Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Old Wine in Old Bottles - Mahatma Gandhi Candle March Packaged as Guerrilla Warfare! “Special Investigation” claimed by Mail Today on a story that Indian Express wrote in April 2011

Old Wine in Old Bottles - Mahatma Gandhi Candle March Packaged as Guerrilla Warfare! “Special Investigation” claimed by Mail Today on a story that Indian Express wrote in April 2011

On Sunday morning I was woken up by an SMS from a close friend “Now we know who funds Kejriwal”. He was referring to a story on the front-page in Mail Today. I don’t get the tabloid and found out about the story only when I called him back.
In January 2011 I had, upon the request of a friend, donated fifty thousand rupees to an NGO that was organizing a candlelight march to India Gate on January 30th to protest against corruption in public life. The founder of the NGO was Arvind Kejriwal who with his IIT, IRS, RTI and Magasaysay award background seemed to be a good person to support. The cause too was right.

 It seems that a number of people donated for this cause. In order to be transparent the NGO put up a list of donors on its website. The names included a number of charitable foundations and individual donors.

As things turned out, this effort by the NGO blossomed into the agitation that we now know as India Against Corruption.

The story about who had donated had actually been broken by the Indian Express over eighteen months ago (in April 2011) when the Anna Hazare movement was at its peak and the famous Jantar Mantar fast was on. The Indian Express has been consistent in its opposition to the methods adopted by Arvind Kejriwal and Anna Hazare. The information for the Indian Express story had been obtained from the website of India Against Corruption.


Clearly the Mail Today story is peddling old wine in old bottles by rehashing the old Indian Express story and falsely claiming that it has done original work (I wonder why). One option before me is to bury my head in the sand and do nothing. But my photograph appears in the esteemed company of Shri NR Narayana Murthy and Shri Ratan Tata, among others, and in a front page story at that.

More important, the imputation of Saurabh Shukla, the writer, is that we are bank rolling a guerilla war against the entire Indian political class. This leaves me, and perhaps those named in the Mail Today piece, between a rock and a hard place.

If I state that my donation (of Rs. 50,000, or GBP 580 as per today’s conversion rate, by the way, and dating back to January 24, 2011 when Kejriwal wasn’t famous and Anna Hazare was perhaps not even a twinkle in Kejriwal’s eye) was for a specific activity – to do a candlelight march on January 30, 2011 at India Gate, and that event wasn’t intended to personally attack members of the Indian Cabinet or leading politicians, I will be accused by some people of being chicken.

If I say that I didn’t have the foggiest idea what really was on Kejriwal’s mind longer term when he came to visit us via a pan-IIT referral for undertaking a candle-light march in the memory of Mahatma Gandhi, I would be asked whether or not I am against corruption.

My position on the matter is pretty simple. I donate on occasion for certain causes that I think are important and to people and organisations I believe in. So in the past I have donated to St. Stephen’s College, IIM Ahmedabad, St. Columba’s School, Cankids, The PM’s Relief Fund, Teach For India and my pet project The Ashoka University among others. For the record, what I gave the Public Cause Research Foundation is less than 1% of my total philanthropic contributions.

The fact that I did not give more to India Against Corruption after the small initial amount twenty two months ago means that while I am against corruption, I am not sure that I am totally comfortable with the way events have unfolded since then. I am confused about the appropriateness of the methods adopted. Yet I admire Kejriwal for his courage, his persistence, for what he has done for the RTI, his personal honesty, his sacrifices. I just don't know if his methods are right. And I am not sure about the probity of some of those who are with him and I don’t know if all the allegations he makes are correct.

I am not someone, who can predict perfectly the form and shape that efforts and people will take in the future. I doubt if even Pythia, the Oracle of Apollo, would have known what lay ahead for Kejriwal in January, 2011. Yet, Saurabh Shukla places me in a league of funders of a guerrilla war against the Indian system.

Friends in the media have told me that perhaps this is a part of a larger game. Articles focusing on donors who work in the corporate sector and who normally shy away from politics will discourage them and others of their kind from donating more. Also many in the NGO world believe that private capital is evil and this will drive a wedge between them and Kejriwal. Therefore you get at Kejriwal in two ways.

While this is speculation what certainly is strange is that a story published in the Indian Express eighteen months back is rehashed and printed on the front page of Mail Today as a “Special Investigation”. A special investigation that merely required going to the India Against Corruption website and downloading the list of donors and the Annual Report. A special investigation that did not require the journalist to speak to any of the donors.

You know the internet has come of age when all you need to do for a special investigation is a couple of searches on Google.

Anyway, today is writer Saurabh Shukla’s day in the lime light. Perhaps, I wouldn’t have made it to his list if he had spoken to me even once. But I am happy I haven’t stolen a journalist’s thunder. For that act, I am sure his sister channels will now play my mug a few times in the day, alluding strange motives to my Rs 50,000. I look forward to seeing Shukla on the networks glowing with pride about an “investigation”. Unless of course the story of the Congress rally in Delhi steals the show. This is after all a battle for TRPs.

 Rehashes sell, for sure! Especially if a sinister motive can be weaved in as well.

Today with Arvind Kejriwal saying don’t pay bijli bills, the facile conclusion is, Ratan Tata, Narayana Murthy, Ramesh Sobti, Vikram Lal, Nimesh Kampani, Vallabh Bhansali and I among others paid him seed money to do that! Tomorrow, if Kejriwal asks you and me to stop paying taxes, I know I have myself to blame!

Keep in touch! There’ll be more than my Sunday morning date with the tabloid press.

Sanjeev Bikhchandani

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