Posts Tagged ‘Anna Hazare’

Funny isn’t it, that when Rahul Gandhi barges into a press conference and talks about tearing up and throwing away a government bill, some people are ready to kiss his feet. That’s not drama?

But when Arvind Kejriwal decides to stage a dharna outside Rail Bhavan for something that he knows his predecessor lost an election over, his effort is not just called a drama, but anarchic! When youngsters took to the streets of Delhi against the gang-rape of the medical student they too were called anarchic. When Hazare went on a fast at Ram Lila it was a couple of years ago, it was anarchic, when thousands turned up at the same ground in his support they were called anarchists – never mind if there were men and women with toddlers in their arms. We fawn over the Arab Spring movement and Occupy Wall Street which is also a street protest. It is ‘democracy in full flow’ when it happens there, but anarchy when it happens here?

Maybe what Kejriwal is doing is bizarre and outlandish, and drives people hysterical, but it is a more effective option than what Sheila Dikshit did – sat in her bungalow, passing the buck to the Delhi Police and the Centre, while young kids were being terrorised with water cannons and teargas in the national capital in December 2012. The thing is she had the ear of the two most powerful people in the country, the PM and Congress chief. But she was more interested in sucking up to them and feathering her nest. There’s no use telling people, “I gave you metros, infra etc” if you can’t provide something as basic as security. The issue about Delhi cops isn’t something that happened yesterday. It’s a constitutional provision that was put into place when Delhi got its limited statehood.

It’s not as if two law enforcement authorities don’t work anywhere in the country. The cantonments are a good example of how this system works efficiently. Similarly in Delhi, the reason given is that it is the capital city and it has too many diplomats, who need protection. So why can’t a section of the Delhi police do that, and who report only to the Centre, and not to the CM? The rest of the Delhi can be handed over to the State govt, can’t it? It was reported somewhere that what if Omar Abdullah demands the Army reports to him. Yes, what if Martians landed on Earth tomorrow and took over the world? The Army reports to the President, according to the very Constitution some people swear by. So let’s not obfuscate the issue with useless logic.

And this reason about what will happen if Pakistan decides to attack is just so much hogwash. To reach Delhi their conventional forces (army and air force) will first have to enter Punjab, J&K, Rajasthan etc. and that will happen only if and when our neighbours fire off a few nuclear-tipped ICBMs into Delhi and other cities and flatten them all. In such a situation, I don’t think the Delhi Police is going to be of much help, anyway! And I don’t think any country in its right senses will do what I imagined! If the Delhi Police is so super-efficient only because it reports to the Centre why have there been four major attacks and so many crimes in the Capital since the Parliament was attacked in 2001?

The truth is the bureaucrats in Delhi don’t want to give up control of the police otherwise they too will have to report to the State CM, which will diminish their importance. As mandarins of the Centre they enjoy a lot of perks which they might have to relinquish, including the swank homes they live in.

Everyone, including the ruling party and the saffron brigade, have their own reasons for not encouraging Kejriwal. The BJP fears he will split the votes and thereby ensure that their dear NaMo is denied The Chair that they all want him to occupy. That too I am willing to understand. The Congress plays its own double game of backing Kejriwal’s government, while at the same time rubbishing him in public. To the frontline political parties in the country, anything or anyone that steals the thunder from under their very noses, and shows them up for what they really are – hypocritical, self serving and insecure – is an anarchist.

However, have we tried to examine why someone like Anna Hazare or Arvind Kejriwal even appeared on the scene? How did he manage to tap into our anger and frustration about everything that was wrong with this country? The system was and is faulty, and we only scream ourselves hoarse or rant about it on social networking sites. Beyond that, we are happy if someone else takes the lead. Kejriwal did that, and until he decided to conduct a dharna he was everyone’s poster boy. Okay so he over-reached himself, but Kejriwal knew this was the only way to get the Centre to take notice. Even after that, have you seen their reaction? It’s usually ‘buzz off’ to anyone and everyone who has dared to question them. So while some may question Kejriwal’s methods, you have to ask what options he had left. What options, as a citizen, do you have when all avenues to get justice are closed?

People also talk about how he should go about it constitutionally. Fair enough. However, the fact is, the Constitution as envisaged by people like Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar has been twisted, ripped asunder and beaten out of shape by politicians who use it for their own survival and to promote themselves. And for those who say the system works, google some high-profile cases involving politicians which are dragging on in courts for the past few decades. Look at what’s happening in MGNREGA. Is it a system that works? You need to generate jobs for people, not just transfer money in their bank accounts to keep them happy, so they can get drunk at the nearest hooch shop or buy electronic goods. Now they are happy doing nothing because they know that every month government funds will get them their next drink and meal. So why should they work?

What politicians also need to accept is that this country isn’t what it was in 1947. Today we have the Internet which tells us how the rest of the world is progressing while we are still-stuck in the socialist rhetoric of the 196os and 1970s. And while people’s aspirations have also grown, normal things in their daily lives are beyond their reach. I am afraid that is not the kind of system our founding fathers had in mind when they gave us our Constitution. As George Orwell said in Animal Farm, ‘all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others!


I can understand why supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and especially Narendra Modi, are raging. It is because they know they were within sniffing distance of victory in Delhi, and someone, who they least expected, pulled the red carpet from under their feet. They were that close, and had they won, the saffron party would have completed a fantastic sweep of the assembly elections – four out of five. More importantly, to win in Delhi would have been the perfect launch pad for Lok Sabha 2014, when Narendra Modi would surely have swept the polls across the nation, and his ardent followers would have been over the moon. And I mean nation, not just the cow belt, because judging by the response he is getting, even in the South, it seems for the first time, he might achieve the impossible – a win down there – with the party’s allies, except maybe in Kerala.

And then out popped Aam Aadmi Arvind Kejriwal, wrapped up in his pullover, coat, muffler and topi, and stepped on the BJP’s celebratory cake. Up till the day the Assembly election results were being declared, the BJP and the Congress had both treated Kejriwal like the proverbial fly in the ointment – the minor irritant – that would be swatted into silence in another 24 hours (Example: Kejriwal isn’t even on the radar – Sheila Dikshit). They really didn’t think he was going to do much damage, and even the exit polls weren’t too sure. Much to their horror and anguish, the fly became a bee that stung them hard. Sheila Dixit, lost her constituency and her chair, and the BJP just lost its shirt at the audacity of this middle class ‘nobody’ who stuck it to them, where it hurts.

They believe the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has dared to steal from right under the nose of the BJP, what was rightfully theirs! And that also explains why the saffron supporters are savaging Kejriwal and his fledgling party with innuendos and pictures ridiculing him and his movement. What they are showing themselves to be, are poor losers. The funny thing is, the Congress was everything the people didn’t want in a political party and government– corrupt, inefficient, uncaring, and Kejriwal came along and whipped them, in their backyard. Instead of cheering for him there are some people who are ridiculing him. And these are mostly furious friends and supporters of the saffron brigade.

There’s a photograph that’s doing the rounds on Facebook, and probably on twitter. It is of Arvind Kejriwal in a Toyota SUV at Pune airport supposedly going to meet Anna Hazare at Ralegan Siddhi. It’s from a national daily. It’s obviously been used to convey that a guy who preaches simplicity and self righteousness has no qualms sitting in an SUV. It’s a pretty shallow attempt by the newspaper, for which incidentally I have great respect, to create a controversy where there isn’t any. Then there’s constant comparison between IIT pass-out Kejriwal and another IIT pass-out, BJP Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar of Goa, who has been photographed riding pillion on a scooter in Goa. I am sure Parrikar is a good, honest and hard working man. I’ve also read that he travels economy class and by bus, but I am sure he does not travel by scooter to work every day!

While I accept that I don’t see any party that can stand up to the BJP, right now, I don’t think I want to see a Parliament where there is no opposition worth the name. Unfortunately, even outside Delhi, the likes of Mulayam Singh, Mamata Banerji, Mayawati, Sharad Pawar, and Nitish Kumar are, together, not strong enough to pose a challenge even to Amit Shah, leave along Modi! And try as they might, Rahul Gandhi and his ragtag bunch are simply incapable of taking on Modi. Can Kejriwal?

At the recent speech to industry captains, Rahul spoke a lot about what his government has done and what it wanted to do, and yet it sounded so hollow, because it was just the political speech that the industry wasn’t interested in hearing. There really is no point in saying ‘we will do this’, or ‘we will do that’ when his government had ten years to do it, and didn’t. And now, just as the elections are around the corner and time is running out for the UPA government, it gets off its behind and announces a slew of populist measures, which everyone, with an iota of common sense, knows is just pre-poll gimmickry and will take another few years to bear fruit.

Arvind Kejriwal must be wondering what he has stepped into. These past few years when he took centre stage with Anna Hazare, everyone told him that if he wanted to bring about change, he couldn’t do it from the outside through his brand of activism. According to them he could only do that if he was inside and a part of the system. Most of that ‘advice’ came from politicians, who didn’t think he would dare step into the world of politics.

Instead, he took that advice seriously, and decided to be a part of that system. Now everyone and their parrot, dog and grand pappy, has been writing reams about what is wrong with Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party. Politicians from both parties have been running him down. Why? – Because, suddenly he is an unknown devil. I’ve also been reading about him and his plans. A student from a media college, where I used to teach till last year, sent me something written by some guy that was so long I could have made a curtain out of it.

I mean it was dripping sarcasm in some places and plain vitriol in others. That’s okay, it’s his view. I have no issues with that. One could fault Kejriwal for jumping into (what Amitabh Bachchan once infamously called) the cesspool, but did he have a choice? That is, if he really wanted to improve the system.

Kejriwal probably realised the futility of fighting this battle from the outside. He was dealing with the most dishonest, unscrupulous and cussed bunch of politicians since 1947, and they would run rings around him and the rest of the activists, before they would let him take a slice of their pie. And this includes both the national parties. The only way he would be able do that was with an EVM. So I don’t blame Kejriwal at all. Sure, some of his policies may be outlandish (I won’t call them bizarre, just yet), and some of the things he is proposing may look like harakiri, but you have to remember that he is battling against the odds and with very little help.

I went through his party’s Constitution. It says, apart from the usual stuff, that it envisions a corruption-free India. That might be a case of biting off more than they can chew, but it doesn’t mean there are NO honest politicians today. So if he is day-dreaming, why fault him? If he hadn’t added that, the same bunch of people would have ripped into him for not saying a word about it. And then, every five years politicians stand in the Central Hall of Parliament and swear by the Bhagwad Gita to do all that is enshrined in the Constitution. Do they all go by the Good Book?

All the eccentrics who still saw India through their rose-tinted lenses were there with him, till he announced his plans to enter politics. They walked out on him the minute he made his intentions clear. What were they expecting him to do? Hold street corner meetings, fast, fast and fast? In hindsight, Kejriwal should consider it a blessing in disguise that some of those eccentrics left him. Imagine having to put with a woman who addresses public meetings as though she were addressing a class full of mentally challenged children. And anyway, this grand notion of a movement against the State isn’t going to work anymore. The great socialist Jayaprakash Narayan tried and failed. You remember, the next time that Hazare tried to organise a public meeting only a few hundred turned up. And I am not for one moment, doubting his intentions.

Hazare and Kejriwal tried to agitate for a Lokpal Bill. But what happened? The government and their spinmeisters tied him and his activists up in knots, promising a lot but giving them zilch. Look at what this venal bunch of politicians did when their tribe was threatened. Since they couldn’t pass a Bill to overturn the Supreme Court verdict against corrupt politicians, they tried to bulldoze an ordinance through.  The point is, Hazare may have cast the first stone, but the government ensured that it would lie undisturbed at the bottom of the cesspool – until the court stepped in to put this government in its place.

Kejriwal may not win enough seats to form his own government in Delhi, but let’s cut the man some slack. He has said he will be contesting from whichever constituency Sheila Dixit does. He is already up against a formidable foe. She has sweet-talked her way into every other Delhiite’s home, while he still has to get a foot in the door. Most importantly, unlike most politicians and parties of today, is Kejriwal asking for a few khokhas in return for a party ticket? Thank God, for the electoral system of this great country that it throws up people like Kejriwal and who are ready to pick a fight for what they believe in. I don’t remember the last time I saw a person, with so few pretensions to being a politician, who could actually make people sit up and take notice of him.

He doesn’t seem like one of those eccentric candidates who files his nomination before every election and then ends up with just one vote – his. Let’s see what happens in a couple of months from now. The elitist Delhiites are turning up their powdered noses at the sight and sound of Kejriwal’s bunch of hopefuls trudging around Delhi’s streets.

Let’s call Kejriwal’s bluff when the time is right. Until then, let’s give him the benefit of doubt. Politics shouldn’t be the preserve of a select few, because of their lineage or their wallets. If a ‘pagla’ (my father’s words, since they were from the political party) like Raj Narain could defeat Indira Gandhi, I don’t see why someone like Kejriwal can’t take a shot at Dixit. And anyway, let the voters decide whether they want him or not. I am pretty sure, they will. and if he fails, they will dispense with him similarly.

The article was written by me in May, 2011, when I was working with Car India* magazine, on the lopsided manner in which taxes are being levied on the national highways. I was asked by a journalist friend to reproduce and document the articles and put them in the public domain. So here goes…

A FEW MONTHS ago, social activist Anna Hazare threatened to launch an agitation against illegal collection of toll. This was after a high-level committee of PWD chief engineers recommended that 31 out of 165 toll nakas in Maharashtra should be abolished as they were set up in blatant violation of norms prescribed by the Centre. Under ‘pressure’, the State Government closed down a number of them.

For the record, Maharashtra has 165 toll nakas; 28 of which belong to the National Highways Authority of India; 61 belong to the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) and 56 to the Public Works Department. So, is it time for the government to have a Toll Regulatory Commission like they have for the Power sector?

A toll booth on the highway

A toll booth on the highway

Not all travellers who pay toll on the highways protest, but some have objected to the unsavoury manner in which money is being collected. What motorists want to know is on what basis toll is calculated between two points, and once calculated what’s the criteria for increasing it? Motoring enthusiast and frequent traveller Parag Sachania says he pays Rs 487 when he travels from Pune to Bengaluru via Nelemangala.

Another frequent traveller H.V. Kumar says he pays Rs 682 from Mumbai to Bengaluru via the Vashi Bridge and the Expressway. He says there are also smart motorists who beat the system by scouting around for alternative non-toll routes!

Why pay toll when they already pay so many other taxes, cess and a whopping one-time vehicle registration fee, and when maintenance is definitely not as costly?

Of the Rs 880 billion envisaged for the construction of national highways and supernational highways as per the Rakesh Mohan ‘India Infrastructure Report’ of 1993, Rs 230 billion was to be raised through private sector participation. Similarly for the State Highways, Rs 60 billion of Rs 300 billion was to be raised in the same way. The report also suggested:

a) That substantial portions, if not all, of the revenues from taxes on motor vehicles, transportation fuel be earmarked for road development b) Setting up of a Roads Board to ensure the coordinated development of the trunk-route system and adoption of a highway development policy by the government c) Four laning of some of the existing highways be done through public-toll road method d) Comprehensive guidelines and procedures for approval of private sector projects.

When the State Governments decided to award contracts through the Build Operate Transfer or BOT system, it was seen as a win-win situation for everyone – agency, Central and State governments. Private entrepreneurs made all the investments and then recovered the amount from the public through toll over a certified duration. But some things were unclear. What was the ‘certified duration’ and how much? Why weren’t the funds being used to improve infrastructure and facilities? Curiously enough, while doing a story on speeding on the e-way last month, when Car India spoke to an IRB official, he specifically said that the agency did not have the authority to carry out large-scale repairs but only do minor maintenance.

A public interest litigation (PIL) filed by RTI activist and former Spl. IG and police medal awardee S.M. Mushrif, in 2007, raised questions against the haphazard manner in which toll was being extracted on the various highways around the country. When he asked through the RTI, about the rule under which toll collection is done, the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) provided him a copy of a Central government notification dated 5 May, 2005 (issued by the Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport-and Highways) which stated that the agency was entitled to collect and retain fees at such rate, for services or benefits rendered by him as specified by the Central Government in the official gazette. This rule applied to the highway departments of all State governments.

Interestingly, the MSRDC appointed an independent consultant for monitoring toll collection. However, the engineer of this consultancy company who was present while Mushrif was conducting the inspection of files told him, “We monitor everything else, like operation and maintenance, but do not look into the revenue from toll collection.’’

Recently, the Mumbai-Pune Expressway hiked its toll rate from Rs 140 to Rs 165 for motor cars. Former journalist and RTI activist from Pune, Vinita Deshmukh, who is protesting against the manner in which toll is being levied on the expressway, believes MSRDC does not have any mechanism to monitor whether the toll collection on the expressway is being carried out in a transparent manner. Deshmukh also filed an RTI application seeking details of the toll collection on the expressway.

She said that the IRB had entered into a contract with the Maharashtra government stating that for 15 years — from the beginning of fiscal 2004 to the -end of the 2019 financial year — they would collect toll and maintain the expressway. IRB had paid an advance of Rs 918 crore to the Maharashtra government that would be recovered from the toll. The charges also included the investments made by IRB and the yearly maintenance of the expressway. But there are no clauses in the contract that specify how much IRB should continue to collect. It has so far collected nearly Rs 1000 crore, as against the projected amount of Rs 606 crore as envisaged by the IRB initially.

While the 1993 Rakesh Mohan report suggested that the cost of building highways could be recovered from the user, it also suggested a modern maintenance and management system for the benefit of users, maintenance of existing highways, prevention of encroachments on highway land, facilities for traffic, including providing relief for accident victims and ensuring removal of bottlenecks in traffic movement. Have all these issues been implemented?

Travel on any highway at night, and you’ll know!

(Reproduced with permission from Next Gen Publishing)

Pic by Sanjay Raikar

(A truncated version of this piece appeared on the editorial page of the Sakal Times today)
Around six months ago, the people were disillusioned. There seemed to be a ‘disconnect’ between the government and the citizens; corruption cases were popping out of the woodwork and politicians of all hues stood accused in various scams. Names of everyone from the prime minister to the lowest-ranked bureaucrat were being muddied, and just no one seemed to be in control at the helm.

Into this mess came Anna Hazare with his simple call, “Let’s end the corruption around us”. His simplicity and his earnestness struck a chord. After all, why would a retired army driver/villager-turned-social activist step into stem the rot of something that, for all practical purposes, seemed beyond any redemption? Wasn’t he better off in his village, Ralegan Siddhi, which he had reformed and transformed?

So when Hazare launched his anti-corruption movement the people suddenly found the outlet to voice their angst. His small bunch of supporters became a crowd and then a movement. People believed that someone finally had the guts to grasp the bull by the horns. And the politicians were worried. Proceedings in both Houses of Parliament that week mirrored the disgust of the people. There was excitement and hope in the air. People believed that the government was finally listening to them.

The government began in earnest to go after Team Anna. Their PR machinery went into overdrive digging up all the dirt they could find. The financial dealings of the NGOs run by members of Hazare’s core group were being questioned; Arvind Kejriwal was slapped with notices by the IT department; But the dirt just wasn’t sticking. Team Anna was in control.

Now six months later, the script seems to have gone awry. The first rumblings began when Team Anna talked about campaigning against the government in the various by-polls. A lot of people thought it was the wrong move. He was deviating from his focus on corruption, it was felt. Some members of his core group distanced themselves from the movement, others quit. Soon after, Kejriwal paid back the Rs 9 lakh, that he owed the government with the explanation that he was doing so under duress. Not everyone was convinced.

Then Kiran Bedi was accused of making full cash claims on air tickets she was entitled to at a concession. She admitted she had, and offered to pay back, but the damage was done. Soon fingers were again being pointed at the Trusts being run by some members of Team Anna. Prashant Bhushan put his foot in his mouth when he spoke of the need for a referendum on Kashmir, which angered many. Recently Hazare’s blogger, who quit the team, claimed that people close to the activist were using him to further their own interests. It seemed to a lot of us that Team Anna was exceeding its brief – that of tackling corruption.

The latest scandal to hit them has been one, again involving Ms. Bedi. This time she has been accused of receiving huge donations to impart free computer training to children and families of BSF, CISF, ITBP, CRPF and police personnel under the banner of her trust ‘India Vision Foundation’, which, it is alleged, she never did. She has denied the allegations. Unfortunately, now the dirt is beginning to stick.

People know Hazare is an honest man, but they are beginning to questioning the honesty of some of his team. Secondly, is personal honesty and integrity enough to tackle issues of national importance? It’s also obvious that the government machinery is in overdrive to ensure that anything and everything unpleasant about Hazare and his team is made public. With their backs already pinned to the wall, can Team Anna take the fight to the government on the issue of corruption and the lok pal bill, when they themselves now stand sullied? Let’s hope for the sake of the lakhs who believe in Anna Hazare, they can.

It’s clear that the Committee has agreed that your new policy is really an excellent plan. But in view of some of the doubts being expressed, may I propose that I recall that after careful consideration, the considered view of the Committee was that, while they considered that the proposal met with broad approval in principle, that some of the principles were sufficiently fundamental in principle, and some of the considerations so complex and finely balanced in practice that in principle it was proposed that the sensible and prudent practice would be to submit the proposal for more detailed consideration, laying stress on the essential continuity of the new proposal with existing principles, the principle of the principal arguments which the proposal proposes and propounds for their approval. In principle.”
– Humphrey Appleby in Yes Prime Minister

This is exactly the kind of mumbo jumbo one has come to expect from whichever government is at the Centre, when it comes to taking a decision that adversely affects their political career and livelihood. The unanimity the members of parliament have displayed in the case of the Lokpal Bill is astounding. They might abstain from parliament, throw cushions at each other in the Central hall of Parliament, call each other names inside and outside the august house, but there are two things on which they always stand united – the hike in their salaries and the Lokpal Bill! I can understand why no member of parliament wants the bill passed. Can you fathom how an MP would survive if he was caught and banished from political life? Telling an MP to stop making money through illegal means is like asking Sachin Tendulkar to stop playing cricket! Sorry for the odious comparison but I couldn’t think of anything more apt! It would mean a virtual death sentence to the khadi clad criminal.

Briefly, the jurisdiction of the Lokpal under Section 10 apparently covers the prime minister, ministers and MPs, MLAs, chief ministers etc. But at the same time it nullifies the same by stating that the Lokpal cannot enquire into any allegations of corruption against any member of either House of Parliament unless recommended by the Speaker or Chairman of Council of States as the case may be. So who’s going to squeal against his own?

According to what I’ve read up, “even when Lokpal finds that any of the charges have been proved, against the members of Parliament, all he can do is to send a report of his finding to the Speaker and Chairman, of the council of States, and they alone will determine what action to be taken – obviously it may include rejecting the report of Lokpal. Of course the presiding officers have to place the report before both the houses of parliament. A formal courtesy is to be done by informing the Lokpal as to what action is taken or proposed to be taken which includes the rejection of findings of guilt by Lokpal.”

So you can take a good guess why the issue has been put on the back-burner since 1968! The UPA government should stop talking through their hats (There’s another and more apt four-letter word I could use here, but I won’t) on the entire Lokpal Bill issue. They’ve been deliberating for the past 43 years on the clauses of the Bill and every time it comes up in Parliament, it is deferred for one silly reason or another. For a Bill that should have become an Act over 40 years ago, for the Congress government to say that ‘important’ decisions cannot be taken overnight and “need deliberations” (according to Ms Jayanthi Natarajan) is classic Humphrey Appleby mumbo jumbo! And instead of accepting that it’s their fault the government is trying to bully their way through. All through from 1968 to 2011, they’ve been delaying the Bill, and it took someone like social activist Anna Hazare to say enough is enough.