India Insight

“Levels of corruption have gone down drastically in Delhi” – The Arvind Kejriwal interview, part 3

(This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

By Frank Jack Daniel and Sruthi Gottipati

Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s new chief minister, stormed to power in the national capital in December on an anti-corruption platform.

His Aam Aadmi Party, or “Common Man’s Party”, uses a broom as its symbol to suggest it is sweeping the dirt out of politics. Kejriwal, a bespectacled former tax collector, spoke to Reuters in a wide-ranging interview a month after getting the top job, from the same modest apartment he’s lived in for the past 15 years. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the third and final part of the interview.

(“Allow us to make mistakes, allow us to learn” – The Arvind Kejriwal interview, part 1)

(“People need to be allowed to do business” – The Arvind Kejriwal interview, part 2)

Following its strong performance in Delhi, interest in the year-old Aam Aadmi Party has surged. While polls suggest that the party is unlikely to win more than a dozen or so seats in country-wide elections this spring, its success in Delhi has shaken up the national race, with opposition leader Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and the governing Congress party adopting Aam Aadmi’s anti-elite, anti-corruption language.

Little public outrage as politicians unite against transparency

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

India’s political parties are united, for a change. It’s not over women’s safety or how many poor people the country has. They have closed ranks against moves to make parties accountable under the Right to Information (RTI) law.

The Cabinet has asked for changes in the RTI Act that, once approved by parliament, would exclude political parties from being covered by it. In other words, the Congress-led government wants to amend the very law that it once championed.

The government also opposes a recent ruling by India’s Supreme Court that bars jailed politicians from contesting elections and disqualifies them if convicted. A senior government minister told reporters on Aug. 1 that leaders of various political parties criticised the court ruling, which is seen as an affront to the supremacy of parliament.

Kejriwal’s party gears up for Delhi polls with election reforms

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

The Aam Aadmi Party (common man’s party), led by bureaucrat-turned-activist Arvind Kejriwal, is gearing up for state-level polls in Delhi this year with an array of candidates chosen for their honesty.

Kejriwal’s election plank is to cleanse India of corrupt politicians and bring more transparency to government. With graft scandals embarrassing the ruling Congress and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Aam Aadmi Party is taking a more grassroots approach to the problem: weed out the bad ones before they become candidates.

Anyone can hope to be a election candidate for the party if they are endorsed by 100 potential voters from the constituency they hope to represent. Political analysts say that’s not too difficult but makes the process more transparent.

Corruption trumps reforms and economics in Kejriwal’s politics

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Thomson Reuters)

The transformation of Arvind Kejriwal from taxman to anti-corruption activist and politician has been hard to ignore. He became something of a celebrity last year when he launched broadsides against rich, powerful people. That in turn gave him a platform to enter politics with his “Aam Aadmi Party” (party of the common man). Now Kejriwal, 44, must build a party in time to contest state-level elections in New Delhi this year.

After an hour-long election speech on a makeshift dais at a bus stand, the novice politician was visibly tired as he climbed into an off-white SUV for the journey home to Ghaziabad. I waited for him to stop coughing and take a sip of water before asking questions. We then had an animated, if one-note discussion about India’s economy and politics. The short story? Fix corruption and you fix everything else. Details about the economy, such as statistics and reports on inflation and economic growth? Just numbers for the media to repeat.

Kejriwal names his party, now it’s agenda time

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Thomson Reuters)

Now that we know the name of India’s newest political party, launched by social activist Arvind Kejriwal, let’s look at what else it might deal with aside from the annihilation of corruption.

Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi party (AAP) – the name means “common man,” with “aam” meaning “ordinary” (and also “mango”) in Hindi – hasn’t said much so far about the bread-and-butter political topics of the day. While Kejriwal’s India Against Corruption has spoken on a few topics such as the hanging of Mumbai attacks convict Ajmal Kasab, how would he deal with a hostile nation with nuclear weapons? In fact, what is his foreign policy platform?

Kejriwal needs different approach to win hearts and votes

The Arvind Kejriwal-Robert Vadra faceoff has finally reached the place where it should be — in court instead of in the press.

An activist named Nutan Thakur filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Allahabad High Court on Oct. 9, and it has now been admitted. The government must respond within three weeks. Thakur wants the court to explore allegations by social activist Kejriwal that Vadra, son-in-law of Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi, has been involved in shady land deals.

Perhaps court is the best venue for trying to find out if there is any less-than-aboveboard connection between Vadra, real estate firm DLF and the Haryana government, despite the lonely, but rewarding work of good investigative journalists.

Why is Team Anna targeting the PM?

A combative Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said he would quit politics if charges of corruption in allocating coal blocks, levelled against him by Gandhian activist Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption team, are proved.

Singh has been criticised in the past for not doing enough to curb corruption in the government, but the one thing that has never been questioned, even by his detractors, is his integrity.

So why is Team Anna going after Singh? Especially since the allegations are based on a federal auditor’s draft report in which there is no direct proof of corruption or gains made by the prime minister.

More than Lokpal, does Anna need a speech writer?

By Diksha Madhok

The self-styled crusader against corruption, the “modern Gandhi”  — Anna Hazare — has managed to pick on one of the most marginalized sections of Indian society. While pitching for a strong Lokpal Bill on Tuesday, Hazare resorted to an unfortunate idiom about childless women, when he said, “Banjh kya jaane prasuti vedana (what would an infertile woman know about labour pain)?”

However the word in Hindi, “banjh”, does not have the same clean and scientific connotation as “infertile” or “sterile”. It means “barren” and is used as a derogatory term for women who fail to bear children. A woman who does not produce a child loses her social status inside and outside the house. While the ostracism in urban India may not be as obvious, contempt for childless women is reinforced through colloquialism and Bollywood.

Popular culture still depicts women who don’t reproduce, even if it is out of choice, as incomplete and good-for-nothing. It is not uncommon for infertile women to be barred from baby shower or child-naming ceremonies as they are considered the harbingers of ill-omen. Even if the husband is infertile, the wife ends up shouldering the blame for a childless marriage and is often subjected to treatments ranging from exorcism to numerology. Subordination, violence and estrangement are all likely consequences of infertility for a woman.

Navigating the obstacle course of India’s SimCities

The Indian government is belatedly waking up to the fact it needs to build new cities and industrial hubs in order to sustain the growth that is supposed to propel the country to super economy status in the 21st century.

But it might be a case of too much, too late as India sets out to build 24 new, industrial cities along a planned dedicated freight corridor from the political capital, New Delhi, to the financial capital, Mumbai priced at a cool $90 billion. Costs aside, it’s a big ask in a country known for its mulish bureaucracy and maddening red-tape, its violent protests over land, and endemic corruption. Even building a bridge (like the Mumbai Sea Link) or highways (like the Golden Quadrilateral) in India can be a struggle.

Dholera, Gujarat: spot of a future Indian city

But a handful of Indian civil servants tasked with making the SimCity dream a reality seem determined to chart a path through the obstacle course of Indian development projects.

from Photographers' Blog:

Born free

By Adnan Abidi

The joy of being born in a free country is a gift I received from those who sweat and bled in the struggle for Indian Independence. I accept the fact that I do very little to appreciate that gift. The most I do is fly a kite on August 15th, like many others. Quite a few of my fellow 'post-independence born' countrymen have little clue about the struggles our martyrs undertook to achieve what, today, we enjoy with much ingratitude. Freedom has been taken for granted.

The first struggle of Indian Independence was unknown to me, the second, as popular support named it, was the one I witnessed. It was when a 74-year-old Gandhinian, Anna, mobilized a crowd of over a million to crusade against corruption they say has infiltrated to the very roots of the Indian administration.

It was a much-watched movement that kept most of the country glued to their televisions for thirteen days. The media became a window for the 1.21 billion population. And I, as part of that window, got a chance to hold up Anna Hazare's campaign to the world. The call against corruption came on the same day that India achieved its independence back in 1947, and in the same month as Ramadan, which fell in August this year. Following tradition, I was celebrating my independence by flying a kite when I received two calls -- one from a fellow colleague, who informed me that Anna Hazare was praying at Rajghat, and the second from my Amma (mother), who asked me to get dates and fruits, traditionally eaten to end the day’s fast. I was at a crossroads and I had to choose my path.

  •