ByÂ MahithaÂ Kasireddi:
City Central Library, Ashok Nagar, Hyderabad. The oldest library in the city is in ruins today, the assets the library possesses are old, dysfunctional, be it mikes, speakers or fans, the tables and chairs are covered with dust and close to breaking, the rooms have cobwebs dangling from the corners of a ceiling, most rooms did not have sockets or electricity connection. A civil service exam coaching institute had requested a prominent politician to address IAS aspirants in one such dusty room in this library. I was the first to occupy a seat in the room with my nose covered. I was thinking to myself if this leader would be on time. I am habitually cynical about politics. Little did I know that I would leave this place after being impressed by a politician! One would expect the usual hoo-ha and commotion when a leader enters the room, but there was none. He made a very simple entry, walked inside briskly with a wide sunshine smile and took a seat in the front row. He was Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan, leader of Loksatta Party, whom we all fondly call ‘JP’.
Within minutes the public had outgrown the room, all of them youngsters who started demanding the organisers to provide them space. Some had asked them to shift the meeting to the open air auditorium of which the organisers said they had no permission from the library authorities. Clearly the organisers hadn’t anticipated turnout in large numbers. Adding to this, the mikes weren’t working properly, they kept going on and off. JP had assured he would give another chance, some other day with three hours of his time. Finally we were shifted to the open air auditorium, the leader followed us. For about 20 minutes there was a struggle with the mikes, yet he had shown great patience throughout, his eagerness to address us kept us all the more hooked up. Looking at the huge gathering, JP remembered Michael Sandel, the Harvard University professor who conducts open air classes on the ‘Theory of Justice’ and said “This must be the largest classroom in the country so far”.
He was to interact with us on the topic of good governance. Something for which he had been fighting all his life. Within two hours he would give you a brief yet deeper picture on what should be the role of state towards delivering good governance, responsibility of state towards citizens, and how it should be done. He calls it the art of doing, which he had mastered for sure. He has criticized the capitalistic form of economy and shared his observations on how the industrial revolution had failed the grassroots. Being a doctor himself he stressed on health facilities and expressed his dissatisfaction on how much we lag behind. This politician isn’t scared of taking questions, he insisted that we ask questions and that it was our right.
He is a good orator, with timely sense of humour, yet each of his sentences left you thinking. He was a bureaucrat himself. An IAS officer with All India 2nd rank, 1980. A sincere officer with an exceptionally good track record. Those days the salary given to civil servants was meagre, JP tells us how he would get money from his home to make up for the expenses. After eighteen years people still question him on why had he quit such a powerful, dignified and luxurious position and life. In his 16 year service the kind of experiences he gathered and people he met had left him consumed with high amount of dissatisfaction and frustration on the incompetence of the system. The same kind of frustration which we ordinary citizens go through. He was tired of the cynical attitude of leaders who never believed things could be done in a better way. Those were the times when politics was at peaks, dominated by money and might. He then embarked upon a path less chosen only to bring about change.
He says everybody who talks tough on corruption have fixed honesty, as a maximum yardstick. But according to him, honesty should be considered as a minimum quality. He is dead against vote bank, freebies or caste based reservations, and advocates providing skill training to the underprivileged and making them job ready. He openly ridicules reservations and privileges meant for the kin of ministers. He has strongly mentioned many times in number of his speeches that nobody should be denied opportunities and right to develop only because they were born in to poverty or to a lower caste. Accident by birth he says should never come in the way of any individual or determine demarcations based on class, caste, colour, gender or religion. You wouldn’t believe but he sent his son to a Telugu medium school when he could afford a convent English education for his children. His colleagues were shocked and his relatives mocked at him. His daughter was born in a government hospital. He is definitely the kind of leaders we once had during the independence era when politics was solely meant service to public. It has always been his aim to change the public perception about politics and encourage participatory democracy.
When he first resigned in 1996 he started the popular non-partisan agitation called Loksatta Movement. He had rented a small flat in Punjagutta in Hyderabad, those days getting a phone connection was a herculean task. Communication being the prerequisite to carry on any movement he did face small and big hurdles, yet managed to gather the few honest people from different walks of life from all over the country in support of his movement. Today we talk so much about transparency, it was JP who had first proposed that political leaders should make public the worth of their assets and details of their criminal background, he was the first to strongly advocate democratization of political parties, decriminalization of politics, comprehensive judicial reforms, police reforms etc. Loksatta had brought about reforms in political party funding, voter registrations, citizen charter, electoral reforms on the whole and the right to information. If it was not for these, today the Aam Admi Party would not be possible he says. Gujarat today is able to supply uninterrupted power to its people. The model which they adopted is the one which JP had experimented in a small town in Krishna district. He was then successful in reducing the transmission losses by 5%.
You can call this his signature statement, “The answer to bad politics is not no politics, but good politics”
After ten years of political activism, the Loksatta movement took a political turn. In 2006, the Loksatta partyÂ came into being. JP believes that change cannot be brought without having control over resources and the power to make laws. He chose to approach in the constitutional and democratic way. JP never spoke tall, never sat on dharnas nor called for bandhs;Â he or his party people are never seen indulging in abusive exchange of words, all they do is show in implementation. JP himself is known for his best parliamentary practices. His party practices internal democracy in electing party leaders. The party principles are simple yet difficult. The five principles of democracy- freedom, self-governance, empowerment of citizens, rule of law and self-correcting institution mechanism. The volunteers are all young people both students and professionals. They won only one seat in the assembly in the last election from Kukatpally constituency in Hyderabad and are going nationalÂ in the upcoming elections. The party agenda does not contain populist policies, freebies or compensations. They take credit for a number of state legislations. What more can you ask from a single party with a single seat? If all this sounds utopian or naive, you can check for yourself, here.
JP had also served on a few panels such National Advisory Council for the implementation of Common Minimum Programme (CMP), 2006, Vigilance Advisory Council constituted by CVC, National Rural Health Mission for India (NRHM), taskforce 2005-07 and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC), 2005. A major part of the report on ‘Ethics in Governance’ in the 2nd ARC was actually penned down by him.
When Andhra was being divided, every political party in the state was calculating its own electoral prospects; JP criticized such a conduct. His stand was clear since the beginning. His party was not against Telangana, but had serious objections with the way UPA had handled the entire thing. His only argument was violation of federal spirit of our country, and the state finances not being discussed rationally. It was JP who proposed an economic agenda for divided Andhra. His proposals have been included in the draft bill of state re-organisation.
By the end of his speech, the library electricians had somehow arranged for lights to which JP said they deserve applause. We also had an interaction session. He had actually spent four hours with us. Haven’t we all fantasized about an ideal politician? One, who rises from among the masses, has good understanding on people’s sufferings, hopes and expectations, one who knows very well and acknowledges the loopholes in government and the system, also has rational and optimum solutions to every problem. One who is well read with profound worldly knowledge on history, economics and society, a person with absolute integrity, selflessness, a universalist and a romanticist. Someone who always stood for what is right, never compromises on his/her ideologies. The one who is for democracy at all levels, who is tolerant towards criticism, to whom you can pose a question anywhere and not get punished, but receive an answer. Someone who professes and practices clean politics and above all the one who actually acts other than just talking. You may bet this could only be fictional, but we do have JP to look up to. Trust me, this is no exaggeration.