26 May, 2012

Team Anna's leaked Letter @ Facebook & Twitter control

Above: Shivendra Singh Chauhan, Creator of IAC Facebook & Twitter

Dear Arvind ji,

This is with regards to yesterday’s meeting at Prashant ji’s house in Noida over the issue of managing India Against Corruption facebook page. You rejected my request to put your and others’ apprehensions on paper so that I could write a formal reply but insisted that the communication in the meeting will remain oral. Still, I feel, that in the rightness of things, I should write a formal reply and present my views.

1. You alleged that I do not believe in democracy and take decisions unilaterally and that I should be bound by the decisions of core committee or else I will be ejected out of the movement

Reply: This is a people’s movement against corruption and most of us joined it out of our own free will and not through a formal process so there is no question of removal by a group. The movement belongs to us all and fight against corruption cannot be anybody’s monopoly but it is a herculean task where everyone can contribute in whichever way possible. As a matter of fact, core committee came into existence much after lakhs of us became a part of the movement. The members of core committee were not chosen through a democratic or even a well-defined process. Anna ji, Sri Sri, Ramdev ji, Shanti Bhushan ji, Prashant ji, Dr. Bedi, Justice Hegde, you and some others would have been members of such committee by default and by virtue of their work but what about the rest?

It would have been democratic, for instance, had a model similar to selection of Janlokpal members been adopted for selection of members to CC, like vetting and short listing the names by an independent search panel and putting these names on website so thousands of people who took part/supported in this movement could participate in the process, and so on. This would have also tested the efficacy of Janlokpal model, at least the selection part of it. Do you not think that you should have initiated such democratic and transparent process instead of nominating members without any selection criteria and foisting them on to volunteers? With all due respect, do you not think that democracy should start with you and not after you?

In January this year, you offered me to come in Core Committee to which I replied that I need not be in CC to be able to contribute to the cause. After which you asked me to join core committee meetings at least, to which I readily agreed and attended the meeting held at Kaushambi on 27 January. You clearly instructed Aswathi to send me prior intimation of future meetings and minutes. This was never followed, why? Did you have second thoughts on my attending these meetings and or did your team unilaterally decide that I was not to be sent any communication? Also, my question is, by which democratic process was I offered to be in core committee.

Questions have been raised several times on criteria of selection of core committee members, and also requests have been made to incorporate Right to Reject and Right to Recall for core committee members. Why these requests have been ignored? Such requests have come from volunteers across the country. What happens to democracy here? Why selective usage of democracy?

Allegation of taking unilateral decisions is untrue since admins were added at your behest always. In March Gaurav Bakshi and Swati Maliwal were added as admins. Gaurav Bakshi created his own pages and started promoting them through the IAC page while Swati was obviously busy in other duties to be able to contribute to the social media platforms. Later on other people were added as admins but could not contribute as required for whatever reasons. (More on this in the attached email from September 6, with subject line – Gratitude and Grouse).

A few days back you called me for a meeting at Kaushambi office on May 2, 2012 on the pretext of discussing some big campaign. This issue was raised in that meeting also and you said that I was the best person to decide on matters related to facebook and you have no doubts on my ability and also that you leave it to me on how it is to be managed in the best way possible. So, what changed between 2nd May and 19th May? I have utmost respect for you and was really impressed at your composure but am now forced to ask, were you on purpose quiet on that day so you could attack me at a later day when you have the numbers and vocal power to back you and shut me up?

2. A three-member panel will take decisions regarding facebook page and its day-to-day functioning

Reply: I think that’s a very good idea and I am all for it as long as we have a transparent criterion for selection of such panel. If the proposed three-member panel is going to be selected by core committee which itself has no democratic basis, it will be another example of arbitrary functioning. How will you ensure that this panel is independent and unbiased? On 2nd May at a meeting in Kaushambi office you asked me to promote you heavily on twitter and social media. I said, all your tweets are retweeted by @Janlokpal unless they are personal or not related to the cause. Also, have we come together to further a cause, in this case a strong anti-corruption legislation, or promote individuals? What happens if tomorrow, a three-member committee directs admins chosen by it to promote any other individual? Is our social media platform a vehicle for self-promotion? Will those admins have the courage to say no to the panel even if they feel that such promotion is not serving any purpose?

Let me put this on record, this facebook page was created on October 27, 2010. Initially it was pushed through my previous facebook campaign named Commonwealth Jhel created to raise awareness against corruption in Commonwealth Games. Initial supporters were mostly from this previous campaign and the logo was designed by an artist friend of mine in December 2010 which helped us in branding and spreading the word. Apart from the rally in Delhi and to some extent Mumbai etc the January 30, 2011, marches in other cities were conceived and organised through this page when it had barely 12 thousand fans. Manish Sisodia was not active in the movement till then. The statement is not meant to negate or belittle in any way the efforts of civil society leaders to build the movement from ground up but to put things in perspective. We had a little over 60 thousand fans and by April 4, 2011, on the strength of those 60 thousand fans we had built a formidable network in more than 300 cities in India and many abroad. The numbers simply quadrupled by the end of his fast. Anna ji sat on a fast on April 5, 2011 and in 4 days of his fast, numbers quadrupled and the rest is history.

On April 11, in the meeting held at Sanjay Bhargava’s house, the responsibility of city coordination was taken over by you and handed over to Neeraj. This decision was taken ‘unilaterally’ and because in one city – Bhopal – there were problems between two activists Shehla Masood and Rolly Shivhare. It was due to their interpersonal relations, but irrespective of the effort that I put in, I was maligned and penalised for this one aberration and because, I believe, PCRF wanted to keep things under its control. I do not understand why? Fact is, the list ceased to grow since that day.

I have noticed this in the past that role of facebook page has been negated, discredited and at times even elevated as per your convenience. And yet, such a spirited attempt to control it, baffles me.

On May 2, 2012 at the meeting in Kaushambi you told me about the plan regarding participation of Team Anna in Himachal Pradesh polls this year. I checked the text matter for parcha and also the pamphlet that is supposed to be distributed there. The footer of this pamphlet has IAC website URL, helpline number and email id. It doesn’t have facebook page address. If the facebook page is important, why doesn’t it figure in the footer? Especially, when according to you, ‘Himachal is supposed to be very connected state as far as internet is concerned and social media can be used well there.’

3. Posts related to Anna do not appear on page and Anna ji’s Maharashtra tour was not given enough coverage on facebook page

Reply: This is a gross misrepresentation and facts speak otherwise:

From 5th May, 2012 till date

Total Posts 35
Posts related to Anna 10
Other posts

3 - Candle march for slain RTI activist R Balwani
1 - Article by Arvind Kejriwal
1 – Article on social media by Ankit Lal
3 – Cartoons on Corruption
2 - Posts on internet freedom and free speech
2 – Photos of rotting grains in FCI godowns and Konkan Irrigation deptt contract demanding favours from contractors
1 – Post from IAC Mumbai on Maharashtra Irrigation scam expose
2 – Posts on Lokpal Bill and proposed bill on private sector corruption
2 – Posts on Pratibha Patil’s land grab
2 – Posts on Farmer’s suicide in Maharashtra
2 – Posts on Aamir Khan on corruption and female foeticide
1 – post on Akhil Gogoi’s fast unto death
1 – post on Air India taking journalists on a paid junket

Let me also put this on record that Anna’s schedule was posted on facebook and twitter much before it appeared on website. On the day Anna started tour of Maharashtra, I got in touch with Suresh Pathare and asked for the complete schedule, it was promptly sent and shared on social networks. It was shared on FB on May 2 while uploaded on India Against Corruption website on May 10. So, who was ignoring Anna’s tour of Maharashtra, social network or the website managed by Kaushambi office?

From my experience I can say that other admins on the page, mostly because they are people nominated by you and highly in awe of you, only post, stories, videos related to you, Manish, Sanjay, Gopal Rai etc. Rarely do they post anything said or done by other prominent movement leaders like Dr. Kiran Bedi, Prashant Bhushan, Justice Hegde. For instance, a photo of Manish Sisodia was posted on page in which he was watching cricket match with Anna ji. I fail to understand how this photo was significant for the movement and how did it further our cause? Manish admitted in yesterday’s meeting that many people have his user id and password. The import of this admission is really serious - apart from the risk of unwanted stuff being posted on page, it also jeopardises the security of the facebook page? You know, any admin can delete the page forever, permanently undoing the effort that has gone in to build it over a period of a year and a half.

4. There are many complaints against posts on facebook page

Reply: Now, this is a very convenient allegation because it need not be backed by specifics like who made the complaint, when, what exactly and why? Moreover these complaints are never forwarded to me for course correction or action. How am I to believe that these so called complaints are not fictional in nature and are only raised to malign my name and work? A good way to know if people have genuine concerns on facebook page would be to ask those same people who follow it – about 5.9 lakh fans! I have said this earlier as well, let us ask the people who follow this page if they like / dislike, are happy or unhappy with the posts on page and they can also share suggestions for improvement, give us valuable feedback. Through polls on the page, I conduct this exercise often. Ultimately, it’s a democracy and this medium is more democratic than any existing ones. So why not ask the stakeholders? Who will you trust? A random person who is known to you and says that posts on page are not good without specifics or the 5.9 lakh people, who read, respond and follow the page for information and awareness.

Even on the facebook page, in comments by users, I see a lot of complaints against individuals in core committee including you. Taking the argument further, there have been several complaints against PCRF employees and some core committee members but most of these are brushed under the carpet very conveniently. At meetings held in Rajendra Bhawan, many volunteers complained of high-handedness by employees and volunteers who are close to these employees.

A senior bank official who is a senior citizen actually said that ' volunteers are treated worse than a peon in PCRF office). Has anything done till date to look into these issues and sort them? Dr. Kiran Bedi said that these are HR issues and one person should look after this. Apparently, Gopal Rai was given the responsibility to look after these issues, ‘unilaterally.’ I bet, if today you invite complaints from people on the website, there will be thousands from Delhi alone. Swati Maliwal represents Delhi NCR volunteers, and maximum number of complaints are against her. What has been done towards that? Why she hasn’t been removed from the core committee? Why did we not follow a democratic process like voting to choose Delhi representative? I am aware of the fact that voting was considered at a volunteers’ meet but never undertaken due to obvious reasons - people who were nominated to CC would have lost their deposit. Now, will you take up these complaints and clean up the mess or are there different standards of accountability for different people?

According to the audited financial result for April 2011-September 2011 available on IAC website, a total of Rs. 45.50 lakh were spent on Public Awareness. Bulk SMS constituted a major portion of this expense. Has there been any attempt to calculate the effectiveness of this mode of communication and whether we got the desired results? A survey from NDTV last year in August said that social media was a significant mover in garnering support for the movement. Financially, it cost the movement zilch if you discount 8-10 cups of tea and a patty here and there I consumed while I visiting PCRF office. As I understand, some news employees have been hired and have other primary duties than handling social media. Why do you want to use a resource paid for by people of India, for a job that is being done for free?

There are complaints that some core committee members are not even gainfully employed and yet able to devote all the time to the cause. It is alleged that they use the name of IAC for sustenance but that is just an allegation and I have nothing to prove these allegations. I hope such people would come forward to disclose their source of income and expenses because they can’t possibly be fighting for the cause on an empty stomach.

Quoting from a volunteers’ email:

‘The so called UP Prabharis of IAC (names withheld) have sabotaged the entire fabric of egalitarianism which was the foundation stone of this conglomerate of like minded ppl, who, on Anna's innocent and committed appeal got enlivened and enlightened. Not for Anna or anyone, but for themselves. The trio asserts itself as divine leaders who can bully and induct/fire volunteers. Their arrogance as well as their bringing to the fore of those ppl who are genetically against Janlokpal has in past 6 months cast shadows of aspersions on the efficacy of the movement and its leadership. They behave like masters of destiny of lesser mortals like many of unsung heroes of the movement. They follow exactly the culture we are fighting against e.g. Manch, Mala aur Mike. Swagat samaarohs, swagat gaan, maalyaarpan and then fiery but off track speeches. Is this not what we are fighting against?’

Was this complaint by one of our best volunteers ever looked into?

5. Legal action and denouncement or dissociation

By what authority will you dissociate or denounce me until you conclusively prove that you own the movement and that I have ever worked against the interests of the movement? I am sure disagreement and working in the best interest of the movement, even if independently, cannot be deemed as damaging the movement. Let’s take the democratic path - start a poll on website whether I should be dissociated or denounced, let the people decide. As far as legal action is concerned, I welcome you to consider it as an option; in fact I encourage you to pursue it if you believe that you are the rightful owner of the movement and the page and if this page has harmed the movement in any way. I am sure you have faith in the law of the land and trust the courts to do justice.

Though there are so many instances, incidents and facts to be shared, I think I have spoken enough for today. For more than one and a half year, I worked relentlessly for the cause, from home, from hospital bed, from a train berth, while sitting in meetings, while travelling, between meals and without ever demanding anything and yet received an eviction notice in return. Many thanks.

I rest my case!


Shivendra Singh Chauhan

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