Svengali was a fictional character and Rasputin a real-life one. One used hypnotism and the other psychic faith-healing to gain enormous power over others. The two words are today part of the English vocabulary. They mean a person of evil intent who manipulates others to achieve what he wants.
Suddenly dozens of Svengalis and Rasputins and Mantharas and Sakunis are on the march in India. The air is choking with conspiracy and intrigue, plotting and scheming and arrant manipulation. What is behind this bizarre frenzy is obvious. The political class is scared that the ongoing anti-corruption campaign may succeed. At any price they want public opinion to be defeated so that the cosy system that allows politicians to plunder the country can continue.
And see what they have achieved. A determined, cleverly executed campaign to discredit the committee has succeeded to a large extent. A petition has challenged the committee's constitutionality. In Maharashtra Assembly, Sharad Pawar's NCP and the Congress together have demanded an inquiry into charges of corruption against Anna Hazare and his trusts.
Most importantly, the toughest members of the committee, the Bhushans, have been morally damaged. The Sakunis and Rasputins must have calculated that if somehow these men could be compromised and ejected, it would be a powerful message to the other members of the committee and to civil-societywallahs in general.
It is surprising that the Bhushans, men of great legal acumen, did not foresee this turn of events. In the first place, there was no imperative need to include both father and son in the committee. It is true that they were best equipped to push civil society's positions through in the discussions of the committee. But they should have known that demolition squads were lurking in the shadows and diplomatically withdrawn one Bhushan from official limelight. Certainly, they should have shown more caution in handling their property matters. Lack of attention to details merely supplied sticks to their enemies to beat them with.
But these indiscretions were no reason to subvert the basic issue of drafting a meaningful anti-corruption bill. By using the Bhushan issue in conspiratorial ways, the political manipulators not only diminished important members of the committee; they distracted attention from the committee's task itself and cast shadows on its future working. If this is the intensity with which they assault members involved in drafting the bill, what diabolic plots will they hatch when the bill comes up for discussion in Parliament?
And just who are these self-appointed devas fighting to save the country from presumed asuras?. Sharad Pawar, Amar Singh and Digvijay Singh are men who had always promoted narrow group interests at the cost of the country. Reckless abuse of power marked their years in office. Pawar, true to form, stayed behind the scenes. But only he would have dared to conjure up the idea of slinging mud at Hazare himself. Amar Singh was intensely aggressive in his TV performances this time. Not only was he acting out his declamations with unusual gesticulations; he exploded into sudden bursts of shouting, as though loudness of voice was an argument. Digvijay Singh, also animated and extraordinarily partisan, tore into Baba Ramdev asking about his wealth and whether he was paying taxes. He was bigotted enough -- and ignorant enough -- to cast aspersions even on Santosh Hegde, the most honourable of them all. The relentlessness of this senior Congress general secretary’s attack on the committee also raises doubts about Sonia Gandhi’s honesty in telling Hazare that she supports the campaign against corruption. Does she really?
In any case, what right do rejected politicians have to pose as moral interrogators calling others to order? What is their own record? They could not have made more obvious their eagerness to safeguard the prevailing culture of corruption. If the current bill-drafting exercise is discredited and derailed, this generation's last hope of controlling corruption will have been lost. It is a loss even the Amar Digvijays of our country will regret some day.