The scorching summer is at its peak in Goa but there’s a political movement underway that’s got both – the ruling BJP and the Opposition Congress – worried.
Battling the heat across villages is the Aam Aadmi Party, that hopes to win big, come March 2017, when Goa’s 40-seat Assembly goes to polls.
We spoke to AAP’s Valmiki Naik, who’s actively involved in the party’s campaign, about the issues they’re focussing on and the hurdles the ‘outsider’ party faces as it hopes to win in a state that is cautious about ‘non-Goans’ wiping away their culture.
Excerpts from the interview:
AAP currently has a door-to-door campaign running called Jodo Goa, what’s it about?
After our first round of interaction with the people, we realised how divisive the politics has become in Goa, a place known for communal harmony and its unique culture. Jodo Goa became a campaign to unite rather than continue reacting to issues created by other parties which are only meant to divide.
Ours is a focussed campaign on corner meetings — anything from 30 people to 100 — depending on the interest. These are organised by local volunteers in the vicinity of their homes and it’s a two-way interaction where we go door-to-door inviting people, talk about the origin of AAP, why we’re in Goa and what we plan to do — in a way highlighting the Delhi model of governance. We also clarify doubts that people have about the party.
There has been the allegation that you’re the B-team of the BJP when it comes to splitting the secular vote, specially since you started your campaign in the south, that’s Catholic dominated
We started off in Benaulim in the south, and we chose Benaulim after a detailed analysis of our Lok Sabha results. Benaulim was among the top three constituencies which had given us the maximum support, and the response so far has been phenomenal.
We’ve followed the same model and it’s been a very organic response.
It appears that this is something spread by the Congress for they feel most threatened by us, though they shouldn’t for I think we’re equally dangerous to both – the BJP and the Congress. For us, they are the same. These are typical games played by political parties. There’s no basis to it. In fact, today, we’re the only active opposition to the ‘facist’ BJP.
Illogical and unsubstantiable that the AAP is in cahoots with the BJP. In fact, today, the biggest fight is between Kejriwal and PM Modi.
Your party is not a regional party, and going by the current mood, Goans want a regional party next. Does that affect your chances?
There is the initial knee-jerk reaction that this is not a Goan party, specially with the language (Aam Aadmi Party). But, frankly speaking, the model we follow – Swaraj – everything is very localised, even the issues we take up.
Even though we are a national party, and we benefit from the experience and strength of being a national party, we are even more localised and regional than current local parties, simply because everything is managed at the local level. I’ve never felt Delhi trying to dictate anything to us. In fact, it is us who gets in touch with them.
But it took an Ashutosh to come down to Goa and announce that AAP will be contesting the Goa polls
AAP is a very important political brand today. To give it that legitimacy, we need a national leader to make important announcements. At the moment, we only have an adhoc committee in place in Goa, we don’t have an officially-declared committee, which will be formed soon. We don’t want a committee of 150 people just to keep them happy. That’s symbolism.
But what happens when a prominent party member ends up facing a police case and further not a citizen of India as in the case of Remo Fernandes.
We’re the Aam Aadmi Party, the moment you highlight someone, we become the khaas aadmi party.
But he used to speak on behalf of your party…
Yes, he was a registered member as well. While I’m not entirely sure what happened on his end, he perhaps realised this citizen row will affect the party so he himself withdrew from the party. We even faced a lot of criticism when he did, with allegations that we were throwing Remo out. None of it was true. We didn’t know why he left, it was only much later (that it came out in the media).
How badly did the Yogendra Yadav-Prashant Bhushan episode affect your prospects in Goa, given local activists here are closely associated with them and have even suggested they campaign for you
There was definitely an impact and there still is an impact. In our corner meetings, this is one of the questions we get. But when we answer, stating our reasons, they understand. Could we have done it in a better way, debatable, but in the end whatever happened hurt us and them. But overall, if we let bygones be bygones, all of us have come together on a platform to clean corruption in Goa. So, maybe our roads have split at this point, but if our goals are the same, I think we will come back at some point and I think signs of that can already be seen.
Is there a possibility of them campaigning for you in the polls?
Absolutely. If the intentions are true, and you’re fighting against corruption of any kind then they will have to agree on various issues.
What about a party leader like Dinesh Waghela who has been associated with Baba Ramdev?
I don’t think he has shared a stage with Baba Ramdev after joining AAP.
He was a part of Baba Ramdev’s group – Bharat Swabhiman. He even has a Patanjali store, but that’s his business. As far as ideology is concerned, Waghela is a founding member of AAP. He’s part of our national executive. I think it’s yet another attempt by people to join dots and create a picture that doesn’t really exist. He sits with Kejriwal in top party meetings. So if you think Kejriwal is a complete fool, then maybe we can pursue this line of thought. These are desperate attempts to draw these conclusions, there’s nothing substantial.
What are the key factors you’re hopeful of riding your campaign on?
I think the biggest factor that will work for AAP, and I think the main reason why we’re here, is that people are looking for an alternative. People have seen Congress, they rejected them. They’ve seen the BJP which has done a worse job than the Congress, so I think that vacuum exists and I think it’s the perfect time for AAP to fill that vacuum.
Second, in general, politics has always been about negative voting. We always voted to kick someone out. I think this is the first, in recent times, that an election will be held, in Goa at least, to vote FOR a party. We’re seeing stunning results – like 67/70 in Delhi – and pre-poll analysis have been giving us the edge in Punjab – 99/117 seats — people are finally able to see positive politics happening.
Third, just having a positive party in politics is not good enough. We’re a believable party. What we can offer today – that’s different from everyone else – is credibility. I think people have that ‘U-turn’ government strongly embedded in their mind because they’ve been let down by both the parties so badly, that to see a party like AAP – which has delivered – as a choice, will see Goans choose us.
But how do you plan on winning a seat like Panaji, which has been held by Manohar Parrikar for several terms
I think Panjim has been in the stronghold of the BJP because of Parrikar. He’s a strong political personality in Goa. But that aura has faded. People are coming to realise that even a Parrikar has failed. Even if one holds an IIT degree, even if you have the gift of the gab, and were a vocal Opposition leader, you had enough time, and a majority, to do the things you promised in 2012. He has failed, completely. People are now realising Parrikar is a failed politician. There are even signs that he’s coming back to Goa for the polls which will be the last nail in his political coffin. In the end, he failed in Goa, ran off to Delhi, probably failed in Delhi, and that’s probably why he’s coming back to Goa. He’s not sure of what he wants, or where he wants to be. Think it’s time for Parrikar to retire as a politician. I think coming back to Goa could be the worst political decision Parrikar could ever take.
What about Vijai Sardesai’s Goa Forward? That’s a new party banking on the ‘vacuum’ as well
They say they’re an alternative but they had this grand plan (to announce a merger with Congress)… even their attempts to unite the Opposition in the Assembly has crumbled. I don’t quite think they’re reliable even if they come together. I don’t think Goans want to see a ‘gang of thieves’ come together just to gain power. I think we’ve seen enough of that. There was a time in Goan politics when we saw 16 governments in 12 years. I think it’s time for Goans to vote for stability, no corruption and decision making.
Would you be open to a united front, a mahagatbhandan of sorts?
It doesn’t really work for us because we are very strong here and we’re confident of forming the government on our own strength. Also, in Goa, there’s simply no entity like a Nitish Kumar (AAP supported Kumar in Bihar) that we can ally with. There’s no party that matches our basic identity.
When we say we’re here to change politics and then we align with the same politicians, then I don’t think we deserve to be here.
Is there a number you can put? If you’re saying you’re confident of forming government on your own.
Kejriwal gave a clear indication that we’re not going to fight if we are going to win 10 seats out of 100. We have to be confident of winning 90 per cent of the seats. I think that’s a hint that we have to target 90 per cent of the seats. We are contesting all the seats.
Any constituencies that you’re confident of winning in?
Right now, our organisation is working in about 25 of the 40 constituencies.
But are you confident of this support converting into votes?
Absolutely. We have nothing to show for popularity. It’s not like we bring in superstars to campaign and so people come to watch. We’re nobody. People come to hear what we have to say. They’re seriously considering whether what is happening in Delhi can happen here as well. People want an alternative.
So will we see populist promises in your manifesto? Will it be like Delhi?
The Delhi manifesto promised to tackle issues which Delhiites faced – water, electricity, among others. Ours will be customised to Goa. Whatever issues people have here, we will address them. We may adopt the water scheme, though and even provide potable water in taps. In Goa, healthcare and education will be on top of our agenda.
What is your stand on the Medium of Instruction row that has been on for years now?
I don’t think it’s a critical issue for now as far as the child is concerned. It’s a political move to have you back either the Forum for Rights of Children to Education or Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch so that the other can point a finger at you. We believe it is important that the parent has the right to choose what medium of instruction their child gets to learn in, but it’s also important that a child learns in the mother tongue. We won’t be forced into this language debate. The point is to deliver quality education that creates better children and better citizens.
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What is your stand on mining?
We are for mining. It’s a very important part of our industry. We are not anti-mining but we are definitely anti-illegal mining. I think mining should be undertaken but we must explore methods of mining – whether it should be made into a government corporation or whether a co-operative system can be incorporated. Right now there’s just one model of mining and we feel it’s neither benefiting the government nor the people. There’s also mining in areas where it should not happen thereby harming the environment. The maximum benefit should come to the government and people.
What about healthcare?
I think healthcare has been a complete disaster in Goa. It’s really shocking and disturbing about the healthcare we provide. It’s such a basic right and you’ve seen what we have done in Delhi – the three tier system of a 1,000 mohallah clinics, 100 polyclinics and 30 super-speciality hospitals. Of course these numbers are not applicable to Goa but we’re actually working on a detailed system as we want people to know how serious it is. God forbid there is any accident involving several casualties, there’s going to be a disaster in Goa. People who go to Goa Medical College (GMC) are not being treated right. People are made to sleep on the floor. Serious operations are being postponed because they run out of linen. Going to a public hospital in Goa is like risking your health further. I don’t think it’s going to cost a lot to make minor changes that will see betterment.
There has also been a demand for special status to Goa. What’s your party’s stand on it?
We have to look at the core issues. We do get this question a lot during our corner meetings. Let’s assume special status means non-Goans aren’t allowed to buy land in Goa. Jobs are restricted Goans, and so on. These are things we should talk about and we can do this at the local level. I don’t think just having a law, and that too a central law, can fix the issue. You must also realise that there’s a flipside to it. When a Delhiite buys land in Goa, there’s a Goan selling land to him.
But are you opposed to a non-Goan buying land in Goa?
See, technically, we shouldn’t have to resort to it. We have to make sure a Goan is able to create enough value out of his land that he doesn’t have to sell it. If we’re able to have great economic and agricultural policies – a big problem today is fields are being left uncultivated, orchard land is being converted and because people are getting more money than they would ever make by growing something on it. So if we support a good agricultural policy and make farming an attractive entrepreneurial model where youngsters get involved, I don’t think there would be any reason for someone to sell land they’ve protected for so long.
Second, laws to protect one’s land are better enacted at the state level rather than at the Centre. I think it’s an economic problem.
That bring us to the contentious regional plan
We’re going to go back to the draft regional plan created by very competent people like Edgar Rebeiro. The plan will be sent to the villages again with a time-bound process. Villages will be able to have a say in what development they want. There will also be very clear guidelines on development. So if we’re talking about a highway that goes through many villages, we can talk about realignment, but we won’t accept a ‘no, we don’t want this highway through our village’. We will engage with those affected. We don’t have cronies to favour.
Take the DefExpo for instance. On principle, it’s a brilliant idea. It gives tourism a boost. But the way they did it was ridiculous. Anyone who opposes it will go to jail. That’s not how you govern. If AAP had to do that with Odd-Even, can you imagine the chaos that would have happened in Delhi? The two main planks of AAP is our no compromise stand on corruption, the other is the way we engage with people and take decisions in consultation with them. Citizen-centric decision making.
Aren’t you being viewed as anti-development party? A ‘dharna’ party?
No. If you look at our government in Delhi, the last budget had the CII praise it as transformative. They were involved in helping us draft the budget. This year’s (Delhi) budget had Assocham term it as revolutionary. That notion of us being a dharna party has been dispelled. In Goa, we’ve already started a dialogue with the industry bodies and we will have a Goa Dialogue series where we will discuss our policies. I think it boils down to the trust deficit that exists.
Have you been in talks with the church, considering they have a huge amount of influence especially in the south.
It’s a vote bank, but AAP doesn’t do work based on religion. Whether you’re a Hindu or Catholic or Muslim, our policies remain the same. We guarantee there will be no communal riots, no corruption and proper law and order. We don’t need to do this. Our style of politics is naturally attractive to people of all faiths. We aren’t actively courting the church as you say.
Kejriwal is going to be here on May 22. What support are you looking at?
It’s going to be very important for us. If elections are the board exams, this rally is our prelims. In the end, we have never been able to predict the number of people that will turn up. I would say at least 10-15,000 people will turn up. We’re putting in our best.
We don’t have x number of buses ready for people from Karnataka and Maharashtra to come and fill up seats.
Kejriwal will certainly address issues – like us being in cahoots with the BJP – those will be completely demolished when he says it. We will also address some of the major concerns people have.
— Aam Aadmi Party Goa (@AAPGoa) May 10, 2016