‘A villager said he should be allowed to vote in two constituencies, since politicians can contest from two places’
‘My family is nervous about these attacks on me. I try to calm them down.’
‘We are avoiding a few TV channels, including Times Now, because we realised that they were maliciously and mischievously targeting the Aam Aadmi Party and promoting the BJP.
‘The media is part of the game to polarize Hindus and Muslims.’
‘Can we get all religious communities and castes to come together to fight the election? That is our mission.’
‘Their politics is the politics of hatred, we want to pursue the politics of love.’
‘Mukhtar Ansari is a citizen of this country, and he is free to contest or withdraw.’
‘Powers have been given to the bureaucracy, which is not at all accountable to MPs and MLAs.’
‘My visit to Punjab was divine, just too good. I have never seen so many people spilling out on the streets.’
On April 15, Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal arrived in Varanasi to engage BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in what has been billed as India’s epic electoral battle. He took to the streets immediately, visiting a family whose bread-winner died recently while cleaning a manhole, and holding an interactive session in which people asked him questions.
On the following day, he fanned out in Rohinya, a predominantly rural segment of the Varanasi parliamentary constituency, addressing rallies in villages and stopping impromptu at a few stops to greet his admirers. Ajaz Ashraf hopped into Arvind Kejriwal’s vehicle in Kaparphorwa village and asked him questions till the cavalcade grinded to a halt at Harsos, where he addressed yet another rally late afternoon. In those 20-25 minutes,Kejriwal spoke of the recent attacks on him, his reasons for challenging Modi, and the media’s brazen bias.
Eggs and ink were thrown on you the last time you were in Varanasi. Since then, there has been a series of attacks on you. What has been the impact of these attacks on you?
These attacks did not begin in Varanasi. When did these attacks begin? They began when I visited Gujarat early March. Is it a coincidence or is there something more to it? I really do not know. We are attacking big, very big interests, and it is only natural that they won’t keep quiet. They will attack us.
How have these attacks impacted you personally?
It wasn’t a shocker as I was expecting these attacks. I also feel these attacks will remain minor in nature till the elections are over. They know a vicious attack on me now could cause heavy losses to them in the elections. After the elections, I feel they won’t spare me. They will do something. People like Modi and Ambani…. I have been told that industrialists are being threatened, editors are being threatened. They are being told that Modi is coming to power, and that Modi doesn’t spare anyone, that he always takes revenge. So he will take revenge against me as well. But I am prepared for it.
How does your family look upon it?
They are nervous. I try to calm them down. I suppose they don’t have any other choice now. (Laughs)
You were here in Varanasi in March. From then and now, how do you think your campaign has shaped up?
This is not my campaign. It is the campaign of janta, the people. Had this been my campaign, then it would have been another matter – and I could have answered your question. My mission is not to become a member of Parliament. My mission is to awaken people, to make them understand (the need for change). If they are awakened now, fine. Otherwise, it will have to be in the next election. My fight will continue.
AAP’s candidate in the rural Nalanda constituency, Bihar, was attacked. There are others who have pulled out. Is it because others are bringing pressure on them or…?
Pressure could be one of the reasons. Some of the candidates have withdrawn because the party doesn’t have money, and they don’t have resources of their own. So they have withdrawn saying ‘give the ticket to someone else’. They have withdrawn from the electoral contest, but they are very much with the party. Pressure could also be another reason, but I do not have evidence of it. The attack on our candidate in Nalanda shows how inhuman our politics has become.
You have been to the Muslim areas of Varanasi. What has been the community’s response to you?
Obviously, Muslims want to defeat Modi. But we are looking at it in a different way. If it is possible this time for Muslims and Hindus to get together and vote, rather than being polarized… Modi, as you know, is a very polarizing figure… Can we get all religious communities and castes to come together to fight the election? That is the question, that is our mission. Basically, our fight is for honesty and truth. These are universal values, whether it is Hinduism or Islam or Sikhism or Jainism. These values are present in every religious system. Our fight is for fostering love and humanity in society. Their politics is the politics of hatred, we want to pursue the politics of love. Theirs is also the politics of corruption, ours is of honesty. It is imperative for everyone to come together to achieve this goal.
In a way, therefore, Varanasi can become the capital of the politics of change that your party wants to see?
God has given the key to the country’s politics in the hands of Varanasi and Amethi. If people can come out and defeat Modi in Varanasi and Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, there would be a huge earthquake in the politics of this country. The BJP and Congress will then be finished. There will be a re-election after a year, and you will see a new type of people join politics.
What about Mukhtar Ansari’s withdrawal from the electoral fray in Varanasi? People are reading this development in various ways. (In 2009, Mukhtar Ansari, allegedly an underworld don, had contested from Varanasi on the BSP ticket and lost to BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi by around 17000 votes.)
Mukhtar Ansari is a citizen of this country, and he is free to contest or withdraw. It is entirely up to him. But we are not in touch with him.
Do you ever conceive of defeat in Varanasi? Don’t you fear that?
Victory or defeat, I don’t worry much about it. Neither victory nor defeat would be mine. Victory and defeat would be the people’s. My mission is to make people understand that. Mine is to endeavour, it is for upparwala (God) to provide fruit.
Do you think your relationship with the media is on the mend now?
Obviously not, for the current phase is extremely crucial for them. Huge amounts of money are being pumped into the media and threats are being issued to media-owners and editors. I know a few reporters whose beats were changed only because they tweeted in our favour.
Is AAP boycotting Times Now? AAP’s representatives are not seen on that channel.
Yes. We are avoiding a few TV channels because we realised that they were maliciously and mischievously targetting the Aam Aadmi Party and promoting the BJP. So we decided there was no point in dealing with them, because whatever you say, they are bound to twist it. We, therefore, decided to let them to do whatever they want. Agar unko apne marzi se hi dikhana hai, agar sub kuch distort kar ke dikhana hai, to unse baat kar ke bhi kiya faida. (If they have to show what they want to, if they have to distort everything, then what is the point of even speaking to them?) We are very small, they are very big, very powerful…Times Now, India TV, India News, Dainik Jagran.
Your first stop in Varanasi was a Dalit basti, of which a resident died cleaning a manhole. But the TV kept talking of your visit to a Qazi.
The media is biased. It is part of the game to polarize Hindus and Muslims. Media is not independent. I won’t say all media. Some media are good, some reporters are good. It is the owners who are bad. Journalists can’t stand up to the pressure on them. They have a job to protect.
On April 15, you had a meeting with some of Varanasi’s prominent businessmen. I spoke to a few, and anecdotal accounts suggest the elderly in the gathering seemed scared of AAP.
Why are they afraid of AAP? In that meeting, they had some doubts about our economic policy. I spoke and clarified their doubts, and my sense is that they were very happy. I clarified that with evidence, in the sense that I showed them my past speeches, to convey to them that I was not making up things on the spot, that our position on economy has been consistent. They appreciated that. I told them that the proof of pudding lies in eating. I told them what we did during the 49 days we were in power in Delhi. I actually had meetings with industrialists and traders in Delhi, and we tried to simplify laws, the VAT. We did try to do something for industrialists. I told them to examine what we did, rather than going by what they are told. But I don’t see why they are scared of us.
(The car is stopped, a gaggle of people plead with him to step out. He is garlanded, and people shout slogans in his favour. In a jiffy, he returns to the vehicle. I ask him: How exhausting is it to handle all this?)
Campaigning is very exhausting. You know one of them told me that there should be a ban on people contesting from two constituencies. (It’s a reference to Modi contesting from Varanasi and Vadodara). He said he should be allowed to vote in two constituencies, since politicians can contest from two places. Gaonwallon ke paas ideas bahut hain. (Villagers have many ideas.)
Getting back, I was also told the younger lot in the gathering of businessmen appeared open-minded about AAP.
Yes, I felt that as well. But, really, no businessman has to be afraid of AAP.
What problems do you see in India’s parliamentary representative system?
There are some problems in our democratic system. For one, parliamentary constituencies are just too large, the result of which is that you have one person representing nearly 20-25 lakh of people. You need to split the constituencies. Then, MPs and MLAs practically have no powers, while people expect everything from them. Powers have been given to the bureaucracy, which is not at all accountable to MPs and MLAs. In some ways, they should be brought into the mainstream (that is, the governance system.)
How was your Punjab visit?
It was good, divine, just too good. I never expected such a response. I have never seen so many people spilling out on the streets. We should perform very well in Punjab.
So how many seats you think AAP will get in the Lok Sabha elections?
(Laughs) To tell you the truth, I am not really bothered about it. My motto has always been – Continue to work, God will award you.
What would be AAP’s role in Parliament?
(Laughs) If we get a majority, we rule…
Come on, not majority…
Otherwise, we sit in the Opposition.
No truck with anyone?
What are your plans after Varanasi goes to election on May 12?
I will be going to Jaipur for Vipasana. Even on the day of counting I would be in meditation. I will be there till the 20th of May.
What if AAP springs surprises and you are required in the process of government formation?
Others will take the decision. The party is not just Arvind Kejriwal.
Do you intend fighting assembly elections in, say, Haryana, Bihar?
We will start preparing after this election.
Where will you get the funding from?
The funding will come from janta. It is their election.
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