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Friday, July 30, 2021

‘Have great respect for social activism, but politics makes it easier to implement changes we want’: Vijay Kumbhar

RTI and anti-corruption activist Kumbhar had recently joined the Aam Aadmi Party as its state organiser, which marks his debut into the world of politics.

Written by Parthasarathi Biswas | Pune |
Updated: June 20, 2021 10:12:18 am
While Kumbhar has friends and enemies across the political spectrum, he had remained apolitical in his work for years. (Photo: Twitter/@VijayKumbhar62)

Over the last 35 years, RTI and anti-corruption activist Vijay Kumbhar has worked on public issues that have affected the lives and livelihood of many. His activities had prompted the Pune Municipal Corporation to change its land lease policy and put in various people-friendly measures. While Kumbhar has friends and enemies across the political spectrum, he had remained apolitical in his work for years. But recently, he joined the Aam Aadmi Party as its state organiser, which marks his debut into the world of politics. He spoke to Partha Sarathi Biswas about his decision to join politics and plans for the party in Maharashtra.

What prompted you to join the Aam Aadmi Party? As someone who has been associated with social movements for a long time, was it easy for you to make this decision?

In my long career as an activist, I have worked on issues that affected the lives of people directly. It was due to my intervention that the PMC had made structural reforms in its leasing policies… However, as an activist I did realise my limitations… we can hold protests, we can file applications or take to the streets. But the work of enacting the laws or making decisions lies with those whom we elected… and if the elected body refuses to listen there is little we can do.

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My decision to join politics is to do with being directly involved in the process of decision making so that we are able to take part in the process from the front pews. AAP was a natural choice… the party’s founders, be it Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal or Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, they are old compatriots. We have worked together in the past on multiple occasions. So, when I decided to join politics, AAP was the natural choice.

An important observation that you made was that being apolitical has its limitations. So, in this age and time, what is the role of social activism?

As I said earlier, my realisation was that in the end, we have to talk to political leaders to get the changes done. At times it works but the effort and time required for this is a lot. We have seen how the AAP government in Delhi has changed the face of education and healthcare in the national capital. Despite opposition from the central government, the AAP government has ensured water bills and electricity bills are not raised. Yet the government’s budget is in surplus… this has been possible because the party is in power and can implement the changes it wants.

I have great respect for social activism, but now I think being in politics would make it easier to implement the changes we want.

What are the main challenges before the party in Maharashtra? You are joining politics when the absence of a strong opposition party in the country is being acutely felt.

Unlike Delhi, our party does not have a state-wide face in Maharashtra. In Delhi, the chief minister, deputy chief minister, Atishi Marlena and Sanjay Singh etc. are strong faces. In Maharashtra, our party has a presence but we have to work to create a strong face and to ensure that we reach people right to the gram panchayat levels.

The biggest challenge for the opposition is now reaching the people. We have to reach people right at their doorstep. We have already started this work and our workers are in touch with people at least over the phone, and wherever possible they are visiting them personally.

There have been previous examples of social activists who tried their hand in politics but failed. Also, elections are not fought on issues any more, but on emotive matters. What is your take on this?

The greatest challenge for anyone to survive for a long time in politics is to sustain the changes that they have brought about. In Delhi, our government has managed to sustain its work in education and healthcare year on year, which is the secret of their electoral success. If we reach people with the right message and manage to deliver on it, we will be accepted by the people.

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