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Kejriwal: 'I will not compromise with corruption'

Last updated on: September 08, 2011 12:39 IST

Arvind Kejriwal Many readers applauded Sheela Bhatt's powerful profile of Team Hazare leader Arvind Kejriwal, which you can read here.
In the first of a two-part interview with Sheela Bhatt, Arvind Kejriwal, the Magsaysay Award winner in 2006, explains his motivation and his methods:
What was on your mind when you started this movement? At the end of it, how do you feel?
Firstly, it is not (Kisan Baburao 'Anna' Hazare ending his fast) the end of the movement. It is the process that is going on.
What we had in mind and we still have in mind is the enactment of a strong Jan Lokpal bill. Anna's fast was just part of the process. It appears to be a long process.
Did you expect the movement to take shape in the manner it did?
No. We never expected such a huge turn-out.
Many people feel your capacity to draw crowds made the movement successful. Did you manage the crowd or was it spontaneous?
How can we manage the crowd? We don't have money to get people and bring them there (New Delhi's Ramlila Maidan and elsewhere). We don't have the resources to book buses and transport them. What do you mean by managing the crowd?
I mean, you have contacts in the NGO networks... You may have called all of them and got the crowds.
If you contact all the NGOs in the country it won't sum up the crowd that came on the streets.
What's your reading: Why did people support you?
I think there are three reasons.

First, there is huge anger against mis-governance, corruption and injustice that the present establishment is perpetuating.

Second, this was not an anti-corruption movement. This is a movement which is talking about one of the solutions in the form of the Jan Lokpal bill.

The third factor is the leadership of Anna Hazare that combines spirituality with politics, which is a rare combination.

I will not say that he is as big in stature as Mahatma Gandhi, but he has a few similar characteristics. As we know, Gandhi combined spirituality with politics.

So, when Annaji said there is corruption and there is a Jan Lokpal bill, some people may not have understood what it is. But they thought if this man, who is a fakir and who has no assets and no liabilities, is saying that it his prescription for solving corruption then he must be right.

That's why large crowds flocked in support of the movement.

Some people say it reminded them of the Jayaprakash Narayan movement in the mid- 1970s. Others say the crowds resembled supporters of the Mandal agitation. Some dismiss it as a movement only supported by the middle-class.

I don't think this allegation sticks anymore. All over the country, people from the villages came to the cities to join the movement. At the Ramlila Maidan, people from surrounding villages came in big numbers. (The well-known social scientist) Yogendra Yadav said he visited several villages and he saw that village after village participated in the movement. I don't think it was just a middle-class movement.

It is said you are an unreasonable negotiator.

That is a very wrong impression that is doing the rounds. We were in the forefront of the movement, so allegations are being made against me, Kiranji (Bedi) and Prashant (Bhushan). We have a core committee that decides the set of demands.

When we go for negotiations the committee gives us the mandate under which we have to negotiate. We are given elbow space for negotiations. We stick to it. Before going to any meeting we take Annaji's permission.

You started the movement saying you wanted the Jan Lokpal bill by August 30. What you have now is merely a 'sense of the House' which is not binding on anybody. Why did your negotiations fail?

(Kejriwal does not refute the contention that the negotiations failed.)

When we started this (Hazare's fast) we were very confident that with the kind of public turnout, the present government would be sensitive to public sentiment. This is what democracy is all about. We had complete faith in Indian democracy.

But as time passed, the government'S insensitivity towards the public became very clear. It was almost like... they just don't care for the people and they just don't care for the number of people. So, 'the wall' that existed between the government and the people... slowly it became clear that the wall had a much deeper foundation.

It is a huge wall. There is complete disconnect between the people and the present government.

Secondly, it also became clear that present government has no leadership. We were talking to someone, he made some promises, and he went back on his promises. Then you speak to someone else, he made promises, and again he went back on his promises. You didn't know whom to talk to.

In the first round of talks, we asked (Finance Minister) Pranab Mukherjee and (Law Minister) Salman Khurshid what are the sticky issues in our Jan Lokpal bill. They gave us three issues: The Citizens Charter; covering the lower bureaucracy, and the appointment of Lokayuktas in the states.

Annaji decided to stick to these three issues, which were the issues that also affected the common man.

These three issues were 'sticky' from the government's point of view, right?

Yes. They said broadly the Jan Lokpal bill is fine with us except for these three sticky issues. So, Annaji said he would not end his fast till Parliament and the government accepted these three demands.

That is a little strange. The government said they have a problem with these three issues and still they agreed to give up on these three issues on a platter.

Exactly. That is why Anna said he is asking for these three demands. These three issues deal directly with the common man.

Lots of people say it is difficult to understand you.

Lots of people tell me I am straightforward. They say main tho bahut seedha hoon (I am very straight).

Your critics say you are a megalomaniac. People say you are on a high because people are flocking around you. In public life, you know the importance of perception and reality. Can you explain why such an image is being formed about you?

That you should ask the people who are forming such an image. See, for the first time we are struggling against such politics. Image tho banayi jati hai (image gets formed). In government, there are people giving twists to the issue.

To begin with they attacked our credibility, aggressively. That didn't work out.

Now, they are left with no weapon. So, now they are bent upon showing that Anna Hazare is not one with others in Team Anna. They are trying to show us divided. They are creating the perception that Team Anna has hardliners and 'softliners.'

Who are you? A hardliner?

Why am I in the movement? I have a desire to see that a strong Jan Lokpal bill gets enacted. I drafted the initial drafts of the Lokpal bill. I am doing whatever is necessary to get a strong Jan Lokpal bill.

In the process, if you allege that I am not flexible, then tell me how do I compromise with corruption? Where do I compromise?

I completely disagree if someone says that corruption of junior government officers should be overlooked.

We must bring them under the ambit of the Jan Lokpal bill. I don't regret it if on the basis of such arguments I am branded a hardliner.

Those who know you for many years tell us your mind is a closed mind because you think what you believe is the only truth.

This is totally false. If it was so, then we would not have made 14 versions of the Jan Lokpal bill. If you compare the first draft of the Jan Lokpal bill and the latest version, you will find jameen-aasman ka farak hai (there is a huge difference).

We travelled all over the country. We got many suggestions. If we were stubborn or if we were not ready to bend, then our draft would not have been modified so many times.

One very serious allegation against you is that you created Brand Anna. This movement, some critics think, is the successful launching of Brand Anna.

In your profile feature in Caravan magazine it is mentioned that you told Anna Hazare: 'Instead of the Gandhi of Maharashtra, we'll make you the Gandhi of India.'

I have not said any such thing to Anna.

Anyway, you went to Maharashtra. You brought Hazare to New Delhi.

We requested him to come to New Delhi. He was not 'brought. There is a difference.

He read the Jan Lokpal bill. He liked it. He said that he kept fighting on issues related to corruption. He told me, "You are talking of such a Lokpal which will hit at the root of corruption."

He said we activists will not have to go after, say, a public distribution scandal or the NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) scandal in a piecemeal manner. He liked the idea because he thought that the Lokpal will addresses the fundamental issue.

You had worked in north India. You had an idea that Anna Hazare's personality would suit your...

(Rushes to react) I know Annaji since 2003-2004. I had a chance to see him when we were fighting for the Right to Information Act.

Where did you meet him for the first time?

I don't recollect exactly where we met but...

What clicked between you?

I liked him. He is very genuine about issues. He is without frills and the rhetoric of ideologies of the Left, Right or centre. He goes straight to the issue. He understands the problem, searches for the solution.

He will do everything for a solution to an issue. He is a straightforward man. He is a simple and spiritual man. I like that.

Some critics say he is not a simple man, he is a simpleton. He has been successful at the level of village mukhiya (headman) and you are trying to make him a national figure.

I completely disagree. This is belittling Anna Hazare. This is belittling his wisdom.

Coming soon: Part 2 of Sheela Bhatt's fascinating interview with Team Hazare leader Arvind Kejriwal.

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi