The anti-corruption strand in Indian politics goes back to the days of Jayaprakash Narayan

Just as disenchantment with Arvind Kejriwal was beginning to set in, thanks to the unseemly drama of his dharna-a-day government, the Aam Aadmi Party has triggered fresh enthusiasm and hope by attracting the likes of Rajmohan Gandhi to its fold.

Rajmohan Gandhi is an editor I have worked with in the past. He is among the most gentle, gentlemanly and fair-minded persons, and has great personal integrity. But he is not new to politics. As a Janata Dal candidate in 1989, he contested and lost in Amethi to Rajiv Gandhi; in 1991 he lost in Sabarkantha to Arvind Trivedi.

Getting Rajmohan on board was a sort of coup for the AAP. But the heart skipped a beat initially, because it was speculated that he would be fielded against the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. That would have been political suicide and unnecessary sacrifice of a great candidate. But now, Kejriwal has indicated he’ll pick up that gauntlet himself and Rajmohan will be given a ticket from East Delhi.

Around the same time there were reports that Rajiv Bajaj, Managing Director of Bajaj Auto, would join the AAP. This was particularly surprising because his father Rahul Bajaj is a Rajya Sabha MP with the BJP’s backing. But Rajiv later admitted that although he had said he liked Kejriwal and was his well-wisher, he was really “indifferent to politics”.

“The chance of my joining the AAP or fighting an election under their banner is as much as Kejriwal making motorcycles for the market,” he quipped.

Grassroots party

Rajmohan Gandhi said he had joined the AAP on seeing that it had grown from the grassroots and generated a lot of enthusiasm. Taking a swipe at both the Congress and the BJP, he said that while the former had made the transition from being a party of the aam aadmi to that of the khas aadmi, the latter was a “rich’s man’s party”.

While corporate entities such as the former CFO of Infosys C Balakrishnan and the pioneer of low-cost airlines in India, Captain Gopinath have joined the AAP and further enhanced its credibility, activist Medha Patkar has been a huge supporter too. She came down heavily on both the Congress and the BJP for not allowing Kejriwal’s government to function in Delhi. But earlier reports of her joining the AAP have been refuted. Apparently, the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), to which she belongs, is against her joining any political outfit. So while Patkar might contest the Lok Sabha polls, she is likely to be an independent candidate with the AAP’s support.

But if you put aside Kejriwal’s tantrums and dharnas, and his Law Minister Somnath Bharti’s enthusiasm for midnight raids sans warrants, it is worthwhile examining how and why the AAP was able to generate so much enthusiasm among the well-heeled voters of Delhi, enough to get a haul of 28 seats. It isn’t really a brand new idea; others before Kejriwal have talked about and worked to clean politics of corruption. Not all of them have screamed like him from the rooftops, Delhi streets or TV newsrooms, but they have done path-breaking work on political reforms.

The two JPs

As early as 1974, rebelling against Indira Gandhi’s leadership, Jayaprakash Narayan gave a call from Patna for “total revolution” against a government that was unable to provide food and check rising prices and unemployment. What followed is only too well known: the Emergency, Indira Gandhi’s defeat, and her triumphant return as the Janata government of Morarji Desai was wrecked by factions and infighting.

And then, this time in Andhra Pradesh, we had another Jayaprakash Narayan, founder and president of the Lok Satta movement, giving a similar call to rid politics of corruption and nepotism. The movement was started in 1997 and later became a political party. But in a political system which rewards only the first one past the post, even in Hyderabad, where the Lok Satta Party got almost 10 per cent votes, the party was able to return one lone MLA, Narayan himself, to the Andhra Pradesh Assembly in 2009.

But the rather modest political dividend he reaped is not really commensurate with the tremendous grassroots and background work JP, as he is known, has done in terms of electoral reforms, voter registration and legitimate funding of political parties. Along with social activist Aruna Roy, he too has worked relentlessly in getting the Right to Information Act.

Backbreaking work

Looking back, he recalls the “backbreaking work” the Lok Satta has done to pave the way for the evolution of political reforms and the politics of today. “We often forget that till 15-16 years ago, something as simple as voter registration was terrible and there was 40 to 50 per cent error in urban areas. A lot of evidence and documentation were required to be given to the Election Commission to correct the system.”

Similarly JP and his team have worked relentlessly to make the disclosure of personal wealth mandatory for all candidates. “We also used the Tehelka scam (on bribes politicians take) to bring about legislation on election funding and push political parties to go in for a legitimate channel for funding politics.”

This resulted in the 2003 legislation when the Representation of People’s Act was changed, allowing IT exemption on donations made to political parties by corporates and individuals. “Without that law neither the Loksatta nor the AAP would be able to survive today,” says JP, adding, “we also created the framework for the anti-defection law. So this is not a one-party or one-day thing, it is work in progress.”

But to really rid politics of corruption, more than sweeping charges against individuals are required. The malaise has crept into the fabric of our institutions.

The good news, however, is that even if AAP falters or fails, the idea of clean politics that has enthused millions of Indians, will only grow and flourish. Established parties have no option but to respond to this phenomenon and change. Or perish.

(This article was published on March 3, 2014)
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