Thoughts on economics and liberty

Surajit Dasgupta, adding more allegations doesn’t prove the point

Surajit Dasgupta had reportedly made some very strong assertions about alleged "corruption" in Bharat Swabhiman Trust. I'm glad he has now diluted his claims in the following ways:

1) He doesn't claim "gory" corruption. Could well be “rampant”. He was mis-reported. That's an improvement, although not by much.

2) He has confirmed the impressionistic nature of his "findings": "I am not a part of the government or a force inimical to BS that I must investigate further into the apparent scandals in the rank and file of the said organisation that surfaced in front of me." This admits that these were "apparent" scandals, and given the lack of due diligence, Surajit did not investigate any of them. Took them on faith.

3) He has added that he is happy to be proven wrong: "If what appeared obvious proves wrong, I’ll be happy". That leaves open the possibility that Surajit will accept evidence that goes against his initial claims.

4) "I believe Baba Ramdev is a patriot". Well, that's almost a positive statement, even though the waters are a bit murky, yet.

In the main, however, Surajit's response is in the pattern of maligning good people without proof, something he agrees with me should not be done.

Why so?

1) No specific evidence has been provided. Not a single case has been cited, or any complaint (which are apparently repeatedly blocked by an alleged "coterie"), scanned and published. One would hope that if there are millions of complaints being blocked by "the likes of Arya" then at least these should be published on the internet, so that disinterested observers like me can start asking questions about them. True, an IB man has been cited but he doesn't provide written evidence. I am supposed to talk to him over phone and get his inside story. Still no written evidence that can be used to investigate anything. Just a telephone call. An opinion.

Names of specific people are apparently available (there are too many of them, apparently) but can't be provided: "Most of your kshetriya prabharis and zila sangathan mantris are fat businessmen (some of them have now grown fatter). Naming them would make a huge list." (This assumes they are "my" officials. That's one more assumption! – in what way am I part of Bharat Swabhiman Trust management? I met Swami Ramdev for the first time in my life only in mid-December, 45 days ago. I am not an employee or manager or even member of this organisation.).

If any evidence is provided, I'm most happy to pass it on to Swami Ramdev's secretary for action, but I am unable to pass on generalised assertions and waste these good people's time. I want to get to the bottom of this claim since I'm planning to work closely with Swami Ramdev, and I want to do my due diligence. I don't do impressionistic research against people who are putting their ENTIRE LIFE in fighting corruption and black money. I respect Swami Ramdev's commitment to India and to integrity in public life. And I will not believe mud thrown against him or his work unless it is FULLY substantiated.

Just like I won't believe any mud thrown against Arvind Kejriwal without TOTAL proof.

2) I'm supposed to have treated Sarbajit Roy "shabbily". Sorry, but if someone makes 4 SPECIFIC allegations against someone, I expect him to PROVE them. Sarbajit was given 3-4 opportunities to prove them. I reminded him again and again to stick to his initial allegations and not wander off. But he failed to prove his initial allegations. None of them. Instead, he made another 50 allegations, including three against me! So if someone asks for proof, he gets maligned as well! So who has treated whom shabbily? I – who merely asked Sarbajit (out of keen interest in the truth) to prove his allegations, or I (who has been maligned as having "anti-national leanings and agenda"! by Sarbajit after failing to prove a SINGLE allegation,. What an utter ass is this Surajit. He has a gun full of mud and he splatters it on everyone indiscriminately)?

3) No specific allegation has been proved. Following were the allegations Surajit made:

Allegation 1. Funds meant for BST (a charitable trust) are being diverted for private use

"Volunteers were using org's money to further their own biz interests. My friend, who became a member of BS, witnessed the whole coterie of Ramdev forwarding their resp bizs using th org's money."

Agreed that the eyewitness is reliable, but no specific methodology or pathway by which this is done has been shown nor proven. I'm none the wiser how this alleged transfer of funds takes place.

The case has not been made. There may be something but not clear what.

Allegation 2: "Retailers f Divya Pharmacy wr tamperng w' th seals. A formr IB person in tht org alleged evn Tijarawala was selling spurious drugs"

No evidence provided at all. All I'm supposed to do is to listen to an ex-IB person on the phone and believe his word without any data. Unfortunately, that's not the way such inquiries into the truth can be advanced.

I conclude that the case has not been made.

In addition, Surajit made many other allegations in passing, but without evidence. He has also maligned me! But let's stick to the point about BST. I'm none the wiser about the alleged scandals going on in BST.

======

Here's the second detailed comment from Surajit, with my comments in blue, as before.

Let me begin by quoting one of your statements that happens to resonate my line of thought: “Let’s not question the integrity of good people without SOLID proof.” It is curious that allegations of corruption against a person surface only after he turns from an ordinary citizen into an anti-corruption activist. The question must, therefore, be asked of the government why its legal mechanism did not play the role meant for it until the establishment started feeling the heat. Bearing this sentiment in mind, I wrote to you on Twitter: “My focus is corruption by govt. That in smaller measures by parts of the anti-corruption brigade helps th govt. And I can’t help th govt by disturbing BS further. I’ve given u enuf clues to proceed further on it.”

[Please excuse the abbreviated expressions necessitated by the space constraint in the micro-blogging site] The second sentence was meant to be: Allegations of corruption in smaller measures by parts of the anti-corruption brigade helps the government. For an activist looking for a credible platform, the hint of corruption in Bharat Swabhiman was enough to bid it adieu. [Sanjeev: I don't operate this way. I've never questioned the integrity of ANY of those who are fighting corruption, for I know how hard it is to get the courage to fight corruption. These are brave people who are often risking their career, if not their life. I therefore give them the benefit of doubt till PROVEN otherwise. As far as Congress/BJP etc are concerned, I KNOW about their corruption, so I don't need proof. But against people like Ramdev or Kejriwal or Bedi or Jaideep Arya, it is not enough to give me a "hint". I demand proof.] I am not a part of the government or a force inimical to BS that I must investigate further into the apparent scandals in the rank and file of the said organisation that surfaced in front of me. If what appeared obvious proves wrong, I’ll be happy as a patriot, as I believe Baba Ramdev is a patriot, too.

Second, I must say you have a pre-determined dismissive attitude that does not help the cause. I went through your responses to Sarbajit Roy’s allegations as well. [I did not know till yesterday who he was. But my introduction to this blog of yours made me curious about him. So I went through the Wikipedia article about the character.] While his allegations are against a prominent face of our movement, and so I should be supporting your side of the debate, I am sorry to state that you fended him off in a shabby manner, with the same dismissive attitude that you have betrayed in my case. [Sanjeev: Why do you say I'm being dismissive in your case? I'm demanding proof. Is that called being dismissive in your dictionary? So in your view just because you say something everyone should instantly believe you? There is no obligation on your part to prove your case?]

In your place, I would have argued in favour of Arvind Kejriwal much better. In this particular post, you have dubbed every charge I made as “hearsay” even though my descriptions show not all of them are so. [Sanjeev: Yes, you have eyewitnesses, but you haven't described the EXACT issue. What exactly did they see? Where? When? How does the "corruption" work? What precisely is going on in the rank and file of BST? I asked pointed questions – but I've so far got only very vague responses. I expect MUCH better, since only specifics can be investigated, and a view formed about who is responsible for such failures, if any. Hand waving is not enough in such a serious matter.] Anyway, I repeat, even hearsay was enough for a new activist to stay away from your movement in fear of sullying one’s own image as well as, subsequently, having to defend the indefensible perhaps. [Sanjeev: So you were not sure?]

Third, as the composition of the article in Bharatiya Paksha suggests, it was written by an amateur whose English leaves a lot to be desired. The writer speaks Hindi and that’s the language I responded in. I don’t know where he got the word “gory” from. My statement to him in Hindi had no equivalent of this term. “Rampant” would have been better. I witnessed corruption in BS from top to bottom excluding Baba Ramdev.

Now I seek to respond to your ripostes one by one.

“I’d like to see his actual allegations, please. Can you ask him to publish his allegations? I see no evidence of such allegations on the internet.”

The two acquaintances I have named are not writers, nor do they have the inclination to spend time establishing their allegations in writing, least so online, even less so on a blog. Like me, their intention was to find a credible organisation to realise the dream of a much-needed revolution, not to behave like the seemingly corrupt government to inquire further into what all appeared wrong in an anti-corruption front. You may visit the Arya Samaj temple I have named and interview Chugh. Vikash now lives in Mumbai. I can pass on their mobile numbers to you via SMS if you let me know your mobile number.

“it is not obligatory that any movement work according to your plans.”

Sure! For me, it was enough to know that BS was anything but revolutionary in its thinking and approach. That did not suit my temperament because I did not believe — and still do not hold — that systemic change in governance could be brought about by protesting at a place in accordance with government sanctions in the form of police permissions. No revolution in the world has happened by adhering to the rules and limits set by the existing government of that land. [Sanjeev: I find your last statement inexplicable. Are you saying that the normal processes should NOT be exhausted first? I believe protests, followed by electoral contests, should be exhausted in India before breaking the laws of the land]

“This is heresay. It is inappropriate to use the word “coterie” – which has negative connotations. Here again, the issue seems to be that the some people wanted to provide feedback/opinions but were not heard. This is common issue with busy people. Arvind met me for a hectic and active 20 minute meeting, but then he entirely forgot it! I don’t hold that against him. What I hold against him is that despite many other communications, he has not bothered to pick a phone and get his ideas challenged. He seems to hide from debate. In such a case should I say his “coterie” is protecting him? I don’t think so. He may be busy. He may be opinionated and very foolish. But that doesn’t imply corruption or any “coterie”. Let’s not use strong words without evidence.”

“Hearsay” is a term associated with observations from distant people. These people were not distant; they were a part of the organisation in question. That was unlike your acquaintance with Arvind Kejriwal; you are not a part of IaC or the AAP. [Sanjeev: Sorry, Surajit! You make more assumptions than you should. So on the one hand AK says he is "open to ideas" but after 20 attempts, including in a national newspaper, and through people ("coterie"!) VERY CLOSE TO HIM, he doesn't want to listen – does it mean he has a coterie? No. He is just afraid to be challenged.]

Next, the use of the word, coterie, is wholly appropriate because that is what the people referred to by me constituted vis-à-vis Baba Ramdev. Leave alone a small fry, even eminent personalities have to pass through this cordon to reach the yoga guru even while sharing the stage with him. This is no hearsay either. Watch the television clippings of the BS leader’s last appearance in Ramlila Maidan; you may trace me on stage; so I know how the scene is managed by the people I have named.

This is not a security cordon, mind you. The coterie is just apprehensive of some untoward information about them reaching Baba. [Sanjeev: This is a very strange claim that flies in the face of THE FACTS as I know them. As I said, I'm not part of any "coterie" – just met Swamiji in December – but I can definitely pass on any specific complaint straight to Swamiji's secretary. Further, I've seen lines of people who meet/ provide information to Swamiji. No "coeterie" screens them. There is just a security check, and they can all meet Swamiji – at least to give their papers. All papers are read/ processed/ responded by BST. If you have any specific complaint against his "coeterie", please send it to me. I guarantee it will reach Swamji directly and if genuine, will be investigated. But don't make wild assertions based on how people are placed on the stage!]  

“This is hearsay. Have you verified even one such case, having been a journalist?”

There you go again! I am no longer a journalist; I left that role behind in 2008. But yes, I have verified a hell lot of cases. Most of your kshetriya prabharis and zila sangathan mantris are fat businessmen (some of them have now grown fatter). Naming them would make a huge list.

“Even if true – since you have not verified this it is impossible to confirm these statements – what you are pointing to is the fact that BAD people managed to enter BST, and the management systems were perhaps weak. Let me assure you that I’m informed that some SERIOUS CRIMINALS have entered AAP. That’s a sign of serious mismanagement of AAP, but not a reflection on Arvind’s personal integrity. Trust we can agree on this basic principle?”

It was not and is not my job to dig deeper into BS. I did not enter the organisation as a sleuth or a journalist. I repeat, I was only looking for a credible platform for a new activist like me, and the platform did not appear credible to me.

And what I am pointing to is not bad people managing to enter the organisation. It was the organisation’s blanket policy of making the filthy rich in-charges of various regions that ensured that checking the entrants’ antecedents was not in their scheme of things. For, if you did that, the spread of the movement would turn slow, which Baba wouldn’t like. Speed has always been his preference to accuracy. [Sanjeev: indeed, that's the key issue with AAP, not with BST, which has been building VERY slowly since November 2009. Plus, now that you know that criminal elements have entered AAP, what you doing about it? That's a "hint" about its "corruption". Is this hint enough for you to leave AAP – like you did to BST? I don't think you will, nor should you. I'd recommend you stay in AAP and fix its internal systems. That's called BUILDING a movement. Arvind is not God. He needs help to fix his systems. Help him do so. There is a big difference between being helpful and libeling or slandering someone. I don't accept any slanderous claims re: Arvind, nor should you make any slanderous claims that imply that Swami Ramdev is in some way promoting corruption in BST. Help him, help me, help us all find the specifiic problems and fix them.]

“Surajit, first of all you are jumping to the conclusion that this is TRUE. It is almost certainly false. As far as I can tell, any fraudulent people in the system are rapidly caught.”

Then investigate — if not catch — the officials who deal in paints, petrol pumps and real estate. [Sanjeev: This is too vague. Which people, where, what did they do wrong?] Being an insider, you must know who I am referring to. [Sanjeev: This is a mala fide statement. Please recant. I'm NOT an "insider". In any case I don't know any individuals at BST grassroots. You'll need to give me details and I can request an investigation, but don't assume anything! You have a habit of assuming a lot of things. Jumping to conclusions without proof is a bad habit!] I repeat, I am neither a government’s person nor a part of your organisation to perform this duty. If it were about my organisation, I would have spent time to unearth more.

You are sounding like Pakistani representatives’ who respond to India’s allegations pertaining to the Kargil War, the 26/11 terrorist attacks and beheading of our soldiers. Further evidence is in your reach, not mine. [Sanjeev: This is SERIOUSLY slanderous. I ask you to take this back, Surajit. This is in VERY POOR TASTE.]

“Second, you are making the assumption that the central leadership/ “coterie” is at least partly responsible for this.”

Not quite. The coterie is not responsible only for letting corruption rule the roost in the lower ranks, but they appear corrupt themselves. They are equally involved in diverting the organisation’s funds to their respective businesses, as was alleged by both Vikash and Chugh. [Sanjeev: You MUST provide details. This is now getting seriously slanderous.]

“… the system is very stringent and accounts for all financial matters very carefully. Any failures in accountability are caught out and acted upon…”

This may be true for the centralised accounting system that deals in money received by the organisation. It does not appear true for the expenditure part. And no auditor will catch you on the wrong foot for not knowing the further break-ups of your expenses, once the despatches of medicines and magazines are made. You can show the medicines and magazines as expenses; there is no need to show how the proceeds of sales of these by the cadre were utilised by them. [Sanjeev: This is seriously speculative and slanderous. Please provide evidence]

But hold it! Do you by any chance mean that a case of corruption cleared by a chartered accountant is no corruption at all? If your answer is a ‘yes’, you are in good company; the BJP forwarded an equally specious logic while issuing a clean chit to Nitin Gadkari with a similar help from S Gurumurthy!

“unless you prove that the central leadership has CONNIVED in any fraud (of which you only have hearsay evidence), I don’t see why they are even partially responsible.”

In the part to which the above is your response, I meant that the leadership may not be responsible for inducing corruption into the cadre, but it is certainly responsible for putting in place an ineffective bookkeeping mechanism. [Sanjeev: You haven't provided ONE IOTA of evidence re: any "ineffective" book-keeping mechanism. Please do so.]

“Why do you undermine the management capacity of Ramdev and his team? I have seen work of international quality during my recent stay in Haridwar.”

Hardwar is not where the adulteration happens. It happens in the stores of shops across the country where the drugs are sent for retail. [Sanjeev: This is a huge generalisation. Please provide specifics.]

“… have you any evidence that complaints are not being acted upon?”

Of course! First, if the clean up act following the 27 February 2011 rally were genuine or effective, the government couldn’t hit back at the movement by launching its counteroffensive in the form of inquiries by several investigating bodies. Several damning reports came out in the media, and the patented response they got from BS was a flat denial:
1. http://www.mumbaimirror.com/article/15/2011051620110516033811382ad49a8b/Baba-Ramdev%E2%80%99s-cure-for-hair-loss-blocks-woman%E2%80%99s-food-pipe.html
2. http://www.newstrackindia.com/newsdetails/2012/09/26/410-Baba-Ramdev-rubbishes-misbranding-accusations-calls-it-Centre-s-propaganda.html
3. http://ibnlive.in.com/news/ramdevs-trust-accused-of-running-a-club-slapped-rs-12-crore-service-tax/304574-3-243.html

I can provide hyperlinks to many more reports, but I do not wish to clutter your blog.

[Sanjeev: Congress government has allocated THOUSANDS of its people to harass Ramdev and his organisations. To date not ONE proof of anything has been found. I discount such ridiculous "allegations" entirely. Not evidence. Purely politically motivated. ]

“So what happened? Assuming your statement is true, did the “clean up” take place? Were control systems strengthened? If so, is there any continuing concern?”

Refer to my paragraphs above.

To my allegation, “And when there was no uprising following his humiliation, our observation that BS couldn’t be relied upon, as the organisation suffered from a lack of successive lines of command, was vindicated,” you responded: “I’d suggest you haven’t understood how strong this brutal oppression of Ramdev – and killing of one of his followers – by government has made Baba Ramdev and many of his supporters.”

This was all the more reason for a revolt. In any self-respecting nation, if an icon was humiliated in this manner, and an innocent citizen brutalised in a way that led to her death, the country would be up in flames the next day. No reaction was seen in the streets, however, because the structure of the organisation did not provide for such a natural vent of feelings. No subordinate was empowered enough to do anything of his/her own volition.

“Their determination to reform India is, today, unsurpassed. I speak from personal observation.”

I would then dismiss your observation, which is shorn of political sense. For one, it played into the hands of the BJP-led NDA when it invited the then BJP president Nitin Gadkari and NDA convenor Sharad Yadav on stage. It was a clear case of letting the opposition, no less corrupt than the ruling party, take undue advantage of the movement. Second, Baba betrayed lack of political sense, too, when he went about meeting one corrupt opposition leader to another — from Mulayam Singh Yadav to Mayawati. This showed he was fuming within in rage, quite unlikely of a saint (if he is one), trying to exact revenge on the Congress, which he considers primarily responsible for his loss of face due to the 4 June 2011 incident. And so he has no qualms about striking an alliance with any Tom, Dick or Harry, howsoever corrupt, till the time the alliance has a chance to snub the Congress. Even if that much is granted to him, he further does not have enough sagacity to keep these meetings a secret to take the ruling dispensation by surprise one fine morning by an organised, united opposition attack.

“I’ll discuss these comments about AAP ideology separately.”

Please feel free to do so. This brings me to my final word: I am surprised by your association with Bharat Swabhiman, given that they are not known to uphold your philosophy of a free market. To them, at best, the market can be free only domestically; FDI is taboo, and the products worth selling in India are the sub-standard stuff shelled out by traditional banias, which is the core constituency of the RSS, its biggest pillar of support.

This is my last message in this sequence. I do not wish to malign Baba Ramdev in particular [Sanjeev: but you have, and have even maligned me, for asking you for proof by comparing me to Pakistani representatives who obfuscate issues. In this case YOU are obfuscating, I'm trying to find the facts. I trust you realise that slander involves making allegations WITHOUT PROOF. You are indulging in that, right now. Please get to the point and provide evidence, else change your views.], much as I have no love lost for his coterie and cadre. If he can address the issues I have raised [Sanjeev: But you've raised NONE, that are sufficient to cause an investigation!], it will help our motherland a great deal because his formidable following is indispensable in this era’s fight against corruption.

Sanjeev Sabhlok

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