Dr Kiran Bedi is remembered by many as one of the best police officers the country ever had. The feisty lady, who earned her reputation after towing away illegally parked cars belonging to ministers and later as the jailor who brought about major reforms in Tihar Jail, is now a civil activist campaigning for reforms in our electoral system.
Bedi, who strongly backed Anna Hazare when he sought a Jan Lokpal bill, firmly believes that India is on the brink of change and that corruption will end sooner rather than later. She tells Amberish K Diwanji reasons for her optimism.
Why do you believe that change is round the corner? Are voters ready to vote against corrupt parties?
Yes everyone has been hit by corruption. It has deprived us of increased opportunities in several ways. Some even of their self-respect. All this has built up people’s anger for change through the ballot box. Which is why I say, change is round the corner.
Corrupt leaders get re-elected. Why?
They get re-elected perhaps for their money power, nexus, muscle power, indispensability, relationships, networks, and may be winnability. Many of them are Robin Hoods in their constituencies. They deliver what bureaucracy does not, because of their accessibility to their voters! But all this will change because we have hit the very bottom. You can't go any further below. We can’t stoop lower. (Four former chief ministers, several Cabinet ministers and senior bureaucrats have been jailed in the last few months...)
How and why do you say that?
The judiciary and knowledgeable members of civil society, along with media, are forcing this change. This change has started to show results. Some of the biggest game changers have been the four recent judgments. The first was of CIC of placing parties under the RTI, forcing parties to become transparent and accountable.
Next was the sanctity of affidavit filed at the time of nomination for election, given in the Ashok Chavan case. Here the Supreme Court held that an affidavit has to be truthful and complete. The third being the disqualification rule, which debars politicians convicted for two or more years of a crime from holding office. And finally the recent judgment about the NOTA (None of the Above) option, which will now be on EVMs.
But do we have a choice? In 2014, voters seem to have a choice between a corrupt Congress and a non-secular Bharatiya Janata Party.
Yes we have a choice. Vote out the corrupt of last nine years. And vote in a stable government and place them on notice from day one! Demand of them an independent Central Bureau of Investigation, based on Lokpal, police reforms, judicial and electoral reforms. Demand of them decisive equitable and harmonious government! We must stay alert from day one. But there is be no going back to loot!
Can new emerging parties like the Aam Aadmi Party and the Loksatta Party, which have a civil society attitude, make a difference?
Time will tell. Society is evolving, let's wait and see how it actually translates into acceptance. And what kind of stability in good governance they can provide.
What do you think should be done to curb corruption among bureaucrats and cops, which affects the people directly?
Corrupt bureaucrats and cops ought to dismissed or compulsorily retired from service as they are a drain on the service. Their performance must be vigorously assessed. The courageous amongst them must feel protected. We demand of the new government implementation of the two years rule of posting and transfers.
Do you think the media can play a role?
The media has a key role to play in ending corruption. The changes that have taken place so far are because of the larger awareness generated by media, stiff decisions of the courts, civil society, and social media. Several sting operations have nailed the corrupt. It can do more to spread awareness of voters’ rights and registration. I wish they run toll free call numbers to answer voter queries from anywhere, including for NRIs
But will the media do that?
The media must do it. If not now then when? Many media companies earn over Rs 500 crore and will thus come in the 2 percent norm (the new Companies Act 2013 says all companies earning Rs 500 crore should spend 2 percent of its net profits on CSR activities). Media needs to give space (for print) or time (for television) to make the people aware. We today have 12 crore new voters and the media ought to spare some time or space on campaigns to make citizens aware of their rights and responsibilities.
This time we shall change the locks and not give away the keys -- democracy must be a shared responsibility. Let eternal vigilance be the price of liberty and integrity of the country hereafter.