Vaccines for Democracy

ocess — we are undermining the democratic process” Shekhar Singh
"My fear is that if we go on in the way we are going, we are not changing this democratic process — we are undermining the democratic process” Shekhar Singh Photos: Shailendra Pandey

SONIA SINGH: The adage goes: With power comes responsibility. Do you think the movement is being responsible at the current moment?
ARVIND KEJRIWAL: It’s quite scary at times. There are so many hopes and aspirations. People did not come to the streets just for the Jan Lokpal Bill. They have a dream that India will change, everything will be all right. Whether their hopes will be realised, only time will tell.

SHOMA CHAUDHURY: You have given voice to a frustration that lay embedded for a long time. Do you feel, eight months into the campaign, that some of these goalposts need to be changed? That they need to be rethought, that maybe we need to do some of this differently?
AK: There’s always scope for introspection. And we all keep on meeting and discussing what was right and what was wrong. There have been a lot of brainstorming sessions. If you can specifically say: These were the things that went wrong…

SC: Well, for instance, the pressure that your version of the Bill should go through.
AK: I don’t agree. A very wrong impression is being created that we are adamant, and we are not willing to have a dialogue. The first version of Jan Lokpal Bill was created in 2010. After that there have been public consultations, seminars, a website that got 3,000 comments. There have been 14 versions of the Jan Lokpal Bill. But what has the government done? The Lokpal Bill was created by five ministers sitting in a room…

SS: Shekhar, both Arvind and you had the experience of the Right to Information Bill. Do you accept the point?
SHEKHAR SINGH: First let me tell you where the NCPRI and I have disagreed — and I feel bad because Arvind was also a part of the NCPRI working committee. We are together but the two of us disagree. They feel that the main focus is corruption. We feel corruption is a symptom of concentration of too much power in any one institution. So what we have to do is disempower the government and distribute power among people. That’s what the RTI Act has done. If we are going to set up a Lokpal that is so powerful that it will vie with the government, I would think that people would rather be Lokpals than prime ministers. In fact, Arvind would agree with me that civil servants would rather join the income tax department than the IAS, because more money was to be made here. Let us build a multitude of organisations that will keep a check on each other

AK: I think a wrong impression is being created that the Jan Lokpal is going to be some kind of super body. CBI has the power to investigate, to take the evidence to the court and the court conducts the trial. I think we are confusing jurisdiction and powers. What we are saying is that the Lokpal would have jurisdiction over the Prime Minister, the judiciary, the lower officers as well as the upper officer. And if the Jan Lokpal turns corrupt, the ordinary citizen has been given the power to make a complaint to the Supreme Court of India, which will be investigated in three months and he will be thrown out of his position.

SC: Arvind, it’s true you do invite debate on public platforms. But the discussion has to be done with wise people, quietly in closed door conversations, and then put out for further feedback. A larger audience of people fed up with things that happen on a daily basis — they’re definitely going to want the magic wand. They’re not going to think of future generations, or of checks and balances.
SS: I think Arvind is the only soul, God bless his soul, who doesn’t realise that the Income Tax Department is very corrupt. That power is being misused every day. I certainly have been harassed by it. The media reported that Anna Hazareji said we also want power to be able to sack officials in the Lokpal. So you have the power to investigate an official, to prosecute him and to sack him. Good God! I mean, this is amazing. Please make me the Lokpal if that Bill comes in!

AK: I was an Income Tax officer. I’ve seen the whole department from the inside. There is absolutely no accountability. You just do whatever you want. So it is important to fix accountability, punish an official if he is doing something wrong. But you have to give them the tools required to do the job. You can’t say we will not give you power because power is being misused. You have to give them power to raid, the power of search, seizure, confiscation. All these powers have to be there, which are basic to any enforcement agency.

Unfortunately, we do not have any independent agency to enforce the Prevention of Corruption Act. All we are creating is an agency to enforce that act. Today, only the CBI has the power to enforce that Act as it is in the clutches of the government. All that we are saying is: Make the CBI independent and call it Lokpal.

"Today, you have a 232-strong CVC of which half are corrupt. And then you have the Delhi Metro, where 7,000 people work, and it has the best systems in place” Arvind Kejriwal
"Today, you have a 232-strong CVC of which half are corrupt. And then you have the Delhi Metro, where 7,000 people work, and it has the best systems in place” Arvind Kejriwal

SS: You say: We are apolitical, but we are a part of the political process. Is there immaturity in the way forward?
AK: I just want to ask the audience: In your locality, if you have a bad road, you go to the mayor and ask him to get it repaired. If they don’t, you come back to your locality and tell everyone that, look, people are not working, next time let’s not vote for them. This is exactly what we are doing at the national level. We have been asking the government of India to enact a strong Lokpal Bill for the last one year. The government is not doing it, it has been playing politics. So if we say: If the government does not enact a strong Lokpal Bill, then don’t elect this government in the next general elections. What’s wrong with that?

SC: I think the problem is that it’s pre-emptive action.
AK: It has been alleged that this movement that was an anti-corruption movement has turned into an anti-Congress movement. We are not against Congress, we are just pleading before the ruling party. We have to pressurise the Congress. Can Mayawati enact a Lokpal Bill at the Centre? She can’t. Can the BJP, if it wants, enact a strong Lokpal Bill at the Centre? They can’t. Can Mulayam Singh? If the Congress wants, it can enact a strong Lokpal Bill. In my opinion, it is a perfectly legitimate part of democracy.

SS: Shekhar, I’d like you to come in here. This quasi-engagement in the political process — is that something you are comfortable with?
SS: Interestingly, I am with Arvind. I feel that we must mobilise people, in fact I’m a great believer in the idea that we have to make democracy work.

SC: Arvind, would you agree now that the problem has been the rhetoric? Why has there not been a de-escalation of rhetoric, so that one can begin to discuss a Bill that we all will be comfortable with? So that we are not trapped in this binary of bad government and good citizens’ movement.
AK: Where do we discuss this? What is the platform for this to be discussed?

SC: I think the media certainly …
AK: I would encourage TEHELKA to invite representatives from the government and from Arunaji, from all the camps that are there and have a threefour hour public discussion. I’m willing to have that.

SC: That is easily done. But why are you trying to leapfrog the parliamentary process, not believing that the Standing Committee will do its job. And not willing to let the thing take its time?
AK: The country has been waiting for the last 42 years. You are saying that the people should not be involved, let’s leave it entirely to Parliament. I do not believe in that.

SC: I didn’t say that. I said there are many problems, many layers.
AK: Let’s strengthen those parliamentary processes and create mechanisms to get people’s feedback also. Let’s not leave out the people of India. We hand over our destiny to that person for the next five years. This is not democracy. SS: I just want to say, at the risk of getting booed, that whereas I agree with him about his criticism of our current democratic process, my fear is that if we go on in the way we are going, we are not changing this democratic process — we are undermining the democratic process.

SC: I completely agree that democracy is not just about elections. The problem with our country is that we have reduced it to electoral democracy, rather than all the other institutions and practices of democracy. So, no arguments on that. But political bashing is a very easy job. We can see how easily you can raise cheers, it’s very easy to blame people. And of course the people who have been standing for politics, many of them have come with corrupt intention and a corrupt background. But equally it is the politicians and the political system, the people who go to vote, who have kept our society safe. Every five years, the poorest in our country keep us safe because they go and vote with great wisdom. In the beginning of this discussion, there was this very easy dismissal of all politics and politicians. But you said we will not stand for elections because we don’t want to enter that dirty drain.
AK: From our platform, we did not say that all politicians are corrupt. There are good politicians and bad politicians. But public anger against the political process is so huge that when some of the politicians came to Jantar Mantar or came to Ramlila Maidan, the public booed them out. Annaji announced from the stage that everybody should be given due respect. Some politicians did come back later. We apologise to those people who were booed out at that time.

SS: Many have said: Anna is Arvind and Arvind is Anna. Arvind Kejriwal is very often controlling what is going on. The core committee is actually being run by Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi, and Prashant Bhushan. And that really is the problem. Where is the democratic process within Anna Hazare’s committee?
AK: I can only encourage you to come to one of our core committee meetings and see the discussions that take place. Please do come…

SS: The targeted focus on the members of Team Anna — yourself, Kiran Bedi, Prashant Bhushan — is that the team is in disarray. Is it harder now to keep a positive momentum going? Where is the vision for India?
AK: Negative toh aap hi log kartein hai, NDTV dikhata hai…(it is you who make it negative, the way you show it on NDTV…)

SS: When we supported it, it was fine…
AK: No, no. You see, systematically, each of the members of this team have been targeted. There was a fake allegation against Prashant Bhushan, Shanti Bhushan, there were allegations against Justice Hegde. When they could not find anything substantial against some of us, they started saying: He is arrogant, he is rude, he is intolerant, he controls Anna. I could see tweets proclaiming Arvind is arrogant, Arvind is rude. If I am arrogant, I will improve myself, I will change my conduct. If we have done something wrong, we will admit that we have done something wrong, we will change our course of action. The second question was…sorry, I forgot…

SS: Rather than a positive momentum, it is all negative: fighting, allegations…
AK: You see, we are being hounded out, we are being chased, our telephones are being tapped, our past lives are being dug up. Under the law, your phone can be tapped only if you are a threat to national security. Is Anna Hazare a threat to national security? Am I?

SC: At TEHELKA we know that bringing an uncomfortable message is always a difficult business. I’m totally with you about not shooting the messenger. Would you accept that too much of the Lokpal Bill is predicated on immaculate virtuousness. You mounted it as a movement that was built on the idea of virtuousness. No one is questioning your credibility but this is about future generations. We are legislating for the country. Why are we assuming that we are creating an institution to which only immaculate persons will come?
AK: No one is born corrupt, and no one is born honest. It’s the system that makes the people corrupt or honest. Today you have a CVC where there are 232 people and half of them are corrupt. But you have the Delhi Metro, where there are 7,000 people and the Delhi Metro has the best systems in place. The biggest problem in our country is lack of accountability.

SC: The real triumph — even as we continue to disagree on a lot of issues — is that governance has become the dominant issue today. As things pan out over time, we adjust ourselves to new processes, that paralysis will move away. The triumph is that we have a packed hall and never has corruption been discussed with more passion. Thank you for listening.


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