“We will form Delhi’s next government.”
Aam Aadmi Partly leader Arvind Kejriwal keeps a punishing daily schedule these days, swinging from one assembly constituency to another in the sprawling metropolis of Delhi, delivering speeches, pumping hands, and holding out hope for those alienated from both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Till a few months ago, nobody had thought the Aam Aadmi Party could become a player in Delhi’s electoral politics. Today, even his detractors accept the party will emerge as the Third Front in the Delhi assembly election, which is due in December.
Ajaz Ashraf hitched a ride with Arvind Kejriwal as he and his three Aam Aadmi Party colleagues drove in a ramshackle WagonR from central Delhi to its eastern suburbs, shooting questions at him about his agenda, his party’s prospects in the impending Assembly election, and his future plans. Sitting in the front, never taking his eyes off the road, he kept waving at those flashing the thumbs-up sign at him even as he spoke.
Excerpts from the interview:
People say the Aam Aadmi Party still remains a Third Front. Who between the Congress and the BJP will your party impact adversely?
I don’t know what they mean by first front, second front, and third front. But what is most important is that opinion polls as well the strong undercurrents that exist in Delhi show that there are three equal political forces in Delhi. These are the BJP, the Congress, and the Aam Aadmi Party.
But assume if it were to be a hung Assembly, who between the Congress and BJP would you support in forming the next government?
I want to make it very clear, and I want to do this because rumours are being spread very selectively about us. At some places, they say we are going to support the Congress; at other places, they say we are going to support the BJP. But I want to make it very clear that we are going to support neither the Congress nor the BJP. We will also not take the support of either to form a government.
Firstly, we are very confident that the Aam Aadmi Party will form Delhi’s next government. (Political scientist) Yogendra Yadav is among the best psephologists of the country, and he has had several surveys conducted. According to him, we are on our way to getting an overwhelming majority. He tells us we will….
Were these surveys conducted by you all?
Yogendra Yadav had these surveys conducted by a completely independent agency. They were conducted by us in the sense we paid for these surveys. But it was a completely independent agency which conducted the surveys. Our volunteers were not involved in them. It is an agency which is an offshoot of CSDS (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies). These surveys tell us that we are getting an overwhelming majority, and he feels it is going to be a complete sweep for us. We are very confident that what Yogendra Yadav is saying is going to happen and that the Aam Aadmi Party will form the government.
But suppose that doesn’t happen, and Delhi has a hung Assembly, we will not take the support of anyone nor will we support anybody. This is because those who will vote for us will be voting against the Congress and the BJP. They will be voting against the existing political establishment, against the current political practices. To take their support or to support them would mean cheating the people voting for us. We will never do that.
Do you mean you won’t support them or take their support even if it means a government can’t be formed?
Let both the Congress and the BJP take the help of each other to form a government, in case Delhi throws up a hung assembly. Behind the scenes, anyway, the Congress and the BJP are together. So let them come together form a government. But in case that doesn’t happen, then there would be a repoll. We are confident of getting a sweeping majority in such a repoll.
From activist to politician, you have come a long way. How have you evolved ideologically? How has this changed you as a person?
Personally, I have grown quite a lot. Two,…
Grown in what sense?
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., etc. But when you are a political party you have to understand this country comprehensively. You have to understand its people comprehensively. As a political party, you can’t take an exclusivist approach. You have to look into the problems of the poor, problems of the middle class also, and problems of the upper class also. You have to then find solutions that are acceptable to the largest section of the society. So, in this sense, it has been a great learning experience.
Second, I now also realise that politicians have to work very hard and put in a lot of effort. I know after the election they don’t do anything but merely loot the country, but before the election they have to work really hard. The amount of work we are putting in, we get up at 5 am… why, our schedule for today ends at 2 in the night. So, yes, politicians have to work very hard.
You wish they were working as hard after the election as well.
Not so much work hard, but I wish they were working honestly and sincerely. We wouldn’t have been needed then.
You came into the limelight because of your critique of national politics and political leaders. Why have you then chosen to contest the Delhi Assembly election?
Delhi is the first step.
It is a stepping stone, you mean.
It is the stepping stone. Following the Delhi Assembly election, we will definitely be participating in the Lok Sabha election next year.
Are you going to concentrate on specific areas of the country?
We would like to go for all seats in the country. But I think the outcome of the Delhi elections is going to be very critical for our plans, for our further decisions.
A very good performance will have you contest across the country in the Lok Sabha?
You will then definitely go for North India at least.
I think two things are going to happen in Delhi. If we win in Delhi, and I am very sure we will, then in the first two months of our governance, we will do things that people wouldn’t have even dreamt of. That would create a huge positive political energy in the country.
For instance, we are very confident of passing the Jan Lokpal Bill in the first 15 days of being sworn in. We will try to see whether it is possible for the Delhi Assembly to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill in Ramlila Maidan. There are many other things. But let me tell you, our MLAs will not have cars with red lights, they will stay in ordinary houses in their own locality, they will not take security. What we intend doing is to fire the imagination of the people. We will pass a law for complete political decentralization of power, for real people’s participation. We will ensure that most of the executive decisions are taken by people themselves through participation in mohalla sabhas all across Delhi. They will have control over funds, functions and functionaries.
People would have never imagined that this could be democracy, that this is what is meant by democracy, that…
You mean to say redefine democracy.
Today, democracy has come to mean voting once every five years and then pleading before the same set of people who you have voted for the next five years. This is not democracy. We are taught in our childhood, India is a democracy, India is a democracy, India is a democracy. But when you ask, why is India a democracy, then it is said, because India has election. Election is not democracy. Election is just the beginning of democracy. What democracy means is that after election, people should be able to participate in decision-making over the next five years and the decisions thus taken should be implemented by politicians and bureaucrats. That is democracy.
Why have you chosen to contest against Sheila Dikshit?
Because she is a symbol of corruption. She ought to be defeated, the whole of Delhi wants to defeat Sheila Dikshit. But you don’t have faith in the BJP. Both the Congress and the BJP are in bed together, they have a relationship of a husband and wife. The BJP has been deliberately putting up weak candidates against Sheila Dikshit so that she wins. This time too, the BJP would put up a weak candidate against her. And because she has to be defeated, I decided to stand against her.
What is the most shining example of her corruption?
So many. Commonwealth Games, the Shunglu committee has indicted the CM’s office, her collusion with electricity companies, her collusion with water companies, her collusion in the transport scam… there are so many (charges of) scam against her.
Now assume the Aam Aadmi Party doesn’t do well. Do you still plan to hang around? Are you there for the long haul?
Of course, I am here now till my last breath, fighting against corruption, fighting for the country, in whatever way it is possible.
Do you think your participation in electoral politics has diluted your anti-corruption plank?
Of course not, I think electoral politics was the next logical step in our fight against corruption.
In what sense?
People ask us that why I exposed Robert Vadra’s corruption and did not pursue it to the logical end. This is the logical end. We exposed Robert Vadra, they didn’t take action. Now we will fight election, and we will take action against him.
Action like what?
We will pass the Jan Lokpal Bill, we will institute an inquiry against him, and he will go to jail. Robert Vadra, Salman Khurshid, Nitin Gadkari… all these people. They ought to go to jail.
What do you think of Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi?
I wouldn’t want to answer that one, I don’t wish to comment on individual politicians. Let the people take the decision.
But Narendra Modi is going to campaign in Delhi. Don’t you think it is going to impact on you?
The people of Delhi need to understand very clearly that it isn’t Modi who is going to be the chief minister of Delhi. It is Vijay Goel who is going to be the chief minister of Delhi. People in Delhi are saying that Sheila Dikshit ko haraana hai, Sheila Dixit ko haraana hai (We have to defeat Sheila Dikshit, we have to defeat Sheila Dikshit). But in case they want to vote for the BJP, then they should understand that Vijay Goel will surpass her in just four days. What we are hearing is that the BJP is taking Rs 2 crore to give a party ticket. If this is the scene, then what is the difference between the BJP and the Congress?
Secondly, the BJP has been in power in the MCD for seven years. In these seven years, tell me a single thing the BJP has done which we should be proud of. Tell me one thing the BJP does without taking money – are designs of houses passed without taking money, are licences issues without taking money, are roads built without taking money? The MCD is in a total mess. People have to be very careful about voting for the BJP. Today, they are saying Sheila ko hatao (Remove Sheila). After five years, they will say, Vijay Goel ko hatao (Remove Vijay Goel).
There is a perception that Muslims have kept away from the Aam Aadmi Party. Why is that so?
Why don’t you come with me this evening to Babarpur, which is a Muslim-dominated area? Come and see the support of Muslims for us. Muslims have supported and voted for the Congress for the last 65 years. What have they got in return? They have got nothing at all. All that they have got is the Prof Gopal Singh report in 1981 and the Justice Sachar report in 2007. Prof Gopal Singh said exactly the same thing, with different statistics, that Justice Sachar said in 2007. Prof Gopal Singh said Muslims are illiterate, they are backward, Muslims are living in poverty, etc, etc. Justice Sachar has repeated the same things about the Muslim community.
Who’s responsible for all this? The Congress is responsible for all this. There is nothing more the Muslims could have done for the Congress. They reposed so much faith in it. But what did they get in return? Nothing. What does it tell you of the Congress? Firstly, that the Congress ditched the Muslims. Secondly, it did nothing on the Prof Gopal Singh report, and it hasn’t done anything on the Sachar report as well. Muslims have been used by the Congress as a captive vote-bank. They are told that BJP aa jaayegi, BJP aa jaayegi, BJP aa jaayegi (BJP will come, BJP will come, BJP will come). The Congress does this hoping that Muslims would run to it. This is the trait the Samajwadi Party, too, is showing.
For the first time in Delhi, Muslims are now realising that the Aam Aadmi Party is a sincere party. You go to Muslim areas and they will tell you, Kejriwal imaandar aadmi hai, iski niyat theek hai (Kejriwal is an honest man, his intention is right.) Now Muslims have that faith (in our sincerity) and they are also realising that the Aam Aadmi Party is winning, that it can defeat the BJP. So both conditions are being fulfilled. Firstly, they feel they are safe with the Aam Aadmi Party, and that it has acquired the political strength to defeat the BJP. Muslims in Delhi will vote for the Aam Aadmi Party in this election.
What about Dalits? There are intellectuals among the Dalits who accuse your party of being elitist, of being opposed to reservation, of being….
We are not against reservation. Read our Vision document… This is a false propaganda spread against us. If you come with me to the Valmiki areas… in fact the surveys of Yogendra Yadav tell us that Muslims and Dalits are voting overwhelmingly for us in Delhi.
You see, till now, people have seen only one kind of politics. But what they are seeing now is another kind of politics, which is honest and sincere. It is this which is driving people to us.
Are you finding it difficult to balance the politics of identity with the politics of interest?
If it had been an ordinary elections, then aspects of identity politics – caste politics, religious politics – as also money politics, alcohol, etc would have been important. But this is not an ordinary election, in fact…
What do you mean by ordinary election?
Elections held every five years… But this is going to be an extraordinary election. It is an election in which there is going to be a strong wave in favour of a party which stands for truth and honesty. It is an election in which something will hit the heart of every individual, and there is an appeal to his conscience to vote for the truth. Since this is going to be an extraordinary election, I don’t think identity politics will matter much. Had it been a normal or ordinary or routine election, we wouldn’t have stood a chance.
So when you step into the national arena, how will you manage the politics of identity then?
As I said, when we come to power in Delhi, it would create a huge hope and mood in the country. What we subsequently do in the next two months would then fire the imagination of people. Then the next Lok Sabha election will not be an ordinary election; it will be an extraordinary election.
Has the middle class distanced itself from you, in comparison to its support, say, a year earlier?
I don’t think the middle class has distanced itself from the Aam Aadmi Party. But what I would say is that our traction with the poor has increased immensely. Our surveys also show we have made huge inroads among the poor.
There is much talk about Gen VK Singh joining the BJP?
He has been talking against corruption for the last one and a half years. People actually believed in him. Now, if he were to join the BJP, people would lose faith in voices such as his. Of all the parties, he found the BJP to be the honest party? If he were to join the BJP, one would begin to have suspicions about his intentions. People would ask: All that he did earlier, speaking out on issues of corruption, was it all motivated? Did he speak out only to create an atmosphere for getting a place in the BJP? Ordinary people will begin to start doubting every person who speaks out against corruption. As they say, bhavishya mein vishwas khatam ho jayega (In future, you will lose faith). I had great faith in Gen Singh, I had the highest regard for him. But in case what you are saying is true and he does decide to join the BJP, then mera bhi vishwas khatam ho jayega (Even I will lose faith).