ARVIND KEJRIWAL KI AJEEB DASTAAN…
Old associates told Hardnews how he would organise camps outside the then DESU offices, where consumers were asked not to bribe the officials. "He soon realised that this was not enough; so he started working with the MCD on the sanitation system in Pandav Nagar and IP extension," says a former associate.
Even as he was a serving deputy commissioner in the Income Tax Department, he got a group of 'like-minded people' together and "secretly" started an NGO called Sampoorna Parivartan at Pandav Nagar, East Delhi, after he found that the name Parivartan was already registered. "I don't know how he managed to bring all these people together. However, at least one member of the governing body was an RSS man," says an old associate. Manish Sisodia, now a close confidante, was also part of the team, though he was not a regular. Incidentally, Kejriwal registered Kabir in 1999 at Pandav Nagar itself.
In 2001, the Delhi RTI Act was implemented. "This gave Arvind a readymade issue on which he hadn't even worked. So he quickly shifted his gaze from corruption to RTI," says the associate. Now, Sampoorna Parivartan was using RTI to set things right in MCD and other civic bodies.
As the organisation grew, Kejriwal became its sole face and unilateral authority. "Others felt ignored and left out." Obviously, differences were bound to rise. It reportedly arose within the governing body too, with most of its members not involved in day-to-day activities. Active members, including Kejriwal, wanted internal elections. "Kejriwal was also not heard," says an ex-employee of the NGO. "All of us wanted that we, who are working in the field, should be made part of the governing body. It had to be democratic. When they did not listen, all of us, including Kejriwal, left the outfit," says Rajeev, an old time associate. The governing body had differences on Kejriwal's association with Aruna Roy, and the organisation's proposed Jan Sunwayi (public hearing) at Sunder Nagri in East Delhi. The body was opposed to this grassroots action. So, on August 15, 2002, Kejriwal and others left Sampoorna Parivartan.
"Kejriwal said let's find some work and we will get together again when we have some money," recounts an associate. A few days later, all the associates met at his Girnar Apartment flat in Kaushambi and decided to go ahead with the proposed Jan Sunwayi, insisting they don't need money for it. Manish Sisodia was also present. The new campaign was called Parivartan. An office was also set up at Sunder Nagri.
Soon after, one of the first urban Jan Sunwayis in the country was held in Sunder Nagri, with a galaxy of well-known faces, including Aruna Roy and Arundhati Roy. Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), Aruna Roy's Rajasthan-based group (Kejriwal was in close touch with them) helped in the preparations. "He had attended a public hearing in Rajasthan and found it revolutionary," says an MKSS member. "We wanted to help him. We did not know of his associations or tendencies. We imagined Parivartan could be a credible grassroots outfit in urban areas."
With a hardworking team, Parivartan started to grow. Based in Sunder Nagri, among many things, it was working on the RTI and against corruption in the Public Distribution System (PDS). "He thought PDS was a mobilising force," says a colleague.
As Kejriwal expanded his reach in other networks like the NCPRI, funding became an issue. Parivaratan was still a campaign and not a registered NGO or trust that could apply for funds or grants. "This is when he quietly told us that he already had an NGO registered (Kabir) and it just needed to be activated – and we can get funds," says an associate.
This is how Manish Sisodia came into the picture. A producer with Zee network, Sisodia was roped in full-time. This is when some of the old timers decided to leave Parivartan. "Post Kabir, it became messy. Objectives of the campaign seemed to have taken a back seat," says an associate.
By now, he had taken 'study leave' from his IRS duties. This 'study leave' has now become 'financially controversial' (the rule is, after two years of study leave, it is mandatory to work for three years). An old associate claimed that Kejriwal had no plans of rejoining the IRS, but was still withdrawing salary from the government.
In Parivartan, the rule was that nobody would earn more than Rs 15,000 a month. There were people who left the organisation after Kejriwal refused to give them a salary hike even though he was reportedly taking fellowships from some institutions, including the Centre for Equity Studies.This rule was never followed in his case, his associates say. Rules were later changed for Kabir. Sisodia, and other 'technocrats' who joined Kabir, were taken on high salaries.
"Among the first funders of Kabir was Ford Foundation," says Rajeev, who himself runs an NGO now. There were other funders as well, including Association for India's Development (AID), he remembers. Ford Foundation has since been a generous funder of Kabir, giving it nearly $569,000 in the last six years. So much so, there were speculations that the entire anti-corruption campaign was running on this money. Kejriwal terms this as mere foresight; he claimed (The Hindu, August 31) that the last instalment totalling $200,000 has not been taken by Kabir as yet. Something which, NGO veterans say, seems funny, as grants are only given on the basis of detailed proposals.