Saffron vs black money: Does corruption have a colour?

Are Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare fronting for the RSS? Does it matter if they do?

FP Politics August 20, 2012 14:39:19 IST
Saffron vs black money: Does corruption have a colour?

One of the many ways in which the UPA government has effectively scuttled the campaigns against corruption led, first, by Team Anna and, subsequently, by Baba Ramdev is by tossing out diversionary red herrings that had little or no bearing on the larger issue but which effectively divided the campaigners - and sabotaged the movement.

Thus, for instance, at a critical stage of the discussions centred around the office of the Lokpal, the anti-corruption ombudsman that was envisaged under the Lokpal Bill, the constituents of the UPA introduced a "caste quota" provision for the Lokpal panel.

Leaders who thrive in politics by playing the casteist card held up parliamentary proceedings to demand that the Lokpal panel should represent the "social reality" of India – that is, be sliced and diced along caste lines.

Even more hypocritical was the demand from some leaders – the names of Ram Vilas Paswan and Sharad Yadav leap to mind – that the Lokpal panel provide quotas for women as well. The irony of this demand was that these very leaders had thrown a colossal tantrum in Parliament a few years ago to ensure that a bill to provide reservation for women in parliament was defeated.

Saffron vs black money Does corruption have a colour

Does colour matter in the fight against corruption? PTI

In other words, in their effort to defeat the rigorous efforts of the anti-corrupton campaigners, any and every weapon was deployed to dilute the provisions of the Lokpal Bill to such an extent that, when finally implemented, it would be a toothless organization that would not make the faintest difference to the larger cause.

A similar effort has been under way for a while now to paint both Team Anna and Baba Ramdev in 'saffron' colours and make them out to be fronts for the RSS and the BJP. Congress spokesperson Digvijaya Singh was one of the earliest to advance this theory.

The fact that in the early stage of its campaign, Team Anna was not so acutely focused on anti-Congressism – it merely wanted a Jan Lokpal to be set up, and was willing to solicit support from across the political spectrum – mattered not one whit to him.

Nor did it count for anything that some of the core members of the erstwhile Team Anna – in particular, Arun Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan – were ideologically aligned closer to the far Left. If their politics had any colour association, it was not saffron, but a dark shade of red.

In the hit-and-run politics of the sorts that Digvijaya Singh practices, it was fair game to paint them in saffron colours – and divert attention from the core issue of the demand for a strong anti-corruption agency.

The advent of Baba Ramdev, flamboyantly attired in saffron, on a campaign to retrieve black money from overseas spurred similar efforts to taint him with chromatic associations to the RSS and the BJP. In his case, of course, the political synergy with the right-wing was rather more pronounced than was the case with Team Anna.

Even so, efforts are still under way, both by the UPA and by media commentators, to 'taint' the anti-corruption movements by projecting them as fronts for the RSS and the BJP. The Indian Express reports today that a New Delhi-based thinktank, the Vivekananda International Foundation, acted as "the silent force" behind the anti-corruption movements, especially the one led by Baba Ramdev.

The report claims that the Vivekananda International Foundation was founded in 2009, and has its roots in Vivekananda Kendra, which was founded in the 1970s by former RSS general secretary Eknath Ranade. The VIF is currently headed by RSS pracharak P Parameswaran, and is additionally served by "well-known RSS swayamsewaks", it adds. Additionally,

Citing a seminar on corruption on black money and corruption, which VIF organized in April 2011 – just before the start of Team Anna's first of many fasts – the report notes that an "anti-corruption front" was formed with Ramdev as patron and RSS ideologue KN Govindacharya as convenor. The other members of the front included RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy and Prof R Vaidyanathan of IIM-Bangalore (who served on a BJP task force on black money).

Beyond the innuendoes embedded in the article – and the taint-by-association with colour saffron - it is difficult to make out the precise nature of the case that is being made out against the anti-corruption movements.

People like Prof Vaidyanathan and Gurumurthy have been campaigning, along with Arun Shourie and others, to bring back black money from overseas for many years now. In that sense, they have far better credentials in the fight than can be discredited by pointing to their association with the RSS.

In Gurumurthy's case, he had attempted to trace a corporate black money trail as far back as in the late 1980s, and had even enlisted the services of Fairfax, a US investigative firm, to uncover Indian wealth stashed abroad. Based on the success he had enjoyed in that campaign, he urged the Indian government to hire Fairfax's services to sniff out Indian black money held abroad.

As Gurumurhty recalls, "Fairfax agreed to work for a slice of the black wealth uncovered by them as fee. According to Swiss sources then, the Indian money secreted in Swiss banks was some $300 billion. That was enough to excite Fairfax to go for the kill."

Yet, for all his efforts in a good cause, Gurumurthy landed in jail. In March 1987, when the Bofors kickbacks allegations against Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's associates were gaining stridency, the CBI arrested Gurumurthy on charges that later turned out to be bogus, but were enough to stop the probe. "The whole nation knew then that the real reason why rulers struck was their fear that the probe had targeted the Bofors payoff and secret money of the ruling family abroad."

There is nothing manifestly wrong in people who have been working behind the scenes in the cause of fighting corruption and black money – and who have been arrested and harassed by successive Congress governments - coming together again to take their campaign forward, and extend it to the political plane.

If anything it reflects rather poorly on the UPA that it has failed to act on the initiatives of these campaigners against corruption, has sabotaged the movements, and is looking to discredit the leaders by painting them in saffron colours. The fight against corruption ought to know no caste or religion – or colour.

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