Whose side is he on, really?

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Was the saffron-clad social activist trapped or did he betray Anna Hazare’s team? Atul Chaurasia finds out

Volte-face Swami Agnivesh speaks at the Ramlila Maidan
Volte-face Swami Agnivesh speaks at the Ramlila Maidan
Photo: Vijay Pandey

HIS REPUTATION hanging rather precariously, Swami Agnivesh is under severe strain. His video is a hot topic on the Internet nowadays. Newsrooms are abuzz with this 80- second clip where Agnivesh is seen talking to a ‘Kapil’ in the video. Some say the person on the other side was Union Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal. In the conversation, it is clear that Agnivesh is opposing Anna Hazare’s agitation and advising that the government shouldn’t soften its stand. At the same time, he is also embarrassed by the soft stand taken by the government.

Not only this, Agnivesh calls the protesters “mad elephants” and tells “Kapil Muni” that the longer the leash, the more the demands. In an interview with TEHELKA, Agnivesh pleads innocence. But our inquiries reveal something else.

Volte-face Swami Agnivesh,The activist chats with ‘Kapil Maharaj’
Swami Agnivesh,The activist chats with ‘Kapil Maharaj’

Swami Agnivesh was once a member of Team Anna’s core group. But a couple of days before the release of this video, reports of his differences with Team Anna began to surface and he also stopped going to Ramlila Maidan. He even criticised the team at a press meet on 26 August, objecting to the behaviour of Hazare and his colleagues. On his Facebook page, Agnivesh wrote that there was no point continuing the fast when the prime minister and the Parliament had requested an end to it. As soon as the media came to know about the rift, reporters lined up at his house.

The circumstances in which the video was shot are interesting. TEHELKA tried to make sense of the situation by talking to reporters from two TV channel who shot it and those who uploaded it online.

After Agnivesh openly expressed his anger against Hazare and his associates, the two reporters went to his house. Agnivesh was captured on camera while talking to the reporters.

Agnivesh’s aide, who can also be seen on camera, then brought the swami his phone and according to one of the reporters present there, said, “Swamiji, Kapilji ka phone hai” (Swamiji, you have a call from Kapilji). Agnivesh got up while the reporters stepped back but the cameramen continued to record.

ONE OF the reporters said, “As soon as I heard that the phone is from Kapilji, I felt something was going on between swamiji and the government.” The reporters say that it was clear that the ‘Kapilji’ on the phone was none other than Kapil Sibal. They recorded the entire conversation.

Back in the studio, both the channel editors decided not to run the eavesdropped conversation. “I found out later that the video was being run on India TV and on a website,” says one of the reporters. “I thought that someone from my fellow reporter’s office must have given it to the website Everyone is a friend here.” Then someone uploaded the video on YouTube and millions saw it.

In his defence, however, Swami Agnivesh takes the standard line of canny politicians.

1. This is a conspiracy against me and the video has been cut, pasted and spliced.

2. My colleagues have cheated me. They had the video ready to distribute right after Hazare broke his fast. (He was obviously pointing to Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi.)

Further, Agnivesh says he was talking to ‘Kapil Muni Maharaj’. On closely observing the tape, this claim seems suspect. In the beginning of the chat, he says, “Jai ho Kapilji. Jai ho maharaj.” They are separate sentences. And also that, “maharaj” is an oft-used word in his speech. For example, he greeted this reporter with, “How are you, Chaurasiajimaharaj?”

Samrendra Singh, who uploaded the video on his website, points to another fact, “If it had been Kapil Muni Maharaj on the phone, the first thing he would have asked about would be his well-being. But he started talking about Anna right away. With who else but Sibal could he have started talking about the movement from the first sentence? And who else would he advise to stay firm but a government man? Why would an outsider be told to stay firm?”

Kejriwal dismisses the allegations made by Agnivesh. “He’s plain wrong. Why would we conspire against him?” he asks. “That would only harm the movement. But I believe that if the contents of the video are genuine, it is rather unfortunate.”

There are several other such questions, the replies to which, Agnivesh claims, would put the movement in jeopardy. He also avoids the question of Kapil Muni Maharaj’s identity by saying that he will take a decision when the time comes. His evasive answers to straight questions make him all the more suspicious.

Excerpts from an interview

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Swami Agnivesh, Social Activist

‘My colleagues have conspired against me’

There are allegations that you were allied with both the government and Team Anna.
My colleagues have conspired against me. I supported them at every step but they betrayed me. I defended Shanti and Prashant Bhushan when the CD against them came up. I told the media that this is a conspiracy. Today, Kiran Bedi is spewing venom in the media. They didn’t even think it important to talk to me.

Then why aren’t you taking legal action against them?
Being a sanyasi, I don’t feel right doing that. Contempt notices don’t help. When I had earlier done that, there were no results. I had even publicly forgiven the person who attacked me in Hyderabad.

Who conspired against you?
Those associated with the movement, who else? They got the CD made three days in advance and uploaded it as soon as Anna’s fast got over. The media didn’t do its job sincerely.

What did the media do wrong?
Is it not wrong to record someone’s personal conversation? If they had something to say against me then why didn’t they check with me first?

Did you appeal to Anna earlier to break his fast? On what issues did you differ from him?
I was against the fast-untodeath from the beginning. My opinion was that Anna should only go for an indefinite strike. But others intentionally wanted to put his life in danger. Later, when Parliament and the PM appealed to Anna to end his fast, I didn’t see any reason for him to continue. This issue led me away from them. These people were unnecessarily increasing their demands. When they clubbed three different issues together, I was left with no option but to go my way.

Let’s talk about the video. From your conversation it is clear that there would be no point in talking that way to anyone except Kapil Sibal?
Check my phone records. That will prove that I was not talking to Sibal. I was angry because I didn’t see the point in adding new conditions once the government had appealed (to end the fast). I was telling the same thing to Kapil Maharaj.

Your reputation is at stake. Why don’t you prove your innocence by producing Kapil Maharaj or show your call details to prove that you were talking to someone else and not to Kapil Sibal?
I am consulting my people. I will prove my innocence when the time comes. I will not do anything now or this will greatly harm the movement.

Why can’t you just honestly admit you made a mistake and apologise to Anna?
In all honesty, I have done no wrong. If someone shows me where I have gone wrong, I will apologise to Anna. I can never call Anna a mad elephant. I have great respect for him.

Atul Chaurasia is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
[email protected]

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