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Apr 25, 2011 at 09:27am IST

Land, CD row just to malign Bhushans: Agnivesh

Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate. How do Anna Hazare's closest supporters view the controversy surrounding the Bhushans? That's the key issue I should discuss today with Swami Agnivesh.

Karan Thapar:Swami Agnivesh, let me start with a simple question. Are the Bhushans, the Achilles heel, the weak link in the Anna Hazare's movement?

Swami Agnivesh: I would put it the other way around. They are the strongest link, because when we had started this whole process nearly eight months ago, it was Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan who came foreword to draft the bill together with Santosh Hegde and Arvind Kejriwal. And their legal acumen and all the other things have served so well, can't tell you.

Karan Thapar: They may be a strong link in terms of legal acumen but in terms of moral positioning, are they the Achilles heel and the weak link today?

Swami Agnivesh: I would not say that even because all of these thing which are on us today relate to years and years back. Like the 1966 land they purchased in Allahabad. How does it concern today?

Karan Thapar: But how does it matter when we relate it to things that happened a long time ago, is morality whitewashed because it happened somewhere in the past?

Swami Agnivesh: No, that's not the question. You can't just dig up things and bring them and time them just on the eve of the first meeting which is taking place together with the other cabinet ministers.

Karan Thapar: Let me quote to you what Anna Hazare wrote to Sonia Gandhi on April the 18, "I'm of the view that the people working of the public must be subjected to public scrutiny." How does the public scrutiny happen if you don't go in the past and look at that track record? This is exactly what Anna Hazare wanted and this is exactly what is happening and the faults are appearing.

Swami Agnivesh: No, definitely everybody need to be scrunitised, but the question is should they remain on the committee or not? That is the basic question. On that I'm saying, we find them indispensable, we find them to be the strongest link in this whole thing and we think they are going to stay with full authority and full force.

Karan Thapar: Let me quote to you what justice Hegde told the ‘Indian Express' he said, "Shanti Bhushan is not irreplaceable." He differs with when you said indispensable. He said Shanti Bhushan is not irreplaceable.

Swami Agnivesh: Well that maybe his view and nobody in that sense is irreplaceable no doubt about it. But looking at the track record of Shanti Bhushan himself who has been once upon, I mean long time ago, India's Law minister and the leading lawyer in the Supreme courts of India and the energy he has put in this drafting process and debating across the country with the country's leading lawyers and social activist, convincing them of deterrent legislation. So, all of that stand in such a good stead today that we cant do without him.

Karan Thapar: You say let us look in the track record of Shanti Bhushan, let look at the track record of the Bhushans, lets start with the farm land they acquired in Noida. Shanti Bhushan himself admits and I want to quote "I agree there is no transparency in the scheme and allotment have been made without any clear criteria." Then he adds "I have heard that bribes have passed hands for these allotments." Why then do the Bhushans themselves voluntarily opt out? Is it fitting that the people who are considered crusader against corruption should benefit from the schemes which they themselves consider unfair, improper and wrong?

Swami Agnivesh: No, as a matter of fact he has come out clean and clear that this was not from the discretionary quota of the Chief minister.

Karan Thapar: And I'm not saying it as either. But he is admitting that these allotments were not transparent, that the allotments were made without any criteria and he suspect bribes were paid.

Swami Agnivesh: He says and he insists rather that if there is any discrepancy in the procedure let the allotment be cancelled.

Karan Thapar: But why say that let the allotment be cancelled? Leaving the onus on others. Why not take the onus on yourself and say I'll opt out? Honest people say, there is something wrong with the scheme, I'll opt out. People who want to benefit and not been a sacrifice say ‘auro ko cancel karne do' why leave it on others? Cancel it yourself.

Swami Agnivesh: ‘Nahi nahi mujhe itna kehna hai Karan ji, ki iss moke par inn cheejo ko jis tareeke se uthaya ja rha hai to malign Shanti Bhushan kyunki vo aaj uss committee pe aaye hai. Yadi vo committe pe nhi aaye hote toh kisi ne ye mudde nhi uthne the’ (No, I just want to say Karan that they are raising these issues at this moment to malign Shanti Bhushan because he is on the committee. If he wouldn't have been on the committee, nobody would have raised these issues.)

Karan Thapar: But that's the problem.

Swami Agnivesh: The way the people are trying to target him, that is something you know is very sickening.

Karan Thapar: Swami saab, the reason today scrutiny is happening, you call it targeting, I call it scrutiny, is because people like Bhushans have put themselves on a pedestal as crusaders against corruption. Because they have taken that position, others are scrutinising the record to see whether it is clean and they suddenly discovered that on this critical issue of land, the Bhushans admit that the scheme is wrong and improper and they won't opt out. They are leaving it on others to cancel it which is very strange.

Swami Agnivesh: How is that going to affect in any case the drafting of a legislation? Tell me.

Karan Thapar: It is not the drafting of the legislation it will affect. It's the image of the committee. It's the image of the movement, it's the image of the people close to Anna Hazare that it affects.

Swami Agnivesh: Suppose tomorrow you have to engage a lawyer in the Supreme Court of India to defend yourself. Would you go into all the details of the person's character and all of those land dealing etc, etc? Would you do that? We have engaged the top most lawyers on behalf of the civil society.

Karan Thapar: But you haven't engaged them for legal purposes. You have engaged him as crusader against corruption, that's the important thing.

Swami Agnivesh: Yeah on corruption but for drafting a piece of legislation…

Karan Thapar: On corruption?

Swami Agnivesh: Yeah on corruption of course.

Karan Thapar: But his own track record raises question that is he the right person for the job?

Swami Agnivesh: No, I think he is the best person.

Karan Thapar: Ok.

Swami Agnivesh: Of all the five persons he is the best suited to do the job.

Karan Thapar: Let me point out another concern which is perhaps as important. In 2007, the campaign for judicial accountability of which Prashant Bhushan is the convener and Shanti Bhushan is a member, strongly and severely criticised former chief justice Sabarwal because his sons had acquired commercial land in Noida in exactly the same way. Three years later the Bhushans have acquired the farm land in Noida in the same way through the same sort of scheme. I put it to you, that is hypocrisy and the Bhushans should subject themselves to the same criticism they targeted justice Sabarwal with.

Swami Agnivesh: No! Wait. That time when they were crusading against the corruption of the former chief justice, no one accused them that why the father and son duo should was doing it. At that time no one raised this whole question.

Karan Thapar: Because at that time this issue hadn't arisen. They criticised justice Sabarwal for acquiring land from an improper scheme and yet they have acquired land through a similarly improper scheme. I put it to you, that is hypocrisy.

Swami Agnivesh: No, I would say that when they were crusading against the corruption of the former chief justice, why was they not told look you being father and son, you have no business doing it together like that you know. They were risking a lot.

Karan Thapar: You are slightly deflecting the issue. I'm not objecting to the fact that they are both father and son, and both father and son are on the committee. That I'm not objecting to, I'm objecting to the hypocrisy in acquiring land in the same way justice Sabarwal did. They criticised Sabarwal, but they are not criticising themselves.

Swami Agnivesh: He is saying cancel this allotment and he has no problem with that.

Karan Thapar: And I'm saying, I doubt if you are honest.

Swami Agnivesh: You see I'm not here to defend Shanti Bhushan, his regards, his lands or whatever. I'm here to say that his role in the committee is something indispensable. Therefore I would like to say all these things are irrelevant, motivated campaign of, shear smear campaign.

Karan Thapar: You said something very important, when you said, I'm not here to defend Shanti Bhushan on the purchase of land. You are also suggesting that the purchase of land is not defensible. You are clearly suggesting that.

Swami Agnivesh: No, I mean he is competent enough to defend himself and he has been.

Karan Thapar: Let me put something else to you, it is not just that this issue involve the element of hypocrisy, many say it is also an example of greed. The Bhushans by their own admission are worth hundreds of crores. Shanti Bhushan has made that clear when he revealed his assets after he joined Anna Hazare's joint committee. Yet they have grabbed an opportunity to make a few crore more. What message does that send out to young India?

Swami Agnivesh: No, you see as a matter of fact there have been allegations against each member of our civil society members, each member of our committee. Like Anna Hazare has been accused of a case in 2005, where justice PB Savant had questioned him or alleged corruption of Rs 2.2 lakh, somehow spent on some birthday celebration or something.

Karan Thapar: Can I add something, Anna Hazare, according to justice Savant has excepted and admitted to justice Savant that he made a mistake. Anna Hazare didn't hide from accepting the mistake. Here the two Bhushans are not accepting hypocrisy, the two Bhushans are instead saying let someone else cancel the scheme. I'm saying to you that crusaders against corruption should opt out voluntarily from the scheme that they admit is wrong. That's the difference.

Swami Agnivesh: The intentions behind these allegations are very clear Karanji. They want to derail the whole process of drafting of the legislation, fighting against corruption. We want to defeat those intentions and those forces. Because we don't want them to.

Karan Thapar: So you are questioning the motives of the people who are raising questions about the Bhushans. That's all you are doing. Aren't you? You are saying these are not genuine questions. These are questions with a motive behind them.

Swami Agnivesh: No, not at all. This is for a limited period with a limited mandate to draft a legislation. The work stops on 30th June and then everybody is free to hunt them, find out whatsoever is wrong with them, punish them if they are guilty. So, there is no problem with that.

Karan Thapar: So you are saying something very interesting. Don't continue with this scrutiny till 30th June, when the drafting is over on the 30th of June, revive the scrutiny, find them guilty and punish them. In other words you are saying give them a reprieve till 30th of June, then continue.

Swami Agnivesh: Well I'm not saying give them a reprieve as such. I would say start the case if you have any facts, figures or any case against them. We have no problem with that, but don't relate that to the drafting committee, that's what I'm saying.

Karan Thapar: Let me come to a second issue concerning the Bhushan's, the controversial CD. Prashant Bhushan has publicly accused Amar Singh of manufacturing the CD, he's gone further. He says "from within the government people are involved". But he has no proof of this. This is just summarised, this is just guess work. Is it proper that someone drafting a Lokpal bill to correct corruption should himself be accusing people on the basis of nothing more than suspicion?

Swami Agnivesh: Well, he must have some evidence. If it is brought to him, if it is he's asked, he will definitely produce some evidence, either circumstantial evidence or something else.

Karan Thapar: He hasn't produced anything so far. It is all summarised.

Swami Agnivesh: No, he is in possession of some circumstantial evidence.

Karan Thapar: Shouldn't he make it public if he has it?

Swami Agnivesh:Well he will, whenever the occasion arises. No problem with that.

Karan Thapar: The occasion has arisen. He's cast a suspicion, surely he should have backed it up with evidence rather than not doing so.

Swami Agnivesh: No, this is not the stage. If the case has been filed, FIR has been filed, and the whole case will be now processed. With the time of prosecution all these allegations he will definitely come out with the evidence.

Karan Thapar: Let me put to you something else that is very worrying, the contradictions the Bhushan's have tied themselves up in. Shanti Bhushan, according to the Indian Express, told the Indian Express he has never met Mulayam Singh Yadav and yet the truth is

Swami Agnivesh: Mulayam Singh Yadav? Amar Singh?

Karan Thapar: No, Shanti Bhushan told the Indian Express, on the 16th of April, that he had never met Mulayam Singh Yadav. Yet the truth is that in February 2006, Shanti Bhushan appeared for Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Samajwadi Party in writ petition no 5085. Secondly, Prashant Bhushan has said that his father has never met Amar Singh and yet the truth emerges that only last year his father was advising Amar Singh on his Rajya Sabha seat when Amar Singh was expelled from the Samajwadi Party. Now how did the Bhushans get all these facts so terribly wrong?

Swami Agnivesh: Well again I would like to say on all these issues, Bhushans, both themselves, father and son, competent enough to defend themselves, answer all of these allegations and questions.

Karan Thapar: Your washing your hands off this?

Swami Agnivesh: No, no, no, I am not washing my hands. As a member of this whole sort of fight against corruption, India against corruption, as we title it, we are one with them as far as their whole energy for this drafting committee.

Karan Thapar: Okay, your one with them, in which case let me put a very simple question to you. Has the time come for Shanti Bhushan to submit himself to a voice-test, so we can verify that the voice on the CD is his or not his? Should he submit himself to a voice test?

Swami Agnivesh:Well, if the court or some other such agency demands it then they will definitely give their voice sample.

Karan Thapar: Why not voluntarily?

Swami Agnivesh: What do you mean? I mean, to whom? To Amar Singh?

Karan Thapar: No, he can go to the state and he can say that the state laboratories can check my voice and they can tell whether this is the same or not.

Swami Agnivesh: Well if the case has already been filed and in the process if an occasion arises they will definitely give their voice sample. No doubt about it.

Karan Thapar: Only, and if and only an occasion arises, nothing they should do voluntarily, willingly themselves?

Swami Agnivesh: Why do you expect anybody to do anything voluntarily?

Karan Thapar: Because honest people take clear steps to clear their name.

Swami Agnivesh: No, no, they have said, you can scrutinise us, you can have sorts of evidence collected against us. We are available for all sorts of scrutiny.

Karan Thapar: In which case, do you think the time has come for Shanti Bhushan to explain what he meant when on these alleged CDs he says, "Prashant bahut accha manage karte hain" and secondly when he says, "char crore rupiya bahut hai". Should he explain what he meant?

Swami Agnivesh: Look again you are taking up the CD as the whole truth. I am saying this whole CD is very shady. There is no author of the CD, there is no owner of the CD, whoever the person be, is such a coward person – he's not coming out in the open to take up the ownership and why did he manufacture the CD in 2006? What was the whole motive of the conspiracy behind this?

Karan Thapar: But the fact is that Shanti Bhushan is accepting that the voice is possibly his, in which case shouldn't Shanti Bhushan explain what he meant when he said, "char crore rupaiya kaafi hai," "Prashant bahut accha manage karte hain"?

Swami Agnivesh: No, I don't take this whole thing. I don't take this CD at all seriously because this way, you can malign any person, any time. This is absurd, you know. We are relying, you know, some of our media personnel are over-worked because of this CD, knowing fully well that is some shady character has manufactured it and marketed it and floated it right on the eve of the committee meeting. This is the way you know, instead of deriding such people we are taking it something sacrosanct and something.

Karan Thapar: I let you criticise the media fully without interrupting because I think you have the right to do so. Let me now put to you what Justice Hegde said to the Indian Express on the 21st of April, "if all this would have been known earlier, people who were advising Anna ji and he himself probably would not have included them (meaning the Bhushans) in the committee." If you had known this earlier would you have agreed with Justice Hegde, that the Bhushans shouldn't have been included?

Swami Agnivesh:There's the matter of what Justice Hegde has said and I was participating in the same debate with him, in those media interviews. What he said is that six months ago when we had all come together drafting and the public had full knowledge through the media, what exercise we have been undertaking, at that time nobody came up with any of these allegations.

Karan Thapar: But if they had then we wouldn't have included the Bhushans. Do you agree with that position?

Swami Agnivesh:Well then of course, there could have been some discussion about it as in who should have been included and who should not be included etc

Karan Thapar: In other words, if this issue had come up six months ago, there would have been discussions about who should be included, who shouldn't. Now six months later, it’s too late?

Swami Agnivesh: No, it’s not. I'm not saying that it's too late. We are saying that all of these things could have been discussed six months ago or whenever they had surfaced like 2006 itself, when this CD is said to be made.

Karan Thapar: And not now

Swami Agnivesh: This is irrelevant completely. This is clear motive to derail the whole process. You see we will be betraying the people's trust and faith if we

Karan Thapar: You may be betraying the people's trust and faith by including the committee people whose credibility in the eyes of the public is damaged

Swami Agnivesh: Not at all. I have been to the people, myself. I have been to Ahemdabad, I have been to Ranchi, I have been to several other places and I have sought their mandate again and again. And I think people are strongly behind us in our fight against corruption and for Jan Lokpal bill.

Karan Thapar: My last question to you, is the image of the movement launched by Anna Hazare, dented or adversely affected by the controversies surrounding the Bhushans?

Swami Agnivesh: Not at all.

Karan Thapar: Not at all?

Swami Agnivesh: Not a wee bit.

Karan Thapar: Okay, then let me quote to you what Anna Hazare himself said about the Bhushans when the CD story broke. He says, "If he is found guilty he deserves to be punished. I cannot give guarantees for anybody. I have just got to know Shanti Bhushan during the campaign. I can assure the public of good conduct on my part, but not someone else's." That's not a clean chit from Anna Hazare to the Bhushans

Swami Agnivesh: It's a very, very clean chit, being very honest.

Karan Thapar: It is not a clean chit at all?

Swami Agnivesh: He's saying he didn't know him before, I knew him only in the course of this movement,

Karan Thapar: "And I can’t give guarantees?"

Swami Agnivesh:How can he give guaranty about something which happened in 2006? Or 1966? How can he give guaranty?

Karan Thapar: So then why, on the principle that Ceaser's wife should be above suspicion, shouldn't Anna Hazare's nominees be above suspicion also?

Swami Agnivesh: No, no, no. I'm saying how can Shanti Bhushan give guarantee for other members? Or can you give me guarantee about anything else?

Karan Thapar: But when suspicion arises?

Swami Agnivesh: He is being very honest,

Karan Thapar: My last question, when Anna Hazare raised questions about Sharad Pawar he immediately resigned from the GoM. Shouldn't that example be followed by the Bhushans?

Swami Agnivesh: As a matter of fact I was sitting on the dais when this whole question was put to him. He said why doesn't he resign from his ministership?

Karan Thapar: Well he didn't, but he resigned from the GoM. Why don't the Bhushan's follow that example?

Swami Agnivesh: No, no, no, no. You see this is not the question. We are here to draft a legitimate legislation which will ultimately fight corruption tooth and nail in this country. That is our core that is our task that is our mandate. And we are going to live up to that mandate. We will fight against corruption at every level, even after this bill has been legislated and made into a law, if there is corruption charges against any of the members of the civil society, who are in the committee, we will fight against those corruption charges.

Karan Thapar: Including the Bhushans?

Swami Agnivesh: Including the Bhushans.

Karan Thapar: I'll let you have the last word. A pleasure talking to you.

Swami Agnivesh: Thank you.

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