This Friday, I wrote this piece for India Today's online edition. In short, it says Arvind Kejriwal and a small band of associates are working to promote themselves through the India Against Corruption movement. And that they are taking decisions – including holding a fast of their own this 25th July – without consulting other IAC core committee members.
Since then, I've got several comments from Mr Kejriwal's fans accusing me of running a 'hit job'. So let me explain the genesis of this story and how I went about reporting it. Then you can decide whether this was a hit job or an unbiased report.
Last April, I reported on Anna Hazare's first fast for the Jan Lokpal Bill at Jantar Mantar. There, I met a former colleague who had quit the news business to volunteer with IAC. She appeared very content; happy to be "making a difference". We met again in August when I reported on Anna's longer 12-day fast. Then too, she seemed completely in love with her volunteer work for IAC.
We didn't speak again until May this year. I had since switched jobs. My friend called again but I was about to leave for an outstation assignment so I promised to call when I got back. I forgot to do so when I returned 10 days later.
About two weeks ago, she called again. This time we met. During the course of the conversation we drifted towards her work at IAC. She told me several IAC volunteers - including her - had grown disillusioned with the way the movement was being led by Arvind Kejriwal. She detailed the personality clashes, cancelled core committee meetings and even alleged financial impropriety. I asked if there were others who felt like her. Within two days I had about 10 phone numbers and email addresses of other unhappy volunteers.
Each one I spoke to provided letters and even audio recordings of conversations they'd had with Arvind Kejriwal. They had complained about the direction IAC was taking. In all but one case, he didn’t respond. When he did to one, he said all the information being sought could be found on IAC’s website. This is the same man who once led the RTI movement.
When I completed my interviews with the dissident IAC volunteers, I got the feeling that some problems stemmed from ego clashes with members of Arvind Kejriwal's "coterie" (a word used by many volunteers). I have deliberately ignored allegations that seemed to stem from such purely personal matters. The ones I have incorporated into the story were corroborated by other volunteers and thus, I felt, were fit to use.
No story of this kind would be fair without a response from the "accused". I contacted three IAC core committee members and another person who was closely associated with them.
The latter was former Chief Election Commissioner JM Lyngdoh. He had helped Kejriwal draft the Jan Lokpal Bill. He declined to speak, saying that airing his differences would weaken the movement, which he felt was on its last legs anyway.
The first core committee member I spoke with was Kiran Bedi. She requested my questions via email. She responded within 1 hour. I want to personally thank her here. She had just lost her sister to cancer - something she only told me about in her reply - and still took the time to respond. This was incredibly gracious of her. The main thrust of her reply was nothing was seriously wrong with the IAC.
The second CC member I spoke with requested anonymity in exchange for talking about IAC. This person had been among the first few to be invited by Kejriwal to join the IAC's CC. Like Kiran Bedi, this member also rubbished allegations of financial impropriety. When I asked this person why the last financial audit was already 3 months late, the response I got was “Just because it’s late, doesn’t mean there’s something wrong”.
However this CC member admitted that Arvind Kejriwal's "yes men" were proving to be “detrimental” to IAC. The person admitted that several voting decisions on the CC were being influenced by the sheer number of Kejriwal’s people. I was even told of detailed steps discussed by the CC to reduce the associates’ influence. The person said the associates did not know how to run a public campaign and laid blame for the “Mumbai debacle” on their insistence to host more rallies even at the risk of public fatigue.
The last person I contacted was Arvind Kejriwal himself. When we spoke, he said “I am in the villages and reception is bad. Could you email the questions to me?” I did; detailing every allegation that had been corroborated with other volunteers and the core committee member.
I then sent Kejriwal a text saying the questions had been mailed and that I had got a delivery receipt for them (this was Saturday afternoon). I got this reply one minute later: “I won’t be able to do it before tomo as I will reach home late nite”. I replied: “No problem sir. My deadline is Monday at 12 noon. Thank you”.
On Monday, I had not yet got a response. I sent him a reminder at 9:30 in the morning. No response. At 2:45 pm, well past my deadline, I sent another reminder. I even asked him to at least reply by evening so I could incorporate his side into the story post-facto. Still no response. That was the last I communicated with him.
The story went live on Friday. There is no doubt Mr Kejriwal received the questions and my reminders. I got delivery confirmations for all of them. He has chosen silence. The volunteers and the core committee member have said what I have to say.