Excerpts from a Doordarshan interview with union home minister P. Chidambaram
Doordarshan: First thing first on this entire issue about Ramdev agitation and most particularly the recent police action at the Ramlila Ground. As far his and his supporters’ eviction is concerned, will you like to explain the situation? Because that has been widely criticized by certain sections the way it played out.
P. Chidambaram: Before we discuss the police action, we must know something about the background to the agitation of Shri Baba Ramdev. He was given permission to hold a ‘yoga’ shivir, no more, and that with about 4,000 - 5000 people. In the run-up to the ‘yoga’ shivir, he made a number of statements that he would go on a fast unto death from the 4th of June. He was clearly told that he had no permission to do that.
Meanwhile, government had engaged him in a series of talks. A decision was taken that if he was determined to go on a fast, he would be told that permission had been denied and he should remove himself from Delhi. That decision could have been enforced earlier. But because government was engaged in a dialogue, the enforcement of the decision was deferred.
Ultimately, when talks failed or he went back on his word, the police were told to enforce the decision. They enforced the decision.
Now, the manner in which they did it etc. has been explained by the police and will be explained once again to the Supreme Court, which has issued a notice to the Commissioner of Police. So, obviously, I can’t go into the details of what happened on the night of Saturday-Sunday. But the police had explained it and will explain it once again.
But let’s remember the decision was that since he had no permission to hold a fast unto death or any other kind of demonstration, he was told to remove himself from Delhi. He defied that decision. This point has to be made. A law abiding citizen when told by the police that this is the order, you are being removed from Delhi, should obey the order. They can challenge it in court later but they should obey the order. On the contrary, what you saw on the television screen was that he defied the order. He ran from his tent to the dais, did a jig, jumped into the crowds, rode on the shoulders of some of his supporters, took the microphone and addressed the people, challenged the police to come & arrest him, all that was quite visible to everyone.
And so let’s hope that those who criticize the police and I have noted the criticism, will also take note of the conduct of Shri Baba Ramdev. At the same time, I want to say that I have immense sadness in my heart at the condition of Rajbala. 39 civilians were injured. All but 4 were discharged with ‘Out Patient Treatment.’ Two had fractures -- they were set right and they have been discharged. One underwent surgery and I am told he is alright. It is only Rajbala who has suffered serious injuries and she is critical. I am very sad. We have reached out to the family. I wish to say no more at this stage but I sincerely hope that I will have an opportunity to meet with the family members.
Doordarshan: Since Saturday, the developments that we have seen and there are certain media reports about Ramdev making claims that he would conduct more such ‘yoga’ shivirs across the country and he has also managed to mobilize public opinion, so to say, against government as far as anti-corruption stance is concerned.
P. Chidambaram: See, it’s not Shri Baba Ramdev. I think you should know who is behind Shri Baba Ramdev.
We go back to March 2011. At a meeting in Puttur in Karnataka, the ‘Akhil Bhartiya Pratinidhi Sabha’, the apex body of RSS, decided to organize support for all institutions and individuals that were ranged in the fight against corruption. On April 2nd, the RSS announced the formation of an anticorruption front, with Shri Baba Ramdev as its patron. It is not Shri Baba Ramdev alone. I think we should know who is behind Shri Baba Ramdev.
We go back to March at Puttur in Karnataka. The ‘Akhil Bhartiya Pratinidhi Sabha’, which is the apex body of the RSS, adopted a resolution to support all institutions and individuals that were ranged in the fight against corruption.
On April 2nd, the RSS announced the formation of an anti-corruption front, with Shri Baba Ramdev as its patron and Shri K.N. Govindacharaya as its convener.
On May 12th, the ABVP which is the student front organization of the RSS, floated a new organization called ‘Youth against Corruption’ and publicly declared that it will coordinate with Shri Baba Ramdev.
On May 20, a circular was issued by Shri Suresh Joshi of the RSS, directing every swayamsevak to render all possible cooperation to Shri Baba Ramdev.
On May 28th, Shri Ashok Singhal of the VHP issued a similar circular and a number of people belonging to the RSS, the ABVP are fully and closely working with Shri Baba Ramdev.
So, this is not an agitation by a yoga teacher or a yoga guru, this is a political agitation which is fully backed by the RSS and its front organizations. Therefore, I am not surprised that they have announced that the agitation would be continued. We will allow peaceful protest but we will not allow anything that can trigger a conflagration.
Doordarshan: But Sir, a certain kind of trend that we have seen, the exercise of Satyagrah and the civil society coming forward and setting deadlines for important legislations since we are talking about Ramdev and the forces behind him, setting deadlines for legislations like black money. Do you think that has a wider impact on the constitutional scheme of things? Do you approve that kind of a civil society involvement with the domain which is under Parliament? We are talking about legislations here.
P. Chidambaram: I support civil society speaking up, raising its voice. But I do not support elected representatives yielding their obligations and responsibilities to civil society representatives. Let’s remember that the foundation of this country is Parliamentary democracy. That is what Mahatma Gandhi fought for. That is the Independence we have won in 1947 and that is what is said in the constitution that we gave to ourselves in 1950.
Elected representatives of all levels, Parliament, Legislature, Municipalities, Panchayats, for a term, renewable in a free and fair election. Government can be voted out of power, government can be voted back to power.
If civil society representatives claim that they have a power equal to or more than the elected representatives, that they should have authority over all branches of the state, Legislature , Executive, Judiciary, that is destructive of our parliamentary democracy.
And therefore, I welcome what other political parties have said in response to a questionnaire and a letter that the Finance Minister sent them, that we cannot yield our responsibilities to civil society representatives, however eminent they may be.
They may give suggestions, we will take the decisions and we will pass the legislations. That I think is the only correct way to function in a parliamentary democracy.
Doordarshan: And is that something which is really happening with the kind of support that we see behind Baba Ramdev and his supporters and the pan-India movement? They are coming out on the streets and the kind of media projection or the media coverage that we seeing, looking at these days..
P. Chidambaram: I think sections of the media for reasons which I cannot spell out, are engaged in competitive populist coverage of these movements. But they must kindly keep in mind that this undermines Parliamentary democracy.
When someone challenges the Finance Minister to a debate on the television, he misses the fact that debates take place in Parliament and Parliamentary debates are televised. And voters watch Parliamentary debates and exercise their franchise from time to time. So, I think we cannot sacrifice the larger ideals enshrined in our constitution at the altar of short-term “15 minutes of fame" under the sun.
Doordarshan: Having said that, there are also allegations by the opposition that there is a difference of opinion within the government, in the government, between the government and the party as far as the handling of the situation is concerned. Your reactions?
P. Chidambaram: Well, I have heard my friend Shri Arun Jaitley say that. Let me assure him, we do not have an Arun Jaitley-Sushma Swaraj dual act in our party or government, nor do we have the kind of dualism that was exposed between Mr. Jaswant Singh and Mr. L.K. Advani post ‘Kandahar’. We speak in one voice. We have a division of responsibilities but we speak in one voice and act together. Shri Arun Jaitley should have checked either with the Finance Minister or me before he made that comment.
Doordarshan: Now, from Ramdev let’s move on to Lokpal Bill. Now, 30th June is the deadline. How do you really look at that specially when certain sections of civil society have aired their dissatisfaction publicly on certain issues about PM’s position or certain MPs’ position as far as the entire ambit of Lokpal Bill is concerned?
P. Chidambaram: Civil society representatives are welcome to give their suggestions, welcome to persuade us to agree to their point of view but they cannot impose their point of view upon us. We have a point of view and we have given reasons for our point of view.
Take for example the question whether the Prime Minister should be brought under the Lokpal. There are several opinions on that issue. The Constitution Review Commission chaired by former Chief Minister Venkatachalaya and which consisted of eminent people: are they any less concerned about corruption than the five-members in the Lokpal Drafting Committee? Are they any less patriotic? They have said: The Prime Minister as long as he holds office he should not be brought under the Lokpal. This is what we have said in the drafting committee.
There is a view that the Prime Minister should be brought. There is a view that the Prime Minister should not be brought. There is a third view that the Prime Minister should be brought under the exceptions. There is a fourth view that the Prime Minister should not be brought as long as he is the Prime Minister, but he can be investigated by the Lokpal after he demits office. There may be a fifth view. Should not all these views be considered?
Is there any view more reasonable and any view less reasonable? Is anyone holding one view the only right person and all others are unreasonable persons? I think all the views must be brought to the table and ultimately, let me tell you, it is not the joint drafting committee which can pass the legislation. It is the Parliament that will pass the legislation and that is why I welcome the stand taken by a number of political parties that they will not reveal their mind on these issues until the matter is brought to Parliament.
Doordarshan: In the recent press conference, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal said that certain Chief Ministers have responded to various issues and various sections of the Lokpal Bill have almost been finalized and the government is tremendously committed to the people of India in terms of bringing it forward in the next Monsoon session of Parliament. So how confident you are about that?
P. Chidambaram: We are clearly committed to the goal that a bill will be drafted by June 30th. I sincerely hope that the other five members of the committee will return to the drafting committee’s meetings. We have deferred the meeting because Shri Anna Hazare found the date which had earlier been agreed upon inconvenient. So we deferred it by a few days. Provided we work hard, long and sincerely, I think we will have a draft by June 30th. After that the matter goes to cabinet and then to Parliament and then to the Parliamentary Standing Committee and then back to Parliament, but we are committed to draft the bill by the 30th of June. I am confident we will achieve that goal.
Doordarshan: Your final assessment of legislations on black money and Lokpal Bill in view of recent developments – the politicization of these two legislations and again widespread strong public sentiment that is really coming forward. How do you look at it?
P. Chidambaram: I certainly respect public opinion, public sentiment as is portrayed in the media. But I think there is a very large number, whose views are not reflected in the media. They are out there in the countryside. No one goes to them; no one talks to them.
Please remember that for the six years of the NDA government they did not speak about black money. They did not take any action on black money. People get wiser after they lose office and even wiser when they come to the sad conclusion that they may not win office again. Losers are bad. The people have come to the conclusion that they will never be winners again are worse.
We have taken a number steps on black money. These have been outlined by the Finance Minister. Only in the last two years, in Income Tax searches we unearthed over 18,000 crore rupees. In Income Tax surveys we have unearthed 12,000 crore rupees. In mis-pricing we have unearthed nearly 36,000 crore rupees. We have entered into double taxation agreements with number of countries. We have entered into tax information exchange agreements with number of countries. With Mauritius I started the process as Finance Minister. Mauritius has finally agreed to renegotiate the DTAA. We have ratified the UN convention against corruption. We have deposited the instruments with Secretary General. We are bringing a law in the next session of Parliament against bribing foreign public officials. We will introduce legislation to strengthen the Prevention of Corruption act.
The record of this government in dealing with corruption is an open record and we can compare the action taken in the last two years with any other two-year period.
Doordarshan: Your final word, your message to the people of the country through Doordarshan especially in the light of developments post Baba Ramdev and the Lokpal agitation and again the entire civil society coming forward in the matter of legislation and since you also mentioned about the media projection of these series of incidents which have a very strong impact on public sentiment.
P. Chidambaram: I don’t want to give any suggestion to the media, I think they are self regulating and that is how they should be – self-regulating.
As far as people are concerned, let me say this – we are a fast growing country. The entire world was reeling under recession; we have grown along with China. In the last two years in the UPA-2, two years of UPA-2 the growth rate has been 8.0% and 8.6%. No large country can boast such growth rates. Jobs have been created, incomes have been generated, development works have been implemented and a number of social sector programs have been rolled out. Millions of people have benefitted. We must not lose that big picture.
Yes, There are problems, there are problems of corruption, and there are problems of misbehaviour and misconduct. They must be punished. But that is one part of government, one part of social and political life in this country. Let’s not miss the big picture while we talk about corruption. And on corruption, the party to which I belong and the government to which I belong, both have made it absolutely clear that we will not tolerate corruption, and we will exterminate corruption.
I think people must have faith in parliamentary democracy, in all countries around us, surrounding us, people have failed to keep the flame of parliamentary democracy glowing. Please remember despite our shortcomings, despite our loopholes, for 64 years this country has kept the flame of parliamentary democracy glowing, and it is parliamentary democracy that will sustain this country and secure the people of this country. Let us do nothing which will destroy parliamentary democracy.
Doordarshan: Your word for patience for the public outburst. The events that unfolded on Saturday night at Ramlila ground have been compared to Jallianwala Bagh massacre, unfortunately that once again fuelled certain public sentiment. Anything on that?
P. Chidambaram: That is a shameful comparision. One lady has been critically injured and I have already expressed my deep sense of sadness that she was injured. We are reaching out to the family. To compare this with Jalianwala Bagh shows colossal ignorance, or it shows a very perverse state of mind.
Be that as it may, millions of people in this country are going about their work. Farmers, industrial workers, service providers, teachers in schools, doctors, nurses, railway engineers, locomen: they are all going about their work. It is not because they are not concerned with corruption and don’t discuss it at home. They go back to work because that is the right thing to do. They will speak and express their views when it is necessary to do so, but to convert everyday life into a day-long protest and demonstration and a week-long and month-long agitations, I think, undermines and destroys the very foundations of this country.
I am glad that millions of people continue to do their work and continue to keep their faith that these problems will be resolved through debate and discussion and through the instrument of parliamentary democracy. If some people think that there is another way to resolve these issues, then I can only be sorry for them. There is no other way to resolve these issues except through debate, discussion and finally keeping your faith in the institution of parliamentary democracy.
Transcript courtesy PIB