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Frontline Nov 1, 2013
‘We want radical reforms’
THE India Against Corruption movement started in 2012 culminated in the formation of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). By venturing into electoral arena, the AAP challenged the established political parties and promised to fight corruption, if voted to power. It has since then responded to various upheavals in Indian politics, the most recent one being the government’s attempt to promulgate an ordinance to secure convicted Members of Parliament.

Prashant Bhushan, advocate, human rights activist, and a founding member of the AAP, spoke to Frontline about his party’s political vision and its plan to tackle corruption in India. Excerpts:

The judiciary appears to have set a political agenda through its recent judgments. Most of the political parties have opposed the court’s “overreach”. What is the AAP’s stand?

We welcome these decisions of the court. We have been demanding the same reforms in the electoral process. If you remember, we have been demanding the clause of “right to reject”. In fact, we want more radical reforms. Two of our most important demands have been to institute direct democratic processes and greater decentralisation of administration. By direct democracy, we mean that if a significant population wants a Bill like the Jan Lokpal Bill to be passed, there should be a referendum. If people vote for it, it can then become an Act without having to pass through Parliament.

Similarly, by decentralisation we mean that gram sabhas, villages and mohallas should have more powers to take immediate decisions in cases directly relating to them. This is our democratic vision.

The Supreme Court struck down Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act and set the basis for disqualification of convicted MPs. What are your views?

We welcome the decision. In fact, we have been arguing for proportional representation in the Indian democratic system. This will ensure that less corrupt leaders are elected. We advocate a system where the power of Parliament will be reduced considerably. It will function but some overarching powers should be taken away from it. In that system, the role of elected representatives will also be reduced. We want that half of the seats in Parliament should be filled by proportional representation. This system is followed by many other countries. India can also do it.

It is absolutely clear to us that except a few parties such as the CPI and the CPI(M), no other party is in favour of decriminalising politics. Their public and private views are starkly different. Why did the BJP not welcome the NOTA judgment? Despite welcoming the disqualification clause of the Supreme Court verdict, why has it not been campaigning for strengthening it? Because it supports criminality. Narendra Modi’s government in Gujarat has passed a Lokpal Bill which actually weakens the institution. [It gives all powers to the State government to appoint the Lokpal.] All these parties benefit from the lack of transparency in our administrative and political systems.

How does your party view this phase of judicial activism? Do you see this as some kind of risk to the nature of Indian democracy?

We support such judicial activism but we have also to ensure that it becomes more responsible. For that, we need to have a robust judicial accountability mechanism. Judicial reforms, like instituting an independent judicial conduct commission, can be the way ahead.

Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta