Ms Bedi, how dare you?

Kancha Ilaiah

Team Anna has been arrogant and self-righteous ever since it launched the Jan Lokpal movement. Its Jantar Mantar hungerstrike yielded quick results, as the Congress government itself gave the team a boost by constituting a committee to draft a bill and by including five members from the team in it. Among them was former cop Kiran Bedi, who behaved as if she were an angel and all others in the country either corrupt or of no consequence. But now this angel has been caught for fraud and cheating organisers that invited her to speak at their functions.

Ms Bedi has claimed that she did it all for public good, as the money earned by submitting wrong invoices was used for her NGO. Ms Bedi wants us to believe that all the money she made by lying was spent on the wellbeing of poor children. This is ridiculous, to say the least. Look at the kind of money she earned through cheating. According to a newspaper's estimate, Ms Bedi, in 12 air trips, claimed Rs 3,89,062 whereas the amount she spent on these trips was Rs 1,18,277, thus pocketing Rs 2,70,785. Ms Bedi, as a recipient of the President's Gallantry Award, gets a 75 per cent discount on air tickets, which she happily availed but didn't disclose.

This is a major crime. The purpose for which that fraudulently earned money is used is not the issue. The issue here involves cheating a trusted organisation which is paying you without even asking for your boarding pass. I also travel and give lectures, as Ms Bedi does. Most organisations treat us "speakers" so well that there would be an immense sense of shame to cheat them.

If Ms Bedi were honest and morally upright, she would have asked for a donation from the organisation for the poor children she is so keen on helping. If Ms Bedi were honest and morally upright, she would not have cheated the organisation by serving an invoice for money she never spent. A chain of lies becomes part of such travel racketeering. The bigger the profile of such persons, the easier it is for them to earn huge amounts of money this way.

This "earning" is not accounted for; one does not have to pay taxes on this. Should such a practice be treated as corruption? I think it is corruption of the worst kind because this fraud is pulled off on the basis of one's reputation and the trust of an organisation that considers you valuable enough to invite you to talk to them.

First is the moral corruption. Ms Bedi, and others like her, travel like royalty, without having to carry their own baggage or boarding pass. Nor do they take the ticket receipts that the airline generates. All the more easy to generate a fraudulent invoice of a fraudulent travel agency. This act involves a series of lies that need to be transacted between individuals and institutions.

Second, this method of making huge amounts of money deceives institutions that also have a public purpose. So while Ms Bedi may be on the dias of, say, an educational institution, talking passionately about public figures and their corrupt ways, hectoring students and teachers to act against corruption, she herself has no qualms about cheating them.

This angel of morality was just yesterday waving the Indian flag as a leader of the anti-corruption bureau that Anna Hazare established while sitting in a Yadav Baba temple in Ralegaon Siddhi, which works only according to the principles of varnadharma. We all know that in several TV debates this angel of morality and merit used to abuse the reservation system as a legal mechanism that produces a "merit-less" class of people who join government institutions only to make money through corruption. Arvind Kejriwal tells the nation — after Swami Agnivesh exposed him — that he put about '2.9 crore which was given in the form of donations to Mr Hazare's movement in the account of India Against Corruption, his own NGO.

Ms Bedi runs an NGO with money that is fraudulently collected from public and private institutions and Mr Kejriwal runs an NGO that pockets money given to Mr Hazare. Let them remove Mr Hazare from their team and ask for donations. Then we'll see how much money they will collect. How come the shining stars of public and personal probity did not open an account in the name of Team Anna itself? Why did they not form an organisation with Mr Hazare as its chairman, without whose signature money could not be withdrawn? Who is operating that money now?

We now understand why they were struggling to keep NGOs out of Lokpal. They wanted a Lokpal that would monitor peons, clerks and small section officers in the government sector, perhaps with a view that more than 50 per cent of small job holders come from reservation background. Would they now introduce a clause in Jan Lokpal Bill where a corrupt peon should be respected for taking bribe as long as it is for a worthy cause?

By Team Anna's own demands and insistence on stringent action against corruption, should not an example be set by sending Ms Bedi to jail for cheating organisations in this manner? Why is Mr Hazare allowing her to continue after several organisations issued public statements that she cheated them? If Ms Bedi can wash off her guilt and sins by returning the money ( Rs 16,346 only), why don't we extend that same courtesy to A. Raja, K. Kanimozhi and Suresh Kalmadi? If we accept this principle, why not give them a chance to return all the money they earned through kickbacks and return to being powerful and respectable again?

Team Anna can't invert the moral discourse when it pleases them. Ms Bedi's plea of innocence fools no one. If they want to regain credibility, let Ms Bedi go to jail now.

The writer is director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad.

[Courtesy: Deccan Chroncile, November 23, 2011]