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We will give people a political alternative: an interview with Arvind Kejriwal

Arvind Kejriwal was considered to be the chief architect of the Anna movement against corruption that has shaked India for two years. Now Kejriwal has launched a political party, namely Aam Admi Party (AAP) to contest elections. 

Pradeep Baisakh
Pradeep Baisakh
8 March 2013

The anti-corruption movement led by Kisan Baburao Hazare popularly known as 'Anna Hazare' in April 2011 under the banner of ‘India against Corruption’ (IAC) shook the whole nation beginning with India’s establishment. The movement demanded the passage of an anti-graft law, Jan Lokpal (Jan Lokpal is an Ombudsman-like institution addressing corruption in public life). Common people flocked in large numbers to support the movement which spread throughout the country. The astounding success of the movement in its initial days is at least comparable to the rise of the movement of Jayprakash Narayan (popularly known as the JP) against what was termed the autocratic rule of the then Prime Minister Ms Indira Gandhi in the 1970s, or V P Singh’s tirade against the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s alleged involvement in the Bofors defence scam in the late 80s (charges quashed by the Delhi High Court in February 2004). Arvind Kejriwal, trusted follower of Anna, was said to be the chief architect of the movement. A Gandhian social activist and a meticulous strategist, he has had many successes in his career. A former Indian Revenue Service officer, he received the Raman Magasaysay award for emergent leadership in 2006 for his work on the right to information in Delhi. Now the anti-corruption movement has turned political. The group has formed a political party in November 26, 2012 to contest elections though Anna Hazare has distanced himself from the party.

Pradeep Baisakh: Now that you have formed a political party, namely the ‘Aam Admi Party (AAP)’, what’s the road ahead? What you want to achieve from this that you could not do during your earlier movement against corruption? 

Arvind Kejriwal: Current politics is dominated by a ‘high command’ culture. All members of Parliament (MPs) have to obey the decision of these commands from on high. Only eighteen people really rule the country them. Not surprisingly, the people’s voice has no opportunity whatsoever to be heard. Our vision of alternative politics is complete decentralisation. People will select candidates and people will decide on laws and policies. Our idea of ‘Gram Swaraj’(village self rule) is a decentralised politics where people are the source of authority, not those who command from on high. 

PB: What will be the structure of the party?

AK: We are forming district and state committees consisting of local India Against Corruption (IAC) leaders and student leaders, spokesmen for the farmers, tribal leaders, dalit (scheduled caste) leaders, minority leaders, women leaders, doctors, lawyers, unemployed youths and others who have good reputation. This committee will then identify volunteers in every village of the state. We will stand candidates in all the parliamentary constituencies in the 2014 general election.

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"Our vision of alternative politics is complete decentralisation"

PB: You say so much about Swaraj. What is your definition of Swaraj?

AK: It is about common people deciding their own fate, their developmental plans sitting in Gram Sabhas (open meeting of villagers above 18 years of that village) and Mahola Sabhas (open meeting all people above 18 years living in that area). Plans will be prepared by these general bodies of people not in Delhi or state capitals.

PB: Can you think of any movement which is similar to your vision of alternative politics?

AK: As I said, it is basically a decentralised politics. Nothing can be a carbon copy.

But one has to learn from several other countries. There have been several examples. Switzerland has provisions of right to recall. The United States has taken great measures; many European countries have an equivalent. It existed in ancient India. Mahatma Gandhi always stressed the need for bottom-up politics. He wanted a democracy without political parties. 

PB: Who is your support base? Will you not require money to fight elections?

AK: The people at large are our support base. The candidates who will contest the elections will be chosen by people in that constituency. These candidates will not go to the Parliament or Assembly for their own gains in power but to serve people. The candidates will not have any red light cars, will not have any MP or MLA (Member of Legislative Assemblies) quota, and will be staying in a one-room flat, not in multi-crore (one crore is 10 million) bungalows. Honesty and simple living will be their hallmark. If people themselves campaign for the candidate chosen by them, we will not need any money to fight the elections. If people do not campaign for us, then we don’t need to be in politics at all.

PB: Do you think you will be able to cope with the ‘power politics’ prevailing today which needs muscle and that in turn requires money? 

AK: We will have to change all that. Ours will be an andolan (struggle), not a typical political party like we have so many proliferating today. It is all about people’s politics, not power politics.

PB: People say you are not a team person. Many of your friends from the formation of IAC have deserted you. And, finally Anna Hazare has also distanced himself. How will you succeed in achieving your maiden goal if you cannot get along with leaders?

AK: I do not agree with your statement. Our ways must be different but our end goal is the same - i.e. to remove corruption from India. As a journalist you are making efforts through your writings, similarly Annaji has chosen the path of andolan and I have chosen the path of politics. Annaji is my Guru and I have learnt a lot from him.  

PB: You have brought corruption charges against Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Ms Sonia Gandhi, the Chairperson of the ruling establishment, Nitin Gadkari, former President of BJP, the principal opposition party and against the NGO run by the wife of Salman Khursid, the then law minister. Where do these charges lead? Nothing has happenedas a result, indeed Salman Khursid has been elevated to foreign minister?

AK: Our main motive behind exposing Robert Vadra, Nitin Gadkari, Salman Khurshid and other was to bring these issues in front of the people. The people of this country have the right to know how different political parties are looting the nation. The people of this country are now awakened. The next elections will not merely be the occasion for elections; they will be a sampoorna kranti (total revolution).   

PB: You have alleged that the current and earlier governments were involved in favouritism to Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd in allotting the KG basin for gas exploration. What you would do about this crony capitalism if AAP comes to power? 

AK: All this has happened only because of lack of transparency and centralization of power. We have entered politics not to come to power, but to change the way politics is done currently i.e. by decentralizing the power and giving it in the hands of Aam Aadmi (common man). 

PB: Why do you think your last fast in Jantar Mantar in July 2012 received a far less enthusiastic response than the earlier ones?

AK: Even though people have faith in Anna’s leadership, people are no longer convinced that the protest or the fasting will yield any real results. It was clear that pressure from outside Parliament will not secure Jan Lokpal as none of the parties including the ruling Congress, and principal opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) want a strong ant-graft law. All of them are up their necks in corruption. The movement has to go inside Parliament. 

PB: What are the prospects for the Jan Lokpal now? 

AK: Jan Lokpal will come. This is basically a one-way journey to Jan Lokpal. Because none of these parties are willing to give us Jan Lokpal, this movement must go to the Parliament and pass the Jan Lokpal bill. 

PB: On Anna’s fight against corruption, P Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu and Magsaysay award winner said that it is an attempt to check the flow of water when all the taps open. He meant that you are not addressing the sources or root causes of corruption. How do you respond to that? 

AK: What are the sources of corruption?

PB: He was basically implying that you have not taken a stand on the neoliberal economy. He may have other arguments as well, such as structural inequalities like caste, class and regional inequalities, together with the economic policy decisions taken in last twenty years and the culture of arbitrariness.

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"The people of this country have the right to know how different political parties are looting the nation."

AK: There are many reasons for corruption. What he says is right and all this needs to be tackled. Our entire movement was geared to demanding a Jan Lokpal bill in order to begin to create some sort of deterrence against corruption. We never took the position that a Jan Lokpal law would sweep away all types of corruption. Many steps still need to be taken to end corruption. Neo-liberal policies are not the sole reason by any means. 

PB: But the fact is that the quantum of corruption has been multiplying since a neoliberal economy was set in place. The Bofors scam amounted to about $10.8 million (INR 60 crore) and now we have the 2G spectrum scam which concerns $36 billion (INR 2 lakh crore) and a Coalgate scam worth $33.6 billion (INR 1.86 lakh crore), to cite a few examples?

AK: I completely agree.

PB: So why haven’t you taken a stand against the neo-liberal economy? Are you frightened of losing middle class support, when it is the middle class who make up your base, and the middle class (along with the upper class) who have benefited from these policies? 

AK: I never said that we cannot take a stand against neo-liberal policies. Our campaign was for the Jan Lokpal bill. We are not obliged to take a stand on everything at once. 

PB: But now that you have entered into politics, will you take a public stand on this? 

AK: We are creating a platform for discussion on several fronts and we will take all these issues to the public. Moreover, we would like public discussion take place on all these issues.

PB: There are waves of policies which legitimate the transfer of natural resources like land, water, forest to the private companies and multi-multinationals in the name of public interest. Many say that hardly any public interest is served by this. What do you have to say on this? 

AK: That’s wrong. That has to stop.

PB: You have demanded a right of recall and a right to reject. What’s your stand on other important reform proposals – for example on electoral reforms like ‘state funding of elections’?

AK: We had four demands. Jan Lokpal, right to recall, right to reject and Gram Swaraj (village self rule). We are open to various ideas of electoral reform. Let suggestions come in and let the people debate them. 

PB: Do you want to be the Prime Minster of the country? 

AK: Positions are not important for us, issues are. I am not fighting this battle to be the Prime Minister but to address various issues plaguing the nation and the people.

(Acknowledgement: This is an updated version of the interview carried in Orissa Diary on September 20, 2012.)

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