The anti-corruption movement led by Kisan Baburao Hazare popularly known as Anna Hazare in April 2011 under banner of India against Corruption (IAC) in India shoke the whole nation and the establishment. The movement demanded the passage of an anti-graft law, Jan Lokpal (Jan Lokpal is an Ombudsman like institution to address corruption in public life). It brought about a new vigour among common people who came in large numbers to support the movement and it spread through out the country. The astounding success of the movement in its initial days is compared to the movement of Jayprakash Narayan against the autocratic rule of the then Prime Minister Ms Indira Gandhi (Popularly known as JP movement) in 1970s and V P Singh’s tirade against the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who was allegedly involved in Bofors gun scam in late 80s.
Arvind Kejriwal, the trusted follower of Anna, is said to be the chief architect of the movement. A Gandhian by action and a meticulous strategist has many successes in his career of social activism. A bureaucrat (He was an Indian Revenue Service officer) turned activist got Raman Magasaysay award for emergent leadership in 2006 for his work on right to information in Delhi. Now Anna movement has turned political. The group has declared to form political party and contest election. Kejriwal speaks exclusively to OdishaDiary senior editor, Pradeep Baisakh on the road ahead in politics.
Q: What has been your response to the recent Coalgate scam exposed by the Comptroller General of India (CAG). It is alleged that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was holding the coal portfolio while the allocation of coal blocks was made without auction?
Arvind Kejriwal: On 26th August we made a gherao (surrounded) of the residence of Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi (UPA chairperson) and of Nitin Gadkari (BJP President). Along with these, the residences of the Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Odisha were also surrounded. Police lathi-charged (Beating with sticks) and teargassed unprovoked in many places and arrested our supporters in Delhi and other states.
Q: Anna Hazare and team have has declared to go for an ‘Alternative Politics’. Why the change in goal post? Was the decision taken by wider consultation of your supporters or it’s an on-the-spot decision to cover up the inconsequential fast undertaken by you in Jantar Mantar on 25th July?
Arvind Kejriwal: We sat on the Ansan (fasting) in Jantar Mantar from 25th July with the determination to ‘do or die’. Owing to the non-response of the government, many people came to us with the suggestion of forming a political party and give alternative political platform to the people. On the eighth day of fast we decided to give three days to people to give their opinion on the need of an alternative politics. Almost everyone present in Jantar Mantar that time supported the idea. Zee TV received pool of 70,000 people and 96 percent supported it. On 9th day Anna Hazare ji discussed with some of his old colleagues and declared that he is ready to give people a political alternative. We have trust in him. He knows the nerve of people.
Q: Why do you think you failed to evoke good public response to your recent fast in comparison to the earlier ones?
Arvind Kejriwal: Even though people had the faith in Anna’s leadership, people did not have the hope that the protest or the fasting will yield any result now. It was clear that pressuring from outside the Parliament will not yield Jan Lokpal as none of the parties including ruling Congress, and principal opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) want a strong ant-graft law. All of them are neck dip in corruption. The movement has to go inside Parliament.
Q: Do you think that this new step will yield result?
Arvind Kejriwal: This will give hope to the people and this seems to be the next logical step.
Q: Do you have a clear vision on what would be the nature of this alternative politics? What are you going to do to make it a reality?
Arvind Kejriwal: The current politics dominated by ‘high command’ culture. All members of Parliament (MPs) have to obey the decision of their high commands. Thus only 18 such high commands rule this country. People’s voice has no scope to be heard. Our vision of alternative politics is complete decentralisation. People will select candidates and people will decide on laws and policies. Our idea of ‘Gram Swaraj’(Village self rule) is a decentralised politics where people are the source of authority, not the high commands.
We will form ‘District Andolan Committees’ very soon consisting the leaders of India Against Corruption (IAC) there and student leaders, farmer leaders, tribal leaders, dalit (scheduled caste) leaders, minority leaders, women leaders, doctors, lawyers, unemployed youths and others who have good image. This committee will then identify volunteers in every village of the state.
On 2nd October 2012 we will launch the political party and will give candidates in all Parliamentary constituencies in 2014 general election.
Q: You have any example which can be compared to your vision of alternative politics?
Arvind Kejriwal: As I said, it is basically a decentralised politics. Nothing can be carbon copy. But one has to learn from several other countries. There have been several examples. Switzerland has provisions of right to recall. United States has taken great measures; many European countries have it. It existed in ancient India. Mahatma Gandhi stressed on bottom up politics. He wanted a party less democracy.
Q: Who are your support base and will you not require money to fight elections?
Arvind Kejriwal: People at large are our support base. The candidates who will contest the elections will be chosen by people in that constituency. These candidates will not go to Parliament or Assembly for power but to serve people. The candidates will not have any red light cars, will not have any MP or MLA (Member of Legislative Assemblies) quota, and will be staying in a one room flat, not in multi-crore (one crore is 10 million) bungalows. Honesty and simple living will be their hallmark.
If people themselves campaign for the candidate chosen by them, we will need any money to fight elections. If people do not campaign for us, then we need not be in politics.
Q: You think you will be able to cope up with the ‘power politics’ prevailing today which need muscle and money?
Arvind Kejriwal: We have to change that. Ours will be an Andolan, not a typical political party like we have many today. It is all about people’s politics, not power politics.
Q: What will be the fate of the Jan Lokpal now?
Arvind Kejriwal: Jan Lokpal will come. This is basically a journey to Jan Lokpal only. Because none of these parties are willing to give us Jan Lokpal, this movement should go to the Parliament and pass Jan Lokpal bill.
Q: Your friend Retired Justice N Santosh Hegde says that India is not ready for an anti-graft party. How do you respond to it?
Arvind Kejriwal: I really do not know what he has said exactly. But he has signed the letter saying that we should provide a political alternative to people. I have a copy of the letter.
Q: On Anna’s fight against corruption, P Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor of ‘The Hindu’ and Magsaysay award winner said, in a discourse delivered in Bhubaneswar, Odisha (An Indian state) on 29th April 2012, that it’s trying to check the flow of water with all the taps open. He meant that you are not addressing the sources or root causes of corruption. What you have to say?
Arvind Kejriwal: What are the sources of corruption?
Q: I think he was basically meaning that you have not taken a stand on the neo-liberal economy. He may have other reasons to say so.
(Note: P Sainath has spoken on various basis of corruption in many of his discourses. They are: structural inequalities like caste, class and regional inequalities, economic policies taken in last twenty years and the culture of arbitrariness. Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qfAyDVogxc&feature=player_detailpage)
Arvind Kejriwal: There are many reasons for corruption. What he says is also right which needs to be tackled. Our entire movement was for Jan Lokpal bill for creating deterrence against corruption. We never took a position that Jan Lokpal law will remove all types of corruption. Many steps need to be taken to end corruption. Neo-liberal policies are not the only reason for corruption.
Q: But the fact is that the quantum of corruption has been multiplied after the neo-liberal economy is in place. Bofors scam was of about $10.8 million (INR 60 crore) (one dollar is equivalent to 55.4 rupees as on 26th August 2012) and now we have 2G spectrum scam which is of $36 billion (INR 2 lakh crore) and Coalgate scam is of $33.6 billion (INR 1.86 lakh crore), to cite some examples?
Arvind Kejriwal: I completely agree.
Q: Why have you not taken a stand on the neo-liberal economy? Is it due to that fact that by doing so, you fear you may lose the middle class support, which is your base, as middle class (along with upper class) has benefited from these policies?
Arvind Kejriwal: I never said that we cannot take a stand against the neo-liberal policies. Our campaign was on Jan Lokpal bill. We are not supposed to take stand on everything. We are not politicians.
Q: And now that you are entering into politics, will you take a public stand on the same?
Arvind Kejriwal: We are creating platform for discussion on several issues and we will take all these issues to public. And we would like public discussion take place on all these issues.
Q: There are waves of policies which legitimise the transfer of natural resources like land, water, forest to the private companies and multi-multinationals in name of public interest. Many say that hardly any public interest is served by this. What you have to say on this?
Arvind Kejriwal: That’s wrong. That has to stop.
Q: You have been off and on with Baba Ramdev. You had distanced from him at times and you sided with him at times. Is it a compulsion for you to be with him for garnering the large follower base that he seems to be having?
Arvind Kejriwal: This movement is not about garnering followers. There is no partnership for getting followers. It is only about the cause. He has been fighting the battle to bring black money back to India. It is a legitimate cause, we support his cause. We do not support any individuals, we are supporting the causes.
Q: But he has not come clean on the charges on his multi-billion empire.
Arvind Kejriwal: Let the government do whatever investigations they have to do.
Q: You have demanded for right to recall and right to reject. What’s your stand on other important reform proposals on electoral reforms like ‘state funding of elections’?
Arvind Kejriwal: Anna movement had four demands. Jan Lokpal, right to recall, right to reject and Gram Swaraj (Village self rule). We are open to various ideas of electoral reforms. Let suggestion come and let people debate over it.
Q: Do you want to be the Prime Minster of the country?
Arvind Kejriwal: Position is not important for us, issues are. I am not fighting this battle to be the Prime Minister but to address various issues plaguing the nation and the people.
(Baisakh is a freelance journalist based in Odisha, an Indian state. He is a media fellow of National Foundation of India (NFI) for the year 2012. He has written extensively on transparency law, right to work, forest and environment issues, Indian Polity and Constitution, Industrialisation and displacement etc. He can be reached through e mail: email@example.com)