Decentralisation of power is the crux'

Published : Sep 23, 2011 00:00 IST

Arvind Kejriwal: "There should be a system through which people are involved in the day-to-day decision-making." - V. GANESAN

Arvind Kejriwal: "There should be a system through which people are involved in the day-to-day decision-making." - V. GANESAN

Interview with social activist and Team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal.

THE organisational abilities of Arvind Kejriwal exhibited during the recent Jan Lokpal Bill movement earned him the sobriquet Field Marshal of a peaceful agitation. The social activist and Ramon Magsaysay Award winner played a significant role in conceiving the slogans, the symbolism and the trajectory of the movement. He is credited with anticipating some of the moves of the government and evolving effective responses to them. However, at times he was accused of championing an extremist view, which militated against the larger interests of the movement. On August 31, Frontline met Kejriwal at the Gurgaon hospital where Anna Hazare was undergoing treatment before he proceeded to his hometown, Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra. Kejriwal spoke at length on the immediate and future plans of Team Anna. Excerpts:

As many members of Team Anna have pointed out, one stage of your movement is complete with the passage of the resolution in Parliament. What are the future plans of the movement both in terms of the Lokpal legislation and in terms of the larger issues Anna Hazare and others have spoken about in the past few days?

Our primary focus will indeed be on the Jan Lokpal Bill and the deliberations that are to come up both in the Standing Committee and later in Parliament. Before taking this up, the core committee will meet at Ralegan Siddhi. We will keep a tab on the proceedings of the Standing Committee and Parliament. Accordingly, the future course of action will be planned. Simultaneously, the discussions on other proposed issues such as electoral reforms and judicial reforms, including the right to reject candidates in an election and the right to recall elected representatives, would be initiated.

The agitation started essentially to seek a Jan Lokpal Bill, but the lakhs of people who came out on the streets have visions beyond the JLP and have much larger expectations. They seem to be convinced that this time the nation will change. Moreover, there is also an opportunity in the way the whole country got united under the leadership of a credible leader. I think this is a huge opportunity for large-scale reforms in the system of governance.

Decentralisation of political power, including decision-making, should be in the hands of the people. Voting every five years to hand over your destiny for the next five years to a few people turns the system into one of oligarchy. There should be a system through which people are involved in day-to-day decision-making. And there are models available, such as the gram sabhas and the mohalla [urban locality] sabhas. These are the key issues the core group is concerned about. Anna-ji has already indicated this as an important focus in the future course of the movement. Now all of us will sit down and work out the details.

There is a view that your task will be all the more cumbersome because Team Anna has climbed down on its original demands. You started out demanding only the Jan Lokpal Bill and that too by August 30. But now you have come around to accepting a sense of the House resolution from Parliament.

The answer for this is not in our team but in the serious leadership crisis in the government. They were constantly giving out contradictory signals. In the last three days of the fast, these contradictory signals were given out four times. The Prime Minister made a conciliatory statement and then Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi more or less undid it by going off on a tangent. They initially agreed on a resolution, but later went back on it. It became clear to us that Parliament voting on a resolution containing Anna's three demands was not going to happen. Obviously, we had to change our strategy.

You also went back on the insistence to include the higher judiciary under the purview of the Bill.

We have not gone back on our commitment to campaign for judicial reforms and get them implemented. The understanding now is that the mechanisms for judicial accountability will be separate.

While Anna Hazare and the team have spelt out some of the possible directions of electoral reforms, it is not clear how you want to proceed with the campaign on judicial reforms, particularly after the new understanding.

The fundamental question vis-a-vis judicial reforms would indeed be why the justice system is so expensive and why the delay. And we have instances of blatant corruption, which have come out from time to time. Whatever the mechanism, it needs to address the issues relating to judicial accountability concretely and comprehensively.

Coming back to the legislation that is planned, there is a stream of opinion, which was also represented within Parliament, that some of the provisions of the JLP Bill are draconian. The provisions relating to the tapping of telephones and the confiscation of property of those charged with corruption have been specifically highlighted in this regard. How are you planning to address such issues when they come up before the Standing Committee?

There is already a provision that gives investigating agencies the power to tap telephones under the Indian penal system. However, it necessitates a sanction from the Home Secretary. We have only demanded that the authority for this permission should be shifted from the Home Secretary to a Lokpal bench. For, there is a possibility that a bureaucrat might leak the information on phone tapping to his/her political bosses.

Similarly, the provision for confiscation of property has been suggested to prevent loss of wealth to the country. We have seen in so many corruption cases that people who have been proven guilty suffer a sentence. Under the Prevention of Corruption Act, the maximum punishment is seven years. After serving the sentence the guilty can continue to enjoy the wealth amassed at the cost of the national exchequer. That is what we want to prevent.

However, we are open to talks with anyone on these objections. Since December 1, 2010, to date, we have held public discussions with all sections of society across the country. That is why the present draft has been revised 14 times. It has been put up on the website. That is how it has been drafted [after taking public opinion into account]. If still someone comes up with a suggestion, we are open to it. In general terms, to call it draconian is not legitimate.

What if members of the Lokpal get into situations where they have to be investigated?

Let me ask you a counter question. We have independent agencies such as the CVC [Central Vigilance Commission], the CAG [Comptroller and Auditor General of India], the NHRC [National Human Rights Commission] and the Central Information Commission. Suppose the CAG turns corrupt, what will you do? What if the CVC turns corrupt? Under the law you can't do anything. But under the provisions of the Lokpal, a citizen can make a direct complaint in the Supreme Court against any Lokpal member. The Supreme Court will have the complaint investigated in three months. If the complaint is genuine the member will be sacked.

Your movement addresses issues such as corruption and electoral reforms, but it has no position on other nationally important issues, such as land reforms.

Of course, there are any number of important issues. But decentralisation of power is the crux of the matter. Decentralisation of political power would mean community control over natural resources. It would mean the control of the gram sabha over all areas of governance. It would mean genuine land reforms. In its essence, the gram sabha, or the general body of voters, should have all the powers to take decisions with respect to a village. And they should have some advisory role in the decisions on polices at the national level. Such detailing and charting on this concept needs to be done. But we are moving towards that. We call it the Swaraj Movement.

What about issues such as liberalisation, the influence of corporate bigwigs on policymaking and the impact of neoliberal policies on the country and its people?

Every single issue is related to centralisation of power. When power is centralised some people take decisions keeping aside the interests of the larger sections of society. Now, if you decentralise the decision-making process, you are allowing larger sections of society to participate in it. So, whether it is neoliberalisation or control over natural resources, large sections of society begin to participate in the decision-making process. To blame corporates for all ills is wrong. Secondly, in every society or sector there are good people and bad people. They can be the cause of corruption as also the victims of corruption. The same businessman who was the victim of corruption can be the cause of corruption and vice versa. So if you put the right system in place and implement it, you can take care of people who can be the reasons for corruption. And, in any case, would it not be easier to influence three Ministers rather than a village with 20,000 people?

How would you quantify this whole idea of people's power?

Right now the forum to quantify people's power is the legislatures and Parliament, but we have seen how these institutions have been challenged and subverted by vested interests. In the process, it has tended to become an oligarchy rather than a democracy. So if you want to understand the desire of the people, we need to have a platform where people can regularly participate and express their opinion in the most structured fashion.

There is a view that even such platforms can be manipulated by vested interests and big-moneyed corporates. The argument is that expecting the masses to have a solution for everything is reductionism and that all solutions should have a clear policy perspective.

Who should define that policy perspective? The people should define it. What do you think is easier: to influence a village with 20,000 or influence three Ministers? It is easier for the World Bank or large corporates to influence a few Ministers rather than a large section of the population. Different groups of intellectuals may have different policy prescriptions. We can deepen our democracy only if people are involved. Let there be debates in our country. There is no platform for any structured debates in our country. Half-an-hour debates on television shows or one-day seminars organised by non-governmental organisations cannot be a platform for decision-making. Because of this, there is a desperate vacuum in our democracy. In the United States, they have town hall meetings every week, which are open to all people. The town is run on the basis of decisions taken at the meeting. The 73rd amendment to the Constitution created gram sabhas. But the State legislature has not given them any powers. The real people's body has been given no powers. We have to turn this around.

When you say the entire system is flawed, do you mean that all laws are faulty?

I am talking about anti-corruption laws and systems. The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, passed by the Rajiv Gandhi government, is a brilliant piece of legislation. But one section in it is flawed, which kills the efficacy of the entire law. According to Section 19 of that Act, before initiating an investigation the CBI has to take sanction from a higher authority. Such sections have been deliberately put in place to hinder the delivery of justice. Nobody talks about these details. Journalists who come to take my interview are interested only in broad details. Who will talk of Section 19? We have made the CBI, but the CBI is in the control of the people who are supposed to be investigated. If you ask me what our Lokpal Bill is, I will define it thus: Making the anti-corruption wing of the CBI independent of the government and calling it Lokpal. Nothing else.

You argue that it is wrong to blame corporates for all ills. It is, perhaps, natural that you would come up with a statement like that because many members of Team Anna run their NGOs with copious support from corporates and international funding agencies. Even during the agitation, many of the free food stalls were put up by big corporates or their fronts.

As far as the funding of NGOs is concerned, all of us have put up our accounts in the public domain. Anybody can check them. As for the food stalls during the agitation, as far as I know, we have given no stall to any corporate house. The permission to put up stalls was given to individuals. Now, if any corporate house is claiming, privately or publicly, that we set up free food stalls during the agitation, I would request them to reveal who was their front. I am sure that there would be some campaign on this too. We have been accused of so many things, including being against the Constitution. Because we are against the Constitution we are against Baba Ambedkar. Therefore, we are against Dalits. Then there was the campaign about there being Magsaysay Award winners in Team Anna and hence it is being driven by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Americans. This is all part of a motivated campaign.

So would Team Anna agree to Dalit and Other Backward Classes representation in the Lokpal Bill?

Let us see what proposals come up before the Standing Committee and then in Parliament. We will decide accordingly.

There are some personal allegations against you. One of them is that you began working for the NGO before your resignation from the government was accepted. And that you obtained pecuniary advantage from the NGO even while you were in government.

I did not obtain any pecuniary benefit from the NGO. I took study leave from the government. I had informed the government that I would be working on the issue of corruption while on my study leave. When I take study leave, I can do it through an NGO or outside an NGO. It is not against government rules.

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