Prakash Karat, Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav, Dangwimsai Pul and activists from the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information held a public rally to protest against the Centre’s systematic weakening of anti-corruption efforts.
New Delhi: A group of civil rights organisations and members of various people’s movements held a rally, ‘Bhrashtachar Se Azaadi’ (freedom from corruption), in New Delhi on Thursday (March 9). The rally, which started at Mandi House and culminated with a public meeting at Jantar Mantar, was held to protest the Centre’s systematic weakening of institutional anti-corruption and transparency mechanisms, as well as the government’s efforts to seemingly provide protection and immunity to wrongdoers.
Several opposition leaders addressed the rally, including Prakash Karat from the CPI(M), Swaraj Abhiyan’s Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, and Dangwimsai Pul, the wife of former Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Kalikho Pul. They were joined by Aruna Roy and Anjali Bhardwaj, social activists from the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI).
‘Nexus between politics and corrupt has grown stronger’
Karat launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for allegedly shielding the corrupt. He said that the “nexus between the political system and black money network has only grown stronger in the last three years” and accused the BJP government of promoting the spread of the black economy.
Karat also questioned the Modi government’s intention of fighting graft saying the Lokpal Act, which was passed by parliament three years ago, remains unimplemented. To top this, he said, attempts are being made through amendments to weaken the Lokpal. He also said that demonetisation had not really put an end to black money, with the instances of cash being seized during the assembly elections as testimony. Karat called upon people to stand up against such acts and join the fight against corruption.
Bhushan, who has raised many corruption-related issues in the courts through public interest litigations, accused the Centre of trying to weaken the anti-corruption institutions and said that its decision to buy Rafale jets from France was corrupt.
Bhushan said while the Modi government had come to power on the anti-corruption plank, the fight against black economy has vanished along the way. “Now, from Lokpal to CBI and CVC [Central Vigilance Commission], attempts are being made to destroy these anti-graft institutions so that no probe can be done against the accused, including a few big corporates,” he said, while mentioning how the Sahara-Birla papers provided enough evidence for a proper investigation to be ordered into the “alleged payoff cases connected with the two corporate houses”. The Supreme Court had earlier rejected a probe by a Special Investigation Team into allegations of corruption against Modi on the basis of these documents, saying that they had no value as legal evidence.
‘Probe Sahara-Birla papers, allegations therein’
Raising the issue of the Sahara-Birla diaries, the civil rights groups’ members noted that “the Sahara-Birla papers show that Prime Minister Modi was the largest recipient of black/bribe money (Rs 25 crores from Birla and Rs 40 crores from Sahara, as per the records presented to the Supreme Court). While the Supreme Court suppressed this case of investigation into these diaries, there looms an ominous connection now between the Sahara Birla diaries and the Pul diary, both of which need a credible independent investigation”.
Bhushan said the rally marked a new turning point as the anti-corruption movement was being launched all over again.
‘Kejriwal used Anna movement for personal gains’
Bhushan also attacked Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal for using the anti-graft movement launched by Anna Hazare for his own gains. While the Anna movement started to demand a Lokpal from the Centre, Bhushan accused the AAP government in Delhi of also not following through on the promises made back then. He dismissed the Lokpal passed by the Kejriwal government as a “jokepal” and demanded that a strong ombudsman be installed to bolster the fight against corruption.
Call to probe allegations made by Pul
Bhushan also demanded that the Lokpal be appointed at the earliest and the Whistleblower Act be implemented forthwith. He also sought an independent probe into Kalikho’s suicide and the issues raised by him in his suicide note.
Kalikho’s wife Dangwimsai sought the constitution of a separate SIT to probe his suicide case and the allegations made in his long suicide note. Kalikho accused some judges, politicians, bureaucrats and others of corruption. “I am here to demand justice for my dead husband. He had left behind a suicide note in which he exposed corruption. I want the government to investigate the matter and bring the culprits to justice,” said Dangwimsai.
Conspiracy to silence whistleblowers
Meanwhile, Roy charged that there was a conspiracy to silence and suppress whistleblowers and anti-corruption activists.
The Right to Information Act, she said, brings all the departments run by public funds and political parties under its purview. Calling for greater accountability of public institutions and political parties, she said the Central Information Commission had issued an order stating that all the six national parties should come under the RTI Act and submit detailed accounts of their finances. But since that has not happened, she demanded that all of them be brought under the purview of the Act.
Bhardwaj also noted that Modi had repeatedly stated “I will not eat (be corrupt) and not let anyone eat (be corrupt). But Modi himself has weakened the existing anti-corruption laws. The Lokpal Act was enacted on January 1, 2014 but it has not been implemented yet and a Lokpal has not been appointed. If a government will not implement anti-corruption laws then how will it fight graft,” she asked.
She also spoke about the Whistle Blower’s Protection Act not being operationalised. Stating that a whistleblower was recently attacked in Hyderabad and similarly several of them have been killed for trying to blow the lid off the Vyapam recruitment scam in Madhya Pradesh, she demanded its immediate implementation.
“The Modi government is trying to weaken the law in parliament. It is saying that if some government official would complain against corruption, they would be liable for 14 years of imprisonment under the new proposal. We demand that the amendment bill be rescinded and the original Act be implemented,” she added.
Reintroduction of grievance redressal Bill sought
The people’s groups also demanded that the central government reintroduce the grievance redressal Bill, which had the support of all parties, including the BJP, but lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha in 2014. Stating that the Bill has not been brought to parliament, they said “by proposing a scheme instead of enacting a law to provide an effective mechanism for grievance redress to citizens, the government has completely diluted this important initiative.”
The groups stated that there continued to be a lack of transparency and accountability in political funding despite the orders issued by the Central Information Commission – political parties are not providing details of their funding under the RTI Act. “In fact,” as Bhardwaj pointed out, “the recent changes introduced to political financing could make it even more opaque as they continue to allow for anonymous cash donations up to Rs. 2,000 and also provide for large anonymous donations through the introduction of electoral bonds.”