IIT Kharagpur pruned me as a person. Whatever I learnt during my college days is still with me. The cultural and philosophical atmosphere I experienced there laid the foundation for my life. During a campus recruitment at IIT Kanpur, I was rejected by Tata Steel. I was not ready to accept failure. I always believed I was a good candidate. I immediately called up the chairman of Tata Steel, though I knew that he would never receive the call. But I informed his staff about my displeasure and dissatisfaction at their selection process and asked them to give me another chance. I was called for another interview and selected.
I was greatly influenced by Mother Teresa. I worked with her for a few months at the Nirmal Hriday ashram in Kolkata. She was a noble soul.
I had absolutely no idea about corruption’s deep-seated roots. Gradually I came to realise that everyone around me (as an Assistant Commissioner in Delhi’s Income Tax Department) was part of a chain of corruption and somehow it had to be eradicated.
We have been working on various issues through our organization Parivartan. I co-founded Parivartahn, an NGO, while I was still an employee of the Income Tax Department. Parivartan used the RTI (Right to Information) to expose corruption in public services.
Pativartan was flagged off after I received Rs 50,000 as donation from my relatives to begin the process. We appealed to people: “Don’t pay bribe in the tax department, get your work done through Parivartan.”
There were moments of success. But we soon realised that success was momentary and illusionary. We began to feel helpless about how and what we could work on. Slowly we realised that the root of all problems in our country lay in politics – because many politicians are in cahoots with the corrupt and criminal minds.
Rank and file are a part of corruption in government. But if you send a right message from the top, many of these people are willing to change – 10 per cent are those who are born corrupt and they need to be jailed; another 10 per cent are born honest who will not succumb even when there are pressures; and 80 per cent of the people go with the wind. They wait for signals from the top.
Anna Hazare was once my ideological guru. But now there is a trust deficit between us. I don’t know why Anna accused me of being driven by the lure of money and personal ambition. Is there any evidence on this? But I still have the highest respect for him.
I have grown in every sense. When you are an activist, you actually fight for one or two issues. Every group, every organisation, has one or two causes it fights for. We once fought for the Right to Information, then for ration, followed by water, etc. But when you are a political party you have to understand this country comprehensively. You have to understand its people comprehensively. It has been a great learning experience.
In my first stint as chief minister (December 28, 2013 to February 14, 2014), I staged a protest in the heart of New Delhi. The issue was who should control Delhi’s police force — the federal government, as is currently the case, because of Delhi’s special status as the national capital – or the Delhi state government. They said I was an anarchist. Yes, I am.
I have turned down the Delhi Police Commissioner’s offer of an X-category security cover which provides a personal security officer (PSO). But I don’t need any PSO. God is my biggest PSO. When the safety of crores of citizens was at stake, how can a leader think of taking security cover?
My government may lack vision and have shortcomings, but its intention is pure. Swaraj (self-rule) cannot be brought without dialogue. It’s for our future, our children’s future.
Among my strengths are a keen understanding of what the common man feels strongly about; more than 15 years of working at the grassoots level, engineering campaigns; a first-hand insight into how government machinery works; tenacity; and the ability to stay focused.
My weaknesses include lack of track record in public administration and zero experience in working with other political parties. One philosophy that defines me: Change begins with small things.