The entry of Lok Satta Party in Andhra Pradesh, headed by doctor-turned-Indian Administrative Service officer-turned-activist-turned-politician Jayprakash Narayan -- was not as dramatic and loud as that of the Praja Rajyam Party of film star Chiranjeevi.
But silently, the LSP has made its presence felt by attracting the attention of the educated middle class voters by its entirely different agenda, its clean image and its advocacy for a corruption-free public life.
Though the Lok Satta was unlikely to bag state assembly seats even in two digit, and the party leadership refused to speculate about its chance of success, everybody seems to be convinced that its founder and chief Jayprakah Narayan will definitely make it to the assembly from Kukatpally constituency in Hyderabad, and make a big contribution to elevate the level of discussions and debate in the legislature.
A graduate from the Guntur Medical College, he was one of the top five rankers of in the civil service exams, which he wrote in Telugu.
After quitting a cushy job in the IAS, in which by serving as the special secretary to both the chief minister and the governor, he made significant contribution in the developing the infrastructure and irrigation facilities in the state, Jayprakash Narayan launched a movement for the democratic reforms and empowerment of the people as the head of the Non Government Organisation -- Lok Satta. In recognition of his extraordinary talents, integrity and his commitment to the value based system, the United Progressive Alliance government included him in several important committees -- including the ones on the administrative reforms and the health mission.
In an interview to Mohammed Siddique, Dr Jayprakash Narayan speaks about what he thinks ails the political system in the country and what could be its panacea.
In what way Lok Satta is different from the other political parties?
The conventional parties are trying to make the people a beggar by offering free things like free TV, free rice and free electricity. Instead of seriously making efforts to eradicate poverty and enabling the people to stand on their own feet with dignity, they want to reduce them to beggary. They have made politics a business. They buy voters with money and liquor and on coming to power they make ten times more money. They eat the public money and remaining they would use for distributing free TV, free rice and electricity. Divide and rule remains their political philosophy. They divide people in to Hindus, Muslims, in the name of region and castes.
Lok Satta is opposed to all these things. We are trying to reform and change politics and make it as it should be in a democracy. We have been fighting for political reforms in the country for the last 12 years. We want a system in which parties should belong to the people, by conducting secret ballot to elect office bearers.
We want the parties and candidates abide by the ceiling of expenditure of Rs 10 lakh per assembly constituency.
What is your agenda?
We need do three things on top priority. Eradicate poverty, decentralise the government completely, and third -- bring accountability, transparency and fight against corruption.
Poverty can be eradicated within five years and with the present budget of Rs 1 lakh crore for Andhra Pradesh. For this we need four things, compulsory education for every child irrespective of his/her community, caste and creed, free, in private or government sector, with English and computers. We need to develop skills in the youth to make them employable. We want to build 1,000 small towns across the state at a cost of Rs 30,000 crore generating 50 lakh jobs stimulating the economy. We will provide urban facilities in the rural areas.
Third, we need free health care to the people as a national policy ranging from preventive cure to the treatment and surgery for any big ailment. We can do it through private-public participation and competition between the service providers. Fourth, in agriculture and traditional occupations like weaving, pottery etc, we will enhance income by upgrading skills, using technology and providing access to the market.
What about decentralisation?
Our vision is to have district level governments with a directly elected premier or governor with real powers. He will have his own cabinet at the district level. We will transfer the powers and the money to this government.
Will it be same as the Zilla Parishad?
No. It will be much better than that. The will have more power. It will be a local government at the doorsteps of the people.
Secondly, we will try to achieve Rs 1000 per capita to every town, village and ward. Suppose if a village has a population of 5000, we will give them Rs 50 lakh per annum to meet the local needs like drinking water roads, drainage, toilets at home and in public places, parks, street lighting. They will have to take care of all these things. It will be only 8% of the total public spending. They will not have to go around begging money for these purposes.
Take a city like Hyderabad where every ward has a population of 50,000. We will give Rs 5 crore to every such ward which will be spent by a ward committee including a local corporator and a local elected citizen from every polling centre. Thus we will build a local government around the citizen, unlike a centralised, remote, incompetent and corrupt government
How about corruption?
We will have zero tolerance for corruption and make Right To Information Act a powerful weapon by implementing it completely and fairly. Once the politics itself is clean, we don't spend Rs 5 crore to get elected. When there will be no vote buying, then you can have clean government
What is your assessment of the electoral scene? Where does LSP stand vis-à-vis the other major parties?
All the three major parties are conventional parties. They only change the names, their methods remain the same. All of them buy votes by spending money, distributing liquor for them politics is business and it is increasing the level of corruption.
In every assembly constituency in Andhra Pradesh every candidate of these parties spends Rs 3 to 5 crores. If Obama, who achieved a historic win in United States Presidential elections, contests in AP, he will lose it. No major party will give him even the ticket because he won't have that much money to buy votes. It is shameful. Every party is stuck in the same rut. We in Lok Satta said at least a thousands times that every political party should make only one promise to the people that they will not buy votes with cash and liquor. Not a single party leader was ready to make that promise, however.
What are the chances of success for LSP in the elections?
I can't give a figure but LSP will spring a huge surprise and give a message to the people of Andhra Pradesh and the entire country that change is possible and change can come only through the people if they use their vote as a weapon for change. Every citizen wants a change but he thinks that it has to be brought by others. We are telling the voters that the change you want is just a vote away.
Image: Jayparakash Narayan