AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh speaks to The Indian Express on his party’s new election strategy, leaders leaving on a bitter note, and why he believes BJP and Congress won’t be able to get Purvanchalis on their side.
We’re seeing a very different AAP campaign as compared to 2015. The street fighter image has taken a back seat, the tone is conciliatory and positive. The CM doesn’t target the Opposition anymore.
With time and circumstances, every party must change its policy and practice. Every election cannot have the same strategy. At that time, we were the opposition and telling people about the failures of those in power was our job. Today, we are in power and we will tell people what we have done in five years… We gave free power up to 200 units — this is unthinkable at a time when power tariffs are extremely high across the country. Those who call our policies freebies need to rethink. Today, Delhi’s GDP is 8.6% and the country’s is 5%. When we provide these facilities to people, they save money. When they save, they spend and strengthen the economy. This is the principle of economics, that the market will thrive only when people have money in their pockets.
The Centre’s policies today are benefiting only a few rich… Unemployment is the highest in 45 years. On the other hand, Delhi government is giving free services and strengthening the common man’s pocket.
AAP and Arvind Kejriwal have mellowed down when it comes to taking on the PM. Is this a new strategy?
In a democracy, people’s mandate should be respected. Modi ji won the Lok Sabha elections and we have to respect that mandate. Give us a single example where we initiated a fight (with the Centre). CBI raided the CM’s office, deputy CM’s house, health minister’s house, investigation against the health minister’s daughter, ED’s raid on Kailash Gahlot, FIRs and cases against 25 MLAs — these are the things we protested against. It is natural to react. Today, they have backed off and we are doing our work. We never wanted a fight… It is not about our strategy change, it is also possible that they changed tack because of the upcoming polls… We always wanted to focus on governance but they tormented us so much that we had to speak out. If someone will strangle you, you will have to speak out.
The AAP faced a rout in the 2017 MCD elections. What went wrong there?
Today, people want to rally behind a leadership, across the country. Be it Modi in the Centre, Yogi in UP. The same way, when Delhi Assembly elections approach, they see (Arvind) Kejriwal, who works for better facilities in water, power and health. In MCD, we lost because of two-three reasons. Rajouri Garden bypoll right before the polls, where we were not able to grasp that our candidate would lose his deposit, was one. The second was poll results in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. BJP changed all its candidates ahead of MCD polls, which was a good strategy… the corruption and bad deeds done by them were hidden, temporarily.
Do you plan to change some MLA candidates this time?
The Political Affairs Committee will take a call. It would not be right for me to say anything. Obviously, MLAs who have quit the party will be replaced.
Many MLAs who quit spoke of a lack of democracy in the party. The split has usually been public and acrimonious. What’s behind this pattern?
Hamari party main mohabbat aur nafrat ka ratio barabar hi hai (In our party, the ratio of love and hate is equal). One who loves it, loves it very much, and the one who decides to speak against it goes the other extreme. I can’t say what the reason is, but perhaps it is that we are not traditional politicians so far. We don’t make deals based on posts, money or fear. We can’t threaten them with police cases or ED raids.
Each party is going the extra mile to cater to the city’s Purvanchali population. How crucial is the community’s support during polls?
Purvanchalis are a very big factor in Delhi… they comprise more than 40% of population in the city… There are two faces: One is of the BJP-Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, where Purvanchalis are beaten up; Surat and Assam, where they are beaten up and asked to leave. The second face is that of Delhi, where Kejriwal ji provides them with facilities; makes arrangements to celebrate Chhath; gets 1,100 new ghats constructed and declares a holiday; makes Purvanchalis participants in power. Today, AAP has 13 Purvanchali MLAs. I don’t think any Purvanchali is going to drift away from us.
BJP will rely on Manoj Tiwari, and Congress on Kirti Azad to try and get their support.
Today, people who come to Delhi from UP, Bihar and Purvanchal see the benefit in giving their children good education, getting free power, free medicines in hospitals, better roads and sewer network, and they will go for the person who gave them these. Tiwari is a face, yes, but he doesn’t speak out when MP Ramesh Bidhuri hits a Purvanchali leader. He doesn’t say anything when Biharis and Purvanchalis are beaten up in Maharashtra. Lip service is not enough. Recently, Sonia Gandhi ji met Raj Thackeray, what will Kirti Azad say to this?
Do you expect core BJP voters to switch loyalties to AAP?
We will see a shift this time. Even in public meetings, people tell us that we voted for Modi in Lok Sabha polls but will vote for Kejriwal in Assembly polls.
And how many seats do you estimate you’ll win?
I’m not saying this out of overconfidence, but if the situation that exists today prevails — ups and downs are part of politics — we will repeat the performance of 2015 (when AAP won 67 seats).
What are the states outside of Delhi that you can realistically consider contesting in?
Till Delhi results come out, we will not look at any other state.
The party once hoped to expand to other states. Where did it fall short?
It takes a strong organisational structure to propagate something along with a battle-ready leadership (in the state) whose face can be projected. Right now, we don’t have that sort of presence in other states, where we can contest and win elections. It is no mean feat that we have won twice in Delhi and become the main Opposition in Punjab. Where people worked hard and there was good leadership, we saw results.