(This report published in The Gulf Today)
Noted Indian social activist Dr Kiran Bedi was concluding a forceful speech against corruption at a Dubai school on Friday when a student momentarily stunned her by posing a serious question in an innocent voice: “As a student how can I support the anti-graft movement?”Startled for a second, the former supercop replied: “Become an Anna Hazare.”
Bedi was the chief guest at a discussion organised by the Indian cultural group Bharatheeyam on “Corruption Free India” at the Apple International School in Dubai.
India has been rocked by a series of corruption and financial scandals over the past year. The opposition has been making calls for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to resign, prompting the premier to declare that he would do so if any of the allegations were proven.
To a specific question by The Gulf Today on efforts to retrieve billions of dollars in black money allegedly stashed away in foreign banks, Bedi said yoga guru Baba Ramdev and social activist Anna Hazare would sit on a day-long fast in Delhi this week against the black money menace.
She is also expected to join the fast, which comes in the wake of fresh corruption allegations levelled by Team Anna against the prime minister and 14 of his cabinet ministers. The activists have alleged irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks to public and private companies.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials have gone on record saying that Indians are the largest depositors in banks abroad with an estimated $500 billion of illegal money stashed by them in tax havens. India is said to have suffered from the flow of illegal funds to tax havens such as Mauritius, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, and British Virgin islands.
CBI Director AP Singh declared at the inauguration of first Interpol global programme on anti-corruption and asset recovery recently that the “largest depositors in Swiss banks are also Indians.”
Among the latest scandals to hit the headlines in India is the Coal Mining Scam, where the Union government (according to the comptroller and auditor general) is said to have lost $213.47 billion by not auctioning coal blocks.
Dr Bedi, a Ramon Magsaysay award winner who had pioneered reformative policing and prison management, has urged non-resident Indians to play a pro-active role in the development of the home country and take up a strong stand against corruption.
When Grade IX student of Our Own English High School, Sharjah, Raj Dhavalikar, posed the question, Bedi replied: “Become an Anna Hazare of the future. Be of strong character, love your country, be a good student, promote values and tell people I will be an Anna Hazare. You will see how one man can make a difference.”
“We are not against any political party but it is a fact that not a single member of parliament is wholeheartedly supporting a strong Lok Pal Bill,” she remarked.
“So many MPs are tainted. A total of 153 MPs have criminal charges against them. The BJP leads with 43 tainted MPs, closely followed by the Congress with 41 MPs. The figures have been given by the Association of Democratic Reforms,” she pointed out.
The first woman officer in the Indian Police Service had declared this week that her organisation welcomed everyone, including models such as Poonam Pandey or film star Shah Rukh Khan, to join the cause.
Asked why the Anna movement was refusing to turn into a political party to tackle the issue directly in parliament, Bedi ruled out such a development saying, “It will dilute the focus in our fight against corruption. We are a people’s movement. If we turn into a party, we will be busy seeking votes and the country will lose its national voice.”
A major problem, according to her, is that the CBI is still not free and is under political control. “The only way out is to make the investigative agency independent.”
“The fight against corruption is long and hard,” says Bedi. “Everyone should stay together.”