Anna Hazare is readying for a nationwide tour next month on the 17 points of action he considers essential to change the country. In this Idea Exchange moderated by Consulting Editor Seema Chishti, the activist says that AAP has not met his expectations and that he is ready to back for PM post Mamata Banerjee, who has responded positively to issues he is raising. The Idea Exchange was conducted before Arvind Kejriwal’s resignation.
ANNA HAZARE: The Lok Sabha elections are around the corner. Does the Constitution state anywhere that elections must be fought between political parties? The Constitution does not mention party anywhere. The Constitution says that we are a ‘democratic republic’. People should elect their candidates — individuals, not groups. Why is the country witnessing so much corruption? Because groups have entered Parliament. Groups are sitting inside as well as outside Parliament. And when someone speaks against corruption, these groups attack him. Corruption would not have increased if individuals had entered Parliament. It is called the Lok Sabha, and so, it should be the people’s house. As per the Constitution, the Lok Sabha should consist of individuals elected by people. Today, the Lok Sabha is a house of parties, and not public. The result is that 70-80 people from the same party sit in Parliament and only three or four of them talk. The rest only listen. This is not democracy. Democracy means ‘of the people’, ‘by the people’. Even after 66 years of Independence, where is democracy? In 1950, the public was given ownership of the country. The treasury belongs to the public. Its planning and expenditure should happen as per people’s wishes. But these days the public has no idea about it and, because of this, corruption has gone up and development has gone down. I have been fighting for 35 years now. Seven laws were made in Maharashtra. The RTI was passed in Maharashtra first and then in the country in 2005. Now the Lokpal has been brought in and in some places, Lokayuktas have been appointed. To stop corruption, we need more laws like the right to reject and right to recall. We need to give more power to gram sabhas. This fight will continue. I will start touring the country from March. I have just toured Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh — 50,000 km in six months. No one is giving me any grant for this, there is no income from this. I have attended 500 sabhas. I keep a bag and tell people to put Rs 10 or 20 in it. That takes care of the expenditure. I have taken a pledge that this work should go on.
SEEMA CHISHTI: When you start your tour in March, are there any specific parties or individuals who you will support, or will you speak about something different now?
There are two reasons for this tour. We have printed and distributed our 17 points of action which, if adopted by those in power, can change the character of the nation. These 17 issues have to be explained to the people. I had written to all the parties asking them if they are ready to accept these 17 issues. Only West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has replied to my letter. She has said that if voted to power, she will accept all these 17 points. I have asked her for an affidavit. If Mamata Banerjee sends me an affidavit (which she did on February 13), I will tell the people that this is the way forward.
COOMI KAPOOR: Has Arvind Kejriwal replied?
No letter has come from him so far. We will educate people about those who are ready to accept our 17 points. Whoever is in power, it is essential to put public pressure on them. Public is the master, they are servants. The people have elected you, they have a right to ask you. The laws in Maharashtra were passed due to public pressure. Take the case of Lokpal. No one was ready to pass it. They fooled us at the Ramlila Maidan. Then I was sitting in a small village and people from across the country rose in my support. As a result, the government felt threatened and thought that if they don’t pass the Lokpal Bill, the government might fall. It is important to constitute a pressure group, the government should know what people want and also that people have the power to topple a government.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: If Mamata Banerjee agrees to give you an affidavit, will you back her for the prime minister’s post?
Why not? Why shouldn’t I support people who are trying to change this country? I haven’t received the affidavit; if it comes, I will tell ground workers to decide a plan of action. Four days ago, I told people that I will support candidates who have good reputation in society and are not representatives of any political party but that of people.
COOMI KAPOOR: Has the Aam Aadmi party fulfilled your expectations in Delhi?
SEEMA CHISHTI: Would you give them any advice?
If they come to me, I will.
COOMI KAPOOR: Don’t they visit you?
I am a fakir, he (Kejriwal) is a chief minister.
PRAGYA KAUSHIKA: In a meeting with autorickshaw drivers, Kejriwal said that the Lokpal Bill we want to pass is Anna’s Lokpal Bill, even though many changes have been made in the draft. Have you been consulted on any of these changes?
No. I have no idea what their Jan Lokpal draft is. I haven’t seen it, I’m not aware of it. Arvind called me saying that they wanted me to release it. I told him that I don’t know my schedule for the 16th as yet, and I haven’t studied their Lokpal draft. Once I read it, I will take a decision on it.
PRAGYA KAUSHIKA: The way the AAP takes your name on every issue, what is your opinion on this?
If it is for the good of the society, then what can I say?
RITU SARIN: The politics of coalition has come between you and your associates. Kiran Bedi is going to join the Opposition. AAP members like Vinod Kumar Binny broke away. Does this hurt you?
I don’t know about them, and how and why they broke away. But since the beginning I have told Arvind, ‘you may start a party, but I will not join it’. I have adopted the path of struggle. I have asked him these questions: Whether people joining his party have social welfare on their mind? Whether they have a national viewpoint? What will be the way to measure these things? If he is voted to power, what will be the way to check these people? Do you have enough manpower to check these people? Also, people are good in the beginning, but power changes them. What will be the way to measure them? I haven’t received an answer to any of these questions.
ANUBHUTI VISHNOI: Do you feel disappointed that AAP has hijacked the anti-corruption movement that was started and led by you?
No. The anti-corruption people’s movement was only for Maharashtra. That’s not the movement we have planned across the country. We are yet to start that.
ANUBHUTI VISHNOI: But we are talking about the movement that was started at Ramlila Maidan where so many people supported you.
We have been organising movements for the past 25 years, which have seen the enactment of seven laws in Maharashtra. When I saw the condition of the country, I realised that it’s important to start a national-level movement. Arvind and his group used to work for the Right to Information Act here, and that’s where our relationship started. I told them that to get rid of corruption, we need the Lokpal Bill. I told him that I wanted to start a hunger strike. He liked the idea and joined me. The hunger strike at Ramlila Maidan was for Lokpal. Had Parliament passed the draft of that Lokpal Bill, corruption could have been curbed by at least 70 per cent. But the government did not accept our draft. A joint committee was constituted with representatives of the government and our people. The government backtracked. The Ramlila Maidan movement was only for the Lokpal. I broke my fast because the government assured us. When the government cheated us, I again sat on hunger strike in my village. Even when I demonstrated in my village, the entire country supported me and the government had to bring in the Lokpal. But the Lokpal that has come now is not close to what we had expected. Still, it will be able to stop corruption by 50-60 per cent.
ANUBHUTI VISHNOI: Do you think that Kejriwal and his party have taken away all the credit for that movement?
Let them take the credit. I am concerned only about the betterment of the country and society.
I have already said that party politics can never give a bright future to the country. It has not been able to do this in 65 years and it will not be able to do that in the future either. Everyone is running after money and power with no concern for the country. They are calling multinational companies and selling our rivers and forests. I have 17 issues. We need a democratic republic. I made this announcement four days ago and 10-12 people came to me; they were very nice people. If I travel across the country and find 50-60 such people, a lot can be accomplished. Mamata Banerjee already has 32 such people. If this figure reaches 40-45, these people can bring in the change that this country needs.
MANU PUBBY: You say that party politics is not good. But people close to you, like Kiran Bedi, are inclined towards the BJP. There are rumours of Gen V K Singh joining the BJP. Will you support them if they join the BJP?
No. I don’t support any political party. I have not done that in the past and I will not do that in the future. My struggle is individual.
SHYAMLAL YADAV: What kind of relationship do you share with Ramdev?
We had a friendly relationship earlier. Ever since he supported a political party, our relationship changed. Now it is over.
SHYAMLAL YADAV: The big names who once supported you are slowly finding themselves other avenues. Kejriwal has founded a political party. Kiran Bedi is ready to join the BJP. Ramdev wants Modi as the PM. Can you name one person because of whom your anti-corruption movement suffered a jolt?
The team that stood for the movement at Ramlila Maidan fell apart. Despite that, I sat in a small village and the entire country rose in my support. People have not forgotten August 16, 2011. I am certain that if I travel across the country, people will again rise in my support.
SHYAMLAL YADAV: You became famous for the kind of work you did in Ralegan Siddhi. Don’t you think that your contribution would have been greater had you started a movement to convert all the 6.5 lakh villages in the country into Ralegan Siddhis?
That is our misfortune. You don’t wish to become Anna Hazare. Our population is 1.25 crore and there are 6.5 lakh villages. Our misfortune is that there aren’t 6.5 lakh Anna Hazares in the country.
SHYAMLAL YADAV: Haven’t you tried turning any other village into Ralegan Siddhi?
I have — it’s not just Ralegan Siddhi but also five neighbouring villages and many villages across Maharashtra. But one Anna Hazare is not enough for the entire country. Wherever I go people say, ‘Anna Hazare tum andolan karo, hum tumhare saath hain’; no one says, ‘hum tumhare aage hain’.
KAUNAIN SHERRIF*: Arvind Kejriwal is now the Chief Minister of Delhi. Is it justified that he sits on protests and hunger strikes?
There’s nothing wrong in a movement if it is within the ambit of the Constitution. If the Constitution allows it, everyone should join the movement.
PRAWESH LAMA: In 2011 at the Ramlila Maidan and then at Tihar Jail, Kejriwal was with you. How did things change between the two of you? Was it because of power?
He felt that despite a great movement at Ramlila Maidan, with the entire country supporting us, the government did not pass the Lokpal Bill. He felt that Lokpal Bill cannot be passed by street protests but by getting power. However, finally, the Lokpal Bill was passed due to people’s movement and not by those in power.
PRAWESH LAMA: Has Kejriwal called you for guidance since he became the CM?
Our paths have changed, we don’t talk anymore.
GEETA GUPTA: What is the point of contention? Why are you upset with Kejriwal?
I am not upset with him. I have never been upset with anyone. You are upset only if you are selfish. I have never wanted anything in life. I believe in karma. If I keep doing my work without worrying about the results, there is no question of being upset with anyone.
SEEMA CHISHTI: What are the two most important issues for which you will put pressure on whoever forms the next government at the Centre, just as you put external pressure and got the Lokpal Bill passed in the Lok Sabha?
The 17 points that I have made are very important. If corruption is to be curbed, we need right to recall. Right to reject is required to stop corrupt people from getting power. Gram sabhas should be given more power and constitutional stature like the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha. Central and state governments should have no right over land or resources of a village, without prior permission of the gram sabha.
SHOBHIT SUJAY: If Arvind Kejriwal’s government does something wrong or unconstitutional, will you sit in protest against him?
Be it anyone’s government, I am a custodian of the country and society. If anyone wants to harm the country or society, we are prepared to start a protest movement.
D K SINGH: How do you see Rahul Gandhi? Do you think he can run the country?
I have already said that be it Rahul Gandhi or Narendra Modi, party politics will never lead us to a better future. If anything good was to come out of it, it would have happened in these 65 years since Independence. A country that was once called sone ki chidiya is now talking of mortgaging its gold. The picture can change only if people are ready to work on these 17 issues. I had sent a letter on these 17 points to both Modi and Rahul. If they wanted to do anything good, they would have replied.
D K SINGH: Who do you think could be the best prime ministerial candidate?
No one can give this country a bright future. Power to money, money to power, and the country will fall into a ditch. Why didn’t Modi give constitutional stature to gram sabhas? Did he not know that money going to villages should not be spent without the permission of gram sabhas? If the panchayat spends this money without the gram sabha’s permission, he should suspend the sarpanch. But he did not do this because he is not even thinking in this manner. The country cannot change only on the basis of your speeches.
ROHIT ALOK*: People now know Kejriwal as the aam aadmi and Mamata Banerjee as the aam aurat. Who of the two do you think is stronger?
No one is less powerful. Arvind has sacrificed a lot. But now that he has formed a political party, our paths have changed. He is definitely strong and powerful. Mamata is a CM, but she still lives in a small room in her father’s house and not in a government bungalow; she wears a simple sari and hawai chappal, walks 8-10 km in villages. These kind of people make sacrifices for the betterment of the country.
RITU SARIN: You highlighted the importance of RTI during your anti-corruption movement. Kejriwal is now talking about sting operations. What do you think about this?
We must go very slowly, the shortcomings can be problematic. Things should be weighed and viewed with a long-term perspective and not in haste.
(Transcribed by Naveed Iqbal & Geeta Gupta
* EXIMS students)