Matter of honour

Published : Nov 18, 2011 00:00 IST

KIRAN BEDI AT an "India against Corruption" rally at the Ramlila Grounds in New Delhi on January 30. - SANDEEP SAXENA

KIRAN BEDI AT an "India against Corruption" rally at the Ramlila Grounds in New Delhi on January 30. - SANDEEP SAXENA

People who have to handle matters relating to corruption of whatever kind must not just be clean themselves; they must also be seen to be clean.

AS a former civil servant I was astonished at the report in a leading newspaper saying that Kiran Bedi, a former government officer herself and a distinguished personality besides, had over a period of years brazenly done what we all know to be a financial irregularity she made inflated travel expense claims. The report cited specific instances when she claimed business-class fares when she actually travelled economy class. On several occasions she claimed the rebate that recipients of gallantry awards are entitled to for air travel.

It was reported that in one case where she was to speak at two different functions in the same city on the same trip, she asked for reimbursement from both organisations. Fortunately, the two organisers came to know of this, purely by accident, it was said in the report, and her office was pointedly told she could claim travel reimbursement from either but not from both.

What is worse are the explanations by Kiran Bedi that the extra amounts went to her non-governmental organisation as a saving and that the organisations that invited her had been told about them.

One can be allowed to doubt the veracity of this claim because the organisations that funded her travel will themselves be subject to an audit of some kind, and it would be a very strange organisation that would knowingly allow a false claim to be made. How would it show that in its accounts? As a donation?

Kiran Bedi has given another, quite hilarious explanation. She has been quoted as saying that what she has done is no different from her going to someone's house where she is offered vegetarian and non-vegetarian food, and she chooses to eat only the vegetarian food. The logic behind this would baffle the most erudite of philosophers; even to those of us who can make no claim to erudition, it appears comic, even entertaining. But then entertaining seems to be a talent of Kiran Bedi's, going by her ghoonghat (veil) dance at the Ramlila Grounds during Anna Hazare's fast.

This is not just one's personal reaction; most officers and former officers of the government will agree with what I have said. The former Chief Justice of India J.S. Verma has said there was an element of cheating involved in the transactions. He is quoted as saying, I am surprised that she should have done that. But I am even more surprised by the explanation. A person can make a mistake but cannot try to justify this wrong.

Kiran Bedi knows only too well that such action by a serving officer will immediately attract departmental proceedings and even suspension. If the story had been that a former Indian Police Service officer had been discovered to have made false claims for her travel, it would have made headlines, certainly, but the matter would have perhaps ended there. It would then have been up to the organisations that paid the inflated bills and the IPS officer to sort things out. But Kiran Bedi is not just a former IPS officer. She is a prominent crusader against corruption, a key member of the team put together by Anna Hazare to fight for the Jan Lokpal Bill.

Surely she sees the damage this has caused to the anti-corruption campaign. You cannot clean a dirty window with dirty hands. People who have to handle matters relating to corruption of whatever kind must not just be clean themselves; they must also be seen to be clean.

There is little point in her claim that this is part of a smear campaign and that she will face it, expose it, and so on. These are questions on the basis of facts and the perceptions arising from those facts. With what face can she continue to make ringing statements about corruption in high places and the need to expose it? And who will believe her assertion that it is a smear campaign? It was a journalist who followed some leads and got enough material to expose what she has apparently been doing for a fair amount of time.

Clearly, Team Anna's present definition of corruption does not include such acts, and Kiran Bedi is intelligent enough to see that by the same token a public figure can make someone applying for, say, spectrum allocation ask the applicant to pay more and justify it by saying the extra money is meant for some good cause or the other.

Finally, it becomes a matter of honour, of one's good name, of the respect that that good name brings. To quote Iago from Othello:

Good name in man and woman,dear my lord,Is the immediate jewel of theirsouls.Who steals my purse steals trash;tis something, nothing;Twas mine, tis his, and has beenslave to thousands.But he that filches from me mygood nameRobs me of that which not enricheshimAnd makes me poor indeed.

Kiran Bedi would do well to consider these lines and what they mean to someone who has made it her business to crusade against corruption. This is what distinguishes a true campaigner from someone who seeks not what the campaign says are its objectives but the heady, addictive light of media attention.

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