Jan Lokpal crusaders you haven’t heard of

Vandana Sahu, a housewife, is on a break. She is living her dream. Her long-cherished desire of serving the society has brought her to a narrow lane in the walled city’s Ballimaran area. This is the first time that the mother of two is in this part of the city- around 35 km from her Rohini residence.

She has a bundle of OMR forms with her and a file containing the list of addresses in this lane. She makes her way amidst traffic, cycle rickshaws and goats. Dangling above her head is a mess of electric wires, of all colours and thickness. Vandana knocks at a wooden door, sky blue in colour the lower half which has been eaten away by termites. After a few knocks, a female voice from the other side enquires who it is.

“I am from Anna Hazare’s team,” answers Vandana.

Volunteers giving forms at a house in Chandni Chowk constituency


A lady in her 50s comes at the door and greets her. Vandana tells her that Team Anna is doing a referendum to know public opinion about the Lokpal bill. “This form has eight questions in it. Please read it carefully before filling. I will come back tomorrow to collect the form,” says Vandana, while handing over a form to the lady, Sayeda Begum, who kept a straight face while listening to Vandana.

Sayeda offers Vandana a glass of water. Vandana does not have time as she has to cover 70 more houses in this lane before she calls it a day.

The 46-year-old always wanted to do her bit for the society. When Team Hazare sent her SMS asking if she could participate in the survey for four days as a volunteer, she could not say no. “School, college, marriage and then kids… you can say that I just did not get the time,” says Vandana upon being asked why she had not followed her dream of  social service earlier.  In three days, she has distributed over 500 forms.

Rajeev Kasewa

This is the first time since her marriage that she has been out of her house for 12 hours a day. It has been such for nearly six days now. “I have the support of my husband who is a civil engineer with a private construction company and children who are studying in classes 10 and 12. In fact, my husband drops me at the metro station in the morning and is there to receive me when I am back at around 9 pm,” she says, adding that she cooks before starting from her home at 9 in the morning so that her children do not have to order food from outside.

As a volunteer, she has received a mixed response from the residents. “The good thing is that we do not have to tell them that who is Anna Hazare. They have read about his movement in newspaper or have watched TV coverage of the same.”

What if the government does not accept the findings of the survey?

“If we start thinking on these lines, then none of the citizens would join this movement,” Sahu says.

It is the faith and conviction of Vandana and 500 volunteers like her which is providing fuel to the referendum on the Lokpal issue, which started in the capital on July 21.

The government and the civil society representatives have differences on contentious issues regarding the functioning and the powers of the proposed anti-graft body. The government has rejected the civil society’s demand of keeping the prime minister and the judiciary within the purview of the Lokpal.

Vandana Sahu

To know the public opinion on these points, Team Hazare launched a referendum on in Chandni Chowk- the constituency of Kapil Sibal, a union minister and government representative on the joint drafting committee for the Lokpal bill.

Ever since, people from varied backgrounds with red forms in their hands are visible in the entire constituency. The fact that they have to go door to door in areas totally unknown to them, is not dithering the efforts of the volunteers who were invited through SMS.

For some, it is fulfilling a long cherished desire, for others it is about meeting new people and getting exposed to varied opinions. And there are those who want to make a point.

Take Kanika Sharma, for example. The post-graduate student in Delhi University’s St Stephen’s college went against the wishes of her parents and elder brother and joined the movement as a volunteer. They told her that just one survey or one institution would not eradicate corruption. She is out to prove them wrong.

“I politely told them that if you don’t want me to go, I will not go, but I will not feel good about it,” says Kanika, who has distributed more than 1,000 forms in five days. “It is strange. Convincing strangers about the entire movement and the body called Lokpal is easier than convincing my family.”

She asked her college mates to join her in this cause, but in vain. “All of them support the cause, but are not willing to be volunteers even for one day.”

Like Vandana Sahu, this is her first tryst with the Chandni Chowk area. Initially, she was a supervisor at one of the monitoring points. Her work involved assigning responsibilities to various field volunteers and coordinating with them. But when she was asked to visit to assist the field volunteers in form distribution, she did not hesitate.

“It was a task to locate addresses in these areas,” says Kanika who discovered that while many people knew about Anna Hazare, they were not aware about the details of the Lokpal bill. “Facts such as the existence of two drafts of the bill, the functioning of Lokpal and how it would reduce corruption, were new to the people here.”

This and other ground realities greeted Team Hazare and the battery of volunteers participating in the referendum.

While majority of people know Hazare as a public figure who is working to tackle corruption, they are not aware of facts such as what effect bringing the prime minister and judiciary under the Lokpal’s purview would on the fight against corruption; what is the importance of not having politicians on the selection committee of Lokpal and how exactly the anti-graft body would work. In such cases, volunteers brief them about the entire anti-corruption drive.

Many volunteers found that people had not filled the forms given to them. Some respondents wanted the volunteers to explain each question to them.

The result is that in six days only 1.5 lakh forms could be distributed as against the target of seven lakh forms in four days.

Rajeev Kasewa, 60, does not think these factors are reasons for concern. The retired chartered accountant is volunteering as a supervisor. He keeps a tab on all the field volunteers. “Show me one independent survey in the country which has covered 1.5 lakh voters. This is no mean achievement,” says he.

Kasewa spent 30 years of his career in Africa and the Middle East before coming back in India to live a retired life. He witnessed nepotism and corruption abroad and always thought that the situation would be better in India. The myth shattered as he encountered the worst here. “For each and everything, you have to pay bribe. It is horrendous,” says he.

The Indian in him felt helpless. When the news of Anna Hazare sitting on fast at Jantar Mantar reached him, he saw in it an opportunity to clean the filth called corruption. Since March, he has been associated with the Lokpal movement as a volunteer. “Nation building is the best cause one can work for,” says Kasewa who lives with his wife and two sons in South Delhi’s Vasant Kunj.

That the people spearheading this movement are educated, decent and with clean image, drove Kasewa to this cause. “There is no personal gain for anyone. They are working to tackle corruption, something which effects all of us collectively and individually,” says he.

This appeared on http://www.governancenow.com on July 29, 2011




A letter to Aruna Roy

Dear Arunaji,

Since the day Anna Hazare sat on fast at Jantar Mantar demanding the passage of a strong Lokpal bill, you have emerged as one of the most vocal critics of the anti-graft ombudsman proposed by Team Anna. You have expressed your disagreement through various newspaper articles and TV interviews.

In this scenario, I doubt if many people know that it was you who began the process of drafting of the Lokpal bill, which has now caught the imagination of the nation.

In September last, you chaired a meeting of the national campaign for people’s right to information (NCPRI) meeting where you formed a committee to draft a comprehensive anti-corruption law. You assigned the task to Arvind Kejriwal. He consulted advocate Prashant Bhushan, Karnataka Lokayukta justice Santosh Hegde and was ready with a draft by October end.

This is how, as you would recall, began the process of formulating the Jan Lokpal bill- the people’s version of anti- graft body.

The draft of the bill was discussed in your presence during two NCPRI meetings and a meeting of the national advisory council (NAC) sub-group, all held in the first week of April. NCPRI circulated the minutes of its meetings through a press release dated April 5, 2011.

The press release tell us that barring two points – what kind of public grievances should the Lokpal address and how open should the institution be for public scrutiny, there was an agreement on all other points.

The gathering which included yourself, Nikhil Dey, Shekhar Singh and members of civil society agreed that there was an urgent need for a strong Lokpal bill to fight corruption in the country; such a legislation should be enacted as soon as possible; the purpose of the draft law was to ensure prompt investigation into allegations of corruption against all public servants and time-bound prosecution in fit cases so that the corrupt are held accountable for their actions.

Till that stage you and the NCPRI supported the draft Lokpal bill prepared by Arvind Kejriwal in consultation with Prashant Bhushan and justice Santosh Hegde.

But your opinion and that of NCPRI changed in subsequent discussions on the Lokpal bill.

In the last week of April, a document titled “Towards a basket of anti-corruption and grievance redress measures”, prepared by Shekhar Singh, was circulated among the NCPRI members as its official position on the Lokpal bill.

Surprisingly, in the NAC meeting on April 28 you presented this document and not the draft discussed in April first week (prepared by Arvind Kejriwal).

This was also the time when Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh demanded that NAC members Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander be included in the joint drafting committee.

Since then, you have been promulgating these grievance redress measures as your take on the Lokpal bill. You have conveyed the same through media.

The draft which you have now debunked was formulated after elaborate consultations among the civil society members. But you chose to present before the NAC, the draft prepared by Shekhar Singh on which there were no consultations at all. Why?

You were of the view, as per the press release issued on April 5, that there was an urgent need for a strong Lokpal bill to fight corruption in the country.
Then how come this very Jan Lokpal became a “Frankenstein” and a threat to democracy as referred by you in the articles which appeared in the media?

According to the consultations in April, the anti- graft body would investigate into allegations of corruption against all public servants and would conduct prosecution in a time-bound manner. “The Lok Pal and Lok Ayuktas will directly receive and investigate complaints of corruption and undertake prosecution against public servants in fit cases,” said the release.

Now you, Nikhil Dey and others in the NCPRI say that the Lokpal should deal with corruption of only politicians and not of bureaucrats. Why this change of opinion?

You say that the setting of a timeline by Anna Hazare for the passage of the bill (August 15) is unrealistic and you refer to the Right to Information (RTI) Act was subjected to nine years of consultations.

What happened to your earlier view that “these discussions (on the anti- corruption body) will take place in a serious and urgent matter so that this legislation can be enacted as soon as possible”?

The basket of measures which you support now, says that the judiciary should be kept out of Lokpal and instead we should push for Amendments in the Judicial Accountability and Standards Bill, which is currently before the government.

This is a stand completely different the one you took in the meetings on April 3 and 4.  In fact, in the meeting it was agreed that to initiate prosecution against judges, the Lokpal would follow the same procedure as was followed for public servants. Why are you now for the exclusion of judiciary from the Lokpal?

What we know is your current stand on the Lokpal bill. But kindly make an effort to let us know what made you take such drastic change of views on such a crucial issue.

Thank you.

This appeared on http://www.governancenow.com on July 18, 2011