This should have been expected.
The father and son duo of Shanti and Prashant Bhushan have taken on the mightiest of the land and ended up making powerful enemies over the years.
One need not read Mr Shanti Bhushan's autobiography to understand this. Just a cursory glance at the names and some of the keywords associated with the Bhushans should be enough: From Indira Gandhi to Rajiv Gandhi to Narendra Modi. From Anil Ambani to Ratan Tata. From Bofors to Spectrum 2G. From Supreme Court Chief Justices to the CVC and the UPA government.
Those who don't hate their guts for taking on the corrupt, seem to have a problem with their fearlessly taking on the cause of various underdogs — be they the victims of communal riots in Gujarat or encounter specialists in Delhi or Dantewada, the assorted "desh drohis" that some seem to simply want exterminated— Tribals, Maoists, Kashmiris, Arundhati Roys, the displaced, sundry accused and convicts on death row.
Or now their espousal of the Lokpal Bill.
While a closer scrutiny of those involved in the campaign was to be expected, and is even welcome, the disinformation campaign launched in right earnest last week seems to have gotten more and more vicious against Mr Shanti Bhushan ever since his name was announced as the co-chair of the joint committee to draft the bill.
And when, on the eve of the first meeting of the joint committee, a CD suddenly surfaced, purportedly showing him, in conversation with Mr Mulayam Singh and Mr Amar Singh, suggesting that the judge handling a case referred by them could be bribed and that his son Prashant could help in the matter, it seemed just a bit too much of a stretch.
Mr Shanti Bhushan has rubbished this CD as fabricated. He has also registered an FIR:
The said CD is clearly a fabricated CD as I have never had any conversation with the afore-named persons. The contents of the said conversation are defamatory in nature. It appears that the said CD has been fabricated in order to malign me. The afore-named journalist has not left the CD with me but it must be there in the Indian Express office at Bahadurshah Jafar Marg. This is clearly an offence of forgery under Section 469 of IPC which is a cognizable offence. Further, it is apparent that several persons are involved in this fabrication and therefore, it is a clear case of conspiracy also under Section 120 B of IPC. This is a very serious matter which needs to be investigated immediately. I therefore request you to immediately register a FIR and start the investigation into the commission of criminal offences stated above.
Mr Prashant Bhushan adds that while the voice on the CD may well be his father's, it appears that different conversations seem to have been spliced together. He also maintains that his father has never met Mr Amar Singh and demands an immediate forensic evaluation of the CD to settle all doubts once and for all.
There is no dearth of ironies in this episode, not the least of which is that Mr Prashant Bhushan has for some years in the past been consistently waging a legal battle [eg, see here and here] demanding that earlier CDs of Mr Amar Singh and Mr Mulayam Singh's conversations, about just this sort of alleged "fixing", though tapped illegally, be made public.
It is also not a secret that till Mr Prashant Bhushan filed his complaint in the 2G Spectrum Scam, Mr Anil Ambani — who is known to be close to Mr Amar Singh — was not in the dock as an accused in that scam.
It is also well-known that Mr Amar Singh has of late been close to a certain section in the Congress, known for what may euphemistically be called realpolitik.
It is significant that not even remotely has anyone — not even Mr Amar Singh — ever hinted at anything of this kind against the Bhushans, though various CDs of Mr Amar Singh's conversations with Mr Mulayam Singh have done the rounds for some years now.
The Bhushans, if anything, have made it a mission to wage a relentless war against corruption in higher judiciary. Not a squeak has hitherto been heard against them of any financial misdemeanours.
Given all this, Mr Shanti Bhushan does seem to have a valid point when he says that all of this appears to be a desperate attempt "to discredit the members of the committee & derail the bill"
Much as one might feel otherwise at a personal level, on a matter of principle it's no one's case that the Bhushans be given a free pass only on the basis of their reputation and excellent track record. Fairness demands that an immediate and urgent investigation be conducted, as indeed is being demanded by them, to get to the bottom of this.
And that — one does not have to be a Sherlock Holmes to conclude — precisely seems to have been the calculation in releasing this CD at this juncture.
This latest episode underscores the need for exactly what it perhaps seeks to scuttle — an independent investigative authority with credibility.