ARVIND KEJRIWAL KI AJEEB DASTAAN…
Or, you may ask, Arvind Kejriwal ko ghussa kyon aata hai... Here is the inside story of the obsessive man behind the draconian Lokpal Bill
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi
"Get a Muslim and Dalit face, we want them on the stage. A lot of negative publicity needs to be countered," says Arvind Kejriwal, before Anna Hazare broke his fast at Ramlila Ground. Team Anna insiders informed that this is how a 'symbolic' Muslim and Dalit girl were huddled to the dais in front of TV cameras, where Hazare was sitting on fast in the 'second freedom struggle'. (Incidentally, the father and mother of the little ones belong to Kejriwal's NGO.)
His friends say that Kejriwal, architect of the Jan Lokpal campaign, can give the best of PR agencies and event managers a run for their money. Since the fast at Jantar Mantar (held between the cricket World Cup and IPL – two cash-rich TV grand shows), and the manner in which mobile companies, TV channels, and multiple fronts were mobilised, including RSS fronts, a lot of strategic thought went into it. "In the first programme against the Commonwealth Games, there were not even 100 people. That's when Kejriwal went to Ramdev, Sri Sri Ravishankar and the Delhi Church. This translated into numbers in the subsequent events," says Devinder Sharma, agriculture expert and founder member of India Against Corruption (IAC). "You just can't match his managerial skills. Every step is taken in a planned manner," says an IAC member. "He is ambitious. There is a strong driving force," says an old friend.
IAC was not just a good coincidence. It was a coalition of individuals from diverse backgrounds in tune with a certain urban-centric ethos. "It wasn't a fluke, but a well-laid plan," says a member of the National Campaign for Protection of Right to Information (NCPRI). "Kejriwal is behind the entire conceptualisation of the Lokpal Bill."
Says an old associate who worked with him in his first NGO: "This obsessive Lokpal piece with the vision of a gigantic bureaucracy is his baby. It's psychic and typical – as if he is repositioning his incestuous past in the bureaucracy, once again playing super-boss and dictator combined. This is in synthesis with the basic fascist character of Anna Hazare's life and philosophy. This is precisely why the Lokpal draft is draconian, without imagination or flexibility, and completely unoriginal. It's reflective of Kejriwal's basic character and wish-fulfilment."
"It's not easy to pick and choose a few people from such a big country. It was a huge task," says Devinder Sharma. In September 2010, a meeting was called at the India International Centre in Delhi by Kejriwal. Participants recount it as a brainstorming session where he picked up points to carry the campaign forward.
With a middle-class 'Amol Palekar' look (sans the simplicity or vulnerability of Palekar), with unimpressive loose trousers and shirt, this ex-IIT, Indian Revenue Service (IRS) man seems to have a burning desire to get things done within iron curtain objectives – in a mechanical, one-dimensional, managerial manner. There is little concern for complexities, ideological/paradigm shifts, social contradictions, larger vision, self-criticism, philosophical underpinnings. Hence, when he unilaterally said that Hazare is above Parliament, his Team Anna associate Justice Santosh Hegde was quick to say, "It was unwarranted. This is what happens when you talk too much."
Others say, why only Hazare, Kejriwal himself would want to be "above Parliament". "And why only Parliament, he would want to be above everything: government, judiciary, Parliament, democracy itself," says a former, bitter associate.
"The movement consisted of people from all shades of political opinion, including Left, Right and Centre," says a recent IAC statement. (Fact is, it was mostly Rightwing.) This was in response to RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat's public declaration that the RSS was out there in full strength at Ramlila Ground during the Hazare fast.
Kejriwal started his career with Tata Steel in Jamshedpur. An electrical engineering graduate from IIT Kharagpur, a journal quoted his father as saying that he initially wanted to join the Indian Police Service (IPS). (All the unrequited police traits are still there for everyone to see, say his critics; also, no wonder, ex-cop Kiran Bedi is currently his best pal.) That's why, perhaps, his rigid stand on issues and a belief that tough and draconian laws are the answer to every problem plaguing this country. He quit his job with the Tatas and decided to take the civil services examination. Extremely bright since his school days, he was selected for the IRS.
Those who know about his "status quoist careerism" for long, laugh at his obsession with 'bureaucratic power'. "So why did he go to IIT in the first place? Is it not absurd and reflective of a certain state of intellectual integrity, or lack of it, that he dropped out of engineering to become a revenue officer? What a pity!" says an old friend of Kejriwal. "And then, irony of irony, dropping IRS, to start an NGO! He could very well have started an NGO in Haryana itself!"
Apparently disgruntled with the inept and corrupt ways of the Indian bureaucracy early in his career, he started to think of ways to tackle it. "Since his training days, he would say that he wants to work on tackling corruption in the country," recounts a faculty member from the civil services academy in Mussoorie. "He seemed to have a genuine interest in tackling corruption."
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.
Rajeev was disillusioned after his request for an audit of Kabir's account was turned down by Kejriwal. "It started interestingly one day with chai and samosas when he asked why we should give out information that we are funded by international outfits," says Rajeev, adding that four months later Kejriwal wrote a mail saying that anyone can audit the accounts. "There was certainly some sort of bungling in the accounts," says an associate. "Why else would he be so secretive about it?"
Meanwhile, Kejriwal reportedly told one of his associates that he was asked to teach once again at Sankalp, the RSS-run coaching classes for civil services aspirants. "He used to teach there earlier. I told him this would not be a good idea," says a colleague. There are unsubstantiated stories about Kejriwal's old family connections with the RSS. "This does not make him RSS," clarifies one of his friends. "That he kept mum on the RSS involvement in the Anna movement is a clear pointer to where he stands," says another old associate.
Working in tandem with activists of the NCPRI, Kejriwal became a regular at World Bank and UN events. "He would go to attend Jan Sunwayis organised by World Bank and UN," says an associate. "Contrary to the norms in Parivartan, he would not consult the team before going for any such meetings," he adds.
Also, with his strong media management skills, he suddenly became RTI's face in Delhi. "He considered it a magic wand," says an RTI activist. "With his populist approach, he approached Indu Jain, proprietor of the Times of India, and became a partner in a one-year-long campaign on RTI. He wanted to take all the credit," says a veteran social activist. "He was now all over the place. An RTI Manch was established in Delhi. This is how he operates; he establishes partnerships with the corporate media, uses them to the hilt."
He got in touch with other activists, including Sandeep Pandey. "This is how he got the Magsaysay," says an associate, "It was not the right time to recommend him for a Magsaysay." "I think it was Pandey who recommended his name for the award," says Rajeev. Pandey is part of Team Anna. He too is apparently terribly miffed.
Post Magsaysay, things took an altogether different turn. "He became totally disinterested in Parivartan," says Ritu, who was among the founders of Sampoorna Parivartan. "He came to office just once in 18 months after receiving the award," says a colleague. "Parivartan has been dead since," says another associate. "He did not work as much for the nationwide RTI Act as people believe. There was more hype than anything of substance. There were huge differences, with good people
Now, he was hobnobbing for his friends and associates to get them plum postings in the newly set up Central Information Commission (CIC) in Delhi. "He proposed Sisodia's name for the post of independent commissioner in the CIC through backdoor channels," says a senior RTI activist. This did not materialise, however, reportedly because of Sisodia's lack of experience on the ground. "He was pitching for Shailesh Gandhi, who was later appointed. However, he had differences with Gandhi too, and in one instance he got really angry when Gandhi disagreed with his idea of penalising every erring public information officer," says the activist.
With the Magsaysay money, he started a 'trust': Public Cause Research Foundation (PCRF). It was this 'trust' which organised RTI awards in five star hotels with corporate funding, involving media groups like NDTV and Dainik Jagran, with active support of multi-millionaire film stars like Aamir Khan. "This was shocking for many veterans, including the late editor of Jansatta, Prabhash Joshi, who said that if one starts taking money from corporates, it would defeat the whole purpose of RTI," says an activist. Kejriwal reportedly told Joshi that he can't back off.
"It is a marriage of convenience. It happens with him all the time. He would later feign ignorance even though he knows exactly what he is doing," says an associate. A similar thing happened during the Lokpal movement when people raised questions on the presence of another millionaire guru, Baba Ramdev, despite his overt Sangh Parivar links. Indeed, Ramdev gave a speech at Ramlila Ground also.
A Delhi-based RTI activist says Kejriwal refused to part with information on an application seeking details of funding and expenditure on RTI awards. "It was, if not legal, a moral question, for all those who talk of RTI petitions. I petitioned all the NGOs who work in the RTI sector. Kabir and PCRF gave ambiguous details. Instead, Kejriwal called me and said, come to my office for tea. I refused," says Afroz Alam, a freelance journalist.
"He is an agent of the corporates," says veteran activist Ashok Choudhary. Among other sponsors for the RTI awards were the Tatas and Infosys.
Meanwhile, Kejriwal started a tacit and unsuccessful campaign supporting Kiran Bedi's appointment to the CIC. He also ran a campaign against privatisation of Delhi Jal Board. "It was a good campaign. Despite that, people were feeling marginalised," says an activist.
By now, as is the pattern, his interest in RTI diminished. "His group started saying that there's nothing left in RTI," says an activist. "This is why, when CBI was taken out of the ambit of RTI recently, Kejriwal did not protest."
This dogmatic, obsessive, media-savvy campaigner has a history of taking up one issue after another. And dumping them as easily. "The irony is, he never takes them to a logical conclusion," says an old associate. "In his Gram Swaraj and Mohalla Sabha campaigns, they are asking for decentralisation. However, his Jan Lokpal campaign is asking for complete centralisation. What an irony!" remarked a source. "(Kejriwal) did maximum damage to the (Lokpal) movement," 'waterman' Rajendra Singh said recently.
"He has a simplistic, managerial and dangerous understanding of corruption. He can't link it with communalism, social and political contradictions, stark inequality, income disparity and systemic transformation," says an old friend. "His understanding is apolitical; there is no sense of history," he adds. "His presentations on RTI used to be dumbed-down, mechanical, dry," says a former colleague.
"We could not share the same platform after I discovered he was regularly sharing spaces with anti-Dalit and casteist groups like Youth for Equality," says an old associate. "This is his basic ideology. His silence on Narendra Modi or RSS is tactical. He is opportunistically using forces which can be fascist or corporate – he does not care. This man has no principles, no ideological scaffolding, no clear moral vision. He can align with anybody. And he cares two hoots, as he did in Hisar where his campaign benefited two dubious candidates with a history of massive corruption."
"He attracts good people. But when they don't fit in his scheme of things, they are dumped. Like what happened with Swami Agnivesh, PV Rajgopal and Rajendra Singh, and is bound to happen with Prashant Bhushan. Kejriwal does not need Prashant now," says a former colleague.
Says a veteran NCPRI activist: "He has no base. Even Hazare has a base in Ralegan that he can always go back to. Kejriwal can't form his own political party, since he has publicly said so. Earlier he said Team Anna is not political. Now he is saying he is political. He constantly wants media attention. He is impatient, authoritarian, obstinate and tolerates no dissent. He wants things done only his myopic way – he basically hates democratic opinion, dissent, norms of democracy. Soon he will have no option but to join some political party. And that, surely, won't be Congress. So you can guess which party he is backing now."
"He is very stubborn in his attitude. Perhaps that is why he is so focussed," says Rajgopal.
"What he does not realise is that he can't always get away," says a journalist, an associate from his early days. "His fall into utter disgrace might be closer than he can imagine."
For this ambitious NGO prototype, it's always a machine-like goal to be fulfilled at any cost, with all kinds of allies (like the RSS-VHP-ABVP in the Lokpal movement), and with an unchanging enemy. In this case, the Congress government, the Congress party. At Ramlila Ground it was a common refrain: You can't meet Hazare without Kejriwal's yes. The other joke was, Anna can't break his fast without Kejriwal's yes. As the song goes, "No one can ever change his mind."