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Interview Hindi

Electoral performance is no parameter to judge a person or party's integrity: Transparency director Munish Raizada

Chicago-based Raizada, producer and director of documentary web-series Transparency: Pardarshita, talks about his motive in making the series and how he got involved in Indian politics.

Suyog Zore

The documentary is a rarely explored format in India mainly because of its limited reach and lack of audience. And if a documentary is about a particular political party, things become even more difficult. Dr Munish Raizada, a Chicago-based NRI who returned to India to join the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement in 2011 with the hope of changing the political system, faced the harsh reality of how Indian politics works. He then decided to expose its true face in his documentary web-series Transparency: Pardarshita.

Raizada has written, produced and directed this six-part documentary web-series that talks about how the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) came to power in the National Capital Territory of Delhi with the slogan of 'Corruption hatao, desh bachao [end corruption, save the country]' but ended up becoming, according to him, another cog in the wheel of corrupt politics.

In an exclusive interview with Cinestaan.com, Raizada, who was a core member of the party after its formation, spoke about his experience in politics, why he left AAP and the motive behind making Transparency. Excerpts:

How did you get associated with the IAC movement?

The IAC movement was not only a pan-India movement, but it also galvanized NRIs [non-resident Indians] across the globe. We were in Chicago in 2010 (having gone to the US in 2003) and the NRI community there too felt that Anna's movement will bring about change in India. So, like several NRIs, I too got interested in IAC. We took out a procession at Devon Street (known for its Indian market) in 2011 during the Independence Day parade in the name of the IAC. I contributed in other ways also as every NRI might do.

When AAP was formed, I was one of the prominent voices. I held the position of co-convener of the NRI cell of AAP in 2015. I took time off from my medical career, came to India in 2013, and spent a large chunk of my time in Delhi over the next three to four yeas, serving the party in various capacities to build a base for a corruption-free India.

So when did you realize that AAP had deviated from its core ideology? And what did you do then?

There were red flags earlier too, but when we came to power in Delhi in February 2015, things started taking a downward trajectory, ideologically speaking! The party had fielded many tainted candidates in the election and voices were raised, but Arvind [Kejriwal] was able to sail through and the concerns were brushed aside.

After he became chief minister in 2015, the very first casualty was to not let go of Jitender Tomar, the law minister who got embroiled in a fake degree scam. The web-series will tell you the inside story. And in June 2016, AAP deleted/removed the donors' list from its website. That was like killing the most fundamental principle of our nascent yet revolutionary party.

Now, as the public itself can see, AAP is just another party in the crowd of 2,200 parties that make up Indian democracy. AAP has killed all its three fundamental principles: 1. financial transparency 2. internal democracy 3. internal lokpal.

So what is your aim in making this documentary? What do you hope to achieve?

That is a good question. The aim is not to cry out at why the party has lost its track! There are people who cannot understand the erosion of such a new party which had entered politics with the insistence that we would bring vyavastha parivartan [change in the system] and make India corruption-free. I was curious and at a loss at the same time, that this party had such massive goodwill from all quarters of society, and yet why we deviated from the path of truthfulness because we were the ones who used to say: Satya pareshaan ho sakta hai, parajit nahi [The truth may be harassed, but never defeated].

Though I am an insider, and close to Arvind, I was keen to understand the genesis of the IAC and AAP and track all that had happened and took to build all this. So, I set out on the path of reaching out to various stakeholders, more so the individuals who were there in the beginning, and understand what happened inside. In the process, we collected a lot of info and instances that it was difficult to put or accommodate in a two- or three-hour movie, so we changed our direction and set out for a web-series.

I have also tracked the very principle of Swaraj — a principle that Arvind espoused so dearly. This made me and our crew reach a few distant villages in India. This aspect is covered in episode 5. However, it may be noted that the web-series is not merely a documentation of facts. Transparency unfolds the story of a common man in pursuit of chanda [donation] and this takes him to three countries across the globe.

The people you have interviewed, especially Kapil Mishra and Kiran Bedi, both have joined the BJP and don't have very good images themselves, especially Kapil Mishra. So don't you think it is natural for them to criticize AAP, now that they are in the opposite camp? Doesn't this raise a question on the bias in the documentary?

Valid question. Let us judge them while they were with AAP, not what they did after leaving or being thrown out of the party. AAP has no ideological basis, I mean, left or right. It was formed with one thing in mind: anti-corruption. It was a fast-track path for countless people who were fed up with corruption and traditional politics and wanted to see India with a new culture of politics. Thus, in a way, people came to AAP from various paths.

Let us look at Kapil in that light. I have no intention of defending anyone, but Kapil was a sworn activist even during the CWG (2010) [New Delhi Commonwealth Games scandal]. He used to work with Kejriwal much before the party was formed. Diwan Singh was part of the Parivartan NGO [non-governmental organization] that AK [Kejriwal] formed as early as 2003.

While watching the documentary, one can't shake off the feeling that more than exposing AAP, the documentary specifically targets Arvind Kejriwal. What do you have to say about that?

Oh, yes, it targets Arvind only. Whom else do we blame? A leader gets the crown also and the blame too. See, as an insider, in this fledgling party, I can say with conviction that just a small coterie was doing everything. In those days also, and today also, the dynamics are the same, just that some kirdaars [characters] have changed. Ours is a façade of swaraj, decentralization and blah-blah, but in essence a very centralized mindset. And let me be very clear, we did not pursue a line. Whatever emerges is an automatic process. Also, as the evolving story will tell, the anchor made countless efforts to reach out to Arvind, but the end will tell what happens. So, in a way, it is not just an adding up of some interviews, there is a journey that unfolds over time.

If you feel that AAP, especially Kejriwal, has betrayed his core principles, then why do you think he and AAP have maintained their popularity among the masses? The latest assembly election in Delhi in February 2020 is a prime example.

I am glad you brought this up. See, winning or losing elections is not a parameter to judge the integrity or value system of a person or party. Electoral outcomes depend upon so many factors. The onus lies on us — as AAPians — to explain why we have hidden our donor list, why AK continues to be the convener of the party whereas no one is entitled to hold a position for more than two terms (as per our party's constitution), and why we did away with our internal lokpal. Or, for that matter, why we are not following the system of primaries while choosing candidates for elections.

So, when we raise these questions, AK says look at our governance. Well, Bihar did not go to the dogs [only] when Rabri Devi was chief minister. So, it boils down to one issue: principles. If you hold on to principles, systems, you strengthen the institutional mechanisms; if you destroy them, you can become powerful and popular, but at the cost of core values and killing the talent within our organization.

Also, let us remember, Delhi election 2020, AAP won not primarily due to its 'popularity', but because freebies were flying around, the Congress killed its own campaign to prevent the BJP from coming to power, and Muslims voted en masse for AAP. Hence the vote swing.

Of course, these are my views. They have nothing to do with the idea of our web-series, as the web-series was in post-production when the Delhi election was happening.

Why a documentary though? Why not any other form of media?​

I wanted to write a book but thought the audio-visual media has better reach and power. To tell you the truth, I had initially had a fictional plot in mind. I even discussed it with a few directors in 'Bollywood' [commercial Hindi cinema], particularly with [filmmaker] Prakash Jhaji. [A question] emerged: who would arrange the massive funds needed to create a fictional thriller? Also, I felt that we need to call a spade a spade rather than creating fictional characters. That is like hiding the reality. And here in the West, documentaries are an accepted part of cinema. So, I settled for a realistic documentary movie, which finally settled down as a documentary series.

Were you aware that there is already a documentary called An Insignificant Man (2017), which traces AAP's journey from its formation to its first win?

Yes, I knew, and I have watched it.

Don't you think people will find Transparency repetitive, as it broadly deals with the same topic?​

Well, there are two fundamental differences. First, An Insignificant Man takes into consideration only one year (or the first year) of AAP's life (December 2012 to December 2013, when elections took place and AAP got 28 seats and Arvind Kejriwal became chief minister for the first time). The documentary was released much later, I believe in 2017, as the makers were struggling with funds and some post-production issues, but by that time, much water had flowed under the bridge on the Yamuna.

Transparency takes a broader view of things and has many dimensions to it. We shot it in three different countries and many parts of India. So, I would say, our scale and scope is much wider, [which is] not to demean the efforts of Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla.

Do you think Transparency will set a precedent for political documentaries in India?

I sincerely hope so. I always say Indians are so passionate about rajneeti [politics]. We live day and night discussing politics. The charcha [discussion] that happens at tea shops and elsewhere is proof. WhatsApp is full of political news, gossip and analysis. Yet, why we do not see rajneeti being depicted in a realistic manner in the entertainment industry?

What do you think of India's current political scenario?

This is a broad question. In a nutshell, the country is very polarized and divided.

What do you have to say about this sudden rise of right-wing politics all over the world, even in developed countries like the USA, the UK, Germany and so forth. Nobody imagined even a decade ago that right-wing politics would make such a comeback.

Oddly, while globalization has spread, many countries have witnessed a nationalistic trend, as you so rightly said. It seems that local factors have played a role in people rallying behind this trend. In India, it was bound to arrive.

Why do you think so?

It was bound to come because, in the first place, Indian governments were not practising secularism in the real sense. In the name of secularism, they were letting appeasement take place and some concessions still happen. Or even blatant caste-based politics without shame was happening. For instance, the Lalus [Lalu Prasad from Bihar] and Mulayams [Mulayam Singh Yadav from Uttar Pradesh] were openly doing caste-based politics. The dissatisfaction was bound to give space to a right-wing party and the BJP captured it.

What are your future plans? Do you wish to explore and make a comeback into active politics?

Let us see how this web-series goes. I am back to my medical practice. My political experience in the last six years has given me time to reflect. Party-based politics is not the ultimate solution in a democracy. Political parties are just necessary evils in our democracy. But the country needs solutions beyond that.

What India needs urgently are electoral reforms, administrative and judicial reforms. If time permits, I would like to work in the reforms domain.

If you were given the power to make one change in our political system, what would that be?

Negative vote! Introduce that and it will cleanse politics of crime and goons. NOTA [None Of The Above] is just ceremonial. Also, to make political funding more transparent and clean.