‘I didn’t want to fast in Mumbai, but was forced to do so. My health deteriorated’
I am in Ralegan Siddhi, in this beautiful temple complex called Padmavati Temple. This area used to be a very thick forest not very long ago. My guest today is the man who has created this miracle out of this wild place. He has also built this incredible movement which is now rising all over the country — the movement against corruption. He has brought corruption to the centrestage of the national agenda. Anna Hazareji, welcome to Walk the Talk.
The biggest thanks must go to you because you invited us here, you gave us this opportunity (to speak to you).
Media is the fourth pillar of democracy. Good things should reach people and what you are doing is good. This shapes society, which in turn shapes the country. I want to thank you for doing this important work.
Because the media is the fourth estate, so it has the right to ask questions. There have been times when the media has had disagreements with you. There were times when we questioned you. People even said we were against Team Anna. We are not against anyone. It is both the media's right and its responsibility to question powerful people, people who control or influence agenda. Do you agree?
Bilkul. I don't think it is bad. No one has any vested interest in this and all those people who are working for society and the nation should work together. This will help society and the country.
We raised many questions — never on your intentions, but on your strategies and methods.
I don't consider asking questions to be an offence. It is possible that one may not realise or understand the mistakes that one is making. Sometimes another person's point of view makes one realise one's mistakes.
Anna, we don't want you to fast anymore. It is important that you remain healthy for the sake of this country. It is good that you have suspended this strategy of fasting. But why did you do so?
The reason I stopped is because the last time I fasted, my health deteriorated and it took me four or five months to recover. And I believe that my life is not mine any more, it now belongs to this country. And the five months I lost weren't mine but the people's and this country's. If my repeated fasting results in the loss of so much time, then I believe that it is not the right thing to do.
You think it wasn't right to go on a fast so soon? [Anna broke his 13-day fast at Delhi's Ramlila Maidan at the end of August 2011. He went on fast in Mumbai again that December]
No, it wasn't. I even told them that it was too soon to go on a fast and start an agitation, but they had made all preparations, so I was forced to go. My health worsened after that.
Who is 'they'? Who forced you?
By 'they', I mean the Mumbai activists of India Against Corruption. They had organised everything.
Do you think that the arrival of Baba Ramdev led to your movement splitting into two?
No, I do not feel that is correct. I don't think Ramdev Baba is responsible for the split. I never felt that way.
But was your association with Baba Ramdev questioned by your team members? Did they question you on why you were going along with a religious guru?
They never said this to me openly.
Did you feel that he (Ramdev) was very close to the BJP?
Yes, I did feel that a bit, and that is why I didn't go to that meeting where BJP leaders were seen on stage. I did not like that. I said no political party should interfere in this movement; instead, the movement should pressure parties from outside. If they entered our movement, we would no longer be able to pressure them. It is the responsibility of the agitation to channel the power of the people to ensure that parties stay within the limits of good conduct. A people's andolan should remain an andolan. Even when I was an ordinary worker, I never once thought about a panchayat or a zilla parishad election. I even got an offer to contest elections to be an MLA or MP.
When did you get this offer? From whom?
From (Gandhian and former Speaker of the Maharashtra assembly) Balasaheb Bharde. Woh bole ki aap jaise aadmi ka Lok Sabha mein jaana zaroori hai.
Aap jayenge to baaki sabke liye mushkil ho jayegi.
(Laughs) That is why I said no. I said, 'Why do you want to push me into this muck?' I am not going in there. The work that I do for society and the nation now, I would never be able to do as an MLA, MP or minister. So why should I go into that muck?
Did you say this to your colleagues who have now opted to enter politics? People like Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan, who are now about to form their party?
They believe that the gandagi (muck) in politics can only be removed when clean people enter politics.
But you don't agree?
No. Because it is not that easy. We cannot engineer politics on a national level in this way. But they believe they can, so I said if you believe so, then you can go ahead.
But did you try and persuade them to continue in the movement?
No. I told them that they could go if they wanted to go. But I cannot go. In my life, I have made a decision not to join a political party or fight an election. I have taken a vow. So it is not possible for me to go (with you). You go if you want to. But I did tell them that if they picked good people to send to Parliament, I would support those people. I would not oppose them.
Will you support only their party's people or good people of any party?
No, only people from their party. The entire business of black money starts when political parties start taking funds for elections. How will we get a better future like this?
Anna, you are re-starting your movement, but this time you are without the main players, the pillars that stood by your side earlier. There is no Arvind (Kejriwal), there is no Prashant (Bhushan). Are you feeling their absence?
No. Never in my life have I worried about yash or apyash (fame or infamy), toh kyon main fikr karoon (so why should I worry)? If there is criticism, so be it, I don't care. My kartavya (duty) is to keep working and I will keep working irrespective of whether I get praise or criticism.
But the team has left.
It will make no difference. And you will see that with my new team, much more work will now get done. I have full confidence. I received a hundred applications from retired Army generals, Brigadiers, Colonels, IAS, IPS officers (to join the team).
Among the people who worked with you in the first team, Arvind was the most prominent. Arvind says Anna is in his heart and it would have been good if Anna had lent his support and been with him in his party. Do you feel that it would have been good if he had been in your andolan?
There is no harm in thinking that it would have been good had he been there. But I believe that even if he is not there, whatever way he has chosen is good for the nation. Our andolan is also for the good of the nation. We will get whatever success we are destined to get.
So you will build a new team?
Yes, we will form a new team around Diwali. On November 10, we will announce the new team.
Who all have joined your team?
There is this IAS officer from Pune, (Avinash) Dharmadhikari, who has resigned to join us. Then there is Vishwambhar Choudhary, General V K Singh and many others. We will first set up a team of 20 people. After that, we will go through all the applications that we have received. We will check their backgrounds, whether they have the temperament to serve, saamaajik drishtikon (social perspective) hai ya nahin hai. We are thinking of having two people in each state who would be members of the core committee. Below that will be our volunteers. Each state will have several hundred volunteers. We will build up the organisation from state to district, block, and right down to the village.
And what will you ask for this time? Last time, it was the Jan Lokpal.
I think Jan Lokpal will come before the elections. The atmosphere in the country is conducive now. Then (at the time of the agitation) there were no elections, but now the government is scared. And even if they are not scared, they will have to choose between bringing the Jan Lokpal and facing defeat. Jan Lokpal laana padega, nahin to jaana padega. After Jan Lokpal, we will ask for the Right to Reject and power to the Gram Sabha, which is really the basis of the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha.
You started your battle for the Jan Lokpal two and a half years ago. During this time, you met many people, made some friends and some people left. Let me ask you about them, from your experience with them, from your reading of their personalities. Let me begin with Arvind Kejriwal. What kind of a personality is he?
He is focused on his goal. He has a social and national perspective. He doesn't think about his family as much as he thinks about society and the nation. Money holds no attraction for him. Par rajneeti mein jaane ke baad, doosra swaarth hai thoda... He will not want to become a minister himself, but...
Thoda satta ka swaarth hai (Is he attracted by power)?
Could be. But I do not see any other kind of greed in him.
You said the andolan is more important than entering politics.
It is necessary. But they think that the atmosphere is right in the country now, and that the people will vote for them. If they have that belief, then they should go (into politics). I have told them that if they put up people and I see good people there, I will surely support them.
You are saying that your support will be to individuals, not to their party?
Not party, vyakti (the person).
Let us talk more about Arvind Kejriwal. Do you think he gets angry too soon?
Yes, sometimes. When I see the harm that is being done to our country and society, sometimes I too get angry. In the same way, he too must be getting irritated.
What do you think of this new strategy that he has adopted, making major allegations against political leaders every couple of weeks?
What I say is that if you have the proof, there is nothing wrong in accusing. And if anyone feels they are being unfairly targeted, let them contest it and we will know what the truth is. The other thing is, you must not target too many people at the same time. Abhi main chhe mantri ghar bhej diya, ek gaya phir doosra, doosra gaya, phir teesra, aisa... (I sent six ministers packing, but I took them on one by one.) If you go after all of them together, they will gang up against you.
What do you think of Prashant Bhushan?
He is an experienced lawyer. And I believe that in a movement, especially in a country that runs according to the principles of law and the Constitution, his experience is valuable. That is why it is important to have people like him in the movement.
But there are his personal views, like those on Kashmir...
Woh thik nahin hai.
He is free to have his views, and we defend his freedom. His views on Maoism, what do you think of those?
It is essential to try and ensure that the nation and its people are not hurt. On Kashmir, I have said that Kashmir is a part of India, and will always be.
You now have a new colleague in General V K Singh. When and where did you meet him?
After he retired, he came to meet me, to see how our people work. Every year, some 60,000 jawans retire from the Army. If even 30,000 of them do good work after they retire, it won't take long for this country to change. He really liked this thought. So he came back here. We continued to talk. By then the movement had split into two paths.
Yours and Kejriwal's?
Yes. One politics, and the other movement. V K Singh preferred to take the path of the movement and not that of politics.
He took the government to court to have his year of birth changed and to have his service extended by a year after he became the Army Chief. Do you think this was correct?
After he became Chief? I don't know what the facts are... I don't know what the truth is. But it is not good to have expectations.
Why is it not good to have expectations?
Naajaayaz apeksha karna thik nahin hai (It is not good to have unrealistic expectations).
Kisi insaan se (From a human being)?
Singh's morality has been good from the beginning. That is the reason why he raised questions against the government. If he did not have the moral strength, he would not have done so.
Agar morality thik ho to sarkar se jhagadna bhi thik hai?
Yes, you have to fight.
You fought too.
Do you ever feel that the real beneficiary of your andolan will be the BJP?
I don't know that. But I won't spare the BJP either. Because if the BJP thinks that corruption needs to be rooted out, then why don't they bring the Lokayukta Bill in every state where they have their government? There is no great difference between the Congress and the BJP. They all are after power and money. I don't think the BJP will gain. I think that people of good character should be elected, not parties.
Anna, why don't you write something on your topi?
No, no, there is no need.
People write all sorts of things... Some write 'Jan Lokpal', some write 'I am Anna'.
Jisko kuchh lena dena nahin usko kya likhna (I have no vested interests anywhere. Why should I write)?
But you are making the Lokpal.
But I am not doing that for myself.
People are wearing this cap and writing whatever they want to write on it.
Let them.But I have no swaarth (vested interest) in that. I will keep doing my work.
So this movement will start again across the country?
Bilkul. We will start from January 30, and for a year and a half, we will tour the country. Ghoomte rahenge.
Until the elections?
Yes. And by then, crores of people will stand up and tell the government 'Jan Lokpal lao, varna jao'.
Bahut bahut dhanyawaad aapka. You took out so much time and I asked you all kinds of questions, but your smile never left your face. May you keep smiling always. We will have many arguments, disagreements with you, but I hope you will give us that right, and invite us again.
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