Medha, Hegde, Anna won't attend core committee meeting today

Medha, Hegde, Anna won't attend core committee meeting today

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New Delhi Amid deepening controversies over some of its most influential members, Team Anna's core committee meets today in Delhi. Anna, 74, will not attend; he has extended his "maun vrat" or vow of silence. Medha Patkar and Justice Santosh Hegde will also be absent.

There is much on the table for discussion - reports of deep dissent within the team, accusations of financial malpractices, and the group's agenda for the next few months. A member of the core committee, which has 26 representatives including Anna, has asked that the entire group be suspended and replaced with a larger team.

In a letter sent to Anna on Friday, Kumar Vishwas has said that the Congress is trying to discredit members of the core committee. "Such attacks and the subsequent clarifications will strengthen the conspiracy to divert the attention from the key issues. I request you to give greater representation to the Core Committee consisting of limited members," he wrote. (Read letter)

Mr Vishwas, a college lecturer and poet, said the personal attacks on Core Committee members by "corrupt forces" were proof that these people were trying to "neutralise and hurt" those fighting graft.

Ms Patkar, one of the most-respected members of the committee, who will not be at today's session denied reports of deepening divides within the group. "I don't think there is a difference of opinion. The only thing is a bit of overhauling is certainly becoming necessary because there are a number of allegations and Core Committee members are being targeted," she said.

But Rajinder Singh, who quit the Core Committee earlier this month and is known for his work in water conservation, suggested that the reports of rifts are not exaggerated. He described Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal, prominent faces of Anna's movement, as "the most arrogant members in the habit of throwing their weight about and imposing themselves on others."

Since April this year, Anna and his group of civil society activists have turned into national icons because of their India Against Corruption campaign. Their agenda is to ensure that the government introduces a new anti-graft Lokpal Bill - named for the ombudsman agency or Lokpal that will have the power to investigate corruption among government servants.

The government says that Team Anna's vision of the Bill is unrealistic and gives the Lokpal sweeping powers. The activists believe that the government has no interest in creating an agency that is truly equipped to take on politicians and bureaucrats.

The clash between the two sides pushed Anna into two hunger strikes this year - both reverberated across the country, drawing lakhs to his sit-in protests in Delhi.

But lately, the activists have been drawing attention for other reasons. Activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan was attacked this month at his Supreme Court chamber for stating that a referendum is needed in Kashmir to determine the state's political future.

Anna said his team does not subscribe to Mr Bhushan's views; whether he will remain part of Anna's inner circle is likely to be discussed today.

Another prominent Anna aide - former policewoman Kiran Bedi - has acknowledged that when she was invited to address seminars and conferences, she charged her hosts for business class tickets though she flew economy. Ms Bedi has said the difference remained with her NGO - and the savings helped to create more funds. But many have pointed out that generating false travel statements and bills cannot be passed off as a Robin Hood-esque gesture.

There's also an internal conflict over whether Team Anna is getting too political in its operations. A few weeks ago, two members of the core committee quit over the decision by Anna to target the Congress during the Hisar election. Ms Bedi and Anna's closest aide, Mr Kejriwal, campaigned vigorously, asking voters to spurn the Congress.

They said they wanted the public to make it clear that it is the Congress' responsibility - as the main party in power at the Centre - to deliver the Lokpal Bill. If it fails, Anna has warned, he will campaign personally against the Congress in the election for Uttar Pradesh.

That's when "waterman" Rajinder Singh and land rights activist P V Rajgopal quit the core committee, arguing that Anna and his activists should focus solely on the Lokpal Bill, and not engage in hurting or helping a political party.

"I was in Nairobi when Hazare decided to support a political candidate in Hisar and I immediately parted ways with Team Anna as I did not want to become part of a power brokering process," said Mr Singh.  

Mr Kejriwal has been accused of diverting donations worth Rs. 80 lakhs made to Anna's movement to a trust headed by him. He has said a thorough audit is being conducted, and details of how all donations were handled will soon be made public.

Mr Kejriwal has also been asked by the Income Tax department to pay nine lakh as a penalty for violating the terms of his employment as an Indian Revenue Service officer; he quit in 2006.
Story First Published: October 28, 2011 12:55 IST

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