September 2, 2011

NEVER TOO LATE TO PURITANIZE:

The Insurgent: How Arvind Kejriwal, the architect of Anna Hazare's anti-corruption campaign, brought the rage of an indignant nation to the government's door (MEHBOOB JEELANI, 1 September 2011, The Caravan)

The ideas that would eventually lead to the Jan Lokpal Bill--and plans for a mass mobilisation to support it--had been on Kejriwal's mind at least since September 2010, when public frustration with the inept preparations for the Commonwealth Games erupted into fury over evidence of widespread corruption. India's middle classes, who already saw the event as a tremendous waste of money, were further enraged when the Games delivered nothing but international embarrassment and a multi-million rupee scam. Kejriwal, however, saw an opportunity to mobilise public opinion against corruption, and began to plot the course that would lead "Team Anna" into a high-profile showdown with the ruling United Progressive Alliance coalition. He spent his days consulting with experts and prospective allies, from lawyers to bankers to former bureaucrats and religious leaders, as well as his colleagues in the National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI). He devoted his nights to drafting and revising a bill to create a new Lokpal: an independent body vested with the extraordinary powers--to investigate, prosecute and sometimes even judge--that Kejriwal thought necessary to prevent any politician or bureaucrat from obstructing the agency's work.

Though Kejriwal is attentive to the cultural causes of corruption--he told me that "greed and the downfall of moral values" played a role--he believes a failing enforcement system is ultimately to blame. "If you talk of corruption in administration," he explained, "the issue is a lack of adequate deterrence. There is zero risk in corruption here--it's a high-profit business." In short, while bad people may commit fraud, good systems can stop them. It's a point Kejriwal--who owns a car but takes the Delhi Metro almost every day--likes to illustrate with a transit parable he's often used at press conferences. "If you travel by Indian Railways, you'll see chaos, confusion and corruption everywhere," he told me. "But if you travel by Delhi Metro, you'll see everything in order. It is not because good people travel by Metro, it is because Metro has a right system in place." And the Lokpal, Kejriwal continued, "is that right system, which will set this country in the right direction."

Last autumn, many of Kejriwal's Metro journeys took him to Noida, where he spent hours discussing the finer legal points of the Lokpal Bill with Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan and his father Shanti Bhushan, a former Union law minister who was the first to propose the idea of a Lokpal in a bill submitted to Parliament in 1968. Kejriwal usually left these meetings with a copy of the draft bill covered in red ink and marked up with notes and questions; he would dutifully revise the document and email it back to the Bhushans, often that same night. "Basically he was doing all the work," Prashant Bhushan told me, "I was being only consulted, so it was an easy task, and he gets it quickly."

By the end of October, Kejriwal had begun to circulate a draft of his bill among "like-minded people"--and to work with those who responded positively, including Kiran Bedi, the Ramon Magsaysay Award-winning police officer-turned-activist, and the former Supreme Court justice Santosh Hegde. "I was just trying to find people who were known for fighting corruption," Kejriwal told me.

One such person was Anna Hazare. By December, when the group now calling itself India Against Corruption (IAC) sent a draft of its Lokpal Bill to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and demanded a "total overhaul of the anti-corruption delivery system", Hazare was among the signatories. After several months passed without any response from the government, Kejriwal and Bedi flew to Maharashtra in February to meet Hazare. "Anna Hazare was convinced that this was a good solution to corruption," Kejriwal told me. "He had a successful history of fighting corruption, one case after another."

During the visit, Kejriwal recalled, "Anna called a meeting of his workers from all across Maharashtra, and he asked everyone, 'Should I sit on fast?' They all agreed." In a tiny room at the Sant Yadavbaba temple in Hazare's village, Ralegan Siddhi, he and Kejriwal sat and planned the fast-unto-death Hazare would stage in April at Jantar Mantar; they deliberately selected a date that would fall between the end of the Cricket World Cup and the start of the Indian Premier League.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 2, 2011 6:30 AM
  
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