Q&A: Yogendra Yadav, Political Strategist, IAC
WHILE ARVIND KEJRIWAL and the India Against Corruption (IAC) team have managed to hog the headlines for two straight weeks, what appears in bold is often shrill, party polemic. Necessary to keep them firmly in the public eye, but not enough to give a sense of what India’s newest political party is all about. For those insights, TEHELKA turned to Yogendra Yadav, a member of the core team and a strategist for the proposed party. Yadav, a senior fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, is an election analyst with three decades of experience, and until recently, described himself as a “friend of the Anna movement”. Yadav spoke to Revati Laul about why he signed up for the political outfit and where it’s going.
EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW
The IAC has been successful in harnessing fresh scams in support of the anticorruption cause and making sure that it stays in the public eye. How much of this is strategy and what is the next step?
Since the 2 October announcement on the intention to form a political party, we have had a multi-pronged strategy. What have come into the limelight are, of course, the exposés. The idea was not to target this or that leader; we wanted to demonstrate that the entire political establishment is not just corrupt but also in collusion with one another. There is a conspiracy of silence in which the media also participates. We wanted to break this code of silence.
Any other aspect of this strategy?
The other visible action is in the form of agitations on the ground on electricity and water issues. The point here is not just the usual complaints about unaffordable rates; our aim is to bring out the fraudulence in the fixation of rates and the collusion between the government, the ‘independent regulator’ and the private distributors. The campaign is meant to target a cross-section of the aam aadmi. This campaign hints at the kind of issues that we are likely to take up, who we stand with and what kind of policies we are going to oppose.
And there was a part of the strategy that’s not been in the media glare, which you were talking about.
Yes, that is the organisational consolidation and expansion of the movement. The IAC has brought the core energy and volunteers that were necessary for this political formation, but it wasn’t sufficient. This needed to be supplemented by other pre-existing people’s movements across India. Many individuals, organisations, movements and parties — more than I had hoped for — may come on board.
Can you name those who have come on board?
No one has signed on formally, for there is no party as yet. But I can mention the groups with whom serious discussions are going on. There is the Internationalist Democratic Party, which owes its ideological roots to radical humanist thinker MN Roy, and has a presence in J&K, Punjab and Rajasthan. Samajwadi Jan Parishad, a party established by Kishen Pattnayak, has a presence in Odisha, north Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, MP and Maharashtra. Sarvodaya Karnataka, led by Dalit writer Devanoor Mahadeva, is a unique political experiment that brings together Dalits and farmers. Then there’s the Uttarakhand Lok Vahini led by Shamsher Singh Bisht, the Lok Sangharsh Morcha in north Maharashtra, Nationalist Communist Party, Women’s Front from Tamil Nadu and some factions of the Bharatiya Kisan Union. I could go on and on, but the point is that the new formation strives to be the nationwide political instrument of all the people’s movements.
What about the ideological base of the party? Where would you place it on the spectrum from Left to Right?
I’m not sure if the Left-Right spectrum is a good way to capture ideological differences in India. Anyway, the conversations with people’s movements aren’t just organisational, they are also ideological. The movement against corruption has broadened its ideological stance; this permits a convergence with people’s movements. The one thing our draft vision statement has been very careful about is not to attach this to any readymade ‘ism’. Unfortunately, so much of politics gets bogged down in icons and the ‘holy book’. If there is a holy book for us, it is the Constitution of India. The Preamble firmly places us for equality rather than against it, for social justice and not any ‘meritocracy’. The Directive Principles of the Constitution mandate a radical decentralisation of political power. Priorities, needs and interests of the last person must be the touchstone for public policy.
Once you are a full-fledged party, you will need to have a stance on Kashmir, Naxalism, defence spending, etc.
Patriotism is the moving spirit behind this movement. But its patriotism is not a narrow-minded ethnic or religious nationalism. We draw inspiration from the broadminded nationalism represented by our freedom struggle.
What does this mean for political struggles such as Kashmir or Telangana?
Spelling out this standpoint in each specific instance will take time and a lot more discussion. Rather than rush into taking a position, we need to have long and, perhaps, difficult conversations on these issues first.
‘Anna may have done us a favour by asking difficult questions that people wish to ask of a new political party’
What is the IAC’s stand on the economy?
Our vision document doesn’t shy away from taking positions on the economy. At the same time, it doesn’t commit itself to one mechanism for realising economic objectives. Our objectives are clear: all the citizens must receive free, equal and quality education; universal healthcare must be guaranteed; there must be jobs for all, remunerative prices for farmers and protection for unorganised workers. But we are open to arguments and evidence on what is the best way to attain these objectives.
When Arvind Kejriwal says that it’s beneath him to answer Digvijaya Singh’s questions, doesn’t he end up sounding as arrogant as the UPA government?
We, who demand transparency and accountability of everyone else, cannot demand immunity for ourselves. This isn’t why Arvind refused to be drawn into the questions. The points raised by Digvijaya Singh have all been addressed in the past. Repeating those answers is to get into a defensive game. Besides, the UPA government has access to every document pertaining to the conduct of Arvind. Why don’t they come out with the papers? Why don’t they institute a credible and independent inquiry? We had made a similar demand into the allegations concerning the Bhushans as well. We don’t know why the government hasn’t acceded to this demand.
Land rights activist Ulka Mahajan recently told TEHELKA that while the IAC has given more people the courage to speak out against the powerful, the real work is in preparing people to fight for their rights. Many people from grassroots movements have a similar critique of the IAC
I understand and respect Ulka’s point of view. Many friends and comrades in people’s movements feel that direct intervention in electoral politics is not their priority at this stage. Therefore, we don’t have on board many activists and organisations that we would have liked to. I must confess that I miss the absence of leaders such as Medha Patkar, Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey in this new formation. I continue to see them as my friends, comrades and heroes even if they aren’t with us today. From a different side, I’d also miss Jayaprakash Narayan of Loksatta or Swati and Ramesh Ramanathan of Janagraha. Our short-term priorities and assessments may be different, but I continue to believe that, in the medium run, we are all fellow travellers.
How involved will the IAC be in the upcoming Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh polls?
The new party will not even have a legal existence in the eyes of the Election Commission by the time the states go to the polls. Clearly, this isn’t where we might focus our energies. At the most, there may be something experimental or symbolic. The first real test, if you will, of the new party may be the 2013 Delhi Assembly poll where we intend to contest seriously. But that is only the starting point; we are in it for the long run. This is a diverse and complex country and any attempt at systemic change has to be a long-term process.
What about the 2014 General Election?
It may be too early for us to be able to spell that out. It will really depend on what organisational shape we are in and so on.
Do you see a possible return of Anna Hazare to the IAC? Or is that off the table?
Anna and Arvind represent two different ways of realising a shared objective. To my mind, these are complementary ways, even though they do not seem so in the short run. Anna may have done us a favour by asking difficult questions that ordinary people wish to ask of any new political party. By demonstrating a resolve to go ahead with the party, with or without Anna, we may have made it easier for Anna to support this political initiative without being a part of it.
Revati Laul is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.