I am getting to be sick and tired of the camps of Anna Hazare, Baba Ramdev and Subramanian Swamy fouling up every bit of space in the public domain with all manner of wild charges against all manner of public figures. They seem to be walking straight into the Goebbelsian trap.

They are making the whole nation a whispering gallery. Every conversation in every household, or in whatever public forum, mentions incredible amounts exacted by a Governor, or his progeny, or a Minister, or a judge right up to the Supreme Court, or anyone at all holding public office, as a quid pro quo for getting something or the other done. The informant purports to do so knowledgeably, certifying that he has heard it first hand from someone else, who had heard it first hand from someone else who had heard it…well, you get the drift.

Internet Web sites are circulating round the globe, with millions of eyeballs intently pegged on to them, brimming with exact figures, running to hundreds of thousands of crores of rupees, made by each of the incumbents, identified by name, in the highest reaches of the Central and State Governments, in the various high voltage scandals. They are not from sources who want to remain anonymous: They flaunt their names and dare those targeted by them to take them to courts.

Mr Subramanian Swamy alone has been putting out in public meeting/statement after public meeting/statement the names and amounts involved, and even keeping the nation in suspense about more to come.

For those convinced that the nation is wallowing in corruption and black money, the sky is the limit. State any figure - however astronomical - and, in their view, it is bound to be right.

MAGNANIMOUS RECOGNITION

Members of Team Anna, with Arvind Kejriwal being the most vitriolic, for their part, have also been for some time trotting out names of 14 Ministers, including the Prime Minister, whom they have been castigating as corrupt. They have been exhibiting the photographs of their faces at the venues of their campaign. The new President, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, is one of them, but they have covered his face with a cloth, reportedly in magnanimous recognition of the immunity he enjoys during his tenure as President!

To the extent possible, and summoning such experience as I have of public affairs (as also my having been a trial magistrate in the early part of my career), I have tried to figure out the basis of the charges the graft fighters have let fly in all directions. As per my layman’s judgment, they seem nothing more than perfunctorily drawn inferences, from inconclusive, if not meagre, documentation or substantiation, leave alone solid proof.

God - and almost everyone coming into contact with public functionaries in India - knows that with the steep fall in adherence to values, and in standards of private and public conduct, made worse by the rapid depletion of role models, venality has become a way of life. There is indeed no longer any sense of shame attached to being arrested or prosecuted. Far from being ostracised, the accused are welcomed with mammoth receptions when they come out of jail on bail.

CHARACTER ASSASSINATION

These tendencies should be fought, not by a McCarthian witch-hunt or Goebbelsian propaganda, but by a sober, responsible and thorough examination, fact by fact, document by document, of the information coming into the graft-fighters’ knowledge and possession. Tom-toming them in public, before undertaking such a painstaking effort, is hardly distinguishable from character-assassination; it also has the effect of tarnishing India’s reputation in the eyes of the world.

I strongly urge Team Anna to entrust the material they have raising doubts about the integrity of any high level public functionary for scrutiny by a group of two or three independent and eminent persons of impeccable credentials - such as the former Chief Justice J. S. Verma, the former Central Vigilance Commissioner, Mr N. Vittal and the former Chief Election Commissioner, Mr J. M. Lyngdoh - and go public only after they give their finding.

The Opposition should also be circumspect about looking upon the charges of the graft fighters as grist to its anti-Government mill. They are as likely to turn against it as against anybody else! It should be wise enough to tell itself: Ask not for whom the bell tolls: It tolls for thee!

(This article was published on July 26, 2012)
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