Ministers in the Lokpal panel involved in Sahara Scam?

BY ARUN AGRAWAL

The largest impending Indian bankruptcy affecting the largest number of people has gone unnoticed by the media. It appears that either the media has not understood the scam or having understood it has deliberately underplayed it.

But then such is the nature of the scam, and at the risk of breaking the narration the author would like to narrate an incident relating to the 2G scam.

After having filed a detailed complaint on the 2G scam with the CVC (enclosed in SC petition)  showing the link between Reliance, Swan, Tiger Trustee and the transfer of the Swan Telecom on the day that Reliance got the GSM license, the author was approached by a correspondent of a leading TV channel for a scoop.

The author offered her a “big exclusive story” provided she would do it. To which the response was she would if it did not concern the two brothers. Years later, she would take the same story and peddle it on her channel as her own exclusive! As would others in the media for having unearthed the scam!

Is the media in this case feigning ignorance or is being courteous in not covering a fellow owner of the print and electronic media?

The entire scam has been exposed in a brilliant order of SEBI dated 23/6/11 and is available on the web site of SEBI.

Coming back to the present scam.

Sahara for over a decade has employed the strategy of targeting unbanked people in  backward areas for mobilizing deposits through  thousands of agents. These agents work on hefty commission basis, are mostly part timers, and extol the ‘bigness and reputation’ of the Sahara, based on their sponsorship of the Indian cricket team! Default in payment of installments on recurring deposits results in forfeiture of the deposited amount and payment of matured amount is obtained with great difficulty.

So Sahara has managed to build a depositor base of  over 65 lakh poor people, who are marginal savers, never approached by a bank to deposit their small savings and in most  cases do not have the identity papers to open a account. They would be afraid to approach a bank and very few would welcome their accounts.

The figure of 65 lakhs could be an inflated figure if the group is also laundering money on behalf of politicians. One does not know as the group is facing investigation from ED too. The huge depositor base of 65 lakhs has to be viewed against the 150 lakhs investor in shares through depository accounts.

Equally important is the amount involved in the scam. Does anyone know?

No one, including RBI, Registrar of Companies, Finance Ministry, Allahabad High Court and the Apex Court, or SEBI, can tell you the amount involved in the scam because Sahara has refused to disclose the amount and has not filed the mandatory returns. The Allahabad High Court while rejecting the application for continuation of stay order on grounds of the company refusing to cooperate with SEBI stated:

“A person, who comes to the Court, is supposed to come with clean hands and bona fide intentions, and has to abide by the orders passed by the Court, more so in a case where the parties’ counsel agree for certain actions to be undertaken. If some assurance is given by any person to the Court, as has been done in the present case, and the said assurance/understanding is not honoured, the Court would not come to his rescue. The application is therefore, rejected.”

Though the company did not volunteer any information, SEBI, from the electronic filing by one of the companies, could establish that one of the companies had managed to collect over Rs 4800 crores in 15 months for the period March 08 to June 09.

As the figure of Rs 4800 crores relates in large part to global recession it is reasonable to conclude that over Rs 15,000 crores may have been raised by the two companies in the succeeding two years. The number of investors involved are a staggering 66 lakhs as admitted by the company. It works out to an average investment of Rs 20,000 per investor(One hopes that there is no money laundering of political funds).

According to SEBI there is not much fixed assets against the deposits. It means that the company is not solvent and not in a position to return the money and the ponzi scheme has come to an end.

SEBI in its order dated 23/6/11 states:

“Going by the financial statements, the two Companies do not have adequate fixed assets to secure their OFCD issuances, even if they choose to do so. In other words, the magnitude of fund raising through these unsecured vehicles exceeds the assets of the two Companies by far. Further, for issuances of secured debentures, a charge needs to be created on the assets of the company and Form 8 and Form 10 have to be filed with concerned Registrar of Companies (pursuant to Section 125 read with Section 128 of the Companies Act, 1956). Consequently, details regarding the same would also have to be placed in the public domain, where it would attract public scrutiny.”

Most of the money deposited has been squandered on advertisements (Indian Cricket team is paid more that 3 crores per match), electronic and print media business which are not profitable businesses. The land purchased is not in the name of company accepting deposits.

Benamis were used to purchase land as early as 1998. The name of various employees of Sahara Mass Communications and other sister organization of the Sahara group were used. Some of these names are : Rajeev Saxena, Sunil Bajaj, Ashok Ohiri, Nisheet Joshi, Vandana Bhargava and Nand Lal. Of these, two employees fell out with the group and submitted affidavits with Income Tax Authorities that the money was benami and should be forfeited.

So the conclusion of SEBI that there are no assets against the deposits is reinforced. It is for this reason that the group is not making available its books inspite of the orders of the Court.

Sixty-five lakh people therefore will lose over Rs 15,000 crores deposited in Sahara, because the politicians did not do their job and allowed the company to keep on collecting money from the poor people despite RBI having banned Sahara from collecting deposits. For most of these depositors it represents their entire savings and a large number of poor people are the victims of the scam.

This is not a matter of black money stashed abroad on which our politicians have ready made excuses. It is money illegally taken away from the marginal savers right under the nose of the senior Ministers who have been drafting the Lokpal Bill. In fact they have been active parties to the scam and its cover up.

Who then are the Ministers of the government  responsible for the loss? Surprisingly these are the three Ministers involved in the drafting of the Lokpal Bill.

But first, the fraud in a nutshell. Sahara, as already stated was accepting deposits from the public from a very long time as a non-banking finance company. These deposits were declared illegal by the RBI in that they did not comply with safety norms stipulated under the law for NBFC (investment of the percentage of proceeds in approved government securities) and companies accepting deposits.

As the amount involved was large RBI instructed the group not to accept fresh deposit and to wind down their deposit in a time bound manner.

Sahara did not have the money to return to the existing investors. The refund of the amount collected illegally would lead to the collapse of the entire group and therefore another illegal scheme for raising deposit from the public was thought off.

The new scheme was to raise deposit and call it optionally fully convertible debentures so that the depositor would have the option to subscribe to the shares at the end of the maturity of the deposit. Two separate companies of the group were floated for the purpose. The scheme was for fixed and recurring deposits which on maturity would give the option to the depositor to convert the matured sum into shares..

This was done in order to avoid scrutiny of the RBI and to collect the money under the Companies Act.

However while doing so a bigger fraud was committed as the Companies Act prohibits any company from raising money for shares and debentures from more than fifty persons without making a public issue and obtaining permission of SEBI. Further a public issue is open for ten days whereas the Sahara companies kept their issue open indefinitely.Till the fraud was detected the issue has been open for two and three years respectively.

The  fraud was detected by SEBI when the group filed documents (red herring prospectus) for a public issue of another group company in 2010 with SEBI.

SEBI wanted details of the other two companies which had been collecting deposits since 2008 and 2009. Even the basic information on the number of depositors and the amount collected was not provided, apart from the details of the issue, filing etc.

One of the excuses given was that the matter was referred to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs seeking clarification and reply was awaited. How could there be a reply when the Minister was none other than Salman Khurshid, a friend of Amar Singh (known to be close to Sahara Group)? It is also not a coincidence that the Minister was a member of the government on the joint drafting panel and his role in protecting Sahara during his entire tenure as Minister would not have stood scrutiny of an independent Lokpal .

Sahara wrongly argued that the issue was not a public issue inspite of the offer being made to 65 lakh persons and the matter was not under the jurisdiction of SEBI but under the Ministry of Corporate Affairs. As Sahara operated out of UP and the Minister is from UP and a lawyer, he should have made every endeavour to put an end to the scam. Instead he helped it along and therefore should take responsibility for the same as he was the Minister upto 1/1/11.

If Salman Khurshid had a role in the scam then could Mr Moily, the other member of the Lokpal drafting panel be far behind. He in turn was responsible for giving a legal opinion in favour of the company that the deposit/debenture were not under SEBI. And to give the opinion he went shopping for legal opinion and chose the one which was convenient to him.

He too is close to Amar Singh as witnessed recently when he withdrew sanction for prosecution of  an ex-ED official Ashok Agrarwal on the recommendation of Amar Singh.

And of course, the omnipresent and the all powerful Omita Paul, the super secretary of the Finance Minister, appointed without merit and only because she is a favourite of the Finance Minister, too is involved. Her educational qualification are in Chemistry (MSc), Social Science (M Phil) and Journalism (BA). Bereft of any knowledge of finance, she lords over key appointments. For SEBI she has a mission to get rid of all the competent and honest senior officials and replace them with pliable persons who will be amenable to corporate lobbyists.

She tried to intimidate the officer in SEBI who was to pass the order on the Sahara issue by initiating income tax inquiry on anonymous complaint.

The Finance Minister should explain as to how she has been appointed to the post and given de facto powers which imperils the economy of the country in that independence of the regulator of the capital market has been undermined. Her role in interfering on behalf of Sahara needs to be investigated. In fact her appointment and her meddling with key decisions in the Finance Ministry needs to be brought out in the public domain.

No wonder Mr Pranab Mukerjee, the last surviving Minister of the Emergency days and the one who opposed the swearing in of Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister is vehemently opposed to the Jan Lokpal Bill. And while giving lessons in democracy to the nation he himself is involved in making arbitrary appointments to undeserving persons and vesting them powers to undermine both democracy and the economy.

Also Read:

SEBI Interim Order on Sahara

SEBI Final Order on Sahara

(Arun Agrawal is the author of the book Reliance: The Real Natwar. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)

Will Obama fall between stools?

BY SAEED NAQVI

US President Barack Obama has tried to reconcile the irreconcilables – the requirements of his domestic audience and the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. It will take a while before we know whether he has fallen between stools.

After all 1,500 American lives lost and $450 billion spent in Afghanistan, will need to be explained in the run upto the US Presidential election in November 2012. As President Obama has said, some sort of a beginning will have been made when 10,000 troops begin to return home in the coming six months. The subsequent choreography is also geared towards 2012 election: in May of that year, six months prior to the election, “in Chicago we will host a summit with our NATO allies and partners to shape the next phase of this transition”.

Obama dwells at length on the “terrorist safe – havens in Pakistan”. And he leaves no one in any doubt that “so long as I am President, the United States will never tolerate a safe haven for those who aim to kill us: they cannot elude us, nor escape the justice they deserve”. Notice, only those in Pakistani safe havens who “kill us” are the objects of the President’s ire.

In his speech delivered on December 1, 2009 at the Military Academy at West Point, Obama promised an induction of 30,000 additional troops. That surge did take place. So, on the induction of troops Obama was able to keep his word. But on the drawing down of troops? Let us wait and see.

President Hamid Karzai has grown in confidence which is largely because the American media, which takes its lead from the establishment on critical issues, no longer calls him “the Mayor of Kabul”. But is there evidence that his popularity is growing, even in arithmetical progression, in such a way that he will be able to survive in Kabul after 2014, the deadline Obama indicates for the final withdrawal? Surely, between now and 2014, another script will be written, most certainly after the results of 2012 election is known.

US diplomats in Islamabad were pretty frank in 2008–2009. “It will take atleast 10 years to train the Frontiers Guard.” Clearly all this training was focused on Afghanistan. A more straightforward statement was: “We are here for the long haul”.

This “long haul” becomes quite transparent when you travel in Afghanistan. The huge block which passes for the US embassy in Kabul, with 700 hands, is being doubled. In Mazar-e-Sharif the US Consulate under construction would dwarf large embassies elsewhere. Not quite the looks of folk saddling up to leave!

The current “talk-to-the-Taliban” incantation also resonates differently with ethnic groups and regions. The Rais or the Chief Priest of Mazar-e-Sharif, Atiq Ullah Ansari, abruptly ends his conversation on mystic elements in Hindustani classical music at the very mention of Taliban. Mention Serajuddin Haqqani, Taliban leader in Pakistan, to Hamid Karzai, and he sees red.

Pakistanis insist on inserting themselves as interlocutors with the Taliban, something the entire spectrum of opinion in Afghanistan firmly resists, the Afghan Talibans most of all.

“Talk-to-Taliban” has another dangerous dimension. During my stay in Kabul a riot broke out between the “Hazaras”, a Shia sect and nomadic Pashtuns called Koochis. Where would the Koochis turn for protection – Hamid Karzai or the Taliban who are being projected as the future rulers?

All Taliban are Pashtuns. Further, Pashtun is synonymous with “Afghan”. Herein lies another potential for future conflict. Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkmans constitute 60 percent of the population. Consider the complications.

For instance, any talk of regional conference to address the Afghan problem is anathema to the Taliban (Pashtun) because Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan will never accept Pashtun dominance. Also, Pashtun dominance conceptually opens up a cross-border Pashtun linkup which is neither totally under the control of Kabul nor of Islamabad.

And yet it need not be a tidy tie up. King Amanullah, greatly influenced by Mustafa Kemal Pasha Ataturk’s strategy of submerging all ethnicities under the over arching Turkish identity, tried to knit a Pashtun nation by transferring Pashtuns to regions dominated by other identities. Likewise, minorities were transferred to Pashtun dominated areas. Pashtuns coming on top can lead to retaliation against them in the regions. Ethnic cleansing and civil war could follow.

There is yet another complication. The Saur (April) revolution of 1978 ousted Daud Khan, and paved the way for Noor Mohammad Taraki and other Khalq and Parcham, Communist parties of Afghanistan to come to power. Outsiders do not notice that history was made in a sense that seers Afghan memory. Daud was the last in the chain of Durranis, the ruling class from among the Pashtuns, who ruled Afghanistan without a break for 200 years. Taraki, who broke this chain, was from another line of Pashtuns called Ghilzais. The Talibans, including, Mullah Omar, are Ghilzais. The Bonn Conference on Afghanistan, proposed a “provisional” government under Karzai, who is a Populzai, from the Durrani line. He was imposed, in a manner of speaking.

Will the Taliban (Pashtuns) of their own free will, settle under a Durrani?

These are just some of the complications. And I haven’t dwelt on Pakistan yet.

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

Ramdev, Hazare and JP’s movement

BY SAEEQ NAQVI

Are there traces of the 1974 JP movement in the anti-corruption show mounted by Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare?

First, the backdrop.  In 1969, Indira Gandhi split the Congress to sideline the regional leaders like Atulya Ghosh, C.B. Gupta and a host of others more to the right of Indira Gandhi’s pronounced socialism at that stage. Congress split was accompanied by nationalization of banks and stopping of Privy Purses of Princes.

To keep the Congress buoyant in Parliament, Indira Gandhi fell back on Left support. One of her cabinet colleagues, Mohan Kumarmanagalam and CPI leader S.A. Dange devised a formulation – unite and struggle.  In other words, the left would “unite” with the Congress’ “pro-peoples” policies like the nationalization of banks and “struggle” against its “anti-Peoples” stand.

This leftward lurch of the Congress coincided, more or less with the Tet offensive bringing the US closer to its sad conclusion in Vietnam. This was also the period of anti-Vietnam restiveness among the Youth – Kent state university, Grovesnor square, London, the barricades in Paris.  In the early 70’s in India too, youth anger, on another issue, erupted as the Nav Nirman Samiti agitation in Gujarat.

Then came the Bihar movement.

After the Bangladesh operations in 1971, Indira Gandhi was “Goddess Durga”, invincible. To beat Indira Gandhi’s charisma, another charismatic persona had to be placed on a pedestal. In those days socialist, Gandhian Jayaprakash Narayan had retired into Acharya Vinoba Bhave’s “Bhoodan”, a voluntary land distribution movement. Also, he made for a rather lonesome seminarist in New Delhi.

Crafty minds got together, notably Ramnath Goenka, powerful newspaper magnate, and his friend, the senior RSS leader, Nanaji Deshmukh. Later, Managing Director of the Statesman, C.R. Irani also joined as Goenka’s sidekick.

JP’s house in Kadam Kuan in Patna, became the headquarters of a movement with various names – JP movement, Bihar Movement, total revolution, anti-corruption movement.  For its target, the revolution chose a rather innocuous, without any history of corruption, Abdul Ghafoor, the Congress Chief Minister.

The global, national situations were reflected in Bihar as well. When Indian Communists split into CPI and CPM, the CPI in Bihar remained intact, making it a powerful block in the state assembly.

To defeat Indira Gandhi and her Left affiliates, in the guise of fighting corruption, a coalition was forged in which JP was a “Mukhauta” or mask, and the organizer was Nanaji Deshmukh who mobilized Akhil Bharatiya Viyarthi Parishad and RSS cadres as the primary foot soldiers. Socialists, Swatantra supporters, Congress(O), the right wing of the Congress discarded by Indira Gandhi in the 1969 split, sedentary, wheel spinning Gandhians – all joined to mount “total revolution” built up by the Indian Express and The Statesman. After the Railway strike led by George Fernandez, an atmosphere of anarchy was created which caused an unnerved Indira Gandhi to declare a state of Emergency in 1975. Yes, it was only after Allahabad High Court disqualified Indira Gandhi on technical grounds from membership of parliament that emergency was declared. She lost the 1977 General Elections. Morarji Desai led the Janata Government as Prime Minister in which Atal Behari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani became Foreign and Information Ministers respectively. The project promoted by Ramnath Goenka and Nanaji Deshmukh, among others, in response to Indira Gandhi’s 1969 congress split and leftward swing, had borne fruit. It is another matter that India’s first non-congress coalition collapsed in 1980 and Indira Gandhi bounced back.

Compare the situation today.

There is no Left surge, rather Left decline in India unless we begin to regard Maoism-Leninism with more seriousness. In the 70s, the US was under pressure – détente was working against it. This time, there is an overall dissipation of western power. In other words there is a global constant linking JP movement to the present – western decline. It was true then, it is true now. Worry of worries, China has risen.

In those days, the infection of youth anger in the west spread to India and it were the youth who manned the JP movement. Again it is the “youth bulge” which has dramatically altered the political landscape in North Africa and West Asia. The idea has been transmitted by the media.

Corruption in 1970’s was built up as an issue to be placed at the service of politics. Today it dwarfs all other issues. Shockingly, ruling UPA partners, the DMK has produced record breakers in corruption. Cabinet Ministers are in jail on that count without the UPA having the courage to part company with the DMK. Abjectly subservient to morality is power at all costs. And now Jayalalitha has taken a direct shot at the Union Home Minister’s credibility.

JP’s strong point was his innings in public life and, ultimately, his “tyag”, renunciation, willingness to work outside public glare. The Indian mind reveres renunciation.

Anna Hazare is also on the renunciation path, having stepped out of Gandhian stables, but doesn’t quite measure up-to JP’s stature.

Baba Ramdev is better known but more for his yoga feats. Renunciation is not quite his forte. He is a millionaire. His saffron image has also been compromised when he donned a white salwar-kurta and covered his face in a white chunni to escape the police. In this he followed in every detail the principal mullah who tried to escape wearing a burqa from Lal Masjid in Islamabad in 2007.

It was Indira Gandhi’s charisma that JP was set up to challenge. Whose charisma were the Hazare-Ramdev duet expected to challenge? Sonia Gandhi is not invincible; she is irreplaceable as Congress President. In that position her future is secure either as leader of the ruling party or leader of opposition. Jayalalita and Mamata Bannerjee have charismatic potential but within their states. The person on whom most eyes are riveted is Mayawati because her durability in UP blocks alternative game plans from 2012 to 2014. That is where all political interests would like to derive mileage from the current anti-corruption campaigners, provided Ramdev does not sully his saffron and is found escaping, this time in a burqa!

In brief, JP movement was to replace a left lurching Indira Gandhi.  Hazare-Ramdev ball is being tossed up for political parties to smash it on a deft and durable Mayawati. Also, remember, all puritanical movements will be eventually exploited by exactly the right wing groups who rallied around JP.

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

If Sibal is right then a deal on Jan Lokpal should be possible

BY ARUN AGRAWAL

The dream of a Jan Lokpal bill is almost over. In fact, to many it was a non-starter! The constitution of the joint panel for drafting the bill was a grudging concession to civil society by hardened politicians, who were carrying out the dictates of the Congress President to put an end to Anna’s fast at any cost.

Sonia realized that if the agitation continued it would cost the Congress dear in the state elections. And it is she who has to get Congress the votes, not Pranab Mukherjee, P Chidambaram or Kapil Sibal.

The dilemma of the Jan Lokpal bill becoming law is very well described by the following quote of Judge Posner who was quoted by Justice B. Sudershan Reddy in RIL vs RNRL case:

“If you’re worried that lions are eating too many zebras, you don’t say to the lions, ‘You’re eating too many zebras’. You have to build a fence around the lions. They’re not going to build it.”

The task before the civil society members trying to draft the Lokpal bill is indeed a daunting one because it is the lions who are entrusted with building the fence. The lions have been eating the zebras for far too long and have not built the fence (pass the Lokpal bill) for over forty years. That is why they are showing the ferocity that lions do and are insisting that they will build the fence in a manner suited to them – that is they continue eating the zebras.

It is not the inclusion or exclusion of the Prime Minister and the Judges or the Parliamentarians that is the most important issue in the proposed Jan Lokpal Bill. It is the placing of the investigative authority and the supervising agency – the CBI and the CVC – under an independent Lokpal that is the real issue.

Senior ministers, including members of the drafting committee, would not like to have their past decisions scrutinized by an independent Lokpal with an independent investigative and prosecuting agency for obvious reasons.

It was therefore very surprising that when Sibal in an interview with Karan Thapar stressed the point that the government was willing to give the Lokpal independent investigative and prosecuting powers and place the CVC and the anti-corruption branch (ACB) of the CBI under the Lokpal. It came as a big-big surprise. In fact what Sibal was saying was at variance with the earlier stand of the government. It sounded too good to be true and sounded like a gambit to trap the civil society.

If what Sibal said was indeed true then he should immediately place the tapes of the  proceedings of the drafting committee in public domain. to assure the nation that the government had indeed made the offer to the civil society in the meeting that it was willing to place the CVC and the ACB of the CBI at the disposal of an independent Lokpal.

If the tape corroborates his utterances on the TV channel then why was it not revealed to the nation? After all, the members of the drafting committee on both sides have been briefing the press on their respective points of view. More important is the fact that a deal should be possible and the nation can be saved from the long drawn out trauma of confrontation between civil society and the government.

A consensus is possible for the following reasons:

  • Liberalization ushered in the era of mega corruption. It enabled some big corporates to identify the valuable assets belonging to the country and appropriate it through manipulations for a song. Most of this was done through corruption of amounts over  thousand of crores. Everything was for sale. Iron ore mines, oil resources, telecom licenses, bauxite etc. You name a national asset and it was for sale in an era when the prices of natural resources had shot up more than ten times in real terms.
  • New technology enabled the telecom revolution and opened up new opportunities for corruption like the 2G scam.
  • Most of the corruption is executive based and would account for more than 95 per cent of the corruption existing in India. The judiciary and the legislature cannot account for more than one 5 per cent of the corruption in India.
  • Under the circumstances, when the civil society admits that the Jan Lokpal  will eliminate around 60 per cent of corruption, will it not be prudent to leave the 5 per cent for the moment and take the balance 55 per cent?

It should be remembered that the bill has to be passed by the Parliament and it would not be prudent to annoy the vast majority of them who have little opportunity to benefit from  corruption, though it is no secret that some of them are corporate lobbyists. The MPLAD scheme does give some scope but the MPs only have recommendatory powers.

The members of the legislature can be safely left out of the ambit of the Lokpal bill.

However, to take care of situation of bribing the MPs through cash in order to ensure the survival of the government, a provision should be introduced that on any matter if more than 100 MPs (the number may vary or can be a certain percentage) agree that there should be a Lokpal investigation then it will be mandatory to do so. Such a compromise will take care of situation like the one cited by Arvind Kejriwal in public meetings and will also keep the opposition MPs happy. MPs bought over by money to change sides and ensure the survival of the government will be referred to the Lokpal by the  opposition.

It should not be forgotten that the Lok Sabha did take action against 11 of its MPs who were caught in a sting operation by expelling them in the cash-for-query scam, even when the Lok Sabha, unlike the Rajya Sabha, does not have a ethics committee or rules of ethics.

A compromise/consensus along the suggested lines is desirable and will go a long way in having an effective bill passed by the legislature.

As for the other sticking point of inclusion of judges in the Lokpal bill, the issue has to be handled more delicately. The judges are sensitive to subject themselves to scrutiny by a process applicable to ordinary people. So much so that even honest and competent Chief Justices like Justice Venkatachaliah and Justice J S Verma are opposed to the idea of bringing the higher judiciary under the ambit of the Lokpal . It is a matter of fact that corruption in the judiciary has increased despite measures taken by the above mentioned judges during their tenure.

If they are advocating that the judiciary should be kept out then let them take the responsibility by getting themselves associated in the drafting of the Judicial Accountability Bill which eliminates the conflict of interest of the sitting judges judging their own and devising a time bound effective mechanism of dealing with corruption in the judiciary.

Clearly, the present proposed bill is inadequate. There should be assurance from the government and the retired judges that the Judicial Accountability Bill will be revamped and drafted in a manner that corruption in higher judiciary will be fully redressed. Let Justice Venkatachaliah and Justice J S Verma  take responsibility for drafting an appropriate bill so that posterity will judge them. The nation cannot afford to have corrupt judges.

It needs to be mentioned that when the Law Ministry introduced a wholly inadequate Judicial Asset Bill, it was opposed by the opposition and some of the MPs belonging to the ruling party on the ground that the asset declared by the judges should not be disclosed to the public.

Let us hope that with the involvement of the judges, who would bear in mind the expectation of the public on the issue of corruption in the judiciary and the sensitiveness of the MPs, will results in a bill that meets the demands of civil society to a large measure.

On the question of including the Prime Minister, the government should be willing to bring the Prime Minster under the ambit of the Lokpal. Most major scams are cabinet approved decisions and the concerned Minister cannot be allowed to go scot-free merely because some part of the decision making also involved the Prime Minister. There is unity among the opposition parties to include the PM under the bill.

It should be understood that the cabinet colleagues want the Prime Minister out of the Lokpal ambit for their own safety. For example, the appointment of an advisor with secretary rank may be on account of nepotism by a particular Minister but because the appointment is approved by the PM the concerned Minister will escape accountability.

As for the grievance part of the Lokpal bill, making the lower bureaucracy accountable to the Lokpal should not be a deal breaker as there is no conflict of interest between the government and the civil society. In fact it is in their interest of the government to ensure greater efficiency through a corruption free bureaucracy .

If the major points of disagreement are taken care of then the civil society should seriously consider a compromise, more so if the government is willing to place the CVC and the ACB of the CBI at the disposal of an independent Lokpal.

It is not only important that the Lokpal should have its own investigative and prosecuting body but should have adequate staff, courts etc to deliver on all corruption related  issues.

(Arun Agrawal is the author of the book Reliance: The Real Natwar)

Hussain: Death of an exile

BY SAEED NAQVI

“Maara dayar e ghair mein mujhko watan se door

Rakh li mere khuda ne meri bekasi ki sharm!”

(I breathed my last in alien lands, My god protected me from disgrace at home)

–  Mirza Ghalib

There are no instruments to gauge the pain Maqbool Fida Hussain must have experienced in abandoning for good the country he strode, barefoot (he was averse to wearing footwear) like a colossus among artists. But pained he was. This was clear from the manner in which he avoided conversation on his exile.

I knew him since the 60s but never well enough which remains one of my regrets. In those days, Sapru House was New Delhi’s only rendezvous.  Standing applause for a superb rendering of Tilak Kamod by Vilayat Khan accompanied brilliantly by Shamta Prasad on the tabla had barely subsided when a bearded man, tall and very upright, walked up the side staircase to embrace a cross-legged Sitar Maestro.  It made for an awkward arch, leaning across Shanta Prasad. It was then I noticed that Hussain, wore no footwear.  It was the image of a barefoot artist which remained etched in my mind as a sort of motif for Hussain.  This eccentricity of his occasionally created problems, as in the instance when a Mumbai club asked him to leave for being inadequately dressed.

In my impressionable 20s, I found his iconic figure compelling except for a slight squeamishness  I experienced when I saw him walk past the filth of Jama Masjid’s fish and chicken market, greeted by senior Imam Bukhari, in his booming voice and by Delhi Congress Chief, Mir Mustaq Ahmad, drunk as a sailor, leaning from the balcony of his house, just above the paan shop at the corner of the street that leads to Karim’s: “Jootey pahen lo, mian, sardi hai” (wear shoes, dear man, it’s cold), he would yell.  Hussain, never a great one for quips or repartees, would mumble a greeting and walk the grimy path leading to Naaz hotel where he lived.  This was much before his paintings began to sell for millions. From Naaz he graduated to the Taj.

One of life’s unwholesome realizations is the invasion of personal jealousies in the world of art.  It is a long list. They even pitted Zauq as Ghalib’s equal simply because he (Zauq) was the Mughul Emperor’s “ustad”.  History is replete with Mozart-Salieri sequences.

Hussain always towered above his peers in every sense of the term. Being particularly deficient in appreciating painting and sculpture, I am hesitant to compare his works with those of his contemporaries. But in his earlier phase, I found his horses compelling because I saw them as “Ablaq” or “Surang”, the Arab steed Mir Anis sketched in his “Musaddas” or “sestet”, the style of epics in which Marsias were written, describing every detail of the battle of Karbala, including the horses of Imam Hussain and his brother, Abbas.  He liked the comparison.

Hussain enjoyed these recitations. He had a sense of poetry but of a lighter, less complex variety. This made for a kind of balance: he knew just a little more about poetry than I did of painting.

He dismissed with a shrug my simple thesis that muslims, even from culturally emancipated backgrounds, knew little about painting or sculpture because of the Islamic taboo on visual representations of reality as the thin end of the wedge towards idolatry.  Hussain was not the world’s most articulate man, but in his grunts and mumbles, interspersed with a jab of his elbow in your ribs to seek appreciation for the mischievous point he had made, he would say: “yeh bakwas hai”, or “This is non-sense”.  He thought I was imposing my Lucknow parochialism on a vastly varied country.

After all, many of his contemporaries like Raza, Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee and Sadeqain, were all from muslim backgrounds. In fact Raza never stops talking about the “high class” Brahmins who influenced him, his tantric interests, his preoccupation with the “bindu” or the dot.

Indeed, Hussain himself had painted Bharat Mata in the 70s. He painted Indira Gandhi as Durga after Bangladesh. His Mother Theresa series is steeped in universal devotion. After a poetry session, Pavan Varma had organized at London’s Nehru Centre, he asked for a line that would describe Madhuri Dixit. Here was a sweet adolescence resident in a man in his late 80s.

That devotional painting of Bharat Mata and goddesses were, in the highest Hindu tradition, painted with pure intent which later political mischief makers distorted as irreverent nudity.  Hussain was pained not so much by the lumpen demonstration as by the silence of the majority and its elite.

The intolerant streak evident from Salman Rushdie to Lelyveld’s Gandhi had never really been met head on by the elite which showed itself as cowering and bogus once again in the Bhandarkar institute case.

And the media, which builds up a national movement around a boy in a well or Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev – where was it when Hussain was being hounded? During the Gujarat riots, mobs razed to the ground the grave of Wali Dakkhini, just outside Ahmedabad’s main police station. One of Wali’s poems says:

“kooch a e yaar ain Kashi hai,

Jogia dil wahan ka baasi hai.”

(The street where my beloved lives is like the holy city of Varanasi. And the yogi of my heart has made his house there!)

Where is the movement to restore the grave, indeed, build a tomb right there?

Hussain, who lived his life on an epic scale, was pained by his own exile, but he never allowed himself to be cast in a tragic mould.

“In life’s tavern, they sat frozen, holding their cups. I came, drank, spilt and left.”

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

Why Chidambaram is against Jan Lokpal Bill?

BY ARUN AGRAWAL

“The bigger the lie, the more people will believe it”

“Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play”

– Joseph Goebbels

Why is P Chidambaram the greatest opponent of the Jan Lokpal bill?  Why has he become so desperate so as to attack peaceful fasting people in dead of the night? Why did he time his interview to justify the excesses of midnight swoop with that of the fast of Anna?

It is because if the Jan Lokpal comes into being Chidambaram’s political career will be over. As Finance Minister Chidambaram was responsible for generating the largest amount of black money. He was also responsible for the highest amount of corruption as the black money that was generated was through corruption. The loss to the exchequer during his tenure of would be over two lakh crores, divided equally between 2G Scam and the Iron Ore Scam.

It is for this reason that he is the greatest opponent of Jan Lokpal  and will go to any extent to oppose it by means fair and foul. The civil society members of the drafting committee should demand his removal as he has a huge conflict of interest in eradication of corruption through an independent Lokpal as envisaged in the Jan Lokpal bill.

But first the charges against Chidambaram:

  • Is it not true that Essar was paid Rs 1700 crores by Hutch for the purpose of getting the government clearance from FIPB (under Finance Ministry) for the Hutch-Vodafone deal by a particular date?
  • Was it a coincidence that the government gave the clearance within the time stipulated by Hutch, despite Hutch violating the foreign investment ceiling norms, and forgot to collect Rs 10,000 crores of income tax before giving the clearance?
  • Is it not true that Chidambaram as Finance Minister failed to ensure that the pricing of spectrum/license takes place at market related price through a cabinet decision and not be left to the corrupt ministers of the DMK? Can the polite letters written at the time absolve him of the guilt of loss of around Rs 80,000 crores (pan India spectrum price calculated at  Rs 10,000 crores, the price at which they were sold) crores caused by Raja and Maran?
  • How could he have allowed Maran and Raja to sell the pan India spectrum/license for Rs1600 crores in 2007 and 2008 when Vodafone bought Hutch shares for a valuation of Rs 75,000 crores in February 2007? Can he claim to be so ignorant of the law and valuation so as to allow the deal to take place? Did he protect public interest and public revenue?
  • Did he not choose to look the other way knowing fully well that the black money will help DMK and the Congress win the election and bring them back to power. In fact the manner in which he won his own election, after losing it, tells its own story. The petition pending in the High Court challenging his election will probably not be decided till his tenure as a MP and Minister is over. Not surprising, he wants the judiciary out of the Lokpal ambit!
  • Chidambaram’s accountability in the 2G scam would have been nailed by any independent investigator and more so by a Lokpal. He has gone scot free because of his influence over the CBI and the fact that Congress has a majority in the House. Chidambaram is as guilty as Maran and Raja. An independent Lokpal would end the political career of this so called elected representative of the people who has been threatening civil society. (He used to do it with the ultra left movement also till the author nailed his lie in a post published here at Canary Trap).
  • Chidambaram was responsible for the generation of a two lakh crores of black money by the mining mafia due to illegal mining, low royalty and massive evasion of income tax. The mining royalty is to be revised every three years as per section 8 of MMDR Act. It came up for revision in October 2004. The royalty was deliberately kept low and fixed and not ad valorem. This despite soaring profits in the mining of iron ore. The royalty was deliberately kept at a token amount of Rs 15/tonne (average) when the industry was making windfall profits. He deliberately did not revise the royalty on 14/10/2007 when the rates of iron ore had doubled in three years and profit was 80 per cent. He did not revise the royalty in 2008 as long as he was finance minister.
  • The sales record of the iron ore miners will show that they were grossly under invoicing the sale price and under reporting the profits. Huge amount of black money was generated and salted away. There were pay offs for not imposing export duty and when imposed the duty was negligible. Was Chidambaram ignorant of the stupendous profits being made by the mining industry? Had he not served on the Board of Vedanta and been a corporate lawyer and a tax expert? It is being alleged that the entire mining lobby was favoured financially by Chidambaram for extraneous reasons. Will Chidambaram like to have his role examined in the mining scam by an independent Lokpal?
  • Chidambaram was the common factor in the leak of Justice Pathak Inquiry Committee report and Justice Liberhan report? Is he more honourable than the judges? Is he not the prime suspect as he is the common factor? Will he be willing to face an independent investigation on his role in the leak?
  • We all remember how Natwar Singh was made to pay for his role in the Oil for Food Scam. But Mr Chidambaram deliberately did not refer the three contracts (M9/35, M10/17 and M11/25) of Reliance to Pathak Committee which were obtained by paying bribes. His speech in Parliament is a complete giveaway. Why did he shield Mukesh Ambani and what was the consideration for doing so? Would it bear the scrutiny of the Lokpal? What if it is alleged that Mr Chidambaram’s speech in Parliament  shielding Ambani was for a bribe?
  • Similarly the manner in which Anil Ambani has been shielded by CBI in the 2G scam by not naming him in the FIR for the Rs 990 crore investment made by Reliance Communication in Swan Telecom defies logic and the law. Ninety per cent of the money in Swan telecom was invested by a public limited company in which Anil Ambani is the CEO and yet it is the employees, who invested 10 per cent of the money, who are behind bars. Could Chidambaram be behind it?
  • Then there are other vital issues like the killing of Azad, a naxalite  and Pandey, an innocent journalist. Would Chidambaram like to be investigated for murder by an independent Lokpal?

His recent role in having fake CD certified as true, leaking the report and then not revealing the true report reminds one of Goebbels. That it concerned a former Law Minister and a Honourable member of the Bar (certainly more honourable than Chidambaram) and the co-chairman of the drafting committee does not surprise anyone. His role in the post midnight swoop on non violent protesters and the reported advisory issued to the electronic media not to cover the Anna’s fast at Rajghat also reminds one of the more famous German gentleman referred to above.

Chidambaram could barely win a disputed election held after the mother of all scams, the 2G scam. He has no right to lecture the nation on corruption and democracy.

He has much to fear from an independent Jan Lokpal. And that is why he will even do a Goebbels to oppose it.

In doing so he has already cost the Congress the next elections. Sonia Gandhi would do well to have him sacked.

Will he subject himself to the same test of fire that he subjected some of the members of the civil society to? There will never be a deal as long as he is there.

(Arun Agrawal is the author of the book Reliance: The Real Natwar. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)