Dressed in a spotless white kurta pyjama, 49-year-old bespectacled Ravinder Kumar displays his beliefs quite prominently.
He sports five finger rings, studded with precious stones (including one with a prominent square yellow sapphire which, he says, is worth Rs6 lakh), and a thick gold neck chain with a pearl pendant. He offers you prasad from the revered Mahakal temple in Ujjain, which he says he visited just a few days earlier.
Kumar could easily pass off as a successful businessman but he is an advocate and occupies a cramped lawyer’s chamber in the Supreme Court.
His business card introduces him as the national president of Rashtriya Mukti Morcha (RMM). “A political democratic front against corrupt anti-national and communal elements,” is how his letterhead describes the outfit.
RMM’s petition, questioning whether a person of foreign origin could be appointed to hold a public office, has revived the debate over Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s role in Indian politics.
Acting on the petition, which contended that the decision to invite Gandhi to form the government, in 1999 by the then President, K.R. Narayanan, was unconstitutional, the apex court, on 16 April, sent notices to the Centre and the Election Commission. Kumar spoke to Mint about his politics. Edited excerpts:
What made you file this petition? Why now?
We had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) way back on 10 June 1999. But the Delhi high court rejected it on 24 November 2006. So we had time till 5 March 2007 to file a special leave petition and we filed it on 26 February. We were ready in January and we could have filed it then. But I believe in astrology and I calculated that February would be more favourable to us and unfavourable to Sonia Gandhi.
Why are you targeting the Congress president?
Our basic plea is that the decision to invite Sonia Gandhi to form the government in 1999 was unconstitutional because she wasn’t even a member of Parliament at that time. (Agriculture and food minister) Sharad Pawar was the leader of opposition and he was made to resign to make way for Sonia Gandhi. Our second plea is that no free country allows a foreign-born person to hold a public office, so neither should we.
Did you act at the behest of Sharad Pawar at that time? Are you acting for the opposition parties now?
Sharad Pawar didn’t even realize that his chance had been stolen until I told him. In fact, he formed his Nationalist Congress Party three days after we filed the PIL. We are equally opposed to all political parties because all of them are corrupt and exploit their workers.
There is another theory that you could be acting at the behest of the Congress party because it would suit them to get the foreign origin issue cleared before the next general elections.
People can say anything. Why did Mahatma Gandhi oppose the British? He could easily have continued his legal practice and gone on to become Sir Mahatma Gandhi. Even the Congress party is not following his principles, simply because they are too difficult to attain. We believe the Congress is the biggest curse for Indian democracy. It is completely undemocratic and dynastic.
What about the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)?
We opposed the National Democratic Alliance led by the BJP. In fact, the government’s reply to our PIL came in 2002 when BJP’s Arun Jaitley was the law minister. And the reply deliberately shielded Sonia Gandhi. Organizations such as the RSS have become static and useless for society.
Why would the BJP shield Sonia Gandhi?
All of them are equally hypocritical and live off each other. Both the Congress and the BJP get a chance to rule by turns because of negative voting against the party in power. This indicates how the disgusted and frustrated voters are always seeking a change.
The RMM was also responsible for the first conviction against a former prime minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao. What exactly happened?
Well, it was the first time a complaint was filed, a first information report was lodged, a charge sheet was filed, a trial happened and a former PM was convicted. He was clearly involved in bribing four Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MPs to save his government during a vote of no-confidence on 28 July 1993. Later, of course, all accused were acquitted.
How many cases are you still fighting?
In all, we are pursuing 78 cases or complaints. We don’t pick up frivolous issues or issues reported by the media. Instead, we depend on our own investigations. We don’t always depend on the legal route either. We took up the case of the gunning down of five militants with the National Human Rights Commission. Similarly, we turn to the National Commission for Women and other organizations for other relevant cases.
This must cost you a lot. How do you afford it? Who funds the RMM?
We don’t depend on anyone else. We spend our own money.
How many members does your organization have?
We have 1,100 permanent members and we charge Rs100 a year as membership fees. Earlier, at one point, we had 5,000 members. That was when the organization was called Bharat Mukti Morcha, founded on 2 October 1987, with leading lawyer Ram Jethmalani as founder president. The same day V.P. Singh launched his Jan Morcha. We changed the name on 12 December 1989 when Jethmalani parted ways as he wanted to join the government.
Do you mean to say you don’t accept any outside contributions and your organization runs entirely on the personal resources of the members?
That’s absolutely correct. In any case, the question of accepting contributions could arise only if somebody were to offer us any.
So you get no indirect funding by any political party either?
Absolutely none. As I said earlier, we are equally opposed to all parties, including the Congress and the BJP.