Subject: India NEEDS people like Arvind Kejriwal - Interview with
Some people have been criticising Arvind Kejriwal for defaulting from
the IRS. Kejriwal did not leave the IRS for any selfish motive. He
left to become a social activist, to fight for you and I. To fight
for the people of India. He has sacrificed his own money, time and
effort for the common cause.
Kindly read below an interview with Reader's Digest. India NEEDS
people like Arvind Kejriwal. He needs our full support, apprecia tion
and gratitude, NOT CRICISM.
Arvind Kejriwal's Quest for Change
If you've been following the news, you're unlikely to have missed the
passionate voice of Arvind Kejriwal, the 42-year-old Haryana-born
activist, who is determined to tackle corruption and help change the
way India is governed.
An IIT-trained mechanical engineer, Kejriwal joined the Indian Revenue
Service (IRS) in 1995 but resigned after five years there. While he
was an Additional Commissioner of Income Tax in Delhi, Kejriwal
quietly started Parivartan, an organization that has never been
officially registered. It is run by a few young volunteers who have
helped thousands of citizens get everyday benefits—like a ration card
or an electricity connection—without paying bribes to government
officials. Parivartan [which meanschange] is also spearheading
research into the right to information (RTI) and governance issues.
Kejriwal, a 2006 winner of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent
Leadership, was also instrumental in campaigning to have the Central
RTI Act passed.
Kejriwal lives just outside of Delhi, with his wife Sunita of the IRS
(she is a former colleague), and their two children with whom the busy
activist sometimes wishes he could spend more time.
When Reader's Digest interviewed Kejriwal in Delhi, it was early
March, a whole month before Anna Hazare's momentous fast, when the
model Jan Lokpal Bill—aimed essentially at empowering citizens and
fighting corruption—became the kind of news that eclipsed even the
start of cricket's IPL-4.
It was Kejriwal who, dejected with the long-delayed official Lokpal
Bill, was instrumental i n drafting the Jan Lokpal Bill, much of it
deriving from his experience with Parivartan. Before going to press,
we asked Kejriwal if he expected that kind of national, in fact
global, response from Indians to something for which he's been the
little-known prime mover. "Not really," he replied, "that's why it was
Reader's Digest: Your big fight has been against corruption. Isn't it
ironic that people in the news because of corruption scandals include
a Post Master General, a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a
Director-General of Police, an Income Tax Commissioner…?
Arvind Kejriwal: That's because our system encourages corruption. And
the vested interests have become so powerful and brazenly dishonest,
they are challenging the rest of society, you and me, with 'We will
remain dishonest. If you can do anything about it, you do it.' We need
a system that encourages honesty and discou rages corruption.
RD: Did this interest in fighting corruption start in your student days?
AK: No, I didn't take part in anything other than academics then. So I
got into IIT Kharagpur.
RD: And why didn't you go abroad, as most IIT graduates do?
AK: Yes, some 80 to 90 percent of an IIT batch used to go abroad. I
joined the Tatas. But just being an engineer wasn't seen as
sufficient, so the choice was between management studies, civil
services and going abroad. I took the civil services. Although I had
no experience, there was an urge to do something for society. I felt
the services would give me an opportunity.
RD: So how did you start?
AK: When I was waiting for the interview call, I resigned from the
Tatas and did some travelling for almost six months. I went to see
Mother Teresa in Kolkata. I stood in the queue and when my turn came,
I said, 'Mother, I want to work with you,' and she held my hands and
s aid, 'Go and work at Kalighat.'
RD: What did you do there?
AK: We used to go all across Kolkata. I saw a lot of poverty, sick
people on footpaths, some even with gangrene. We used to bring such
people to the Kalighat ashram and nurse them. If they were dying,
Mother Teresa's message was to let them die with dignity. So there
should be some volunteers with them.
RD: Where else did you travel then?
AK: My stint with Mother Teresa for about two months was like a
complete service. Before that I went into the interiors of Bodoland
and other areas. I joined the Ramakrishna Mission for a while and then
Nehru Yuva Kendra and travelled all across Haryana. When I got the
interview call, I returned home. I liked this phase of my life,
because I interacted with various people before I joined the IRS.
RD: Did your dad suggest this travel?
AK: No, they were very concerned because I was suddenly out of
circulation, and there was no mobile phone in those days. My parents
weren't happy because they just didn't know what had happened to this
guy who'd until then been 'all right'.
RD: Tell us about your IRS days.
AK: It was a sudden change after all the travel, and so seemed a
little difficult. I was always thinking 'I am not going to be happy in
this job' and after joining the training—it was 1995—I said so to some
of the professors. I told them 'I think I am a misfit' and asked if I
should continue in the job or not. They suggested I continue and not
take any hasty decision.
RD: You felt already that this was a corrupt organization?
AK: No, I think I enjoyed every bit of it, working in the IRS. I was
never victimized, and the Income Tax Department where I worked
actually offers great opportunity.
RD: What do you mean by I was never victimized?
AK: I don't know about other departments but at least in Income Tax,
if you are honest I don't think you are victimized. I mean there is a
general perception that if you are in the government and if you are
honest you are victimized. I had good postings, I had a good stint and
the reason for leaving the job was not that I was not happy. I'd
thoroughly enjoyed it.
RD: I've read that you saw so much corruption going on, which you
couldn't stand, and that is why you quit.
AK: No, I saw lot of corruption going on and I also realized that you
can't do anything about this corruption by being in the government. I
started taking interest in anti-corruption activities through various
other means, but not with the knowledge of my seniors or colleagues.
RD: What did you do, for instance?
AK: There were some friends who were outside the IRS. At one dinner in
2000 we decided to start Parivartan. An uncle of mine and my brother
donated, in all, `50,000 for cloth banners and pamphlets that were
di stributed or displayed all across Delhi. They said: 'Don't pay
bribes in the Income Tax Department. If you have a problem, contact
Parivartan. We will get your work done free of cost.' We also gave our
phone number and e-mail.
RD: Was there any particular case that triggered this?
AK: No, it was just that we had to do something against corruption.
Where do we start? We started with Income Tax, because I was in Income
Tax, so this was the department we knew from the inside. If it were
some other department I would at least need to understand their rules
and policies before taking on this.
RD: When did colleagues find out?
AK: After about two years. Anyway, I was on constant chutti [leave]
after that—first two years on study leave, then leave without pay. I
stayed in the ; there were our volunteers doing the work.
RD: What effect did it have?
AK: People started approaching us and we solved some 800 cases in 18
months. We also filed a PIL [public interest litigation] for some
systemic changes in the Income Tax Department. Then we started,
simultaneously, with the Electricity Department. I also thought that
income tax actually involved middle- or upper-class gentry who could
fend for themselves, and income tax often involved mutual corruption.
But electricity involves all kinds of people. A very poor person from
a juggi [slum] came to us saying that he had been slapped a bill of
about Rs8 lakh although he has only one fan and a few lights—a case of
faulty billing, so he was crying. They'd disconnected his power
supply. We got his case solved and the bill was finally reduced to
about Rs800. Anyway, that's the kind of people who used to come. Then
we started helping out with PDS [public distribution system—ration
shop] complaints. But after a while, we started wondering… I mean,
how long can we continue like this? It is not sustainabl e nor
Earlier the people were dependent on touts; now they were depending on
us. The people themselves are not empowered, I felt. Tomorrow if
Parivartan is not there, then they're back to Square One. That was my
worry. That was when the Right to Information law was passed by the
Delhi Government, in October 2001.
RD: You worked for that too?
AK: No, but I worked for the enactment of the Central Right to
Information Act. I came upon the Delhi RTI accidentally, in a small
newspaper report. There was also some drama with respect to its
implementation. The government passed the law but it was never
notified, so when we tried to submit some applications to some
departments using it, they said 'we don't know about this law.' So we
did a dharna and we wrote letters to the CM and the law finally got
notified to all departments.
RD: How did you use it?
AK: Right to information is a fundamental right, an ex tension of the
Constitution's Article 19. We tried our first case where a man called
Ashok Gupta came to us saying he had applied for a new electricity
connection two years earlier, and that they were asking for a Rs5000
bribe. 'I refused to pay any bribe,' he said, 'now you tell me what
to do. I heard that you guys get such grievances solved.' So we told
him 'sorry we will not accept your grievance,' but we drafted the
first RTI application for him asking the department some basic
questions. Gupta got his electricity connection within 10 days!
RD: How did that make you feel?
AK: We thought this was very powerful. So if we explained RTI to
people, helped them draft their applications and asked them to go and
submit it themselves, we'd stop playing middleman, empower people and
RD: When you started Parivartan, there must have been a lot of
hurdles you faced. I mean, if your volunteers wen t to an office, they
definitely were not going to be well-received.
AK: You see, when your struggle against injustice or corruption is
known and accepted, resentment will be there. There have been a
series of attacks, physical violence also, especially when we started
addressing corruption in the PDS. Once, the throat of one of our
workers was slit by [ration] shopkeepers.
But I think the biggest challenge, more than all this, is how do you
break the cynicism of the people in this country? Because if people
just give up, that is the biggest challenge. How do you ask people to
join now in the various struggles? So when you say hurdles, the most
difficult one is to tell the people 'Why don't you participate? This
People see a ray of hope in RTI. Now we are telling you that the Jan
Lokpal Bill, if enacted, will have an impact. It will reduce
corruption. But it's been so difficult to tell the people to
participate in this movement and support the Jan Lokpal Bill, because
people have just given up. People would say, 'Is se to kuch nahin ho
RD: We understand that you have also set up a Public Cause Research
Foundation. What does it do?
AK: After I got the Magsaysay Award in 2006, I donated the prize
money, about $50,000, as seed money to set up the Foundation because
we realized that there was no systemic research being done. Over the
last two years we have analyzed thousands of orders passed by all the
information commissioners [there is one in every state, who is
responsible for implementing RTI]. We also do research on self-
governance issues in a big way.
RD: Now that you have studied so many cases, what have you learnt?
AK: We come out with findings every year. We have actually honoured
good commissioners and good citizens. The other activity is research
on self-rule issues—Panchayati Raj. Until politica l power is
completely decentralized and the decision-making powers are given to
the people, things are not going to improve. Philosophically, it
sounds good. But how do you implement it? So we were studying the
structures of governance. From a world historical perspective, what
has been our experience in India? We have just finished writing a book
called 'Swaraj' on this. It's on the kind of reforms we need in our
governance, in our urban and rural areas so that decision-making, to a
large extent, gets transferred to the people on a day-to-day basis and
the politicians and bureaucrats only implement those decisions. We
have also drafted a Panchayati Raj Amendment Law, a model Nagar Raj
Bill. Go towww.lokrajandolan.org
. All the model laws we've drafted are
RD: Won't such self-governance be very difficult t o handle in practice?
AK: No, actually it is the most practical, and easiest thing to do.
Our democracy today, as it stands, is so complex and so unworkable.
Take this demystifying example. We filed an RTI application in
Jharkhand asking for a list of all the government schools in the state
and the number of students and teachers. A large number of schools
there have 800 to 900 students and not a single teacher, or just one
teacher. In today's system, the people may write a letter to the
director of education and the minister of education to 'please appoint
teachers' and fill vacancies. But they don't, because for the
director, or the education minister, there are many more priorities
than a school in a remote area. Even if they do it, they will take
bribes for that.
Centralized appointment of teachers takes place and, rather than their
qualifications, it is the amount that the person pays. So, we are
suggesting, why shoul d all these issues be handled by the state
capital? Why can't the people in a village, the Gram Sabha, a
constitutional body, sit down and discuss the need for these many
teachers and appoint some teachers?
RD: Will it go to the director of education again?
AK: No, if teachers are not working properly, the Gram Sabha can sack
them. It is ultimately their children who are studying there, why
should teachers be appointed by Ranchi or Lucknow or Delhi?
Take urban areas. I live in Kaushambi [part of National Capital
Region]. Kaushambi's residents, some 4000 families, pay Rs1.3 crore
as house tax but we have absolutely no say in deciding matters. We
realize that the condition of the services is very bad. Under RTI, I
asked the authorities why the road in front of my house was completely
broken? There was no real road there. In my RTI application I also
asked, 'How much money has been spent on Kaushambi in the last two
years? ' The answer I got was shocking. They said they spent `42 lakh
to repair the road right in front of my house. But there was no road
in front of my house!
RD: Where did the money go?
AK: They gave me copies of bills and measurement books. What do I do
with the information now? RTI stops here. That's when we realized that
we need some control, some sense in this entire tamasha. We need,
first, decision-making as to how and where this money will be spent in
our area. And, second, an assurance that payment should not be made to
the contractor till we are satisfied with the work.
If the government, out of this Rs1.3 crore, had spent even Rs30 lakh
according to our choice, people will be very happy. And there's
another problem. The authorities are not getting all the house tax,
because the inspector comes to your area and will teach you how not to
pay the tax. We found that many families had not paid house tax for
ten years. W hy, because the inspectors came and said, 'Give me Rs2000,
and I willgayab [misplace] your file.' So we went house to house
collecting the tax and we were able to do it 100 percent.
RD: And you gave the money to the government?
AK: We told them, 'All your cheques are lying with us, and if you
don't give us decision-making power we will not pay house tax.' After
a while, the municipal commissioner came to our area. He made a
promise saying, 'Arvindji, you draft the memorandum of understanding.
We will sign it the way you say it and we will give you the power, but
please give us the cheques. So we handed over all the cheques. But the
next day he says, 'I don't have the power to do it.' He went back on
his word. By then the people had got tired and it was difficult to get
the movement back.
There were many broken roads in our area. We made an estimate that if
all those roads were repaired, it could be done in j ust Rs30 to 40
lakh. But the government claims they'd repaired them, when they were
not. So if the people are given the power to take decisions, the
people's priorities will find place in the government's expenditure.
Secondly, there'd be much less expenditure. And, third, corruption
will reduce very substantially.
I am not saying that the people should decide what foreign policy we
should have with Pakistan. It's about the things I need, like water,
electricity, roads, teachers. Today there is no platform through which
I can express that this is what I need. The decisions are taken
completely in a very remote place and those decisions are forced upon
RD: If that changed, there'd be less corruption too.
AK: We thought corruption was a problem and corruption is to be solved
but now we feel that corruption is actually the symptom. The real
disease is in the lack of complete political empowerment of the
peo ple. People are politically disempowered. They have absolutely no
RD: On the chart given by Transparency International, which tracks
corruption worldwide, why is it that the most corrupt countries are
the poorer ones?
AK: I think corruption and poverty are integrally related. It's
because we are corrupt that there is more poverty. I think one thing
feeds into the other, and it's like the chicken and the egg. Poverty
keeps people disempowered, and that leads to more corruption.
RD: Now, you've been doing so much for others. You're different. How
do your nearest and dearest see you?
AK: Very interesting. Actually many normally think you've gone nuts
when you do something unusual—small things like getting a few refunds
for some people, or an electricity connection. But then one of my
uncles came to me after I got a Magsaysay Award. He said, "Yeh ladka
zyada padh likh gaya hai aur iska dimaag kharaab ho gaya hai. Lekin
jab se yeh award mila hai, I am thinking yeh kuch to kar hi raha
hoga."[This boy has gone crazy studying all the time. But he got the
award, so I think he's doing something worthwhile.]
RD: What do you think is the future for this country?
AK: The future is very bright as long as the people are active and
take to action with enthusiasm.
Pl support India against Corruption by clicking on the link belowhttp://www.avaaz.org/en/lokpal_public_consultation/?copy