Anna Hazare's bonds with his crusader colleagues have proved to be tenuous time and again. Many people joined and then distanced themselves from his agitations: the late Govindbhai Shroff, Mohan Dharia, Kumar Saptarshi, Shankar Desarda, Baba Adhav, Arun Bhatia, G.R. Khairnar and Avinash Dharmadhikari, to name a few. These were the days when Anna was focused more on issues in Maharashtra.
Now, Anna has gone national. But the movements he currently spearheads—India Against Corruption and Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Andolan—too, have seen high-profile dropouts. Different sources, on condition of anonymity, told THE WEEK that the differences with Anna were over his man Friday, a man with a chequered past. A source close to Anna said the aide represents everything that the IAC and BVJA are fighting. But Anna is fiercely protective of Suresh Pathare.
The Pathares are one of three oldest and original families of Ralegan Siddhi, Anna's village in Ahmednagar district, and Suresh Pathare had been a part of Anna's movements for a long time. Much later, he became a member of the BVJA. Sources in the village said that as he was educated, he handled Anna's correspondence and communication with government officials, leaders and activists. Even now, he clears Anna's appointments and travel schedule.
He was present in almost every IAC agitation, and was jailed with Anna in Tihar in August 2011. They were released together, and he was the only one allowed in Anna's room during the agitations at Jantar Mantar and Ramlila Maidan. During Anna's vow of silence at Ralegan Siddhi, Pathare was entrusted with his messages for the nation.
A Mumbai-based member of the IAC said: “He [Pathare] has grown into a monster who is damaging the very cause for which the BVJA and IAC were formed.” But whenever the media grilled Anna on the allegations against Pathare, he scoffed or laughed it away. Anna's current demigod status came about because he symbolised what millions of Indians wanted—transparency and probity. So, the least he owes the people is the truth about his own staff. And, Anna cannot plead that he did not know of Pathare's track record.
When THE WEEK began probing this story, the first fact that came to light was that the gramsabha of Ralegan Siddhi had found Pathare guilty of illegal sand mining. On January 22, 2009, then sarpanch Indutaai Bhalekar convened a gramsabha attended by most villagers, office bearers of the village panchayat and Anna himself. The local media came as the gramsabha was discussing an issue that had been in the news since December 2008.
Bhalekar told the gathering that 86 truckloads of sand had been mined from nearby Mandve on the pretext of sourcing material for the Padmavati temple in Ralegan Siddhi. The contractor had permission to quarry only 10 truckloads, and, in reality, only five truckloads reached the village. The contractor had cashed in on Anna's and the village's reputation; the state received only 03,030 in the deal. Pathare was the contractor, and THE WEEK has documents to prove it.
The gramsabha passed a unanimous resolution indicting Pathare. He was working at the Shri Sant Yadav Baba Students' Hostel in the village, drawing a monthly salary of 01,500. The gramsabha dismissed him from the job and requested Dr P. Anbalagan, the then district collector, to initiate appropriate legal action.
Ganesh Markad, then tehsildar of Parner taluk, in which Ralegan Siddhi lies, wrote to Anbalagan: “The excess sand mining of 76 trucks will attract a six times penalty, which would amount to more than 015 lakh. Apart from monetary penalty, the act deserves criminal proceeding against the culprit.”
Anbalagan promised severe action, and the public went on the warpath when the sand mafia tried to run a truck over deputy tehsildar M.K. Pund, who opposed the illegal mining. Though the police registered a case of attempt to murder, nothing came out of it.
“The entire illegal sand mining happens with the support of the corrupt local leaders and officials,” alleged MLA Bala Nandgaonkar of the Maharashtra Navanirman Sena. “One can find criminal elements virtually controlling all the sand mining sites. This is corruption in hundreds of crores.” It is with this powerful lobby that Pathare is being linked.
Ahmednagar was once famous for its sugar cooperatives, but, for the last two decades, it is the illegal sand mining that is making news. Officials from revenue and police departments have been roughed up by the sand mafia.
In the district, sand is mined from the rivers Godavari, Pravara, Mutha, Mula, Sina and Bhima. There are more than 50 quarries in the district, generating thousands of truckloads of sand every day. The permits issued are but for a fraction of the outflow. Mungi, a tiny village on the Godavari, lies at the border of Ahmednagar and Aurangabad districts. Armed goons guard the quarries there, and the hamlet sends out more than a thousand truckloads a day.
In Shrigonda, tenders were called for mining sand at 25 sites, and the price expected was 050 crore. Only nine sites were auctioned, but mining goes on at almost all sites; the auction yielded only 04.8 crore. When the people and the media turned on the heat, the administration temporarily seized 171 trucks used to ferry sand and showed that they recovered 063.27 lakh as fine.
In Kopargaon, Shankarrao Kale got the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court to stop mining at 25 places, but the mining goes on. Last year, 203 vehicles were seized and 043.23 lakh was collected as fine. Even the smallest site transports nearly 120 trucks of sand every day, which is at least five times more than the legal limit. Each truck carries twice the amount it is authorised to carry and a load fetches between 018,000 to 022,000 in the city. Officially, Ahmednagar gets 090 crore annually from sand sale. The actual figure should be at least four times that, say activists. This is true of sand quarries across Maharashtra.
“The nexus of the illegal sand miners, transporters and the administration is very dominant as they also get political protection,” claimed Subhash Kapre, an activist from Ahmednagar.
Kapre said that despite the mafia operating close to Ralegan Siddhi, Anna's action has been restricted to a letter or two to the government in the last two decades. “I had protested against it and pointed out that many illegal sand miners have suspicious links with Pathare,” said Kapre. “But he managed the government machinery and filed a false case against me.”
When THE WEEK discussed Pathare's past record with Preeti Sharma, the IAC's Mumbai unit spokesperson, she said: “I am shocked and saddened to know these allegations. Annaji is the nation's hope and the people working so close with him should have no blemishes.”
Vijay Kurle, a former officer bearer of the BVJA, said, “I am not surprised to know this. My experience of Pathare also makes me sad to admit that despite complaining repeatedly, he kept hiding the corruption that had happened in the BVJA in Mumbai during Anna's hunger strike in August 2011.” Kurle has lodged a complaint with the Mumbai Police against BVJA office bearer Bhavesh Patel alleging misappropriation of funds, forgery, cheating and fraud.
During Anna's hunger strike at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi, the Mumbai unit of the BVJA had organised agitations at Azad Maidan. During the agitation, the Mumbai unit received 08.5 lakh as donation, as cash and cheque. Kurle said it is only a fraction of what was raised from the crowds at Azad Maidan; some BVJA office bearers issued forged receipts and siphoned several lakh of rupees, he said.
He wrote about this many times to Anna, but the letters were never shown to him, alleges Kurle. “Later, I went to Ralegan Siddhi and, after a lot of struggle, met Anna,” he said. “I showed him all the papers and he instructed Pathare to look into the matter. But Pathare did nothing and asked me to file an RTI with the BVJA, which I did, but the reply never came.”
“Later, he asked me to approach the BVJA's appellate authority. Shockingly, Allauddin Sheikh, the appellate authority for information on the BVJA, rejected my application saying RTI does not apply to the BVJA.” Anna wants the Prime Minister's Office to come under the RTI, while his own organisation is opaque? asked Kurle. He further alleged that Allauddin had threatened him with dire consequences.
A BVJA activist from Maharashtra said he was surprised when Union Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh turned up to negotiate with Anna during the Ramlila Maidan agitation. “On the 12th day, Anna had become restless,” he said. “He had a feeling that the negotiations were not going in the right direction. The issue of negotiating with Deshmukh was not even discussed with anyone. But, someone close to Anna approached the minister. We were all shocked to see the minister negotiating with Anna, because the man had so many allegations of corruption against him.” The activist refused to confirm or deny that it was Pathare who had reached out to Deshmukh.
Another active IAC member, who wanted to remain anonymous, spoke of a friend's experience. “One of my friends in the IAC was filing a PIL against corruption in the irrigation ministry in Maharashtra and Pathare tried to stop it,” he told THE WEEK. “He wrote to [senior IAC member] Prashant Bhushan and objected to IAC members filing PILs in Mumbai. Pathare said someone calling himself Mumbai Citizen had called and objected to the filing of the PIL.”
Bhushan informed Anna about Pathare's call: “I received a call from Suresh Pathare that he had sent this email because the person who calls himself Mumbai Citizen had called him 10 times and asked him to write the email to us. I asked Suresh to send me his mobile number so that we could find out who he was, since he appears to be the agent of the corrupt contractor who has been the beneficiary of the scam. But, so far, Suresh has not sent me his number.
“If mails sent by agents of the contractors involved in these scams are forwarded from your office to target persons from the IAC, who are honestly fighting to expose them, our movement will not survive.” Even after this Anna remained silent. And, to this day, no one knows who Mumbai Citizen is.
If, eventually, it is proved that Pathare has links with illegal businesses it will be very hard for the people's movement to gain momentum in India again. The faith that people had invested in the IAC is gradually fading, and now even activists involved in it admit that had the Lokpal been in place, all these allegations would have been sufficient for arresting Pathare and initiating criminal proceedings against him. Will Anna sacrifice the man or the cause itself?
I am not into sand mining
THE WEEK has a video clip where you say Anna has been receiving money through hawala since 2006.
I, too, saw the video a few months back. I think that whoever made it put various sentences together by editing and doctoring it. The camera was moving and the audio was heard in jerks. I have doubts about its authenticity.
But what made you talk about hawala money in the first place?
I do not remember and I cannot say when, where and how those references came while speaking. Even if we agree for the sake of debate, why would I say that we get money like this even if we were doing it? So, there is no point in talking about it. It is a fake CD.
You said Anna relates to BJP/RSS ideology.
It is also doctored. Why this video now, when I had seen it a few months back? It is because now we have announced a Kursi Chhodo [Vacate the chair] agitation in New Delhi from July 25, 2012. It is only to damage that.
Why didn't you file a complaint about the doctored video?
Why should we waste time complaining about a fake video clip made to damage our movement? We have our own movement and cause to focus on.
By fighting slander, you could have avoided the possible damage to the movement.
As I said, we had many more important things in hand than running after a fake video clip.
What about the allegation that you were and are involved in illegal sand mining? Did the gramsabha dismiss you from the hostel?
I do not want to comment on it. I am not involved in sand mining and I am very much working in Anna's organisation, Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Aandolan.
Proof in pixels
Impressed by Anna Hazare's hunger strike at Ram Lila Maidan in New Delhi, Citizen X and his friends and relatives wanted to contribute to India Against Corruption. In October 2011 he went to Ralegan Siddhi and saw Anna Hazare's spartan rooms at the Yadav Baba temple there. He set his digital camera to video mode and filmed the place.
Earlier, he had asked for directions to the office to deposit the donation. As he was filming, somebody came to take him to Suresh Pathare's office. He went to Pathare not realising that the camera slung around his neck was still on, and he says the Anna aide talked frankly. The Pathare video clip is jerky, as he says in his interview on page 39. Edited extracts from the video clip:
“Hum donation lete hai, bada donation lete hai. Industrialist se donation lete hai, kuchh donation BJP, RSS ke netaa se. Hum foreign se fund lete hai... industrialist se lete hain. Hum ye chahate hai ki ek aadmi aake ek lakh rupayaa de. Hum das saal se kaam kar rahe hai. Tho Annaji tho yeh jo BJP-RSS ki vichar dhara hai, us se sahamat hai. Jab tak jahan tak maine dekha hai, bade BJP ke neta ko yahaa baar baar aate huye dekha hai. Ya RSS ke neta ko aate huye....”
Translation: We accept donations, big donations. Some from industrialists, some from leaders of the BJP and RSS. We accept funds from abroad also... from industrialists. We want an individual to come and donate Rs 1 lakh. We are doing it for the last 10 years.... As far as Anna is concerned, he relates to the ideology of the BJP and RSS. I have seen big leaders of the BJP and RSS visit this place often.
Citizen X says Pathare then said something that shocked him: “Annaji ko 2006 se hawala ke upar paise diye jaate hai. Sabase badi baat hoti hai kab, jab glamour aajaata hai. Bade ho jaate hai, tab kuchh decision makers ke saath aapki jaan-pehachaan ho jaati hai. Woh to bahut soch samazke karta hai. Koi proof pichhe nahi chhodta....”
Translation: Annaji has been receiving money through hawala since 2006. Most importantly, when does this happen? When you get the glamour and fame. You get to know some decision makers. They do things very thoughtfully and leave no proof behind.”
Then Citizen X met Dada Pathare, another confidant of Anna. Citizen X says Dada Pathare said, “Abhi Jantar Mantar ka aandolan jab huva, Anna ji ko cash prize diya tha ek karod ka. Annaji bolta hai agar koi pachaas hazaar rupaye le aata hai, usko raseed nahi denge. Agar koi paanchso, hazaar rupaye deta hai, usko raseed denge. Paise to aane jaruri hai....”
Translation: “Recently during the agitations at Jantar Mantar, Annaji got a cash prize of Rs 1 crore. Annaji says we will not give receipts to anyone who gives 050,000 or more. We give receipts to those who give 0500 or 01,000. It is important to raise money.”
Raut was former principal of Anna's school and a full-time activist of the Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Aandolan. The video shows him saying, “Kya hai, jis sanstha ka pramukh jis tarah se bartaav karta hai, usi tarah ka vartan unke sadasya bhi karte hai. Yeh sab sansthao ke sansthapak ya chalak Annaji hai, aur unka sabse bada zagada corruption ke against hai. To woh khud corruption hone dete hai. [Talks about Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal.] Samaaj ke prati kharch karate samay, ek das rupaye kharch karana hai to das me se paanch samaj ke prati kharch karte hai aur paanch khud ki jeb me dalte hai. Aur NGO ke madhyam se khud ki shrimanti badhaate hai.”
Translation: Workers behave the way the leader of an organisation behaves. Annaji's biggest fight is against corruption, but he himself lets corruption happen.... [Talks about Kiran Bedi and Arvind Kejriwal.] If 010 is to be spent on society, 05 is spent and the remaining is pocketed. They use the NGO to acquire fame and wealth.
In the video Dada Pathare and Raut also allege that Kejriwal's friends were routing black money into IAC.