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"I Will Fast Again," says Anna Hazare

By Viren Mayani Email By Viren Mayani
September 2013
"I Will Fast Again," says Anna Hazare

(Photo: Vinod Devlia)

Following a whirlwind Atlanta visit on Sunday, August 25, 2013 (including luncheon with Anna, 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m., Impact Center, Global Mall, and Anna's address at Festival of India, 1 p.m. - 3 p.m., Gwinnett Center), the celebrated anti-corruption champion agreed to an interview with Khabar while on his drive from Atlanta to South Carolina, where he, along with Governor Nikki Haley, was to unveil The Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Following is the text of the translated Q&A. (To listen to the original interview in Hindi, click here.)

Is legislation an answer to combat corruption in India? Will it make any difference?—since it is not just the passage of a law but its implementation and judicious enforcement which is a bigger challenge. India does have some laws in place on this matter, but they aren’t effective. 

First, the law needs to be powerful enough. A weak legislation cannot do anything; hence it needs to be drafted with the people’s input. Until now the government has drafted bills that suit its convenience. These have been presented in the Parliament which have been passed as laws, which are not even enforced. So these are useless. That is why I have stated that in a democracy, laws should be drafted by subject matter experts from among the common people, to make it meaningful. And then they also have to be enforced properly. One thing is certain: if a powerful law exists, and people are aware of it, they are sure to raise their voice in protest if the law is not enforced. Take for example the RTI Act; I fought for, for nine years. Today, people are making good use of it as I have seen in Maharashtra. I have toured many places in the state, several times, to advocate about this law. So it’s necessary for the people to protest, if they find that a law is not being enforced to its fullest intent.

Due to the multiparty setup we have in India, no single party is doing very well to form a government on its own. It is often at the mercy of its alliance partners to survive and remain in power. In this context, do you think a two-party system like the one we have in the U.S. will fare better in India?

Increasingly we’re seeing a trend where no one party wins majority seats. This will continue to be so. Every government will have to be an alliance. These alliances tend to be more corrupt. Those wishing to remain in power are spending more time and effort in keeping their alliance partners happy. Similarly, these partners continue to exploit the party in power. There is a solution for it. Very few know that our Constitution does not use the term “political party” in connection with elections. All it says is that in a democratic republic, people should elect and be represented by individuals (not party members) of character and integrity. If such individuals are elected there will be no corruption. We have a system where the political party dominates the individual. The Constitution does not endorse this. The system we have now is not our Constitution. Our effort is to awaken voters about this issue to bring about a true democracy. Every voter has to decide in any forthcoming elections, that he will not vote for a corrupt, dishonest, or a criminal for candidate, and that he will vote for only an individual of character and integrity. Only then can these political “parties” be controlled. That day will surely come when voters will be intelligent enough to see this and elect people because of their character and not for the party they represent. That day we’ll see the end of these political parties and the birth of a true democracy.

In the kind of system you’re advocating, there will be too many independents. Do you think they will be able to get any real work done?

The individuals who get elected will be people of character and representatives of the people who elected them, not the party that sponsors member elections. It is important that they remain individuals and not become a group either in the Parliament or outside. Corruption is increasing because of the party system in the country.

You recently told media that neither Rahul Gandhi nor Narendra Modi was fit to become Prime Minister because of their party affiliation identity and not seen as individuals. The kind of Prime Minister you would like to see elected, do you believe will be effective if not backed by any party?

The Prime Minister’s powers won’t change just because he/she is an independent and not from a party. The Constitution guarantees the same powers. Contrastingly a Prime Minister selected by a party will never belong to the people, really. Ideally the Lok Sabha should be formed by true people’s representatives. But what’s happening today? It is made up of people who are representatives of their political parties. This cannot be a true democracy. This can only give room for wrongdoings.

The fight against corruption appears to be a more difficult battle than the war we fought against the British for independence. People don’t seem to realize that we’re still slaves oppressed by a different entity, albeit one of our own making.

When politicians observed what was going on in the government, they realized, “Arre, the ones that get the power get to eat all the cream! Wow! We should somehow get there, too!” So now power and money are inextricably linked. Nobody thinks of the country or society. All they want is to be in power. They think nothing of selling tickets to goondas, criminals, and looters. The party’s support structure makes it possible for them to get elected easily. Voters are bribed by liquor and cash giveaways. It corrupts his state of mind without knowledge that he has sold all his rights for the same. The result being, criminals have entered our Parliament and state legislative bodies. Almost 163 of our MP’s face criminal charges and 15 ministers have cases pending against them. It’s now become a habit of our people to expect rewards for their votes. They’ve forgotten the value of their vote. They’ve forgotten the sacrifices made by people like Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, and Rajguru. This is a grave danger to democracy. We have to awaken as many of such voters as we can. This won’t happen in a hurry and it will take time. In about 10-12 years, I think our people will have woken up, because corruption is making their lives utterly miserable. We just need more people to join the campaign to awaken our public. The bigger the campaign, the faster such voters will respond. The day will come when these political parties will perish and we’ll have true democracy. With that, good laws will come and they will replace the obsolete laws made by the British. We’ll put brakes on corruption and evil. We’ll have the right to reject, and good leaders in the Parliament will mean good laws. It took us almost a century to win our freedom from the British. This awakening can’t take that long. The British secured their place in India by getting rid of people like Bahadur Shah and Tantya Tope. That is not the situation now. We just have to awaken the voters.

In your campaigns, you must have encountered two types of people: the urban city people, businessmen and professionals who have very little time, and the rural people, villagers, whose lives are connected with the earth. Do you see any difference in the way these two sets of people respond to you?

There are differences. For one, people in the cities are busy with their own lives. Second, the political parties have a considerable hold on city people, like in colleges, for example. Instead of encouraging the youth to involve themselves in national causes, parties are using them to advance their own interests. In the villages, the common man, a Dalit or Adivasi for instance, has no thoughts about the nation or the society at large. He’s just happy to get a hundred rupees during elections to cast his vote, because he can’t make that much even after seven days of labor. We have to educate these people, and make them aware that by bribing them with a few hundred rupees, the politician is robbing them of benefits worth lakhs.

How difficult is it to educate them about the value of their votes? Most of them don’t even know what their rights are?

Of course it is very difficult. It will take time, because nobody has tried to do this in all these years of our independence. These are habits that have taken root for 63 years now, and it’ll take time to break them. But these habits will break, because the people themselves are fed up with corruption. Prices have soared, and people realize that not even 10 paise out of one rupee meant for development work is actually spent on real work. We’ll keep on with our efforts to involve people in this campaign of education in huge numbers. The work should start with the villages.

How can the Indian diaspora abroad help you in your cause?

Indians from here can guide us in using technology like video conferencing to reach more people with our message. That equates to reaching out to more people with the same message at the same time without having to make so many journeys for the same. Video conferencing adds a personal touch so that they can see and hear our message clearly. The more we can do of the same, means more penetration of our message within a certain area. We don’t need any money. We never ask for it.

Every society is seeing good as well as bad things. Here we’ve had a recession but on the social front we’ve also had remarkable things happen, like a black President being elected to office. We all know what’s wrong with India; corruption, utter disregard for the law, and so on. What, according to you, is the good that’s happening in India? What gives you hope that India is on the right track?

Nobody is talking about what should be done to reform our democracy. I’m afraid, I can’t think of anything that makes me feel good that we’re on the right track.

Do you think that your work will be done faster if the Indian media were to involve themselves in your campaign more?

Sure. The August 16, 2011 campaign was picked up by the media in a big way and our message reached every home because of that. The whole world came to know about it. But the media, too, is not as free as it should be. There are people in the media who do good work, but often there are unspoken alliances between owners of media houses and the government. Things that should be written about go unreported. This is the reason why the press,which is the fourth pillar of our democracy, has weakened considerably. For example, my tours of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttarkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh in recent months drew so many people to our meetings. But the national TV channels ignored these events largely. The local press and state newspapers covered them, but the big channels that reach most of the country didn’t give us any coverage. If the press remained objective and free, our job would be so much easier.

Do you think your campaign for Jan Lokpal will gain momentum again?

Oh, yes, the movement has to be started again. The Parliament passed a regulation, and the Prime Minister sent me a signed letter requesting me to stop my fast, promising a speedy passage of the Jan Lokpal Bill; I trusted him and ended my fast—but the bill never passed. So we’ll have to start the movement again. This is a people’s issue, not Anna Hazare’s. The government has betrayed the people of India.

Have you decided on a time for the relaunch?

Yes. The winter session of the Parliament is beginning soon. A day before the session begins, I’ll begin my fast, too.

When the government first promised to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill, did they have a draft that indicated how many of your demands for the bill were being met by the bill? Were at least 50 percent of your demands met?

From the beginning there have been issues with the government’s response. We first asked that they include experts from the people’s side in the drafting of the bill. They declined to do this. Then I began my fast on April 5, 2011. There was a big response from the people. When the government saw how the movement was gaining support among the people, they hastily agreed to include five of our representatives in the 10-member drafting committee. Meetings went on for a month and a half, and then suddenly they went back on their promise. What they placed before the Cabinet had nothing of what we had to say, but their own draft, which was useless. Their draft has no meaning, and will not do anything to end corruption. It was done only to fool the people. Then the bill went to the standing committee, where again we were betrayed. Again I began my fast, and then they agreed to include some of our points in the draft bill. Two weeks ago I received a letter from the Prime Minister, which said they have a new bill drafted according to our requirements, assuring me that an effective law would be passed. I still don’t know the contents of this bill. The government’s intentions are not pure. It doesn’t want to see that India is free of corruption. If the bill is drawn up according to our requirements, many of these ministers will go to jail.

When the government went back on its promise to include your representatives in the draft committee, did they give you a reason for it?

Never. They just wasted our time.

Considering your age and health, do you not feel that there could be other ways than a hunger strike to carry forward your movement?

I feel that a fast carries my message more effectively to the people. They feel my pain and suffering. Other ways may not be so effective. Each day of my fast brought more people into the movement.

There are people who are concerned about your health and feel that if it is jeopardized in any way, the movement may suffer. The government has reneged on its promises to you in the past. So how will the tug of war go on?

The government could afford to play games with us because there were no elections in sight. Now the elections are approaching, so they will not toy with us anymore.

You’ve met so many people: elected, as well as those from among the masses. Is there anyone among them that you have a lot of faith in?

Yes, there are many such people. In my recent tour of India I spoke to many people, urging them to dedicate just one year of their lives to the country. We got a tremendous response. Almost 50,000 people have volunteered to join our movement and dedicate a whole year to us. We’ll train them to educate the masses. They will work at the grassroots level, interacting with people at the block, village, and taluk level. We recently trained 200 of these volunteers at Rishikesh. Sixteen of them are ready to give up not just one year but dedicate their whole lives to the country. There are many, many more like that. The engagement is on.

When overseas Indians visit India,  some feel that we are more conservative despite living in the West, when compared to the youth in current India, who seem more westernized in their lifestyles and attitude. Do you feel that the Indian youth today is aligned with your ways of thinking?

From my tours in India, I’ve seen that the youth are very sympathetic to our cause and are involved in a big way. They are a big force to reckon with and can bring about a great change in our society. Everywhere I go, a couple of hundred young people on motorcycles receive us outside their cities and towns and accompany us to the meeting grounds chanting slogans. They exist. We just need more participation of the same.

Are you inspired by the movements going on in the Arab world?

Yes, but their ways are different. I don’t believe that struggles for democracy can be carried on in violence. There should be no bullets fired or national property damaged when you’re fighting a good battle. Nonviolence is the only right path. In our August 16 [2011] movement, crores of people took to the streets, but not a single stone was thrown. A revolution should be like that. However, it’s good that people want change and are protesting. They’re at least standing up for what they want.

[For a full-length feature surrounding the interview and the unveiling of the Encyclopedia, please see our upcoming October 2013 issue.]

[Posted September 5, 2013.]

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