“Do you then admit that you were part of this incident?”
“It’s true. People used to come to me with briefcases full of money. Now that I’m not in power, no one gives me money.”
When Hindi journalist, Vineet Narain, contributor to twenty two regional newspapers, narrated this exchange he had with one of the one hundred and fifteen politicians involved in the Jain Hawala scam, the audience at the IC and SR building sat in unified shell-shocked silence. Covering the ‘Crusade of Journalist Vineet Narain against Terrorism, Hawala and Corruption in India’ at an Extra Mural Lecture on the 26th of August, Narain spoke of his clashes with the judiciary. His Hindi video news magazine, Kalchakra (begun in 1989) was known for its bold reports. At a time when censor boards played Big Brother and combed every last piece of news before letting it air, Narain challenged laws in the Delhi High Court and battled for the independence of news in India. It’s ironic therefore that now, after the movement for free speech has seen unprecedented impetus, Narain’s most major investigation still haven’t been put to rest by that same judicial system.
‘Before the age of SMS, mail and mass transmission of information,’ Narain, in 1993 discovered the Hawala operation which involved the illegal transfer of colossal sums of money through different bank accounts. While over a hundred politicians were discovered to have been part of this scandal, the CBI, which was in the know, never shared that knowledge with the public. Thus, Narain’s crusade began.
When this case turned up at the Supreme court, the Chief Justices (Lentin, Venkatchelliah, Verma), one after another, were hesitant to take it up. Newspapers were censored and thus media coverage of the issue was negligible back then. Even when the CBI accepted its allegations in a report, Narain’s witness was called to question and his own lawyer supposedly offered him a bribe, to try and hush up the matter from political pressure.
In 1996, when the accused finally got charge sheeted, the trial took an unexpected turn. Instead of going through with the prosecution of charges, the main case was cast aside in favour of setting up the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) in order to stop the recurrence of such a situation. Narain criticized the CVC, calling it ‘spineless’ and tried to push once more for the main case, only to realize that his new lawyer was not on his side either, and Chief Justice Verma (as he publicly confessed) was being pressurised to hush it up.
Student: Why have you not tried to become a politician?
VN: With all due respect, this system is far too insulated. I do not take sides. I remain critical of it. But I realize that anyone who wants to bring change is often cast aside.
While in later years, other scams were uncovered and even duly prosecuted, this case, which was the one that involved the largest number of politicians in a single charge (even taking into account examples from anywhere else in the world) was never given its second glance as the political class united against its reopening. Narain was hauled up for contempt of court when he wrote his expose of the corruption within the judiciary, but was never charged, supposedly because it would involve opening up the very can of worms that they wished to bury.
Narain went on to publish the next expose, and after facing both death threats as well as actual attempts, fled the country overnight and went into hiding. The ‘India against Corruption’ movement never touched upon this scam either and even after Narain’s book ‘Misuse of the Contempt of Court Act’ was published, in November 2011, the case remains another unresolved file.
Student: Is there a solution to corruption?
VN: There is no time or age with an absence of corruption. After all, ‘If you appoint a watchman to watch the godown of honey, you will find honey on his lips’. Thus, to answer your question, I wish I knew. I’d have continued to fight.
‘From a macro effort, I decided to move to a micro challenge,’ Narain declared, as he began to talk of the Heritage Conservation Project of the Braj Foundation that he has been involved with since 2002. Winning three Best NGO awards and supported by UNESCO, Narain and his new set of crusaders have been working, and very efficiently at that, to revive water bodies (kunds and reservoirs) in Dwaraka and Vrindavan.
While he has faced scepticism over whether this Macro-Micro shift will even have any remarkable bearing on society, Narain happily confessed that he is content with making the difference that he can to a society and culture that he loves and declared that he would always continue to do the same.