Kejriwal Helped by Media Taking You for a Ride
Some days ago, Times Now went ballistic over a claim by Kumar Vishwas of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) chief ministerial candidate Kiran Bedi had a soft corner for the party she is now in even during the Jan Lokpal (JLP) movement of 2011. The claim sounded strange to this columnist who was a part of the movement, albeit with a fair dose of scepticism.
Here was a political poet known for his fondness for former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and eulogies dedicated to current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was asserting that Bedi, not he, was the BJP’s mole in India against Corruption (IaC)! But my amusement was not substantive enough to merit a full-fledged article. Hence, I dug deeper. What came out of the debris of that movement turns out to be more sinister than an inconsequential poet’s political tilt.
On 4 April 2011, a day before the big event of Jan Lokpal movement’s inauguration, Arvind Kejriwal, now national convener and supreme leader of the AAP, had attended a meeting of the National Advisory Council — known to all as a hangout of UPA chairperson and Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s favourite NGO heads. This information comes from some organisers of the event at Jantar Mantar who have fallen out of favour of the AAP. And it was corroborated by the NAC website till the time the site was functional. Kejriwal attended three meetings of the NAC in course of the Jan Lokpal movement, too.
Since the BJP has long accused that the IaC was a safety valve created in collusion with the Congress to create an impression of an uprising, against which the then ruling party actually had to concede no ground, AAP chief Kejriwal must come clean on these meetings.
Anyway, the television channel’s anchor huffing and puffing on his show the other day looked grotesque to this columnist. The Times group, comprising the said channel and the newspaper Times of India — with an otherwise serious Hindu trailing closely — had crossed many a limit of journalistic constraint three years ago to promote the movement [The Indian Express was perhaps the only mainstream media outlet that had a cynical approach to the movement right from the beginning].
The ‘mass rising’ was packaged according to the perceived taste of the group’s subscribers. One of those days when Anna Hazare was on hunger strike at the most prime location in Delhi for demonstrations, senior journalist Ved Pratap Vaidik, for long associated with Baba Ramdev, had told me he was stunned when Times Now called Kejriwal backstage to tell him the yoga guru must be “immediately removed from the stage” because “a saffron-clad sadhu does not suit the taste of our viewers”!
Recall that Ramdev, till then more famous than any activist of the IaC, thanks to about 5-year long campaign against black money via Aastha channel, had come to Jantar Mantar to pay a visit to the fasting Anna as a mark of solidarity. One may imagine the extent of marketing techniques employed to foist the Jan Lokpal movement as a grand event — even the kind of look personalities caught in the television frame must sport was meticulously decided by media!
“It was no doubt a media-managed event,” said another veteran journalist Vineet Narain at a seminar organised by fellow columnist Sudesh Verma and yours truly in May 2011, adding, “There were 71 OB vans waiting to cover the function even before anything worth reporting had happened.”
Of course, the AAP’s leaders are likely to dismiss Narain. When I had invited Prashant Bhushan to be a distinguished panellist for the seminar above, he wrote back, thundering, “I notice that you have invited a fraud like Vineet Narain for this anti-corruption seminar. I cannot share the platform with frauds and crooks like Vineet Narain.” I don’t know what makes Narain a fraud. What I know is the fact that he chases people for all the wrongs he finds them doing, not sparing even fellow crusaders against corruption.
As for Vaidik, today a reader might think he is making up these stories after his run-in with Arnab Goswami following the former’s foot-in-the-mouth statements in Pakistan. But this is not what the veteran journalist from Indore told me recently. The revelation dates back to the afternoon of 6 April 2011; I’d met him at Gauri Sadan on Hailey Road that day. Yet, I will make my case stronger with more quotes. And it could be embarrassing for the Times group because I am going to quote someone The Times of India’s Crest edition (now closed) had reported in glowing terms: Gaurav Bakshi.
“For the record, Kejri asked me to somehow get Baba off the stage,” Bakshi says. Kejriwal did not mention Times Now, of course. “I was told that he (Baba Ramdev) was here to hijack the movement. We have to ensure that he gets off. There have been concerns that his projection will go against everything that we are doing,” the disillusioned activist who is now into Bollywood films said.
In this entire image-making exercise for the movement, Kejriwal did not flinch before dumping the baba who lent him space on the stage in his massive mobilisation programmes, the biggest of which was organised at the Ramlila Ground on 27 February 2011. Later, when the IaC activists had become big names in activism, thanks to the unprecedented media support, they were hardly moved by the humiliating treatment meted out to the yoga guru into the wee hours of 5 June that year.
“I rang up Arvind late in the night when I got the news of police action at Ramlila Ground and told him how the peaceful crowd was lathi-charged,” said journalist-activist Shivendra Singh Chauhan who had created the IaC’s Facebook page. “All that Arvind said in response was, ‘Hmm’… I’d thought he would be shocked to learn that our fellow activists were holed up in tents and gurudwaras that night,” Chauhan said.
Bakshi, projected by the media back then as “Arvind’s right hand man”, says Kejriwal was always uncomfortable in the company of saffron-clad gurus. He made comments like “they have people who are brainless who follow them blindly”, but the AAP leader never had any qualms about using their services whenever required to swell up the crowd at his rallies. “He was both anti-Ramdev and anti-Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on the inside. On the outside, he never projected it. He wanted their support at some level,” Bakshi said to this writer.
“He conveyed it to me many times; he said it to me many times and I saw him act on it many times over the course of many months — October 2010 to May 2011. I saw this consistently happening,” Bakshi said, adding information about the IaC’s first rally: “90 per cent of the support for their 30 January 2011 rally was made up of supporters of Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri’s Art of Living.”
Baba Ramdev retreated after the degrading ‘request’ to leave Jantar Mantar in April. Sri Sri continued, but only with his support at the grassroot level; they were never allowed to interact with the media though they were very much part of the core team of Anna.
Bakshi found it strange that Kejriwal did not suffer from this discomfiture while sharing stage with Muslim and Christian clerics. The former aide of Kejriwal grew increasingly uncomfortable with this dual character of Team Anna’s chief planner and began distancing himself from the IaC beginning September 2011 and finally snapped his ties with them in February the next year.
It may interest the reader that, before the backroom parleys above, Kejriwal had tried to use even LK Advani to climb the ladder of fame. Theatre personality Lovleen Thadani, whose office in Zamrudpur is used by the AAP these days, and whose family is known to Advani’s since their years in Sindh (now in Pakistan), informed this writer at her residence three years ago that she had taken Kejriwal to the BJP patriarch before the Jan Lokpal movement to figure out ways of making his activism a success. Advani reportedly turned him down saying his own yatras were being greeted with lukewarm public response, and that he must look for some other mascot for his movement.
It was not a few months’ preparation, though. We could have well seen Kejriwal as a BJP neta today if the big party were accommodative enough for newcomers. “He would regularly apply to us to give him permission for presentations,” a member of the BJP’s intellectual cell said to this columnist, adding, “We would decline his request more often than not, as the general impression about him was that he was a racketeer.”
Kejriwal’s links with the Sangh Parivar are indeed old. In these videos dated 2009 — video 1 and video 2 — he is seen using the platform of Swadeshi Jagaran Manch of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). It is for this long relationship that the RSS swayamsevaks came out in large numbers to support the Jan Lokpal movement, but they were never made part of the IaC’s closed-door meetings or the Joint Drafting Committee for Lokpal that included the UPA Government’s Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee (now President of India), Home Minister P Chidambaram, Law Minister M Veerappa Moily, Water Resources Minister Salman Khursheed, and activists Shanti Bhushan (co-chairman of the committee), Anna, Prashant Bhushan, then Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde and Kejriwal.
The RSS had an additional reason to lend its strength to the Jan Lokpal movement in August 2011. It was believed that in the preceding months of the movement, IaC’s working relationship with the UPA government had soured due to little or no progress in the meetings of the joint drafting committee. And the pronounced nationalist slogans like “Bharat Mata ki Jai” at the venue — whether for real or only for public consumption — were enough to move nationalists, with or without the permission of the RSS’s headquarters at Nagpur.
Backstage, the link was the strongest with the then ruling party. And it was downright unscrupulous; it can be proved to be illegal [violation of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act or FCRA] as well. The Congress-led UPA government allowed Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia to access foreign funds even when their NGO Kabir was not yet registered. It received $172,000 in 2005 from Ford Foundation while it was registered not before 2007. The foundation’s representative Steven Solnick admitted to Business Standard in August 2011, “Our first grant to the NGO was of $1,72,000 in 2005; the second was in 2008 of $1,97,000.” I am not questioning the second grant.
Page 100 of this Ford Foundation file dated 2005 shows Kejriwal-Sisodia’s NGO Kabir as a recipient of its donation
Among other people that Kejriwal exploited, Anna was the foremost. The veteran’s exploitation is no longer an allegation of the BJP. Kejriwal’s party colleague and former chief editor of IBN7 Ashutosh wrote in his book, Anna Kranti, that Arvind was happy about Anna’s arrest on 16 August 2011 (p 98).
Page 156 of Ashutosh’s book says that on the ninth day of the August hunger strike, cardiologist Dr Naresh Trehan had started administering intravenous drip to Anna, worried about the fasting activist’s declining health. When the news leaked to the media, an embarrassed Anna removed the syringe. On page 92, the book says Kejriwal was found sending SMSs surreptitiously to journalists. Before that, page 88 reveals how convenient news — such as the time when Anna was about to offer prayers to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat — was being leaked to the media by Sisodia, now the AAP’s No. 2, as well.
Was the news of Anna on drip leaked deliberately, too, as a ploy to force the veteran Gandhian to refuse medical intervention, imperilling his life, so that the event turns all the more sensational?
Much after the excitement ebbed, on 29 October that year, Kejriwal made Vishwas move a motion to dissolve the IaC core committee in a meeting in Kaushambi that was attended by all members of ‘Team Anna’. But when this information reached the media, Kejriwal passed it off as Vishwas’s personal opinion.
Then in an 8-hour long meeting on 9 January 2012, the plan to make the AAP was made following this writer’s and some fellow activists’ insistence in a meeting with Kejriwal on 4 January that year that forming a political party and then getting elected was the only way to enact laws that the IaC wanted. That the activists were ‘forced to’ form the party because the UPA government did not react to their hunger strike in July-August that year was merely a dramatic concoction, employees of the Public Cause Research Foundation, Kejriwal’s NGO that forms the core of the AAP’s cyber team, informed me when I was a member of that party.
PCRF’s employees also told me that not only Ashutosh but also journalist Punya Prasun Bajpai was constantly prodding Anna to form a party. The journalist duo prodded him the most after IaC’s demonstrations at Mumbai’s MMRDA stadium in December 2011 flopped.
So here is a party whose chief exploits all his associates to enhance his profile as an activist and then dumps them. And you also have a media that plays a cheerleader, foisting a fake revolution, whose anchors now froth at the mouth yelling at IaC’s former activists for being a mole of the BJP while they were part of the agitation! Whose mole were these journalists? The Congress’s? Or, were they just interested in a ‘reality show’ fetching high TRPs?
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