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Arun Shourie, crusader against corruption faces corruption charge — it happens only in India

Arun Shourie, who was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1982 and the Padma Bhushan in 1990, is an outstanding Indian change-agent and leader.

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A special CBI court on 15 September ordered a criminal proceeding against Arun Shourie for the sale of the Laxmi Vilas Palace Hotel, Udaipur, in 2002. Pradip Baijal, a retired 1966-batch IAS officer, has also been named, along with three others. Judge Pooran Kumar Sharma dismissed the CBI’s closure report of 2019, and ruled that Shourie, as the disinvestment minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s cabinet, and Baijal, as his secretary, had “abused their posts collectively and independently”, causing a loss of Rs 244 crore to the exchequer. M/s Kanti Karamsey and Co., which valued the land at Rs 45 per sq foot in 2001, were also indicted. “Even a spoon in the hotel would be costlier than that,” the judge observed. According to him, prima facie, criminal conspiracy and cheating were admissible against the accused in the sale of the hotel.

Shourie, who will be 80 next November, is known for his personal integrity and honesty. Those who know him will attest that he is scrupulous in speaking and practising what he considers the truth. A PhD in Economics from the University of Syracuse, US, he worked for the World Bank before returning to India as the editor of The Indian Express. The paper was owned by the redoubtable Ramnath Goenka, who wasn’t afraid to take on Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during the Emergency. The duo of Goenka and Shourie became a formidable force to reckon with in Indian politics and democracy. Indira Gandhi used every dirty trick in the book, but could not bend, let alone break, them.

Afterwards, Shourie forced Abdul Rahman Antulay, the eighth chief minister of Maharashtra (9 June 1980 – 12 January 1982), to resign following an anti-corruption campaign against him. Antulay was a well-known Gandhi confidant and loyalist. He had ousted Sharad Pawar to ascend to the CM’s gaddi. Pawar, with his Progressive Democratic Front, had unseated Vasantdada Patil of the Congress in 1978. Now, the Congress returned the favour.

When the Congress split after the Emergency, Antulay had stood by Indira Gandhi. In fact, the Indira Congress, or Congress (I) as it came to be known, was hatched if not conceived at Antulay’s residence. In 1980, when Gandhi came back to power with a thumping majority of 353 seats in the Lok Sabha, Antulay was rewarded with the chief ministership of Maharashtra. He was the first Muslim to hold that post.

Also read: This is the 2002 hotel sale case in which CBI court wants FIR against Arun Shourie

Shourie’s fight against graft

As the editor of The Indian Express, Arun Shourie received a tip-off by a person who was allegedly asked by Antulay to pay Rs 5 crore to open a hospital. The money would go to a newly formed trust, the Indira Gandhi Pratibha Pratishthan. Shourie and Maharashtra Times editor, Govind Talwalkar, began to investigate. With the help of two employees of the Koyana Dam Rehabilitation Project, whose office was next to the Pratishthan, Shourie and Talwalkar got hold of the trust’s ledger. They photocopied the page containing contributions, with supporting cheque numbers. They found over a 100 entries, from all kinds of supposed beneficiaries, companies and individuals, engaging in a variety of businesses in Maharashtra. Evidently, Indira Gandhi needed lots of money for her newly formed party and Antulay was her chief fund-raiser.

But Shourie had to show a link between the payments made to the Indira Gandhi Pratibha Pratishthan and favours given by the government in return. The Maharashtra government, in a self-incriminating circular, had instructed sugar and cement companies to make donations to the trust ‘per bag’. Both sugar and cement being controlled commodities, the circulars would be damning evidence of corruption. It was Sharad Pawar who reportedly helped Shourie get the circulars. Two industry leaders met him late at night, giving him what he needed.

The night before the paper could go to print, somehow the news leaked out. Goenka got a call from Antulay. Shourie was with him at that time. Apparently, the indomitable Express proprietor instructed Shourie, “Tell him I am there but I will not speak to him.” When the story broke the next morning, there was a furore in Parliament. Indira’s henchmen and crisis managers, including former President R. Venkatraman, tried to save her by claiming that she was not aware of the donations or the quid pro quo alleged in Shourie’s expose. Shourie countered by asking how could she, as a trustee, not know about the funds coming into the trust? Publishing a photo of Indira Gandhi signing the trust papers, he ran a headline, ‘You are a liar, Mr Venkatraman’. Finally, Antulay had to go. He resigned and went into near oblivion till Manmohan Singh brought him back briefly as the minority affairs minister after the Supreme Court cleared his name of wrong-doing.

Also read: Justice Arun Mishra shouldn’t have heard contempt case, Bhushan says in review plea in SC

If the pillar falls…

Shourie, the author/editor of over 30 books who was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1982 and the Padma Bhushan in 1990, is an outstanding Indian change-agent and leader. On 30 July 2020, another eminent senior citizen, Jaya Jaitly, was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment in a nearly 20-year-old case, arising out of a sting operation against her by Tehelka magazineShe managed to avoid going to jail, with the Delhi High Court putting a stay on the sentencing order the same day.

True, no one is above the law. But is this how our legal system should be treating pillars of our society, sentencing near 80-year-old seniors in cases that are decades old? In Anita Gets Bail: What Are Our Courts Doing? What Should We Do About Them? (2018), Shourie begins with the harrowing story of how his Parkinson’s-afflicted wife, Anita, became the first in the family “to be out on bail, for having evaded summons that were never served, summons which had been issued because of a house that we had never built, on a plot that we did not own.”

If the high and mighty are so vulnerable, what about the rest of us? The judiciary, some say, is the last upright pillar in our society. If that falls, what is left?

The author is a Professor and Director at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. His Twitter handle is @makrandparanspe. Views are personal.

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  1. Liberandus..Burnol istamal karo..sab theek ho jayega..chor sale
    Writer, Kili Jolsiyar aur Mayalb ki sabse jyada jali hui hai… 2-3 tube kharid lena..

  2. Mr To an older post of mine about charges being foisted on people who happen to disagree with the BJP, you write:

    “.. Manmohan Singh, Raghuram Rajan, Arvind Subramanian, Anna Hazare, and Shekhar Gupta are not above law. If they commit crime, they should be investigated .. “

    Absolutely ! Nobody is above the law – in theory.

    But does that apply to people affiliated with parties in power? Certainly not to people affiliated with or working for the BJP as current trends show. Indeed, you can get away with murder – literally – if you have friends in the BJP.

    Accusing your political enemies of crimes and getting them incarcerated on trumped up charges merely to get rid of critics is an age old practice in totalitarian dictatorships and autocracies. You see that trend in Islamo-fascist countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and also in places like China, Russia, Belarus and so on. Likewise, acquitting and helping your political friends released from tough prison sentences is also something one sees in autocracies. Sometimes, such things happen even in mature democracies such as the USA when demagogues such as Donald Trump pardons his criminal friends. That state of affairs, like encounter killings and defections, has now become institutionalised in India.

    After all, even if you commit a crime and ir-refutable evidence to the effect that you have committed the crime is available, if you happen to be from the BJP, you do go scot free. And even get lauded and garlanded by BJP Ministers like Jayanth Sinha. Yes, in 2018, the 8 gaurakshaks who were convicted – I reiterate convicted – of the murder of Alimuddin Ansari were garlanded by Minister Sinha and sweets were distributed freely, see picture of the event at ref: Oddly, despite being convicted of a heinous crime, these 8 men were given bail ! It pays to have friends in the BJP if you wish to kill an innocent Muslim !

    Likewise, Babu Bajrangi of Naroda Patiya fame can be heard openly bragging about pouring diesel on Muslims and burning them. Bajrangi freely admits that then CM Modi ensured that judges were changed until he was set free. It was a Tehelka sting operation caught on tape that finally felled him and Bajrangi was convicted in 2012. Of course, as of now, Bajrangi is out on bail !

    A similar trajectory was seen for Dr Mayaben Kodnani, the “doctor”, who threw her Hippocratic oath by the wayside and organised the killings of her own Muslim constituents in Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gam in 2002. Dr Kodnani was made Minister of Child and Women’s Development in the then Modi government in Gujarat. She was convicted in 2012 after great difficulties but then when the BJP came to power, her convictions were overturned.

    Using control over the judiciary to harass political opponents is certainly not the BJP’s invention. But what sets the BJP apart is that diehard Modi bhakths like yourself laud this descent into anarchy and India’s courts being turned into kangaroo courts.

    The French poet and novelist Anatole France (1844-1924) said:

    “Justice is the means by which established injustices are sanctioned”

    That applies to BJP’s India.

  3. There has been stark change in the thinking and behaviour of Arun Shourie. He can definitely make mistakes as it looks from the charges. He would loose his reputation earned so far if he doesn’t cooperate with the investigation i.e. if he continue to be a librandu.

    • Following your posta accross the threads for over a considerable length of time I have finally came to the conclusion that you are an unadulterated scoundrel of the lowest denomination and a relentless peddler of hatred and malice. You are beyond rehabilitation.

  4. The author of this article told us about what a great man Shourie is. He did not tell us why Shourie should not be in jail or what it was that the judge did wrong.

  5. Iam sure cases will now be filed against Manmohan Singh, Raghuram Rajan, Arvind Subramanian, Anna Hazare, Shekhar Gupta, the editors of the Hindu, The Wire and every newspaper or politician critical of the pogromwala. And what is worse, the Hindutva backers of the pogromwala will support him, even if they starve due to his policies. Which many are soon going to do.

    • Manmohan Singh, Raghuram Rajan, Arvind Subramanian, Anna Hazare, and Shekhar Gupta are not above law. If they commit crime, they should be investigated.

  6. I don’t think it just happens in India. NOW… we are in a paradigm shift. We – the world – are all doing some overdue housekeeping. In the United States, for instance, the Department of Justice had an office of Inspector General who will soon find himself under investigation due to the corruption discovered in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). The very people who helped corrupt the American establishment also corrupted the Indian establishment. It is NOT isolated incidents. This international corruption has been festering under the surface for just over a century. The same powers that established the central banking model are the same group of thugs (read “conmen”) who created much of the existing paradigm that we find ourselves in today.

  7. even i think shourie was very honest. in this article you have talked about his past. you have not at all discussed the merits of the case. can somebody please do that. may be a cut the clutter?

  8. Unsurprisingly, Modi’s friends and financiers like Anil Ambani, Mukesh Ambani, Adani and other backers of fascism never face any problems. Indeed, as prominent members of Opposition parties have shown, when you face corruption charges or when corruption charges have been foisted upon you, merely defecting to the BJP gets you off the hook.

    But then Mr Arun Shourie, like Mr Prashant Bhushan has a spine and will not defect or smoke the peace pipe with the pogromwala. India needs more such men – men of principle as opposed to political opportunists and kleptocrats.

  9. Strange that Makarand should write this. Currently, Shourie is on the opposite extreme of the bandwidth, and obviously he is receiving the harsh signals. And strangely Makarand pretends to sympathise with a man who is fighting , and who is targeted by the dictatorial, blind politics. Strange! What’s gone wrong?

    In any case, Makarand begins the article with a catchy headline, but hardly says anything about the headlines; only keeps regurgitating the old, unrelated history associated with the Congress, which has nothing to do with the headlines-regime. Strange.

  10. Everything smells wrong about this prosecution of Arun Shourie. I don’t agree with Arun Shourie’s politics, especially after Narendra Modi came to power. Shourie, who was very critical of leftists, Jihadis, Missionaries, finally joined them post 2014. But, corrupt, he is not. Unlike in Prashant Bhushan’s contempt case where he deserved greater punishment, this is a case of targeting someone who is inconvenient for the present government.

  11. Mockery of the judicial process. Point is how could the special court came to the conclusion when CBI which investigated the case for more than 15 years filed a closure report. Hon’ble Supreme Court should Sou motu take up the matter and spare an octagenerarian from being harassed.

    • I fully agree with you Anonymous.

      But alas, the Supreme Court too is not an independent institution, packed as it is with Modi appointees who will do the bidding of the pogromwala. In the past, there was some semblance of separation of powers although that separaton was being gradually eroded. That process has reached its zenith – or shall we say nadir – under Modi with courts and investigative authorities at the beck and call of the BJP and its thuggish supporters.

      India is no more a democracy with separation of powers between legislative, executive and judicial pillars. India is an autocracy masquerading as a democracy. But the sad thing is that Indians seem to want it that way – they say yes to to an autocrat and no to every check on the excesses of this incompetent, unqualified autocrat.

      As Joseph de Maistres, the French diplomat once said:

      “Every nation gets the government it deserves”.

      • “But alas, the Supreme Court too is not an independent institution, packed as it is with Modi appointees”

        Either you are ignorant, or deliberately choose to tell lies.

        Supreme Court through the illegal COLLEGIUM, for the past three decades have been appointing themselves to the higher judiciary. The Executive i.e. the govt of the day has no say other than rubber-stamp the names the SC have recommended.

        This is a power grab by the judiciary and a brazen distortion of appointment process sanctioned in our Constitution. From a mere advisory role, the SC has taken ALL power to appoint. Modi has nothing to do with the Collegium. So, please go easy with your lies.

        The NJAC bill brought by Modi’s govt in 2015. which note — was passed unanimously by Parliament – was struck down by the same SC, an interested party.

  12. Selling goods to a single bidder either indicates corruption or Mr Arun shourie thinks he is sucha big person that nobodyshould question his judgement.And as for Mr Paranjape is considered he is defending ABV who would be indirectly blamed for this fiasco,than Arun shourie

  13. This is a lopsided view. The author has revealed the name of judge as Pooran Kumar Sharma, which was not necessary. Mention of Jaya Jaitley managing a swift bail from high court is also unwarranted. It is noteworthy that the CBI court is located in state of Rajasthan. While it is interesting to note that the CBI registered an FIR in August, 2014 but it is equally important to note that it filed a closure report in 2019. The Judgement of CBI Court is appealable. As a crusader against corruption he has dragged many politicians in long drawn legal battle. It is now his turn. He has to face the consequences. After all he has been hobnobbing with politicians of time to help them to topple their opponent’s government. No sympathy for his being above 80, his wife being Parkinson’s, his being a PhD from Syracuse university. The CBI judge has a point to make “even a spoon in the hotel is costlier than the rate at which hotel land was sold”.

  14. The simple question is whether the building was given at such a throw away price of Rs 7.52 crores when it is worth more than Rs 250 crores in the market.
    Is there a possibility that Mr Shourie was not aware of this or did he kept ‘arms distance’ for reasons best known to him ?
    Other points raised by the author do not stand to relevance in the case of whether person to be treated guilty or not.

  15. Yes. We never suspect Arun for corruption or wrongdoing. But his advisors & Beaurocrats who moved the file with manipulated estimate & quote which he might have accepted & passed the order without any suspicion so the enquiry might bring who lied to whom. It appears a case just like that of Manmohan Sing ex-PM we are aware that how these cheaters & corruptive Ministers escaped by saying PM is aware of this enabled the court to dismiss the case. But we all know what’s the truth. Manmohan Singh neither corruptive nor he is a party to it. Having said that even tolerating the corruption as PM is a kind of party to the Corruption.
    Who knows this case may also like that. Let the facts come out. Let him cooperate with the Authorities and come clean & help the manipulators to face the consequences. Age does not matter, the court will definitely consider this fact. Like Manmohan Sing let these guys who committed this mischief & caused the loss to the Government must not escape.

    At times we have to face certain consequences in our lives due to our decision taken on a good faith .

    • The PM knowing is not a magic wand in the Courts. The people charged in the 2G scam were acquitted because there was very flimsy evidence to charge them. The case was based on fanciful ideas of the CBI and the judge saw through that.

  16. But sir, you could not prove arun ji innocent in the hotel dealing case. His good deeds will always be remembered but if he had done something wrong. He should be in the dock


    MAKRANDJI I am with you on most issues but divestment doesn’t mean leaving employees on road and somebody making huge profits by reselling.

    Even if he turns 100 and was involved in corruption through sheer negligence he should be investigated.

  18. Prime Minister Modi is corrupt. Choukidar Chor Hai. Did it not go to the court? It was the same Shouri who along with his friends took Modi to SC. So why complain now??
    Over 70 years we have created so many allegedly corrupt people from every walk of life that today every one is a suspect.

  19. This needs to be challenged in the higher court. The Arushi murder case is a pointer in this regard. The CBI court had rejected CBI’s closure report and asked them to file a charge sheet. What happened? The two courts had given contradictory verdicts and the High Court verdict was a virtual admonition of the lower court verdict. If in the wisdom of the investigating authority there is no adequate evidence to prove conviction why did the CBI court impose a charge-sheet? It takes moral courage and intellectual integrity to admit that ‘ we don’t know for sure’. The lower court, it must be said in a milder tone, lacked the intellectual integrity and imposed its own bias on the CBI. In the instant case, almost two decades after the sale of the hotel, it is insisted upon to file charge sheet, that too against the views of the investigating authority, this is not appropriate.

  20. Looking at Arun Shourie’s past record and services rendered till 2004 it can be safely said that he is in-corruptable.
    Nevertheless, his behaviour in the last decade shows that he has gone sannile, he was denide a cabinet post bqs of age constraint due to which he has been keeping an unhealthy company , keeping courts busy and staying in news for all the wrong reasons…

  21. There are many others who have been charged wrongly while merely carrying out their duties as best they could. Ex Coal SEcy H C Gupta , acknowledged as an upright officer is charged in 12 cases. Recently a Chandigarh court cleared him in one case . But how is he to blame if a few coal allottees gave him false information in their applications ? He is not a sleuth to check every detail And he didn’t benefit from any deal. Even A Raja was charged with causing losses but no such thing was found by the courts. So, Shourie is not alone. Collective decisions taken by Govt committees , for good reasons should be left alone by the courts, unless there is evidence of a conspiracy by committee members. The onus is on our courts not to take a super puritanical view.

  22. Usually the author writes great articles. But not sure what the author wants to do here. If the court has erred in ordering an FIR, I am sure Shourie’s lawyers will fight well. Instead of pointing out what was wrong with the court ordering an FIR using the merits in the case, the author simply gives us a character evaluation of the accused. And he may be right and the accused may very well be innocent. But argue with evidence and clearly point out why the court was wrong (accd to the author).

    But yes, the point of common man getting justice has always been there. Despite the best intensions of our judges, the system is still largely of oppressive colonial design.

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