This Article is From Jun 15, 2011

The divide within civil society

New Delhi: Anna Hazare's fast started with one demand - include civil society in drafting the Lokpal Bill, but since then, there have been many questions on who represents civil society best? Different groups of activist have been together pushing for a stronger Lokpal Bill but are divided on what that the bill should be.

National Advisory Council, with Sonia Gandhi as its chairperson was working on the bill, when Ms Aruna Roy, a member of NAC invited Arvind Kejriwal to draft a comprehensive anti corruption law under the aegis of the National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI).

The two seem to have parted ways on many crucial issues since Mr Hazare's fast.

NDTV accessed the two letters from the Lokpal Drafting Committee Member Mr Kejriwal to Ms Aruna Roy and her response to him.

Are these letters an attempt to reach out to each other or question each other's stand? Or is it just widening the scope of the debate.

In his letter Mr Kejriwal alleges that before Mr Hazare's fast there were differences on two issues: What kind of public grievances should be included and transparency of the Lokpal.

Mr Kejriwal says that after Mr Hazare's fast there was a sudden u-turn by NCPRI. "Surprisingly NCPRI took a complete u-turn in its meeting on the 16th of April," said Mr Kejriwal in his letter.

NDTV accessed the NCPRI documents.

The NCPRI's press release on April 4 says all public servants to be included in the Lokpal.

The NCPRI document 10 days later calls for inclusion of elected representatives only in Lokpal.

"I was quite surprised when on the 16th of April NCPRI suddenly changed their stand on almost everything, and they completely disowned the Bill. They threw the bill into the dustbin; calling it a monster, and a threat to democracy," said Mr Kejriwal, a member Joint Drafting Committee on Lokpal Bill.

When contacted both Ms Roy and Mr Kejriwal did not want to respond to the letters, but their respect for each other and their differences were obvious.

Mr Kejriwal calls Ms Roy his guru.

He invited Nikhil Dey, a social activist, to be a part of public consultations last year, but every time he was told that both Aruna and Nikhil were busy, Mr Kejriwal writes in his letter.

Ms Roy's letter reads, "I congratulated Anna when he finished his fast...Public debate and discussion are important democratic tools."

In the past only National Advisory Council has played a role in providing suggestions for legislations such as Right to Food, Right to Information and even NREGA, but many experts now question NAC's independence.

Mr Kejriwal in his letter writes, "Dijvijaya Singh started demanding that Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander be included in the Lokpal panel. At same time, you (Ms Roy) started writing articles opposing Lokpal. I and other are left wondering if indeed all these developments are mere co-incidences?"

"I was completely taken aback by the comment. Neither Harsh nor I wanted to be the part of the drafting committee...There is little I can do to prevent you from seeing all our critiques as part of a conspiracy," wrote Ms Roy.

"It has never been in my mind an issue of dissent but difference. This business of civil society members being divided is because some members of the civil society are not able to accept a critique or criticism in the right spirit. A Lokpal Bill is not a hereditary right of a group of people anywhere in this country. It is a law which is going to affect millions of Indians," said Ms Roy.

The letters seek clarification but also call for inputs from each other and express a desire to work together for a robust bill.

The question is how will civil society use the variety of their opinions, will it be a strength or will these differences prove to be a hindrance in formulation of a strong Lokpal? A question that perhaps needs serious pondering by the several activist groups.