Home >Opinion >Online-views >Khemka: the officer who stood up

First, my bow of respect to one man who has stood tall —a true hero—amongst all the skullduggery being exposed daily. Though Haryana Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Ashok Khemka and I shared a college campus for two years, we never met. Instead of hackneyed paeans, I’ll simply quote from a mail from Praveen Jha, a classmate of his: “I got to truly know you as a young man, Ashok, not just as the brightest young man on campus, but also as one of the most decent, honest, sincere, and straight-up guys on campus. I can still recall our conversations…discussing issues of social and economic concerns...I knew, at the time we graduated…that someday you would change the world. But, that thought was in the context of your education in computer sciences.

“I was surprised, and frankly shocked, when I learnt about you joining the IAS. I believed then Ashok, that the system would beat up your spirit, and bend you to its will. I (thought) that any individual IAS officer who dared to try to change the system—to stop corruption, bribery, favouritism, political nexus based exploitation of the nation, in order to serve and protect citizens, and the country, would inevitably be crushed and destroyed by the system…The mere fact that I knew you in college is an honour...I know you are one of the smartest people in the world. Put that brilliant mind to work, and put that spirit you have to the cause of ridding India of the malaise of rampant corruption in public life.

“I know you can do it."

As for the rest of it, I’ve never had so much fun watching news TV. But with all the sheer noise (“Don’t shout at me!" “I’m not shouting!" “You shouted at me on another show also!") on every news channel, it’s getting a bit confusing. After India Against Corruption (IAC) made land grab charges against the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Nitin Gadkari, Gadkari said that it was laughable that anyone could call him a “businessman". However, the most perfunctory Web search revealed that Gadkari himself claims “to run one of the largest and fastest-growing business groups in Vidarbha". So everyone explained to BJP spokespersons that being a businessman was not a crime, till they accepted this grudgingly (Besides, who’s ever heard of a prominent politician from Maharashtra who didn’t have either a sugar mill or a cooperative bank?).

Then the BJP said that the actual land grabber was the IAC activist Anjali Damania, and produced a letter written by her to the Maharashtra government as proof. Damania insisted that the last para of the letter made everything clear, but after that was read out, it added nothing to at least my understanding. Then NCP spokesperson Jitendra Awhad accused Damania’s husband of being the mastermind of some stock market scam that had cost the common investor 176,000 crore. This staggeringly wild allegation has made Awhad (who owned a flat in the infamous Adarsh Housing Society) my favourite TV politician, replacing Digvijaya Singh.

Digvijaya, however, is no pushover. He reiterated that it was wrong to bring charges against relatives of politicians (referring to Robert Vadra), and that he knew stuff about Gadkari’s son, but he hadn’t spoken about it, had he? He also explained that the Gadkari allegations were all part of a BJP plot to use IAC to get rid of its own president.

Everyone agreed there should be a probe. The BJP said that it had been shouting itself hoarse for months demanding a probe. And a senior journalist lit into IAC leader Prashant Bhushan for making allegations since he had shouted at her when she had alleged that Bhushan’s family was involved in shady land deals. No one asked anyone from the Left anything (maybe they were all out celebrating the 95th anniversary of the October Revolution, which actually took place in November; the Left was behind the times even then).

And on some programme which I missed, Damania (the activist, not the husband who had brought our economy to its knees) promised a revelation every week from now on.

Salman Khurshid said that Kejriwal could go to Khurshid’s constutiency Farrukhabad, but how will he return? To anyone with a positive integer IQ, that sounded like a death threat, but Khurshid claimed he was quoted out of context (I suppose he was actually talking about the bad state of roads in Uttar Pradesh). And a friend asked me if Khurshid is suing the India Today Group for 400 crore, that involves paying some serious stamp duty on the claim, and where is that money coming from?

IAC has achieved its first goal—to expose the tacit understanding between major political parties to overlook one another’s corrupt acts. But to ensure that the wrongdoers are punished, it must now slow down. The media is carrying the stories forward through its own investigations. But IAC must make sure that media and public attention does not waver from the allegations already made and the big fish they have been made against. It should spend some time moving deeper into its claimed territory rather than go wider. It must try its damnedest to see that justice is done, that it’s not seen as a scattershot troublemaker on a tight schedule. A revelation a week may defeat that purpose. Even the surreal fun on TV may begin to pall.

But, Ashok, you will always have millions of us cheering for you.

Sandipan Deb is a senior journalist and editor who is interested in puzzles of all forms.

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