New Delhi: As polling in Punjab kicks off and campaigning in Uttar Pradesh reaches a crescendo, the media savvy Team Anna finds itself in an unusual position. After a stretch of extreme popularity in urban India, they lost steam and came face-to-face with a determined Indian politics. Calling for suggestions from supporters and friends, they have slowly started building an alternate political structure, if you can call it that. The team has conducted rallies and demonstrations in Uttarakhand and Punjab. February 2 onwards, it will tour Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state going to polls. Firstpost caught up Team Anna member, Arvind Kejriwal about poll strategy, the response of voters and to understand how crucial this campaign is for the movement demanding a Jan Lokpal bill.
Firstpost (FP): How is the campaign going on?
Arvind Kejriwal (AK): Pretty good.
FP: How has the response been in Uttarakhand and Punjab?
AK: It has been overwhelming.
FP: Depending on different dynamic at play in different states, what are you telling the voters?
AK: Our message to the voters in various states is more or less the same: election is the occasion when people get a chance to question their political leaders and parties. None of the parties are discussing important issues such as land acquisition, corruption and lokpal. Instead it is Muslim reservation that is being discussed. We are asking people to demand a good lokayukta on the lines of Uttarakhand and are asking the candidates if they will pass a good lokayukta in case they come to power.
FP: Assuming that people, at least in urban India, have started talking about corruption and are aware of the lokpal issue, what is the reason for such a campaign in poll bound states?
AK: That is a big assumption there.
Having said that, why should we not conduct such campaign? Why not create awareness and build public opinion? Election is the right time when you question political parties, their leaders and force them to take a stand.
FP: There is a perception that Team Anna’s decision to campaign in these states has affected the credibility of the movement. How do you see this?
AK: I don’t see the movement’s credibility getting affected as we are not targeting any singly political party.
FP: Corruption, no doubt, is an issue across the country. But when it comes to assembly polls, the issues of bijli, sadak, paani still dominate the mind of the voter. How are you going to break this thought process and persuade them to think that they should vote depending on their candidate’s stand on lokpal issue?
AK: We don’t need to convince or persuade people. They are already convinced. Talking about the basic amenities you mentioned, all of these are related to corruption and people experience it on a day-to-day basis. Team Anna need not make them realise how big an issue corruption is.
As far as the factors which dominate the mind of the voter during polls, I think caste, religion, daaru and money are the deciding factors and not the basic amenities such as bijli, sadak and paani.
The inadequacy of democracy is getting demonstrated through this movement. One could easily say that the people of the country want Jan Lokpal bill. Numerous surveys and opinion polls have proved this. Unfortunately, we do not have a legitimate platform where people can collectively come and express their opinion. It is only through these surveys and referendums that one could do that.
Despite 80 percent of the people wanting a particular law, this parliament will not give a law.
And what will happen in these elections? Will the systems change? Will people become better-off? See the manifestos of the parties…someone says he is from Samajwadi party, but the son of the leader will manage everything in the party…I don’t know how much samajwad they actually practice. Same is the case with Congress, BSP and other parties. All of them are basically the same.
People are slowly realising that this is just another election, another round of voting and things are not going to change.
And they also know that none of the parties are going to give it to them.
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FP: Did you anticipate that there would be a phase when your campaign will be labeled as 'anti- Congress'?
AK: It was never a point which we should have thought about. This is a very successful propaganda that they have unleashed. Right from the beginning we have said that the movement is not in favor or against any political party.
FP: Who has unleashed the propaganda?
AK: Everyone knows that.
FP: You say that your campaign is not against any single party, but the four page pamphlet released by your team on 20 January, looks like a direct attack on the Congress. Why?
AK: The pamphlet clearly states the stand of various parties on the issue. We are questioning all of them.
FP: What if a candidate with corrupt or criminal background comes out in support of Jan Lokpal?
AK: Let’s see if they do it. It is a hypothetical question.
FP: How will you measure or gauge the impact of your campaign on election results?
AK: How do you gauge the impact of the awareness created by your article or your news reports? This is an awareness campaign. People have realised that changing parties and changing leaders would not work anymore. We would be happy if we are able to somehow change the discourse of the debate during elections.
FP: Can you notice any change in discourse?
AK: People have obliquely started mentioning sashakt lokpal (effective lokpal). But then sashakt lokpal have different meaning for different parties.
FP: Don’t you think that the BJP will benefit by your campaigning?
AK: Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank is a BJP leader and the predecessor of the current chief minister in Uttarakhand. Nishank is allegedly involved in corruption and a CAG report has also named him. We have spoken openly against him.
We are saying that demand a good lokayukta and don’t vote for a corrupt and criminal candidate from any political party. Whoever is indulged in crime, whether he or she is from BJP or Congress, should not be voted to power.
FP: What did you learn from your experience of campaigning during the Hisar bypoll?
AK: At that time, it was a right decision. Subsequently, when our committee met, we decided that we should not be opposing or favouring any party. We are doing that now.
FP: What is the flip- flop on Baba Ramdev?
AK: There is no flip- flop. Everyone who wants a corruption free India is with the campaign. We cannot stop anyone saying that only we will fight against corruption.
FP: After Anna's Mumbai fast, you said that Team Anna did not know the way forward and you asked people to guide you. Did you hear from the people?
AK: We received more than 4000 letters and emails. Majority of the people wanted us to form a political party.
Second set of suggestion was: don’t oppose any party, expose all the parties.
We are neither ready nor capable to go with the first option.
We accepted the second option. Let us expose the stand taken by all the parties and let the people decide.
FP: It appears that things are not going right for your team as they used to, initially. Jail bharo andolan was called off, Anna’s Mumbai fast was terminated in between, and there were not many people in Mumbai and Delhi when Anna sat on fast the last time. What is happening here?
AK: The problem is that at times, media becomes very selective in covering issues. Anna’s fast on 11 December at Jantar Mantar was very successful. More than 20,000 people joined the agitation in Bangalore on 17 December and the following day, there were 30,000 people in Chennai. In Uttarakhand, the campaign was jam packed, roads were overflowing. I don’t know why media is not reporting all that. You wrote so much about Mumbai but nothing about our Uttarakhand campaign. You know the reasons. I don’t.
FP: What is your plan after polls?
AK: The legislation is pending with the Rajya Sabha. Our future course of action depends on the government’s reaction. The campaign is on. We all will be with the movement till the end.
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Updated Date: Jan 30, 2012 12:55:51 IST