Singh besides his novels like ‘Delhi’.

Singh fell short by 10 months to hit a century in life but he never missed the bull’s eye whenever he picked up his pen, whether it was his regular ‘With Malice towards One and All’ column or his short stories or novels, which became a rarity in the past couple of years.

As a writer, Singh remained the same, witty and sharp, as in his youthful days when he even wrote his own obituary. It was in 1943 at the age of 28 when he imagined how ‘The Tribune’ would announce the news of his death in front page with a small photograph.

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He imagined the headline would read ‘Sardar Khushwant Singh Dead’ along with the text, “we regret to announce the sudden death of Sardar Khushwant Singh at 6 pm last evening. He leaves behind a young widow, two infant children and a large number of friends and admirers. Amongst those who called at the late Sardar’s residence were the PA to the chief justice, several ministers, and judges of the high court.”

Seventy-one years ago, he might have wanted a front-page report on his death in a newspaper in Punjab but now he has grown to such proportions that prominent ones abroad and publications in the remotest corner of India would devote pages for him.

Singh’s brush with obituaries did not end there and a friend-journalist Dhiren Bhagat published a ‘pre-obituary’ in now-defunct Sunday Observer in 1983.

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Bhagat summed up the colourful Sardar: “Contradictions surrounded Khushwant at every stage of his life. He strove to give the impression that he was a drunken slob yet he was one of the most hard working and punctual men I knew. He professed agnosticism and yet enjoyed kirtan as only few can and does. He was known nationally as a celebrated lecher but for the past 30 years at least it was a hot-water-bottle that warmed his bed.”

Khushwant later remembered Bhagat in 1990 while reviewing ‘The Contemporary Conservative: Selected Writings of Dhiren Bhagat’ edited by Salman Khurshid. “The score was more than settled in my favour as I, 40 years older than him, am alive. Dhiren had met his end in a car accident a month earlier in November.”

Death was “rarely spoken about in our homes” but in the past years, Singh continuously broached about it. He remembered his wife’s death and how he wanted to face it alone.

PS: A BIG THANK YOU to ANAND (HARIDAS) CHETTAN for the TITLE and discussions on Sardar throughout the day, to SREEPARNA and HARIPRIYA for patient reading and interventions, to ANNIE for her incisive comments.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on March 21, 2014 http://www.deccanherald.com/content/393514/train-pakistan-stops-forever.html)

When 20 lakh women could not vote

The article appeared in my Election blog ‘SecretBallot’ in Deccan Herald

http://www.deccanherald.com/election/blog/392643/when-20-lakh-women-could.html

Just for Sukumar Sen, an ICS officer who rose to become country’s first Chief Election Commissioner, over 20 lakh women could not vote in the first General elections as their names were struck out from the electoral rolls. This may sound outrageous at a time when Election Commission is doing everything possible to draw people out of their cosiness in homes to the voting booths on polling days.

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(Sukumar Sen)

But Sen, a no-nonsense officer who resisted Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s haste in conducting the elections as early as possible, had a reason to do so. To his surprise, he found many names in the poll roll like wife of ‘A’, daughter of ‘B’ or mother of ‘C’. Sen was not the one to accept this. He asked his officers to get the names in the rolls but still then at least 20 lakh women refused and were out of the rolls. At the end, India had 17.32 crore voters in its rolls, out of which 85 per cent were illiterate.

Sen was the lone Election Commissioner and he conducted the first two General elections. For the elections, he used All India Radio and cinema halls to persuade people to vote. A documentary ‘This is Your Vote’ was screened in around 70,000 cinema halls across the country during the 1957 General elections.

According to historian Ramachandra Guha, two million steel ballot boxes were used in 2.24 lakh polling booths the first General elections. For the making of these boxes, 8,200 tonnes of steel was required. Around 16,500 clerks were appointed on six-month contracts for typing and collating the electoral rolls. About 3.80 lakh reams of paper were used for printing the rolls.

The first election spanned over four months. The first to go to poll was Chini tehsil in Himachal Pradesh on October 25, 1951 and the whole process ended in next February only. However, the 1957 polls ended in 18 days.

The story of elections in India started with the formal setting up of Election Commission on January 25, 1950, a day before the country became a republic. However, Sen was appointed on March 21, 1950. The ball was set rolling for future elections in the country on May 12, 1950 and August 17, 1951 when Parliament passed laws in this regard.

The first Presidential election was held after the constitution of Parliament and state Assemblies and Rajendra Prasad assumed the office on May 13, 1952 after the elections. After the General elections, the Commission recognised 14 parties as multi-state parties and 59 state parties. At present, there are six national parties.

The first two elections were different from all other elections in the country. The Election Commission adopted the ‘balloting’ system of voting in which, every candidate was allotted a separate ballot box and the voter was required only to drop the ballot paper into the box of the candidate of his choice.

But it changed from the third elections in 1962 when the Commission switched over to ‘ marking system’. Under this system, a common ballot paper containing the names and election symbols of all contesting candidates is printed on which the voter has to put a mark with an arrow cross mark rubber stamp on or near the symbol of his candidate of his choice. All the marked ballot papers are put into a common ballot box.

The experiment with Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) started with the Assembly elections in Kerala in 1982 when parts of Parur constituency witnessed its use on an experimental basis. The 1998 Lok Sabha polls saw the extensive use but it took two more elections to see the demise of ballot paper. In the 2004 elections, the EVMs were used in all polling stations.

The first general election had witnessed 1,874 candidates for 489 seats but it rose to 8,070 in 2004 out of which a dismal 556 were women. Similarly, the electorate was 17.32 crore in 1952 while it rose to 71.69 crore in 2009.

TAILPIECE: CPI(M) leader Basudeb Acharia may create history in the coming elections if he wins the Lok Sabha. He would be the senior most MP winning all Lok Sabha elections from 1980 with an experience of 34 years in the Lower House of Parliament.

Why MPs and MLAs want to jump the queue?

“I am a second time MP. I have completed my ninth year in Parliament. How can they say that they were not able to recognise me?” An agitated BSP MP Ashok Kumar Rawat, who first entered Lok Sabha in 2004 at the age of 29 years, thundered before a Parliamentary panel last September. The panel was hearing him on his complaint against Jet Airways that it did not accord him at Bangalore airport the “desired facilities and courtesies” that a lawmaker is entitled to.

Popular, he is in his constituency and there could be no doubt about it. Rawat won a second term with a margin of 23,292 votes from Mirsikh, the birthplace of mythological figure Maharishi Dadhichi who gave his bones to Gods to make the deadly ‘Vajra’. Dadhichi’s ultimate sacrifice was the theme used by artist Savitri Khanolkar when she desgined country’s highest gallantry medal Param Vir Chakra.

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Rawat may not be a modern Dadhichi. His profile does not put him in the gallery of infamy like many in Parliament and Assemblies. He has assets worth just Rs 19 lakh and no criminal cases. That is incredible news from a second-term MP coming from Uttar Pradesh! His attendance in Lok Sabha is 86 per cent and participated in 42 debates besides asking over 800 questions. But isn’t this arrogance of power that he feels himself important and believe that people should know him across the country? Hasn’t this young MP fallen into the same trap his elders in politics had stooped into by believing that politics means privilege? His and the recent case of RJD chief Lalu Prasad raise a series of questions on the propriety of lawmakers utilising privileges at a time they as a class are being targeted for their actions that do not conform to the perception of common man.

Prasad is now allowed to continue to stay in a bungalow allotted to him as an MP, five months after he was disqualified as a lawmaker for being convicted in fodder scam. The central government, which has off late earned the common man’s wrath, has turned compassionate (!) that it accepted his plea that if allowed to stay, his wife Rabri Devi could continue to get treated at AIIMS and his grand children’s education at a posh school Sanskriti is not disrupted.

Why are our MPs and MLAs so touchy? Why do they need to jump the queue? Why a man of modest means be fussy about not getting a VIP lounge in an airport or why a disqualified MP be allowed to continue in his bungalow? Why a former MP should continue to avail facilities for which he is not entitled to?

In its report tabled in Parliament on February 21, the Parliamentary Committee on Violation of Protocol Norms and Contemptuous Behaviour of Government Officers with Members of Lok Sabha, found fault with the way the airlines treated Rawat. The MP had not stopped there and sought that he was a victim of bias against Dalits. But the panel was clear that no such violation took place and threw his allegation in the dustbin. The panel also noted that the denial of desired assistance to Rawat was due to his incomplete booking record. The airline had apologised for the treatment meted out to the MP.

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Rawat’s complaint led to five meetings of the panel and another by the Civil Aviation Secretary with airlines in December last year to ask the operators to adhere to the guidelines in dealing with VIPs at airports. Later when media reported about the fresh move, the Aviation Ministry was at the receiving end of criticism.

One cannot be blamed if he wonders whether India could have avoided the downgrading by the US aviation regulator if it had moved with the same speed with which the Ministry scrambled to address the concerns of MPs — within a week after the Secretary appeared before Parliamentary panel he called the meeting with airlines. It is not the MPs alone even some retired top officials of Aviation Ministry enjoy privileges at the airports. The problem arises when our lawmakers and policy pundits give preference to their privileges rather than issues concerning the sector.

Rawat, being a frequent flier, is entitled to certain freebies even if he is not an MP. In this case, he was not fighting for the consumer but massaging his own ego. His fight was for a privilege he could not avail after he did not fill up his form intimating that he is an MP. A slip by him led to a complaint and subsequent five meetings of a Parliamentary panel, which has senior members like JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav and senior BJP MP Ananth Kumar as members.

In Prasad’s case, it is not human compassion but political and electoral compulsion that came into play. Does a common man get such kind of a compassionate treatment from the governments? We have seen numerous times that the system being circumvented to serve the purpose of the powerful. Only recently, the Supreme Court reiterated that lawmakers’ privileges do not give them a licence to attain immunity on anything and everything.

The problem is that the lawmakers, once elected, fall into the same trap and become part of the same rotten system they ought to change. They are supposed to make life easier for common man but they end up making their own life easier. You may differ with Rahul Gandhi on everything but for this – power is poison. When will our lawmakers understand that power could be poison?

(The article appeared in Deccan Herald on March 11, 2014)

Credibility crisis stares at government on Lokpal issue

Travelling for work is not taxing for Justice K T Thomas even at the age of 77 but on March 3, he felt it is not worth to embark on a 3,000 km journey from his hometown in Kerala’s Kottayam and waste several days in Delhi at government expense. In 377 words, the former Supreme Court judge summed up why he felt so and told V Narayanasamy, Minister of State in Prime Minister’s Office that he was withdrawing his consent to head the Lokpal Search Committee, which would recommend names to the Prime Minister-headed Selection panel for final appointment.

Thomas changed his mind within days as the 85-year-old eminent jurist Fali S Nariman, who on February 27 sent a terse letter, chose not to be part of the panel citing that the government restricting the panel’s mandate would result in the “most competent, the most independent and the most courageous” getting overlooked. The government wanted the Search panel of eight members to restrict their search to the names provided by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) and could not consider any names. The old men, with a combined experience of 119 years in law either as an advocate or a judge, did not find this a prudent exercise and rocked the boat, putting a spanner in UPA government’s plans to appoint a Chairperson and members in the anti-corruption ombudsman ‘Lokpal’ before it terms end in May.

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(Justice K T Thomas)

Controversies, delays and hiccups are not new for Lokpal, which became a reality after 51 years when then independent MP Dr L M Singhvi, father of Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi, first mooted it. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had asked the senior Singhvi in jest, “to what zoo does this animal belong”, when he introduced the Scandinavian concept of ombudsman. History says Singhvi who indigenized the nomenclature to Lokpal on the insistence of Nehru.

After being signed into law on this New Year after nine aborted attempts in Parliament in 46 years, Lokpal appeared so near but the government faced opposition soon within a fortnight when it sought applications for being members in the ombudsman. Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley shot off a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying the DoPT cannot invite applications, as it was the prerogative of the Selection Committee to lay down the rules and procedures. Jaitley was of the view that the move was against the spirit of Lokpal Act. “The very idea of retiring or sitting judges of the highest court having to move applications for a post-retirement assignment is repugnant to the dignity of the office that they have held. Retired judges who lobby with the establishment with their CVs compromise their self-respect and dignity. A job-seeking judge may not be the best person to be appointed as a member of the Lokpal,” he wrote to the Prime Minister. Singh dismissed the criticism and said the advertisement was brought out to ensure that the ombudsman is established at the earliest. It was not the end but the beginning of another round of confrontation.

The second opportunity came soon at the time of selecting the fifth member, an eminent citizen, for Selection Committee. The four others are Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha and Chief Justice of India or his representative were to select the fifth member. Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj objected senior lawyer P P Rao’s name for the fifth position in the panel claiming that he was a “Congress loyalist”. She suggested several names like Nariman and Soli Sorabjee. She was said to be even agreeable to names like former Chief Justice M N Venkatachaliah and senior lawyer K K Venugopal. But Singh was adamant that only Rao could be considered and got the stamp on his appointment. BJP cried foul with Jaitley accusing Singh of damaging the institution of Lokpal even prior to its appointment.

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(Fali S Nariman)

With fifth member of its choice in and brushing aside opposition to the process, government moved ahead to constitute a search panel following a recommendation from the Selection Committee and sent letters to eight members on February 21. In between, government also finalized rules and regulations for the implementation of Lokpal Act. Six days later, Nariman served the first volley saying the procedure was flawed. The government has said that the Search panel has to restrain themselves to the list provided by it and that it cannot alter the list by adding any name. In effect, it meant that the Search panel had to just prune the list provided by DoPT and forward to the Selection Committee. This seriously crippled the mandate of the Search panel and Thomas, after hearing about Nariman’s views, sought a copy of the rules to check whether the scope of the Search Committee has been curtailed.

Finding out that the panel has nothing much to do, Thomas wrote to Narayanasamy for the second time in a week’s time, “I wonder why there should be a Search Committee at all, much less, the arduous work to be undertaken by the members of such a Committee when the Selection Committee itself can decide on who should be the members of Lokpal.”

The government move was met with opposition from several quarters, including Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which in its earlier avatar during Anna Hazare agitation has reignited the demand for Lokpal. AAP said the entire issue proves beyond doubt that the Congress-led UPA government is trying to appoint individuals convenient to it in a desperate bid to render the Lokpal as a weak and ineffective institution. Hazare’s close aide Kiran Bedi said the Lokpal Act is sound but it is not in clean hands. Congress, however, sought to downplay it saying, where is the question of government being embarrassed? Giving or not giving consent cannot be linked to government. These are private decisions. People can say yes or no for many reasons. How you can blame government for this?

What Swaraj or Jaitley could not do through a series of letters and interventions, Thomas and Nariman managed in just 557 words in two letters. They put a huge question mark on the manner in which the government was moving ahead with the appointment of members of the Lokpal. The Act may serve a noble cause but the government at least appears as half-hearted in realizing the goals and in between twisting the arms.

(An edited version appeared in ‘Spotlight’ of Deccan Herald on March 9, 2014)

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