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Interview/Arvind Kejriwal

Last updated on: January 11, 2012 19:11 IST

Image: Arvind Kejriwal with Anna Hazare
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi's Sheela Bhatt caught up with Arvind Kejriwal to assess the future of the anti-corruption movement.

It would be an understatement to say that India Against Corruption leader Arvind Kejriwal, a key member of Team Anna, is a dejected man.

After stirring the nation last year with his anti-corruption for the most part of 2011, Kisan Baburao 'Anna' Hazare saw the movement fizzle out when he staged a fast in Mumbai in December. He has since returned to his village to recuperate from an undisclosed illness even as the agitation for the Jan Lokpal Bill is in limbo.

Sheela Bhatt caught up with Kejriwal to find out which way the anti-corruption movement is headed.

Arvindji, why are you confused?

We are confused because the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government has cheated us.

The question before us is, should we request the people to not vote for the UPA or should we not?

Should we say that only the UPA cheated us and let people vote for whoever they want? Shall we not hit the streets again at all?

There are many options before us. Each option has many implications for our movement, so we need extensive deliberations.

When people didn't turn up to join Anna's fast in Mumbai, what was going on in your mind?

On day one, we were not worried because people take their own time to join. On August 16, when Anna came out of jail, he was received by thousands of people. In Mumbai, it took time and by the end of the second day, people had started pouring in.

But the overwhelming problem in our mind was Anna's health.

For three or four days before that (fast) he was suffering from fever; he had a chest infection and was coughing.

That day, he was running 102 fever. So his health was a primary concern, right from the beginning.

Please ...

'Venue, timing, of the fast in Mumbai was bad'

Image: The Mumbai venue for K B 'Anna' Hazare's fast
Photographs: Rajesh Karkera/

When the Lokpal legislation was taken up in Lok Sabha, Anna failed to gain support. How do you see these two events?

The crowds were thin. There is no doubt about it. But they were also not as thin as was being projected. As I said, the huge MMRDA ground was almost full on the second day. So people took their time to come.

But still, even if we assumed it was thin, there were several reasons for that.

Firstly, the choice of venue was bad. It was very badly connected; the ground was very badly connected with the transport system.

The timing was bad; it was the year-end and many people were on vacation.

Secondly, the message was wrongly conveyed -- people did not understand the logic of a three-day symbolic fast.

They asked us: What is your demand? Why were we sitting? So many things combined together which led to the thin crowd.

But it cannot be concluded that it is diminishing support for the movement because on December 11, Jantar Mantar was packed.

On December 17, Anna went to Bengaluru, where there was a crowd of 20,000 people.

On December 18, Anna went to Chennai and there were 30,000 people.

So it is not that the crowds suddenly disappeared.

There were several reasons -- some logistical, some strategic -- but they is no way one can conclude that the support is dying for the movement.

Has the Anna Hazare movement failed? Or, is it failing?

I don't think so. Secondly, it is not Anna Hazare's movement. It is a people's movement.

People have to take a decision. The movement was not successful because Hazare was sitting on a fast; the movement was successful because lakhs of people of this country came on to the streets.

So the people of this country have to decide what we should do next.

Do you think somewhere the perception about Team Anna has changed?

There is a perception that some Team Anna members have been arrogant or that some allegations made by the Congress and the government have stuck onto Team Anna.

I think these are all part of the general propaganda that the Congress has been unleashing right from the beginning. They have been targeting members of Team Anna.

All kinds of conspiracies have been heaped upon us. If on one occasion there was a lesser crowd than expected, it cannot be said that charges are sticking on to Team Anna.

All kinds of allegations were made against us in October. Then, it was said that we are arrogant, that we are this, we are that. When they could not find anything against me, they started saying 'Arvind is arrogant.'

People have turned up even after allegations were made against Prashant Bhushan, myself and Kiran Bedi in October.

Please ...

'Anna Hazare's presence is extremely critical for us'

Image: The media at a Hazare protest venue

Do you think it would have been better had the three-day fast been held in Delhi, instead of in Mumbai?

It would have been better because Delhi is better connected, better organised.

But as I said, the dates were also bad. People did not understand the reason for taking up a fast for three days.

I would also concede to some extent, our over-confidence.

On what basis do you claim that the Anna Hazare-led movement is as robust as before?

This is on the basis of all kinds of reaction that we are getting from the people. We keep going among the people. In fact, the number of e-mails we get is phenomenal.

Everyone is very concerned by the media projection that the movement is dying. People are writing to us and saying that this movement should not die. It cannot die.

This is a lifetime opportunity. We have received 3,500 suggestions showing us the way forward.

Don't you think the real reason behind the lukewarm response in Mumbai is that the people of India, largely, have faith in Parliament? They don't want the institution to be weakened.

How did you think we want to hurt Parliament?

I have read about your view that Parliament is not functioning well...

I think everyone feels this Parliament is not functioning well.

We have never said that we want to challenge the institution of Parliament.

After seeing the three-day debate, don't you feel so too? Are you not feeling cheated? That is why we say that we are confused.

Do you think people are tired of this movement?

I don't think so. In the last 24 hours, we have received 3,500 e-mails following an article in a national daily newpaper. It is not a joke. It shows that the people are not tired. They are very worried.

Kiran Bedi has said that Anna Hazare will not campaign in the five election-bound states. What is the logic behind this decision?

She said that his (Hazare's) health is not good. His health is extremely important. Let us see, if he feels all right, he might decide to go.

Do you agree that without Hazare's presence the movement loses steam?

I agree. It is an Anna Hazare-led movement and his presence is extremely critical for us. His health is not supporting him. We are very sure that he will be fine and will get back to the movement.

Please ...

'We have nothing against the Congress'

Image: Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh

Will you continue the movement even if Anna is not active?

We will keep doing our job, whatever we can do, but we need to understand that without Hazare it will not draw the kind of support that he gets.

Why is it so?

Anna has struck a chord with every citizen of this country.

Why is the issue not kept in focus?

Corruption has been there since the last 64 years. When the country found the right leader, people rallied around him. Therefore, the leader and the issue -- both are important.

Tell us about what kind of ideas are coming in.

There is one category of people who say we should form our own political party. There is another group which says we should not go against the Congress. And there are those who want us to campaign against the Congress.

Some supporters want us to go to the election-bound states, but instead of saying 'Vote for this party or vote for that,' we should just tell the people that in the last one year this is how the government has cheated the campaign. Then leave it to the people to decide.

Do you agree, now, that your campaign before the Hisar by-election was a strategic mistake?

Immediately after the campaign, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wrote a letter to Hazare saying his government was committed to a very strong Lokpal Bill, something he was unwilling to do earlier. Then Hazare was approached by several senior Congress leaders.

Why have you turned the anti-corruption movement into an anti-Congress movement?

We were forced into a corner. Right from the beginning, this movement was against corruption. It was for a strong Lokpal bill. Because of the government's intransigent attitude, this movement, like others, started being perceived as anti-government.

Slowly and gradually, most other movements turn anti-establishment. The manner in which the ruling party targeted each one of us, the manner in which their senior leaders -- including Digvijay Singh -- started targeting each one of us, the movement gradually, but inadvertently, started being perceived as anti-Congress.

We were never against the Congress. But it is the ruling party, which is in power, they have a duty to pass the law, therefore they obviously got our attention, it was perceived as anti-Congress.

Otherwise, right from the beginning, we have been saying -- even after the Hisar campaign -- that we have nothing against the Congress.

Let them pass the bill today; we will celebrate the Congress.

Please ...

'The Congress has gone back on everything'

Image: Protests in favour of the Lokpal bill in New Delhi

The Congress is saying you are changing the goal-post. In the Sense of the House there was no mention of the inclusion of the Central Bureau of Investigation under the Lokpal.

When Hazare mentioned his three demands, those were critical. But they were not the only demands.

We were talking of a bill. It was not a trade union dharna for a wage settlement.

Even on the government's bill there were 34 amendments that we had suggested. A bill is a complicated job.

Also, in the informal discussions that we had with the government in August, at the Ramlila Maidan, the latter accepted all our demands.

In the informal discussion, except these three demands, they agreed to all. They even accepted the demand related to the CBI.

That the CBI would be under the Lokpal?

No. They accepted that the Lokpal will have its own independent investigative machinery. The CBI will be required to do all the non anti-corruption work, and all the CBI's anti-corruption files would be transferred to the Lokpal. This is what they had accepted.

Who accepted it?

Salman Khurshid. It was an oral discussion.

We were under the impression that all our demands have been informally accepted and these three things (which were included in the Sense of House) have been formally accepted.

Now they have gone back on everything, formal and informal.

Around 187 amendments were moved by political parties in the Rajya Sabha. Is it not a mockery of the Lokpal bill?

Some of these amendments are totally against what you are fighting for.

From our side, we completely reject this bill (that was passed in the Lok Sabha). Both portions of the bill, including the Lokpal and Lokayukta, need to be rejected and should not be passed because they are very dangerous.

If this Lokpal Bill is passed, it will make the CBI ineffective, it will amend the Criminal Procedure Code and will make the entire investigative procedure a complete farce.

If the Lokayukta Bill is passed, then many of the states -- some of which have good Lokayuktas -- would be superseded by this Lokayukta.

So we don't want either the Lokayukta or the Lokpal Bill to be passed. We also strongly oppose the BJP's logic of rejecting the Lokayukta. They are taking up the logic of Sections 252 and 253; we don't agree with them.

This is a subject matter on the Concurrent list of the Constitution. On this issue, the central government has the powers to legislate under the Concurrent list. We don't agree with their (the BJP's) logic.

Do you agree with the belief that nobody wanted to pass the bill?

Then, why didn't the Congress allow the voting and let the whole world see? What was the Congress afraid of?

Why is the Congress making these allegations now?

Please ...

'One or two people, who are not accountable to anyone, govern the country'

Image: Congress President Sonia Gandhi with her son Rahul

The Congress had reason to go against the voting because the bill would have been passed with too many amendments.

These amendments are unacceptable to the Congress.

So is it up to the Congress or is it up to Parliament to decide?

Is the Congress controlling Parliament? Does the Congress want to micro-manage the outcome of Parliament? Then what is Parliament about?

The lesson is that the people of this country cannot get a solution from this governance structure. The lesson is that this entire movement has raised some very fundamental questions about democracy itself.

This democracy is not by the people, of the people, for the people. This democracy is about by the party high command, of the party high command, and for the party high command.

And I am not talking of the party high command of the present ruling party. MPs are basically bonded labourers of their parties. And it is the party high command of each party, which takes decisions.

One or two people, who are not accountable to anyone, govern the country. It is very dangerous for the country.

The prime minister of this country said in many meetings that he be included in the Lokpal's purview. They refused. But when Rahul Gandhi said the Lokpal must have a Constitutional status, it was granted.

What lessons has the movement learnt out from the events between April and December 2011?

We thought the people of this country are fed up of corruption that they are all coming on the streets against corruption, and there would be a law. But one never knew it would be such a long battle.

In retrospect, don't you think you are naive to believe that Parliament will pass a law within your given time frame?

(Smirks) But you just said that we should have faith in Parliament.

Do you find Indian political parties smarter?

Of course! They are very smart.

Smarter than you?

Smarter than all of us. We are naive, we are small, we are ordinary, we are not into conspiracies.

How will you keep motivating yourself?

There are times when one needs to sit down, think, introspect, and then take decisions rather than act on emotional lines.

These are times when any wrong decision could prove disastrous for the moment. Definitely, the movement has become much bigger than just the Lokpal.

The movement has today come to question the existence of democracy.

Is India really democratic? That is the question that we are asking ourselves.

That one person stands up and says that let there be Constitutional status and there is Constitutional status. And when thousands and lakhs of people come onto the streets and demand a strong Lokpal Bill, there is no Lokpal Bill.

This is not democracy. This is dictatorship. We have to challenge that.

Please ...

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