Sunday, September 4, 2011

Arvind Kejriwal must pay up and move on….its a small issue really

I think Arvind Kejriwal has done a remarkable job in bringing the issue of corruption to the centerstage. As Anna’s #1 confidante and strategist, he has made sure that a strong Lokpal comes about. In the struggle against politicians, it is but natural that he would be made the target of personal attacks. The Income Tax (his former employers) notice to him to clear off his past arrears appears to be one such attack. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a motivated attack…..a “punishment” of sorts; and yet I feel that Kejriwal is “morally” in the wrong and he must pay up and move on.

Now it’s Kejriwal who is fighting the issue “legally”, not “morally”. Legally, he may well be in the right. As per the terms of the bond he signed before availing of the two year long study leave, he had committed that he would not resign for three years after completing his study. Legally, he didn’t resign for three years. He is right. Legally, he remained on the government’s payrolls for longer than three years (and in fact, legally, he continues to remain on the government’s payroll). So legally, he is in the clear. But so much about Anna’s struggle is about occupying the high moral ground, not about petty legal positions. If legal stands mattered, there was nothing wrong in what Delhi Police did (under whoever’s instructions) in arresting Anna on 16th August. Politically of course, that act was complete hara-kiri. In the same way, by contesting the charges on legal grounds, Kejriwal is committing some sort of hara-kiri.

Here’s why. When the government gave Kejriwal two year’s study leave, it did so because his study would help the government in its working. Kejriwal continued to avail of his salary for two years even though (obviously), he didn’t “work” in those two years. This paid study leave is a luxury that’s available largely in the government sector only; I doubt if any private sector company would give anyone such a long study leave. In any case, after Kejriwal finished his study, instead of contributing to the government’s working for the next three years, he went on a “leave without pay” for most of this period. Whatever his compulsions may have been – no one is saying that he wasted his time – the fact remains that the government was deprived of the benefits of his learnings for this period of time. Kejriwal is being too smart here. He may indeed not have violated any clause of the bond – but in effect, he violated the bond by not fulfilling (in spirit) the essence of the bond. By taking leave without pay, he stayed away from his job. Clearly then, he is morally duty bound to pay the two years salary back to the government with all due interest as per the terms of the bond. Apparently, the notice was served by the government to Kejriwal in 2007 and 2008 as well, but the matter had been gathering dust till now (as happens with so many things governmental!).

While the timing of the revival of this notice is obviously suspicious, that does not take away from the correctness of the government’s position. Kejriwal has erred and he must pay up. His contention that he doesn’t have the money is a little sad. If everyone starts washing his hands off his liabilities by claiming delinquency, then what will happen? Kejriwal is a good man – he’s donated most of his savings. Now it’s time for someone to loan him back the money so that the dues can be cleared. There is no need to feel bad about this.

The second point is about the return of the loan taken for buying a computer during the period of the study leave. Now Kejriwal hasn’t returned the loan; claiming that he’s written to the government to “adjust” it against his PF lying with the government. Now everyone knows this. There are rules that govern PF. Even after a person leaves his job, he cannot claim the PF back. The PF is a lifelong saving. There are only a few specific types of withdrawals permissible (for housing, marriage etc). PF savings are tax free. Only when a person gives up his job for good can he get his PF back in his hands (in some cases, by paying the tax on it). In any case, the moot point is that PF monies come much later after a person quits. In Kejriwal’s case also, he has to clear all his dues first, quit and then claim the PF dues back. It’s a small technical point, but the government is all about clerical systems. The details matter. Kejriwal should know. There is no point feigning ignorance.

The last point is that Kejriwal has apparently said that he worked for the betterment of society in the country after he left the government. His contributions to the drafting of the RTI Act are well known too. But when he says that the government can “waive off” his dues is calling for special treatment. I think that goes against the basic moral fabric of Anna’s movement. Just a few days back, many people were complaining that MPs don’t deserve any special treatment. If that’s true, then why is Kejriwal asking for special treatment? If the government does give Kejriwal special treatment, then why would it not have to give the same special treatment to hundreds others who may also be equally deserving? Again, we accuse the government of misusing its “discretionary” powers. Why then is Kejriwal asking for exactly those powers to be used for his benefit now?

The government is being clerical and stupid by bringing up this matter now. If they had any political sense, they would have let the matter remain under the radar for some more years. But it looks like they want to score some more self-goals!

The issue is not that large; and it should not take our attention away from the core issue. Kejriwal or any of his associates can pay up and settle the matter. This is obvious political witchhunting by the government and it should be dealt with forthwith without letting it get in the way of the main issue. It should also not lead to any cussedness in anybody. This is not a slur on Kejriwal. This is a minor technical mistake. By paying up, he would frustrate any devious attempt of the government to stymie him down.

The real truth is that the government is extremely clerical all the time. Following the rules is the preoccupation of every government department. Usually, the small rules are followed to the T and the big rules are violated with gay abandon. That’s just the way any bureaucracy works. Kejriwal should know this too well, having worked in the government for some time. That’s why he must just pay up and move on…..

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