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Beg, borrow, Bedi

'What do you make of Kiran Bedi?' It was Pertie but what was surprising is that he sounded as if he genuinely wanted to hear my view. Normally Pertie prefers to do the talking.

columns Updated: Oct 29, 2011 23:07 IST

'What do you make of Kiran Bedi?' It was Pertie but what was surprising is that he sounded as if he genuinely wanted to hear my view. Normally Pertie prefers to do the talking.

"I'd say there's one key question." I was enjoying this rare opportunity to hold forth and determined to make the most of it. "As Justice Hegde put it, did Bedi get the permission of the organisers or not? If she did, then she's done nothing wrong asking for a business class fare but traveling economy and depositing the savings in her own NGO."

"But that's not all he said." Pertie's interruption took me aback. "Hegde added a critical rider. He said this is not simply a question of informing them after the deed is done but of asking their permission in advance. The important point is the organisers should have a real opportunity to say no if they want to."

"Hmmm". Pertie was clearly well informed. "Suppose the organisers were only informed afterwards but did not raise an objection. Isn't that also okay?"

"That's presenting them with a fait accompli and what you don't know is why they didn't object. It could be because they've no objection but it could also be because it's too late to object without endangering the event to which they've invited Bedi. The truth is there could be many reasons and all of them don't let her off the hook."

"What about looking at it differently." Somewhat hesitantly I tried to advance another view. "The organisers were willing to pay business class fares and if part of that money is diverted to Kiran Bedi's NGO - and not her personal account - it hardly matters in financial terms to the organisers. As far as they're concerned there is no additional liability and they're paying an amount they are anyway willing to pay. So why does she need their permission in advance?"

"Because it's their money, that's why! And they have a right to decide how its spent. They may be happy to spend it on her travels but not donate it to her NGO. That's their prerogative."

"But she diverted it to a good cause." I thought this would clinch it.

"Hang on, she isn't Robin Hood and the organisers aren't the wicked Sheriffs of Nottingham. Many of them are also charities. Some are also NGOs. They're not awash with money and they too have pressing needs. This is more like robbing Peter to pay Paul."

"So what should Kiran Bedi have done?" I was genuinely curious.

"Simple". Pertie looked triumphant as he said it. He had laid a trap and I had walked straight in. "First, when she accepted their invitation she should have asked the organisers if she could split the money between her travel costs and her NGO. Then, she should have asked for two cheques. One for the travel agent to pay the airfare and the other in the name of her NGO as a donation."

"And you really think that makes all the difference?"

"If she cares about doing the right thing it makes a whopping difference. But if she doesn't then the only difference between her and the politicians she attacks is the sums of money involved. Big or small, it's still improper."

"Anyway, she's returning the money. So isn't it settled?"

"Except that suggests she was wrong to take it in the first place! But, I agree, it's better than hanging on to it."

(The views expressed by the author are personal.)