Hyderabad: Jayaprakash Narayan, a doctor of medicine by training, left a 16-year career in public administration in 1996 and went on to start the Lok Satta (people’s power) movement to promote political reform and good governance.
In 2006, he entered politics by founding the Lok Satta Party with a similar agenda. He became a member of the Andhra Pradesh assembly in 2009—in a campaign that was noteworthy for eschewing the use of money and liquor as incentives. In an interview, the 55-year-old activist-politician talks about the campaign against corruption led by Anna Hazare that captured the public imagination and issues related to Andhra Pradesh.
On the campaign against corruption and for the Jan Lokpal Bill:
The importance of what has happened in the past few weeks is not so much the law itself, but mobilizing the public, giving them a sense of confidence that they actually matter. That we can bring about change, we can persuade the political system to respond.
In a genuinely functioning democracy, there is no place for this kind of an effort; it should not be necessary in a sensible democracy. But having said that, we also have a very flawed democracy. Oftentimes it’s generally believed, I think with good reason, that persons in power don’t listen if we actually follow the straight and narrow approach... The last 20 years have seen a significant improvement in the economic conditions of a certain class of Indians. Young people and the middle class are now demanding improvements, which is the normal case in many countries once a nation reaches middle-income status. India is not yet a middle-income nation, but in the lower edge of the middle income... Most people who responded to this call, we can say they were generally middle-income people.
But to me what is even more uplifting is not so much the people’s assertion. What is impressive to me is the way Parliament has responded.
The debate on 27 August—I really felt proud. I felt truly proud, and I am not saying this casually. I watched, not all of it, but part of it. There was no “we” versus “them”. There was a very deep reflection to bring about change, a genuine desire to bring about change.
The challenge now is how to channelize this energy constructively and creatively... How do you respect each other, agree to disagree, and find that middle path and find the reconciliation, and find a constitutional way of dealing with these challenges and a durable way of dealing with these challenges?
On whether the government and Parliament will live up to their commitments:
Parties don’t easily go back on their commitments, contrary to popular belief. Even bad commitments—they honour them. Take Tamil Nadu. Whatever commitment they made about all the freebies, they are honouring them...Parties would like to honour a commitment as long as they believe there is a vote in it. So that I am not worried about.
On the perceived trust deficit between a youthful society and the political class:
That kind of a judgemental approach is very unwise in democracy. This kind of a mistrust must give way to mutual respect. I am sure, if the youth are discerning, if they are not self-absorbed, they would have noticed that on 27 August, in the debate in Parliament, how maturely Parliament handled it. There was not one word of abuse or calumny... It took a lot of strength and character on their (parliamentarians’) part, across the (political) spectrum. They stuck to the job on hand. And if you don’t respect what the Parliament of India is capable of, the political process is capable of, if we view them as villains and ourselves as angels, that is an extremely short-sighted analysis.
On the perceived frittering away of gains by the United Progressive Alliance after back-to-back election victories in 2004 and 2009:
I think three things have gone wrong.
Firstly, a slew of massive scams. While everybody knew there was corruption—there is an elephant in the room; we all as a system, as a country, occasionally acknowledge the elephant, but generally we ignore it. Now the elephant is so pronounced, it is making so much noise that you can’t ignore it—the 2G spectrum (case), Commonwealth Games (corruption), Adarsh housing scam, (illegal) mining in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, could no longer be ignored.
Second is, probably they became complacent, also overly partisan.
See, the party in power in democracy is not a monopoly. You have a duty to reach out. I think that effort was not there. A sense of triumphalism (set in) after the 2009 elections.
There is a third thing, in a fundamental sense there is a failure of communication. Even when the government is on occasion attempting to do some good things, they have not reached out to the country, they have not explained to the country what they are doing or why they are doing them, they did not feel the obligation to. There is no real communication.
That probably would not have mattered 20 years ago. These (past) 20 years have been remarkable years in India. With the rise in telecommunications, 24-hour television—and even newspaper subscription has gone up in last 20 years—and of course, now we have the social media, mobile telephone, Internet, so on and so forth. A generation of young people in the country will grow up without the baggage of…abject surrender and lack of self-confidence we all grew up with. There is actually a swaggering confidence—“we can do it all, and anything is possible” kind of an approach. With greater wealth comes greater confidence also, greater capacity to take greater risks and challenge. Somewhere down the line, the political process has not taken this on board.
On the political situation in Andhra Pradesh, which has been rocked by dissidence in the ruling Congress party amid a campaign for the creation of a separate Telangana state and a probe into alleged corruption by rebel member of Parliament Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, son of late former chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy:
One (problem) is vote-buying—a cynical, manipulative vote-buying with money and liquor. You see it in massive proportions in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
If that doesn’t work—because everyone is buying the vote anyway—there is competitive populism. Freebies are offered. If that doesn’t work, you have the politics of division. I hope it won’t work in the country for long—division on the basis of caste, region religion, language and loyalty.
If you see the political crisis of Andhra Pradesh, you can see elements of all these three. Monumental corruption, because this kind of politics of vote-buying on a massive scale cannot be sustained without monumental corruption. Freebies without a sense of the long-term future of the state, no real (emphasis) on education and healthcare… You see all the combinations playing out here.
On the agitation for Telangana, from which the Lok Satta Party has distanced itself:
The point is—if everything is about electoral success, not about the good of the people of Telangana, good of the people of Andhra Pradesh, good of the people of India, then we will have what we have had so far. Lok Satta is a party of the future... A party of the future must be able to reconcile conflicting interests. For me, politics is about three main things —promoting human happiness, reconciling limited resources and unlimited wants, reconciling conflicting interests.
Lok Satta is a party of the future. We have faith in the future of this country and the wisdom of our people. Yes, there will be short-term serious issues which will (have an) impact politically and electorally.
But we must create a win-win situation. Zero-sum game politics is very dangerous.
On the Centre’s handling of the Telangana crisis:
It’s the government of India’s duty, apart from politics and which party is in power, to protect the Constitution and to ensure the unity and integrity of India. It’s their duty to reconcile conflicting interests...Instead, parties in power at the national level, just as parties in power at the state level, have used it as a cynical, manipulative political game, unconcerned about the consequences to the state and the country. Now the price is being paid. Now that you have created a hungry tiger, to dismount the tiger is a problem. How do you address this challenge?
You can resolve the issue by either dividing the state, but in a manner that interest (of other) areas are protected, or you can keep the state together, again in a manner that interest (of all) areas are protected.
Unless you use this language of reconciliation, and common sense and reason, and be ready to pay the short-term political price in Andhra Pradesh, unless that political courage and wisdom are shown, we will always have a problem. Unfortunately, that political courage and wisdom is in short supply. To that extent, the government of India has totally failed.
On the roots of the Telangana movement:
There are deeper issues here. It may be Telangana here, something else somewhere else. Basically we have a growing number of young people, increasingly aspirational. They want a better life, entitlement of jobs.
If our young people don’t aspire for a job, better standard of living, and want to live in poverty, it will be a shameful thing. Their families work hard, they get a degree, get education from some college, some school, and suddenly many of them discover that they are not employable. The demographic dividend is turning out to be demographic nightmare… We haven’t addressed these problems. We are busy with our political games and the street is now talking. And the street doesn’t talk the way you want it to. The street has its own momentum.
On the Andhra Pradesh economy:
There is an undermining of confidence, more than the real numbers, that may or may not tell the story of state. But the confidence is a little lower now; I think many enterprises in the state are not very aggressive about expansion, forget new investment… In the hard manufacturing sector or software sector, I don’t see much of a serious plan for expansion, because they feel already if I have money, why (expand) here? If I place an order with a company in Hyderabad, I don’t know if they supply in time.
A prudent industry seeking raw materials, what will they do? I will go to some other more assured supplier. Ultimately, in business, money talks…Who is there to pat you on the back and give you some reassurance, confidence, inspire you, encourage you? That’s not really happening. Next, there is fear of violence. If one person is affected in one million, the rest of the one million people would identify themselves with that one person. But I would not like to also overstate this because we can recover quickly, and there are some good signs. For instance, government revenues have not dwindled significantly. That shows that economic vibrancy continues, even as we are not investing new capital and, therefore, we are not protecting the future.