The Robin Hood principle of robbing the rich to give to the poor is oh-so-attractive -- no wonder then that gangsters the world over felt most justified in using it. Right here in India, both Vardarajan Mudaliar and Haji Mastaan called themselves "social workers" and used the Robin Hood defence for their slightly nefarious activities.
Was this how former IPS officer Kiran Bedi and prominent member of the team around Anna Hazare and the anti-corruption movement wanted us to see her? Returning the money now, after protests, is a little too clever and a little too late -- the fact is, there was some creative accounting here, and all protestations that her intentions were honourable are a bit dodgy.
There is a school of thought going around that says it is cruel to expect a high standard of behaviour from the people around Anna Hazare and from Hazare himself. After all, they are trying to do something meaningful and we are all human. This argument would be fine if Team Anna was not holding our politicians and bureaucrats to such a high standard. If it applies to the government, then why can't it apply to the rest of us?
It's a two-way street: It is reasonable to expect that those at the
forefront of the crusade against corruption would be clean themselves
The idea that corruption is only limited to political and official avenues is not just na ve, it is idiotic and in the long run, dangerous to all of us. The urgency to pass the Lokpal Bill is understandable -- 42 years is a long time to wait for politicians to gather up the courage. But the tone and tactics adopted by Team Anna through this movement have been questionable, despite television's attempts to sanctify and beatify them.
Saints, we now see clearly, they are not. The reaction from the team to Prashant Bhushan's views on Kashmir showed that democracy and free speech are perhaps not a priority with Team Anna. The departures of Swami Agnivesh, V Rajagopal and Rajinder Singh, all well-respected in their own right, point to an underlying sense of disquiet in the way matters are being run.
Is it not too simplistic to point to a "conspiracy" against Team Anna, when none of the transgressions that have been alleged have been denied? The Bhushans did get land from some special allotment from the Mayawati government, Arvind Kejriwal has not paid the money he apparently owes the government. And Kiran Bedi overcharged organisations for air tickets and either used the extra money to subsidise other trips, according to her accountant, or put the money into her own NGO, according to her. The people who she overcharged said they had no idea she was doing this; they paid the bills submitted in good faith. Donations to India Against Corruption have been diverted to a trust run by Kejriwal.
The problem is that when you demand honesty of others, it is a fair expectation that you also exercise similar amounts of honesty in your own life. If not -- and this seems apparent in this case -- you have dishonoured the trust that thousands of Indians have placed in you to fight corruption.
The "sense of Parliament" on which assurance Anna Hazare called off his August fast was to discuss several versions of the Lokpal bill in the winter session and it came from all political parties, not just the Congress. In this light, the desire by some Hazare advisers to target only the Congress -- not even the UPA -- seems strange.
Sadly, and even faster than expected, we find that fighting corruption in India is far from simple. The human capacity for iniquity runs deep. Sometimes old schoolroom sayings best illustrate our frailties. How about this one: be careful when you point at someone, because there are three fingers pointing back at you. Trite but true. The ability to be self-righteous cannot lie with Team Anna alone.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist