A string of electoral reverses — in Punjab, Goa and the MCD polls in Delhi — and several controversies have put the Aam Aadmi Party on the backfoot. Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, who is in charge of several important departments such as finance, education, revenue, information technology, services, planning and women and child development, has been firefighting the charges against the party, while also focusing on his education goals for the Capital. The MLA from Patparganj also represents the Delhi government in the GST council chaired by Union Finance minister Arun Jaitley.
Sisodia talks about the need for “quality content” in school curriculums, blames “faulty” EVMs for AAP’s poor showing in the recent polls, insists the party has not lost its idealism and commends Finance Minister Arun Jaitley for being open to ideas in meetings on GST
MALLICA JOSHI: Government school results for classes 10 and 12 have been quite promising. In the past one year, you have been focusing on improving infrastructure and learning in schools. What are the education department’s plans for the next six months?
We were very strict about preventing cheating in exams this time, and I was concerned that this would affect the results. But that didn’t happen, and I was happy. Delhi schools were ahead of all private and government schools across the country.
Now I think we need to focus on content — not in terms of changing it, but fixing problems. I recently examined the books used in Hindi-medium schools, and I doubt anyone would understand the language used in them. I think we need to write books keeping children in mind. If students cannot decipher the contents of books, what is the point of education.
We have picked a few experts and have got them to write some books. We have also selected some good translators and made them work on a few books. We have handed over these books to teachers now and asked them to teach it.
Why aren’t we getting quality education even in places where there are good teachers and good infrastructure? It is because we have never paid attention to content; we are doing that now. And when I say content, I mean its quality — quality of books, of communication and also of teaching methods.
MALLICA JOSHI: There has been a massive drop in private school results. What do you think are the reasons for it?
I have asked my department to look into the problems of the poor performing schools and resolve them. Whether a Class 12 student from a government school or a private school fails, ultimately it is a student failing. We will do whatever is needed.
COOMI KAPOOR: After doing so well in the Assembly elections, why do you think AAP performed so poorly in the MCD polls?
One factor responsible for this is the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM). Our questions regarding EVMs have not been answered: Why were 5,000 machines brought from Rajasthan? Why were VVPAT (Voter-verifiable paper audit trail) machines not used, even when they were there?
Despite our questions and requests, non-VVPAT machines from Rajasthan were used.There could be other reasons as well (for AAP’s loss), but EVMs seem to be the major one.
COOMI KAPOOR: Don’t you think there is need for some introspection within your own party?
We are doing that. We are analysing where we faltered in our communication etc. Our organisation was weak in Delhi, but we have started working on it. But in the past two years, our organisation has also strengthened, so it is not like we have lost because of that.
MALLICA JOSHI: Several meetings have taken place within your party after the loss in the MCD elections. What has come out of it?
In our meetings we realised that EVMs were responsible for our loss, and that is why we raised the issue in the Assembly. Internally, certain things have to be fixed and that will be done.
MANOJ CG: Why is the Aam Aadmi Party not part of the united Opposition that is taking shape against the BJP?
Is the Opposition united? I don’t think the Opposition in this country is united at all. With the kind of interests the Opposition has, I don’t think AAP can be with them.
SHYAMLAL YADAV: You have been part of the Right To Information campaign before joining the Delhi government. Is RTI an effective governance tool or a problem?
RTI is a tool for transparency. I don’t think it is a problem. There can be different interpretations of an RTI response, but we have never stopped that. The media trial against us has been conducted through RTI. We give out information on our own; truth is truth. Look at the facts: the media trial against the AAP government always emerges from some or the other RTI.
RAHUL SABHARWAL: You recently conducted surprise checks on anganwadi centres. You also have the Women and Child Development portfolio. Can you elaborate on a few problems that you encountered on the ground and whether you have any viable solutions to them?
I realised that the Women and Child Development department had become scheme-centric. The Government of India would plan a scheme and the WCD department would implement it; the state government would make a scheme and the department would implement it. But its responsibility is to worry about the women and children of Delhi. So far, the only thing that they have been concerned with is whether certain schemes have been implemented and if its report was sent to the government. I am trying to change its entire focus.
I think this (WCD) is one of the most important departments for any government. We have to take care of pregnancy, toddlers, early childhood learning… We are focusing on all these aspects now.
We have to introduce the concept of early childhood learning to Delhi. That can be done through this department.
SRIJANA MITRA DAS: With all the controversies that the AAP has been mired in in the past few months, would you say that the idealism with which the party was associated with is not there anymore? Also, by targeting Narendra Modi in every election, haven’t you ceded your share of public time to the Narendra Modi discourse rather than the AAP discourse?
We came to power on the plank of practicality, not idealism… While we decided to sit in a government car, we avoided red beacons and VIP security. We are still following that, we haven’t gone back on it. The kind of politics we wanted to practise, we are still practising. Now if the Prime Minister is calling for the red beacon to be banned across the country, we have some contribution to that. We did it (avoided red beacons) in the past two years. He (PM Narendra Modi) was a chief minister earlier but he never got any such idea. Since taking oath, we haven’t used cars with red beacons. So that is the idealism, or if you want to call it simplicity, and we have maintained it.
When we came to power, we said we will make power cheap; we have. We said we will make water cheap; we have done that as well. We said we will fix education and the health system; we have done those things too. This is our work and this is our idealism. We are the only government in the country that is spending 25 per cent of its Budget on education. If this is not idealism, I don’t know what is.
If we speak out against the country’s PM, that does not mean that we have left our idealism behind. If today farmers are dying, they are being shot at, then we will speak up. We are citizens of this country and we are elected leaders of this country, we have to speak. It is our duty.
MALLICA JOSHI: Did Kapil Mishra’s allegations come as a shock for the party?
It was personally shocking for me the way Kapil Mishra behaved after being removed from his ministerial post. In the past too, ministers have been replaced, but they took it very positively.
I think he is being used by the BJP because in the past two years they have tried to derail us in every possible way. However, we have been working on our own track and opposed them where we had to. They have used him (Mishra) against us, to disturb us.
AMRITH LAL: The tussle between the L-G and and the Chief Minister in Pondicherry is similar to what played out in Delhi earlier. Have you had any conversation with the Chief Minister there?
We have, but not formally. I think we need to rethink our entire system. We need to have a national debate on the role and powers of the L-G and the CM. What are the powers of an elected representative? Doesn’t he even have the right to raise a question or launch an inquiry into the misdeeds of, for instance, a junior engineer in his area? So we need to have a debate on this.
ALOK SINGH: How satisfied are you with the functioning of the Anti-Corruption Bureau?
Ever since the ACB has been taken away from us, all it has been doing in the past two years is that when a BJP member files a complaint with them, they call our leaders to appear before it. They haven’t called the CM so far but they have summoned me.
We had filed three FIRs against (former Delhi CM) Sheila Dikshit in our 49-day government, but they did not act on it. If you go with a changed name and tell them that you saw Manish Sisodia taking a bribe of Rs 2 crore, they will call me the very next day. This is what they have been doing the past two years.
ANIRUDDHA GHOSAL: The flip-side of being a young party is that your MLAs are inexperienced. Does that make them more vulnerable to outside interference?
We should look at history. When the BJP was formed, how many members left the party? I am not a good political student but it would be interesting to find out what happens when a new party is formed. Do the members exit the party, like the AAP is experiencing? I don’t know.
MALLICA JOSHI: What has your interaction with the new L-G Anil Baijal been like?
During my initial discussions with the L-G, I told him that the Constitution states that there are transferable subjects and non-transferable subjects. On three non-transferable subjects, I told him, you are the boss and the competent authority. On transferable subjects, we are the competent authority as we are the elected government. Your only right here is that you may agree or disagree on the subject. If you follow this there is no problem. I don’t have a problem if the L-G calls officers and holds discussions with them. Earlier, when the former L-G gave orders directly to the officers, we objected. We told him you cannot bypass the elected government in case of transferable subjects. You give directions to a police officer, I will not mind. But if you give directions to the director of education or revenue department, then I have an issue with that.
(Under the new L-G) such a thing has happened once or twice, but we have discussed things. Largely, he is not doing any such thing. But if it happens, we will talk to him. So far, he has been in agreement with us.
KAUNAIN SHERIFF M: Kapil Mishra was removed from his post because there were water problems in the Capital. After the MCD elections, there have been reports submitted to the CM about shortage of medicines but you have not held the Health Minister, Satyendra Jain, accountable.
The issue of medicines came up when the Chief Minister visited hospitals and found discrepancies. The Minister was not aware of it, and his responsibility is to take control of the department.
AANCHAL MAGAZINE: You have been attending GST council meetings. Do you think it will meet the July 1 deadline?
The GST council meetings have been good so far. Arun Jaitleyji is its chairman and he is very open to ideas. Let me tell you I am one of the satisfied members. Whenever I raise a question, he considers it. So far, I haven’t found it hard to raise issues and concerns in GST meetings.
There were some issues that I had raised and he (Jaitley) felt there wasn’t enough time. So he said, let us call another meeting… When, in the next meeting, all the issues weren’t addressed, I suggested that there be another meeting because I had spoken to almost 30-odd associations and taken their inputs with me. He (Jaitley) said this is very voluminous and he said that to discuss this we will need a separate meeting.
In principle, I have been an advocate of GST. But the manner in which things have been taken forward, I have several objections to that and that is why meetings have been held. The tax regime cannot be officer-centric. It has to be consumer-centric and trader-centric. You have to consider the realities of the country, the realities of the Indian market. That is not being considered.
I am optimistic (of a July 1 GST rollout). The impression we have been given as members of the council is that they are prepared… The Centre has a leeway of two more months. If necessary, extend it (the deadline) by two months.
ANIRUDDHA GHOSAL: Will the party contest Gujarat elections? And if yes, then how many seats will you contest from?
Frankly, I am not aware of it. There was a meeting on Gujarat but I have not been able to meet the CM. I don’t know what was decided in that meeting.
MALLICA JOSHI: What do you think is the biggest challenge for education in the Capital?
My belief is that India’s biggest concern should be education which is not the case. That is the problem. Till we do that, our country cannot develop. As far as challenges are concerned, I feel that our approach towards education has worsened — education means career, education means salary package. We need to come out of this shell and really start thinking about education as a whole.
Just to give you a quick example: I went to a school where the annual function was underway. The principal was giving a speech and parents were sitting in the audience. The principal said that you should not say anything to your children about marks, you should not scold them or beat them. Then, in her opening presentation, she showed some of the school’s achievements. I told her, ‘Ma’am, the last 10 minutes of your presentation show that results are everything. The photographs that you showed all belonged to those students who scored high marks in Class 10. You showed who your school toppers are. If you speak of toppers in your presentation, and then tell parents they should not urge their children to be toppers, then it won’t work.’
We are only talking about toppers and packages, we need to think as a nation, as a society. We need to discuss the problems that exist. We will have to connect life with education. That is the challenge before us. I am struggling with it, but I hope to be successful one day.
In Delhi, getting good quality teachers is another challenge. Our teacher training programmes are quite poor. We have already brought in several teachers and I hope to get more of them.