This column has been modified; please read the correction at the end
It’s not just Arvind Kejriwal whose spirit is ablaze with the need to change it all. There are many Kejriwals working quietly for a change in the political infrastructure of this country. Most of them admire him — though they may differ with him on policy issues.
Jai Prakash Narayan started the Lok Satta party with the same intent, much before Kejriwal arrived on the scene. He has managed to win one seat in the Andhra Assembly elections so far.
Others have followed his footsteps. There is the Jago Party, which was launched in 2007 and is active in Rajasthan. Its Facebook page has 250,000 supporters – all from Rajasthan – while it has set up working committees in 22 of the 32 districts in the state. Its founder Deepak Mittal, who is a businessman from Haryana, says he believes India is poor and backward due to wrong policies and corruption. “I wanted to do something and hence, I started the party,” he says.
Mittal supports Kejriwal and has been in touch with him for the last five years. However, he finds Kejriwal Left-leaning and differs with him on economic matters. For instance, Mittal sees cash transfers and privatisation of all services as means to end corruption. He also favours foreign investments in retail and more industrialisation — things which would endear him to the present dispensation. He believes the government should spend about Rs 4 lakh crore annually and pay cash subsidies of at least Rs 800 per voter monthly, instead of running leakage-prone schemes.
To put an end to corruption, he sees hope in Kejriwal. “I have been persuading him to enter politics, but he never wanted to till he changed his mind recently,” says Mittal.
Shantanu Bhagwat was a former Indian Foreign Services officer who quit in 2001 and went into venture capital outfits. He, subsequently, began blogging to mobilise public opinion and support for his idea of a new India. He co-founded the Freedom Team of India (FTI) as a means to mobilise those who are willing to contest elections to clean up politics. He hasn’t formed a party yet, but is keenly watching Kejriwal’s progress. He says he is close to Narayan’s anti-corruption party, Lok Satta.
Sanjeev Sabhlok, a former Indian Administrative Services officer, was fed up with the “system”, too. He says the system is like a cesspool feeding endless disease-carrying mosquitoes (or corrupt officials and politicians). He quit the services in 2001 to start a liberal party like Rajaji’s Swatantra Party. He has written a book, Breaking Free of Nehru: Lets Unleash India, and has been working with Bhagawat’s FTI.
FTI functions more like a club for anyone to join and take a plunge into politics with the intent of changing it for the better. It has 150 members at present. Sabhlok operates from Australia, and advises the government on public policy. He is gearing up to return to India the moment the field is ready for a new political party.
Both Sabhlok and Bhagawat admire Kejriwal, of course with plenty of reservations. They don’t approve of the economic policies that Kejriwal has spoken of so far. Sabhlok says he has met Kejriwal and tried to show him his idea of reform, “but he has not been responsive”. “I’ve not given up. I continue to try to reach out to him.”
But Kejriwal’s admirers have a word of caution for him. “Many of his ideas, such as fixing prices for essential commodities, are deeply socialist, and will take India further down the path of ruin. We need serious policy thinkers to come forward, not economics illiterates,” says Sabhlok.
Shantanu Bhagwat's name was spelt incorrectly and it was also written that he was with the Indian Forest Services, while he is a former Indian Foreign Services officer. We regret the errors.