When officials of the Central Bureau of Investigation were planning the arrest of the man who once ran affairs in Uttar Pradesh, in another part of the city, the whistleblowers who forced that action sat in a large room, plotting a larger coup.
Crusade against corruption
Headed by RC Lahoti, former chief justice of the Supreme Court, these men and women are part of India Rejuvenation Initiative, a jigsaw of doughty campaigners fighting corruption across the country, sometimes at risk to their lives. The latest result of their efforts was the arrest of Akhand Pratap Singh, former UP chief secretary and once considered one of the country's most powerful bureaucrats, on charges of corruption. Singh denies the allegations.
Apart from serving officers, the campaign includes leading retirees: JM Lyngdoh, former chief election commissioner; Julio F Ribeiro, former police chief of Punjab and Mumbai; Air Chief Marshal S Krishnaswamy, former air force chief; VK Shunglu, former Comptroller and Auditor General; and KJ Rao, former Election Commission official.
Lahoti does not spare his own fraternity, currently being accused of thwarting the scrutiny of its actions. “The country expects rigorous maintenance of the highest standards of ethics and conduct by holders of judicial office,” he says, apparently referring to the recent debate over judicial accountability. “It is not necessary to find proven misconduct; it is enough that the person does not enjoy a good reputation.”
Campaign coordinator Vijay Shankar Pandey, a serving IAS officer, has set a rare example. The Commissioner of Lucknow division is the man who in 1996 pioneered a whistleblowing mechanism unknown in the world of governance a secret ballot to identify the most corrupt IAS officers in UP. Two of the three named in the 1996 and 1997 ballots, former UP chief secretaries Neera Yadav and AP Singh, are now facing corruption charges. Charges have been framed against Yadav in a corruption case while Singh was removed from office after the intervention of the Supreme Court.
Pandey, whose efforts have unearthed 15 cases of alleged corruption worth crores of rupees, says he never hesitates to fight corruption in the government, although he is part of it. “I feel every officer should do it. We are citizens first and then government servants,” Pandey told the Hindustan Times. “We are inside the system; what we see should pain us more.”
Lahoti also raises questions about the CBI. Mentioning the case of a former minister who was acquitted of murder charges after being charged by the CBI, he says: “It was a politically sensitive case. Several eyebrows were raised. The government was quick to (say) it is committed to maintaining the professionalism of the CBI. What is the professionalism if the charges were not substantiated in court? Why was the accused incarcerated if there was no evidence? And if there was evidence and yet acquittal has been suffered, then what is the independence?”
The campaign also includes Prakash Singh, former UP police chief and Border Security Force head; leading activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan, Right to Information campaigner Arvind Kejriwal, anti-corruption campaigner Bhure Lal, a serving income tax commissioner, professors and vice-chancellors, a former Intelligence Bureau officer, an Indian Institute of Management professor and even a 92-year-old freedom fighter.
The man who petitioned Supreme Court regarding AP Singh, Lucknow-based freelance journalist Sharat Pradhan, sat on the other side of the room. His efforts have famously set off several corruption trials. "It took 11 years, but our successes show corruption can be fought by ordinary people," Pradhan says.