The last one-and-a half years have been defined by the anti-graft agitation led by Anna Hazare. His key lieutenant, Arvind Kejriwal, has played a central role in the movement.
In 2012, as it became clear that the political establishment was not going to accede to the main demand of the movement –to pass the Lokpal bill-Team Anna demanded the setting up of a Special Investigation Team to probe corrupt politicians. On 25 July 2012, Kejriwal, along with two of his colleagues and Anna, sat on a fast to press this demand. However, with the government not responding, the movement made a difficult decision to try and provide a political alternative to the country.
This book, which serves as a manifesto for the movement going forward, gives practical suggestions as to what the ordinary citizen, the opinion makers and the political establishment in India can do to provide a political alternative, or to achieve true swaraj (self-rule).
The author’s central point is that power must shift from New Delhi and the state capitals to the gram and mohalla sabhas, so that people can be directly empowered to take decisions about their own lives. A must-read for anyone with a dream to leave behind a better India for the next generation.
Arvind Kejriwal is a social activist fighting to change the political system by bringing in transparency and people’s participation. He is the main architect of the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption agitation that shook the nation in 2011-12 After graduating in mechanical engineering from IIT Kharagpur in 1989, Kejriwal joined Tata Steel. In 1992, he joined the India Revenue Service (IRS), and was joint commissioner in the income tax department. He took long leave from the government in 2000 to set up an NGO, Parivartan. Through this he worked for many years to change the lives of Delhi’s slum dwellers, and was also active in the campaign for Right to Information (RTI). In 2006, he resigned from government service.
He was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2006 for his work on RTI.
There is a wave of change in the entire country today. Whatever be the religion, caste, creed, or age of a person, whether he is rich or poor, a city dweller or a villager, everyone seems to be dreaming about change. If this enthusiasm keeps up, something that has not happened in sixty-four years in India’s history will happen in ten. But at this point in time it is very important for us to understand our future course of action. This opportunity should not get lost in an insignificant target such as a mere change of government. It is, therefore, very important to understand where we should now be headed.
Gandhiji used to say, ‘True democracy is not run by twenty people sitting in Delhi. The power centres now are in capital cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. I would like to distribute these power centres in seven lakh villages of India.’ We celebrated our first Republic Day on 26 January 1950 but we forgot these words by Gandhiji. And that is why such a gulf between the rich and the poor exists today. There is an ever-growing rift between religions and castes. Corruption and the escalating cost of living is making life difficult for the common man. Even after sixty-four years of independence, there are hungry and unemployed people.
If we want to change the economy of the country, we have to change that of the villages. The economy cannot be changed by sitting in Delhi and formulating schemes or dispensing money through these schemes. This can only happen by empowering people. In our democracy today, the system is stronger than the people. It often seems that the system is far more valuable than the people it is meant for. We have to understand the meaning of true democracy. We have to understand that people’s role in a democracy is not merely voting once every five years. They have to participate in governance. Power centres have to move from Delhi and other state capitals to villages and communities.
It is noteworthy that wherever gram sabhas (village councils) have taken shape, the village has seen tremendous development in just a few years. We have conducted several such experiments in Ralegan Siddhi and there are examples from many other villages in this book. In villages where people have planned for their land and water without any interference from the government, words such as hunger and unemployment have become alien. If we wish to construct a strong and self-sufficient country, we have to learn from these villages and change our system. We have to build a system where the power centres in villages and towns are gram sabhas and mohalla sabhas (community councils) respectively.
This book talks in detail about the meaning of change in the system. To achieve swaraj, or self-rule, what are the laws that we need to change and at what level? What will be the system of gram sabhas and Parliament in a true democracy? Every person who is dreaming of change needs to understand the answers to these questions. I believe this book is the manifesto of the India of tomorrow. I hope it will inspire people looking for answers to problems of unemployment, violence, corruption, inflation, Naxalism and Untouchability.
The year 2011 will be known as the year of the anti-corruption movement or the Anna agitation. In the past few years many corruption scams have come to the fore in our country-for example, the Rs 76,000-crore 2G scam, the Rs 70,000-crore commonwealth Games scam and the Rs 20,000-crore Karnataka Wakf Board scam. The list is endless. All these scams and the ever-increasing inflation have left the people totally shaken.
In 2011, when a fakir from Ralegan Siddhi, a village in Maharashtra, spoke out against corruption, the whole country took to the streets in support. Anna Hazare demanded that a Jan Lokpal Bill against corruption be implemented so that the corrupt could be punished, sent to jail and their property seized by the government to make up for the losses it had incurred. Our anti-corruption laws are so lacking in conviction that it is almost impossible to punish the corrupt. Such cases drag on for years in the courts and no one is ever punished. Anna wanted all of this to change. He asked for a strong Jan Lokpal Bill which could ensure that the corrupt could be punished easily.
Anna went on a hunger strike three times in 2011, first in April at Jantar Mantar, Delhi; second in August at Ramlila Maidan, Delhi; and third in December at the Azad Maidan in Mumbai. People in thousands took to the streets and hundreds of thousands gave their support. In almost every city and village, people could be seen waving the tricolor and shouting slogans like ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ and ‘Inquilaab zindabad’. The political establishment was terrified on seeing the mass support for the agitation. On 27August 2011, the entire Parliament unanimously agreed to the three demands put forth by Anna. But unfortunately, when the Parliament met in December 2011 and May 2012, they went back on their promise. Almost all the political parties in the Parliament double-crossed the nation.
The entire country wanted the Jan Lokpal Bill that Anna was championing. Surveys were carried out and people were asked which bill they wanted to be made into a law-the Lokpal Bill prepared by the government or the Jan Lokpal Bill made by the people. Over 90 percent of the people said that they wanted the Jan Lokpal Bill. Many TV channels also conducted surveys that showed that 80 per cent people were in favour of the Jan Lokpal Bill. Despite such widespread support, the Parliament refused to pass it. Many politicians openly made fun of the people’s movement during discussions in the Parliament.
It is then that questions were raised asking if laws should be made according to the wishes of the politicians only or should the people also be active participants? Is India really a democracy where only leaders have a say and people don’t have a voice? Is it a democracy when the vote is cast only once every five years? And why is it that immediately after the vote is cast, people lose all rights to have a say in any matter? People are then forced to beg and plead in front of the leaders that they have elected. We thought a lot as to why it was that the government was not enacting a strong Lokpal Bill. Earlier, we used to think that if lakhs of people came out on the streets the government would have to listen to the collective voice due to fear that they might lose in the elections. In August 2011, lakhs of people took to the streets. In February 2012, the UPA actually lost a series of assembly elections. Still they did not pass a strong Lokpal Bill. We were surprised. In retrospect, it started becoming clear that if they passed a strong Lokpal Bill, some members of the Central cabinet, several chief ministers and chairpersons of several political parties would be in jail.
It became clear that these corrupt politicians were a direct obstacle to the Lokpal Bill. So it was demanded that a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by any three retired and honest Supreme Court judges should be set up to investigate these politicians. When the government did not listen, three of us, along with Annaji, sat on an indefinite fast from 25 July 2012 at Jantar Mantar. By the tenth day of the fast it became clear that the government was in no mood to set up an SIT.
Twenty-three very eminent personalities, including Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, Admiral (Retd) R.H. Tahiliani and Anupam Kher, among other, made an appeal to Annaji to give up the fast and provide a political alternative to the country. They wrote that the political establishment had become corrupt and that there was no hope from them. There was an urgent need to provide a political alternative. The question was put before the public. Many TV channels started conducting surveys. More than 90 per cent people said that Anna should provide a political alternative. Anna acceded to the public demand.
It is said that India did not gain independence in 1947; that was only a formal signing. The whites went and the natives took control of power. Earlier, the whites made life difficult and now the natives were doing so. During the British rule, India was governed from London. After 1947, India is being governed from Delhi and other state capitals. Our fight for independence was not only for liberation from the British. It was also for swaraj; for self-rule. There was a dream-that in independent India, the people will rule. There will be peace and happiness and justice will prevail. But that did not happen. The British went away but their system has remained in place. Corruption and injustice have increased with time. The rich have become richer and the poor have become poorer. There is no sight of swaraj, which was the reason for our fight for independence.
We want swaraj. Leaders and officers sitting in Delhi ‘formulate’ many illogical schemes on the pretext of development. Crores are spent on these schemes. The money reaches the pockets of the corrupt instead of the common man. We do not want this kind of development. If there is swaraj, there will be development for the people automatically. Swaraj means self-rule; our rule. We will be able to take decisions concerning our village, our town and our community. The laws made in the Pariliament and the legislative assemblies will also be made with our consent and participation.
The democracy that exists in India today will have to change. Democracy should mean that for the five years after the vote is cast, the government functions according to the wishes of the people, and the views of the people are taken into account before making decisions. Is this possible? Can the government ask for the approval of 120 crore people before taking a decision?
It definitely can. There are many such governmental decisions in which people can participate directly. How can the people be active participants in any official programme? We have travelled to many parts of the country in search of answers to these questions and studied democracy in other countries and read history to learn from there. This book is a result of all these efforts.
In the absence of an appropriate law, some people have tried to implement swaraj in their respective villages. These people have been our inspiration. Anna Hazare changed the face of Ralegan Siddhi by implementing swaraj there. Similarly, Popatrao Pawar changed the face of Hivre Bazaar by bringing in direct partnership. Ilango completely changed the Kuthambakkam village of Chennai. There is a tribal village in Maharashtra, Menda Lekha, where villagers stood up against the forest department and other government offices. They transformed their village completely by insisting on taking all decisions in a general meeting of the entire gram sabha. Thakurdas Bang has written a lot on this issue. His books have been an inspiration to us and we have included a lot of his views in this book.
Does India today genuinely have democracy? Do the people have any say in government decisions? Why is our country’s politics so tainted? This book tries to find answers to these questions. If we want to bring true democracy in India, then people must have direct participation in the working of the government. Governmental decisions must be taken with the approval of the people. This book presents a model for doing so.
Many people have helped in the writing of this book. I am deeply grateful to B.D. Sharma, B.C. Behar, Somu, Kapil Bajaj and Santosh Koli. Three councilors-Annapurna Mishra, Santosh Kumar and Harishankar Kashyap-have played an important role in experimenting with mohalla sabhas in Delhi and we learnt a lot from them. I am grateful to the three of them. I am grateful to the three of them. Last but not the least, Manish Sisodia and Swati Maliwal have been co-travellers on this journey, one that would not have been possible without them. To help the publisher sell the book to the maximum number of people at an affordable price, I am forgoing the royalty on the book.
I used to work for the income tax department. Towards the end of the 1990s, the income tax department conducted a survey of several multinational companies. In the survey, many of these companies were caught red-handed evading taxes. They accepted their crimes and, without any appeal, they paid the entire amount. Had these companies been in any other country, their senior executives would have been sent to prison. The head of one such company on whom the raid had been conducted, a foreigner, threatened the income tax team. ‘India is a very poor country. We have come to your country to help you. If you trouble us like this we will go away. You have no idea how powerful we are. If we want, we can get any law passed by your Parliament. We can even get you guys transferred.’ A few days after this incident, a very senior member of our team was transferred out.
I did not pay much heed to the foreign gentleman’s words at that point of time. I thought he must be troubled by the income tax department survey and was therefore talking like that. But the events of the past few years have made me believe the truth of his words. I now question myself, ‘Do foreign powers actually control our parliament?’
Let me cite an example. In 2008, the UPA government had to prove its majority on the floor of the House. There were rumours that there was horsetrading of MPs. Some television channels showed certain members openly indulging in horsetrading. Those pictures shook the nation to its core. If MPs were being sold in this manner, what was the value of our vote? Tomorrow, they could be bought by America or Pakistan, or any other country. Who knows? This may already be happening. I shivered at this thought: ‘Are we the citizens of a free nation? Does the Parliament of our country enact laws for the betterment of the people?’
When I read about the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill in the newspapers, all my fears seemed to be coming true. This bill states that if a foreign company were to set up a nuclear plant in India and if there was to be any accident, the company would be responsible for compensation to the tune of only Rs 1,500 crore. The world over, whenever there has been a nuclear accident, thousands have lost their lives and the losses have been in thousands of crores.
The Bhopal gas tragedy victims have so far received Rs 220 crore, which is considered fairly inadequate. In this context, Rs 1,500 crore does not seem much. How many Bhopal tragedies would a nuclear disaster equal? This bill further states that no criminal charges can be brought against the company and no case can be lodged against it. The company will be let off for a mere Rs 1,500 crore.
This bill gives me the impression that the lives of our people are being sold off for pennies. It is apparent that this bill openly favours foreign companies, putting on line the lives of the people of this nation. Why is our Parliament doing this? Either there is some kind of a pressure on our MPs, or some of our MPs have sold out to foreign companies.
After the court ruling on the Bhopal gas tragedy, newspapers were replete with stories of how politicians and senior leaders of our country helped the killers of the people of Bhopal run away from India, and also how they were accorded respect and accolades.
These events give rise to many questions in my mind: Is India in safe hands? Can we envision safe lives and futures in the hands of some of these politicians and bureaucrats?
It is not only foreign companies or foreign governments that exert influence on our government. Some politicians and bureaucrats can go to any lengths for money. Some ministers and officers have become puppets in the hands of powerful industrial houses. Recently, an expose of a phone-tapping incident revealed that it was not the prime minister who decided portfolios for certain ministries but some of these industrial houses. It would not be an exaggeration to say that certain state governments and certain ministries in the Central government are being run by these industrial houses.
Some time back there was a newspaper report that a top industrialist planned to set up a private university in Maharashtra. He met a Maharashtra minister who, in order to fulfil the industrialist’s wish, agreed to present the Private University Bill in the vidhan sabha. Our vidhan sabhas are forever ready to enact laws to fulfil the wishes of industrial houses.
Our mines are being disposed of for a pittance to these industrial houses. For example, companies that acquire iron ore mines pay the government a royalty of a mere Rs 27 per ton. These companies then sell this same iron ore in the market at the rate of Rs 6,000 per ton (the cost of mining and cleaning the ore is about Rs 300 per ton). Isn’t this a way of directly looting the country’s resources?
In the same way, forests and rivers are being sold for peanuts; people’s lands are being taken away and given to companies at a pittance. The natural resources and the riches of our country are in danger in the hands of these parties, politicians and bureaucrats. If we do not do something soon, they will sell off everything.
In view of all this, the Indian republic and Indian politics seem to be in jeopardy. It does not matter which leader or which party we vote for. They all seem to be the same.
We have tried out every party and every politician in the last sixty years. But there has been no improvement. One thing is very clear: it is pointless to change parties or leaders. We have to do something.
We have been working on various issues through our organization, ‘Parivartan’ (change), for the past ten years.
We have worked on the issues of ration and on the privatization of water, corruption in developmental works, etc. There were moments of success also. But we soon realized that success was momentary and illusionary. Till we were working on an issue, there seemed to be change in that area but as we moved on, that problem would only worsen. We began to feel helpless about how and what we could work on. Slowly, we realized that the root of all these problems lay in politics-because many politicians are in cahoots with the corrupt and criminal elements. The people have no say whatsoever. We can take the issue of rations, for example. If someone is stealing ration meant for the poor, we could complain to the food official, or the food minister. But they are part of the stealing. A part of the profits makes its way to them as well. So, can we expect justice by complaining to them? If the media creates pressure at any time, a few ration shops are shut down to placate people. But when the pressure is off, bribes are extended to ensure that those shops are in business again.
In this whole rigmarole the people have no power. They can only complain to the thieves to ‘please take action against yourself … and that is useless.
Therefore, it is obvious that the people should have the power to punish the corrupt instead of just being allowed to complain. It is imperative that the people have direct control over the entity through which decisions are to be taken by the people, and that bureaucrats and politicians should follow these decisions.
Is this possible? Is it possible to allow 120crore people to take decisions regarding the law?
In theory, people are supreme in a democracy. It is the people who have given the Parliament and government the power to take decisions on their behalf. However, some of our MPs and MLAs have misused this power tremendously. They have shamelessly sold the people and their well-being for personal gain. Is it now time for us to withdraw from them the right to decide on our behalf? Is this possible? Won’t this lead to anarchy?
We travelled widely, spoke to many people and researched extensively while seeking answers to these questions. Whatever we understood, we are presenting in this book. If, after reading it, you have certain doubts, do not hesitate to contact us. If you are in agreement with all that we have to say, join our movement in flesh, blood and spirit. There is no time to waste. The country’s sovereignty and the country’s resources are fast passing into the hands of foreign companies and governments. If we do not act soon, it will be too late.
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