ARTICLES FROM THE SUNDAY GUARDIAN
Copyright. All rights reserved. Ram Jethmalani. 2019.
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I must apologise to my readers for breaking my piece on judicial reform. This week has seen some matters of urgent public importance, which I believe warrant immediate comment. I will conclude my piece on judicial reform next week.
A huge controversy erupted, both within and outside BJP ranks, after nomination of Kiran Bedi as its candidate from Krishna Nagar constituency, and her projection as future Chief Minister of Delhi. The most vocal group of protestors was a large, influential section of practicing lawyers in Delhi, the very same section which had laboured hard for Narendra Modi and BJP candidates across the country, during Parliament elections.
Their grievance is founded on an ugly incident which happened in the 1980s, when Kiran Bedi, a young police officer, ordered a lathi-charge against lawyers, humiliating them and physically injuring many. Another grievance against her is that she left her original outfit, India Against Corruption, not for any convincing ideological reasons, but only for greener political pastures. Yet another grievance is that none of the eminent lawyers of the BJP, who no doubt were aware of these antecedents, thought it fit to keep the party leadership informed of them. Had they done so, this embarrassment to BJP could have well have been avoided.
Being preoccupied with my legal work and travel, I was unfortunately unaware of what was brewing. I came to know of this unpleasant development only after a sizable protest against Kiran Bedi had become a fait accompli. My subsequent talks with prominent leaders of the agitating lawyers cut no ice, and unfortunately, their grievance remains unresolved.
This is my last effort to put an end to this sorry episode. Let me inform my readers that when Arvind Kejriwal and senior leaders like Shanti Bhai and Prashant Bhushan floated the new Aam Aadmi Party, I heartily welcomed it and even voluntarily sent in my humble financial contribution. I believed their promise to fight the corruption of the ruling party, and expected that they would be natural comrades of Mr Modi and the BJP, which had similar objectives. But I was shocked and disillusioned to learn from an AAP founder member that he preferred Rahul Gandhi (with all his Congress corruption baggage), to Narendra Modi as Prime Minister. I requested Kejriwal to disown this statement publicly. Instead, he wrote me a most insulting and abusive letter, which not only revealed his vile etiquette, but also corroborated the theory doing the rounds, that the AAP was veering towards becoming a pro-Rahul, anti-BJP outfit.
I do not blame Kiran Bedi for parting company with Arvind Kejriwal, a man best known for deserting government and betraying his voters. The only rational explanation that emerges is that Arvind Kejriwal just did not have the mettle, knowledge or expertise to run a government, or deliver on the grandiose promises he had made to the people of Delhi. His bluff had been blown, and he had nothing to turn to except desertion, without any constitutional justification whatsoever. I'm glad Kiran Bedi has chosen her own path, and I hope she will be able to serve the people of India, and fulfil Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pledges to them.
Kejriwal seems to find a strange personal fulfilment in revealing to his electorate his impudence and ignorance that match each other perfectly. Here's an illustration. The Election Commission rapped him seriously for advising voters that they must accept bribes from candidates of other parties but vote only for him and AAP candidates. However, he showed scant respect for the Election Commission warning and has repeated himself with an air of bravado, almost criminal in nature, thinking it is his best qualification for becoming Chief Minister of Delhi.
A little education in such matters would have prevented him from making such a pathetic spectacle of himself. I am reproducing a paragraph from the Supreme Court judgement in Gadakhyashwantrao Kankarrao vs Balasaheb Vikhe Patil, reported in (1994) 1 SCC 682, for his benefit.
"But some of the statements made by Sharad Pawar, The Chief Minister of Maharashtra, even though not amounting to corrupt practice under the enacted law, do not measure up to the desired level of electioneering at the top echelon of political leadership to set the trend for a healthy election campaign. His suggestion to the voters to accept monies etc., if distributed by a candidate, without being influenced thereby as a means of propagating socialism exhibits a bizarre perception of socialism. It is shocking enough that the appellant said so but far worse to find the Chief Minister endorse that view. Intended as sarcasm it depicts poor taste. If this be the level of election campaign at the top, it is bound to degenerate as it descends to the lower levels. Some portions of the speeches of Sharad Pawar were indeed high precept but the electorate would have benefited more by knowledge of the track record of the preachers' practice of the same, there was no such attempt. The degree of responsibility and the level of electioneering expected of the top leadership was wanting in these speeches. If probity in public life is to be maintained and purity of elections is not a myth or mere catch phrase, a higher level of electioneering is expected at least at the highest level of political leadership."
I hope Kejriwal reads this and apologises both to the Election Commission and to the voters to whom he has given unseemly, criminal advice.
I request our lawyer friends to take into account Kejriwal's criminal misdemeanours and reflect upon how they vitiate public life, as against Kiran Bedi's actions at the very early, inexperienced stages of her career in the Indian Police Service. Her misconduct against the lawyers is not easily excusable, but it should be borne in mind that she was publicly reprimanded and suffered punishment by being denied the police commissioner's post, which was otherwise her due. Many years have gone by, circumstances have changed, and she has paid for her mistakes. To forget that unfortunate occurrence may well be in public interest now.
I vividly recall the success of our "Lawyers for Modi" campaign at Talkatora in March 2014, when we pledged our support for Mr Modi, despite attempts by eminent lawyers within the BJP to sabotage this event. Well, India was fortunate enough to finally get the best Prime Minister to lead it after decades of corruption. I urge the legal fraternity that we should not allow an almost time barred anger to dilute our faith and solidarity with Mr Modi, and we should assist Kiran Bedi in her new responsibility.
Another matter of even greater importance continues to haunt the present. The people of India in general and the poorer sections in particular were overawed by Narendra Modi's solemn promise to retrieve our stolen wealth of an astronomical figure of about Rupees 90 lakh crore, and that the criminals would be identified and punished. Today, many are voicing their disappointment, including Anna Hazare. PM Modi, in the throes of spectacular success in many spheres, should not become impervious to these dangerous signals, and not a farthing has been secured in nearly eight months of holding office. This must change.
I have three qualifications which entitle me to speak out on this issue. I am a citizen of India; I am a senior MP, having been one for much longer than all others in government; and I am the petitioner in the black money case with a Supreme Court decree in my favour.
I am entitled to ask some questions, for which I am not getting any replies through correspondence.
(1) Why is the government using the DTAT for recovery of black money, when India is a party to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption?
(2) Is the government aware that the Convention is intended to override the customer secrecy practices of banks in which monies are secreted? That it creates an unqualified right and obligation of states to share information about concealed illicit wealth?
(3) Can the government disclose to the nation what steps it has taken to secure information from foreign banks and the governments of countries in which they are carrying on business?
(4) Why has the government not passed legislation (by Act of Parliament or Ordinance) nationalising secret bank accounts abroad? This has been suggested by the BJP Task Force, by the government's National Security Adviser, and by this humble, expelled member of the BJP who holds a decree of the Supreme Court.
Questions on this issue are getting louder and more frequent, from the public and from politicians, cutting across party lines. Government must stand by its election promise, or else, time will soon be running out for credible, convincing answers.