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These other bills

Kiran Bedi’s expense-fudging and Team Anna’s absolutism when it comes to others

Written by The Indian Express |
October 21, 2011 12:37:25 am

On at least 12 occasions,Kiran Bedi appears to have inflated her travel expenses while charging the institutions and NGOs inviting her for seminars,even as she used her own travel discount as a gallantry award winner — keeping the rest of the money for her own purposes. Bedi defends herself,saying that she was travelling less comfortably than she was entitled to,and using the money left over for her NGO. Her accountant also described this as a clever saving. But what would be a trivial human workaround by most people’s standards is a grand moral lapse,by Team Anna’s standards. Kiran Bedi’s sanctimony and absolutism when it comes to others is what makes her small bill-fudging so damaging.

India Against Corruption rides on a wave of popular repugnance with rent-seeking,it has rallied citizens who have been bruised by their encounters with the state,with the red-tape and harassment,and the rampant corruption. But in that tide of emotion,the “movement” has chosen to simplify and polarise matters. Instead of formulating a broader vision about corruption,understanding its various contexts and the range of behaviours it describes,they narrowed the aperture to one specific version of the Lokpal bill — gheraoing legislators who objected to certain clauses,declaring them compromised. If Team Anna had been less given to immediate and unforgiving judgement,perhaps Bedi’s explanations would have been received with a more open mind.

Whether it is Kiran Bedi inflating bills,Arvind Kejriwal being remiss in reimbursing the government for salary drawn while he was on study leave,or the Bhushans and their real estate investments,Team Anna should square with itself and then start identifying what constitutes corruption,deception,and what is simply human resourcefulness,or finding a way to live with rigid and unrealistic rules. What,for instance,are the clear lines between “I used it for my NGO” and “I used it for my political party”? This episode should be a reminder that what they call corruption comes in S,M and XL sizes and there is a difference between ordinary humbug and serious fraud,and those difference matter terribly. In a liberal democracy,these questions about ethics should always be up for debate,as should proposed solutions and checks. To cleanse the system we need a real,nuanced conversation,not grandstanding.

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