Arvind Kejriwal, Founder-member, India Against Corruption
AFTER AN almost Arab Spring-like rising, the Anna movement has now seen exactly the opposite. The Falling. When Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, one of the faces of the movement, chose to voice his opinion on Kashmir, it opened up for the first time the seemingly monochromatic colour of India Against Corruption, exposing its inward implosions. And also the vulgar vandalism that Bhushan was subject to, where he was dragged across the floor of his court chamber, kicked and assaulted, on TV. Then in Lucknow, the lobbing of a shoe at Arvind Kejriwal. But there has also been another kind of falling. Kiran Bedi, former supercop and current India Against Corruption’s poster-child, is now accused of having sullied her hands. Over-invoicing air ticket bills for work trips. Where she travelled economy, but allegedly charged business class. And falling also in the eyes of the people who joined the movement because it claimed to be apolitical. Only to find themselves transposed to the middle of an election campaign in Hisar, Haryana. And finally, the falling out of people within the movement itself, with claims and counter-claims… that Arvind Kejriwal is running the movement like a dictatorship of the proletariat. Behind the hyperbole on television and the rousing street campaigns, there was the larger question — had the tenor of the Jan Lokpal movement changed?
Only Kejriwal could answer the questions. In the answers lie the complexities of keeping a movement together, against the carpet-bombing by a belligerent government. And also, some might argue, the inevitable questions that all movements end up having to answer. Where does the power really lie? Who wants it? Those, of course, are only inferences that need to be culled out between the lines of this twist-of-the-knife that Arvind Kejriwal was put through by TEHELKA’S Revati Laul and Atul Chaurasia.
Excerpts From An Interview
Why did you and the India Against Corruption (IAC) team decide to campaign for the Jan Lokpal Bill as an election issue in the Hisar byelection?
This is because before the election, I had visited Hisar and people came up to me and said they wanted to make the Lokpal Bill an election issue.
But what made you take this up? There are seemingly some contradictions between taking that decision and what some of you have been saying earlier about not being political.
No, we never said we are not political. We have always said that the movement is political but above party politics. It is not electoral politics. It is people’s politics.
How can you say your campaign is NOT part of electoral politics?
You can say electoral politics; I feel it is not electoral politics. I would call it electoral politics if we stand for election, if we fight elections.
Has the India Against Corruption movement now taken a clear stand that it is against the current government or anti- Congress because at least in the time that you were negotiating with the government in the Joint Drafting Committee you said repeatedly that you are not against the government, this is not a campaign against the Congress.
We are still not against the Congress. We are still not against the government.
But you asked people not to vote for the Congress is the Hisar byelection in Haryana and also at rallies in Banda, in Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh.
We are not against the Congress. It is by chance that the Congress happens to be in power at the Centre. It is their duty to pass this Bill. After the Hisar election was over, the prime minister wrote a letter to Anna saying they are committed to a strong Lokpal Bill and that they will introduce the Bill in the winter session of Parliament. If this letter had come 10 days earlier, our Hisar campaign would not have happened. You see, when the Congress refused to give us a letter before the Hisar election, saying clearly that the Bill will be brought in the winter session, it raised a suspicion in our minds.
But the movement also ended with a declaration by the IAC team to the people at Ramlila Maidan and the crores of people watching across the country, that this is a victory based on the fact that you have got an agreement from the government saying the Bill would be introduced in the winter session of Parliament?
How do you assume that? When Anna broke his fast at Ramlila Maidan and the Parliament sent us a letter, where were the words ‘winter session’?
So are you saying that wasn’t really a victory for Anna when he broke his fast?
It was a partial victory.
So why did you not tell people then, that well, this was a partial victory? Can you give some clarity on why, if you felt that there was something missing in the government’s commitment at that point of time, you didn’t say that then?
Anna started his fast by saying that the Jan Lokpal Bill should be passed in the monsoon session of Parliament. That is how we started off. Subsequently, when we started our discussions with the government, despite lakhs of people coming out on the streets, it appeared that the government was just not in the mood to listen to their voice. With each passing day, we realised that what we thought was a 10-day journey was actually a pretty long one with the kind of obstinacy shown by the government. So, when the fast ended, everyone felt that because such a big movement had taken place, the Bill would naturally come up in the winter session. That was a popular misunderstanding.
Why do you call it a misunderstanding?
Because even we thought that it will come up in the winter session. So we were quite shocked and surprised that in our campaign in Haryana, for the Hisar byelection, when we asked all parties to give us letters committing to the Jan Lokpal Bill in the winter session, the Congress refused to give it. This raised our suspicion about whether they were actually serious about the Bill. Because, earlier they had gone back many times on their word.
After the Hisar bypoll took place, and the prime minister wrote a letter saying that they are committed to bringing in the Jan Lokpal Bill this winter, Anna immediately said we should call off our Uttar Pradesh campaign. He was supposed to go on a yatra in the state from 15 October, but it’s been called off.
‘We never said we are not political. We said the movement is political but above party politics. It is just not electoral politics’
But you are already campaigning in UP. What have you been saying at the yatras?
What we’re saying is that Annaji has received a letter in which the prime minister has said the government will pass a strong Lokpal Bill in the winter session so keep a watch on that. If it is not passed, then Anna will come to you in December and he will make an appeal not to vote for the Congress in subsequent elections.
Would you attribute Kuldeep Bishnoi’s victory in the Hisar election to your campaign?
No, we do not, and we did not support any one candidate. On the contrary, when Sushma Swaraj came and said in her speech that IAC team is campaigning for us, for the BJP or for Kuldeep Bishnoi, then we started clarifying in all our meetings that we have nothing to do with them.
If the BJP is supporting the India Against Corruption movement and if they say that they are supporting the Jan Lokpal version of the Bill, why are you against the BJP?
We are not against anyone. You see, there are so many parties. The issue is that the ruling party has to get the Bill passed. So that is our focus.
How do you view Rahul Gandhi’s statements saying that Lokpal should be a constitutional body? Do you see that as a commitment towards the Jan Lokpal Bill?
That depends. If the government wants to give the Lokpal a constitutional status, I have no problem with that. But what’s important really is that there is a strong law.
From the Ramlila Maidan fast by Anna to the current Hisar byelection, the public face of the IAC team has got a big boost. And also very strong reactions from all kinds of people. Whether it is a shoe thrown at you at a campaign in Lucknow or Prashant Bhushan being brutalised by random miscreants in the lawyer’s chamber. Why do you think there are such strong reactions from the people?
I think the answer is in your question. Because whatever any one of us says really gets exaggerated quite a lot and then it gets huge publicity.
Was Prashant Bhushan’s statement that there should be a referendum on the status of Kashmir something over which there was a difference of opinion within the core committee of the IAC team?
Yes, as he himself has said that this is his personal opinion and most of the core committee members had a different personal opinion and he appreciated that.
Yes, but as you said, a personal opinion in a public space becomes public opinion. Did differences lead to Bhushan wanting to pull out of the core committee?
The shoe-thrower in Lucknow was allegedly beaten up by people from the IAC team. What’s the real story?
I wasn’t on stage when the man was beaten up, but I am told our team in fact went up and protected him, prevented him from being beaten further.
There is also the question of the ethical and moral high ground your movement takes, especially in the light of the current allegations against one of your movement’s most prominent faces — Kiran Bedi. Accused recently of over invoicing air tickets, claiming business class air fares for work-related trips when she’s actually flown economy.
Our movement is in a crucial phase and all kinds of allegations are being levelled at us from all quarters. From the character assassination of our team members to physical assaults. But we still stand strong and will continue to fight.
But don’t you think someone who’s involved with or accused of such irregularities (as the charges against Kiran Bedi are) should not be leading an anti-corruption movement?
Try telling 120 crore people who are part of this movement that they should be absolutely blemish-free or they have no right to raise their voices against corruption. Is that what democracy is about?
So are you saying that the allegation against Kiran Bedi of fabricating bills in airline tickets is false?
Let there be an investigation. I’m not getting into that because this is precisely what the government wants. You know what has started happening, in all our press conferences now, people are not talking about the Lokpal Bill. They are talking of Kiran Bedi’s bills, Prashant Bhushan’s plot, Kashmir statement, Arvind’s income tax matters. This is not important for the country. If Kiran Bedi has done something wrong, send her to jail. If Arvind has done something wrong, then send me to jail and give me double the punishment, I’m willing to do that.
There’s also the question now about splits within your movement. Magsaysay Award winner Rajendra Singh, for instance, was recently quoted as saying he’s left the India Against Corruption movement because he doesn’t agree with its participation in the Hisar election. Who’s in, who’s out?
At one time, there was the Joint Drafting Committee, when we were framing a draft of the Bill along with the government. At that time, it was five people — Anna, me, Prashant and Shanti Bhushan and Santosh Hegde. And outside of that, a couple of people, including Swami Agnivesh. After that phase was over, there was a need to broad base the movement and a core committee was formed. But people like Rajendra Singh and PV Rajagopal (who have now pulled out) didn’t have time to attend even one core committee meeting. They were never part of the committee’s discussions. If they had been, we could have perhaps sorted out the differences.
What about the differences that have emerged during the time of Anna’s fast at Ramlila Maidan with people like Santosh Hegde and Swami Agnivesh?
There are always differences of opinion amongst members and there should be.
Were there differences in the core committee over whether the movement should take a position in the Hisar byelection? And who finally decided to go ahead?
Much of the core committee agreed we should campaign in Hisar. But let me clarify. There is also a working committee now. Since the core committee consisting of 24 people is spread out across the country, we needed a working committee, consisting of people who are all based in Delhi, to be able to take immediate decisions. That consists of six people, including me, Prashant Bhushan, Kiran Bedi, Manish Sisodia, Arvind Gaur and Gopal Rai.
The working committee seems to have excluded people who had divergent opinions.
Not at all. It was formed primarily to take on-the-spot decisions and its composition was decided in Anna’s hometown — Ralegan Siddhi.
What about the differences with Swami Agnivesh?
I think it was the CD, which came out (where there are allegations that Swami Agnivesh was talking to Kapil Sibal and making disparaging remarks about the IAC team). And he himself left. He was not asked to leave. I don’t want to get into the issue of whether or not the fake or genuine.
Would you say that overall, the team that works on the ground in the India Against Corruption movement is largely an extension of your NGO, people who work for you? And that therefore in the structuring of the movement, you have the major responsibility?
There are two points to that. Firstly, it is NOT a Delhi-based movement. It is a nationwide movement. The media plays a role. SMSes play a role, social networking plays a role. We only act as the secretaries of the movement. We are not in the decision-making. Decision-making is separate from this.
So is Anna the glue holding the movement together or is it you?
I think it is Anna. Anna is the leader. I am only providing secretarial support.
People also say you run the movement like a dictator, that you don’t welcome dissent.
I don’t know who’s been saying that. There is absolutely no such thing.
Are you saying the impression that is there about you controlling the movement is wrong?
Absolutely. I think that would be an unfair allegation. You see, if the leadership of the movement was not inclusive, the movement would not have grown. The movement has the strength of 120 crore people behind it. The core and working committees are insignificant in comparison.
How do you arrive at the figure of 120 crore supporters?
That’s a way of saying that it is a people’s movement.
With inputs from Shonali Ghosal and Janani Ganesan
Revati Laul is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.