NEW DELHI — Days after nationwide protests against rampant corruption, two prominent activists have themselves been accused of graft.
The allegations have sullied the reputation of the mostly middle-class urban movement and added a new dimension to the debate here about such wrongdoing: Are India’s corruption crusaders corrupt?
The accused, a father-and-son lawyer duo who have devoted much of their careers to public causes, say the allegations are part of a government attempt to derail the anti-graft movement just as it is gaining momentum. The protests this month, which took place in several cities and included a hunger strike, became known in the media and on social networking sites as India’s Tahrir Square. Shanti Bhushan and his son Prashant were among the activists who participated.
On the fifth day of demonstrations, which sparked a groundswell of support from young people, the government agreed to include five activists on a 10-member panel assigned to draft a new anti-graft law. The elder Bhushan was chosen to be a co-chairman, and his son was named a member.
But on April 15, a day before the panel was scheduled to meet for the first time, recordings of the elder Bhushan allegedly speaking to a politician about ways to bribe judges and “fix” the judicial process surfaced in the Indian media.
Prashant Bhushan said the recording of his father was fabricated, created by splicing together earlier conversations.
The Bhushans filed a police complaint, but a government-run forensic lab determined the recording was authentic. The Bhushans asked a private Indian lab and an American phonetics expert for their assessments. Both said the recording was a cut-and-paste job.
Then on Wednesday, an Indian newspaper alleged that a state government sold Shanti Bhushan and another son, Jayant, prime farmland in a deal that appeared improper. Shanti Bhushan called the report “false and misleading” and threatened to sue. “If there has been any arbitrariness in the allotment of the plots, the allotments should be canceled,” he said.
Some say politicians and activists must be judged by the same standard.
“The timing of these revelations may be suspect, but an offense is an offense and must be probed,” said Madhu Goud Yaskhi, a member of Parliament with the ruling Congress party.
Activists say Indians should stay focused on the anti-graft bill. “We are at a historic juncture where we are going to have a strong anti-corruption law,” said Arvind Kejriwal, who took part in the four-day hunger strike. “. . . This is a historic opportunity. Let us not squander it.”
Addressing a gathering this week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India will soon ratify the U.N. Convention Against Corruption, which mandates that members implement a wide range of anti-graft laws and other measures.
“There is a growing feeling among the people that our laws, systems and procedures are not effective in dealing with corruption,” Singh said. “We must recognize that there is little public tolerance now for the prevailing state of affairs.”