Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convenor Arvind Kejriwal, on a five-day visit to Punjab, speaks on the party’s chances in the 2017 polls, the issues it will focus on and the ‘political struggle’ the country is seeing.
You have begun a tour of Punjab. Is this the start of your 2017 poll campaign?
It is a part of it. I am trying to find out the problems people are facing and the solutions. In Delhi, we asked the people about their problems and those were the issues that came in the manifesto. We are going from village to village, speaking to people. The problems are far more serious than we earlier thought. The rural crisis is serious.
On your first day, you visited families of farmers who committed suicide. What have you learnt?
That there have been suicides on such a large scale is worrying. One never imagined this. In one village, there were 15 families in which there were suicides. Two reasons are becoming evident: one, the agrarian crisis. The crop failed, he (the farmer) could not repay the loan, he committed suicide. Second, someone at home fell ill, with cancer or some other disease, they spent on the treatment, took a loan, and couldn’t repay (it), he committed suicide. The government has failed to help farmers. They have lost two crops. The government announced a compensation of Rs 8,000 an acre. It seems that no one has received it. Someone has got a cheque for Rs 136; someone else gets a cheque for Rs 200. Rs 8,000 was itself inadequate, but even that they did not give. In Delhi, we have given compensation of Rs 20,000 an acre, which is much more than what the farmers were demanding. And in Delhi, we did not allow any farmer to commit suicide.
You are comparing this with Delhi, which is not a farming state. Punjab is and the landholdings are much bigger. If you paid that kind of compensation here, you would run out of money.
My own view is that whenever a government tries to help people in trouble, there is no shortage of money, there is a shortage of neeyat (intent). My experience of the past one year in government has been that if the government really wants to help people in distress, there is never a dearth of money… They just don’t want to give it.
The other thing that came out was that the government announced Rs 3 lakh compensation for suicide cases. There are 141 cases in Malwa. But only six have got compensation. Why didn’t they give to the rest? Neeyat kharab hai. Neeyat nahi hein deney ki.
Three, there’s a complete collapse of the health sector in Punjab. I asked people why they don’t go to the government hospitals. They said there are neither any medicines nor any doctors. When AAP forms a government here, every village will have a dispensary or hospital, and all medicines and test will be free, like we have done in Delhi.
Are you the AAP’s CM candidate for the 2017 Punjab elections?
That question is irrelevant because we don’t even think about all that. We are speaking about issues. We are discussing with people what should be done. Who will do it, we will see later.
You have no chief ministerial candidate. Isn’t it like Prime Minister Modi’s campaign in Bihar where the BJP did not have a CM candidate. Is AAP a single face party?
[You can] say anything you want, all these questions are important only for media. When you go to the villages, not a single person asked me who would be the CM candidate.
Maybe they have taken for granted that it will be you…
(laughs loudly)…No. Otherwise they would have confirmed. No one asked because that is not important for them. Issues are important for them. And we are also talking about issues only. When we speak, we speak janata’s dil ki baat. What the janata wants to say, we articulate. What you are asking is important only for media.
What, for AAP, is the difference between Punjab and Delhi?
Punjab is a big challenge. The way Punjab has been sucked dry by the Badals, even to imagine this is difficult. It is predominantly a rural economy. But the advantage is that it is a full state. Delhi is a half state. There is continuous interference by the Centre. That won’t be the case here.
Here, too, you will need to work with the Centre on many things. Why should people vote for you in Punjab when they see an everyday battle between your (Delhi) government and the Centre? Won’t they be concerned that these battles will play out here as well?
The people will have to see who is the villain.The Centre is the villain. This is a political struggle that the country is seeing. From the incidents of the past few days, it’s clear that in the past year, we were not the ones fighting, it was them. Today, the BJP government at the Centre is at war with students, it is at war with the Dalits. they are picking up fights where there are no fights. They are picking up issues where there are no issues, they are making up issues. That is what they were doing with the Delhi government. That is their character. They want to fight zabardasti.
How would you define free speech? Are there limits to free speech?
The limits to free speech are already there in the Constitution under Article 19 (1) (A). My own view, broadly, is that. And this is also the sense of the people, some of the slogans that were heard [in JNU] , no sensible Indian can tolerate. Those who were raising those slogans.. . they should be punished. What that punishment should be – it’s for the courts to decide.
The Modi govt has been unsuccessful in arresting them. Why are they not arresting these people? We are also conducting a DM inquiry. We have videotapes. The boys [who have surrendered] organised the function. They had called some people from outside and those people raised the slogans. We have their videos, we have their photographs. The police also have them. Why is the Modi government not arresting them?
What do you think?
It gives rise to the suspicion that they do not want to. They want to keep this whole issue boiling. Either the whole of Delhi Police, the CRPF, RAW, IB, they have all become useless… Which I don’t believe. They are not. So the only second conclusion is that the Modi government is in collusion with them.
Having said that, under the pretext of nationalism, they have unleashed their goons. Hit someone?
[Say] because he was shouting slogans, he will be let off if he killed someone? Because he was shouting slogans. Then it’s alright. Rape someone? Because he was shouting slogans. Okay, then it’s justified. This goondagardi cannot be tolerated. We have courts, a system, a judiciary, that will take care of this. BJP have unleashed their goondey. Goons cannot be given the power of the judiciary.
The third thing is that they should not arrest innocent persons. Here I specifically want to speak about Kanhaiya (Kumar, JNU student leader arrested on charges of sedition), not the other three. They have not been able to find any evidence against him. There is absolutely no shred of anything against him. But Bassi (Delhi Police commissioner) says these people have to prove their innocence first. It’s the job of the police to find the evidence to show guilt. Bassi has turned the criminal justice system on its head.
So how do you deal with nationalism like this? How does AAP deal with it?
Nationalism is not a bad thing. But nationalism is not jingoism. Nationalism is getting rid of corruption, nationalism is giving people education; it is building schools and colleges; getting rid of drugs; it is building infrastructure. It is not nationalism when one kills somebody, stands over his body and says Bharat Mata ki Jai.
What did you think of (HRD minister) Smriti Irani’s speech on the events of the past few days?
I did not see it.
Going back to Punjab, the following the party has got here is very different from what it has in Delhi, isn’t it? You have more middle-class supporters in Delhi.
No, that’s not correct. A majority of our supporters in Delhi are poor people, they live in jhuggi jhonpdis. What does it mean when you win 66 out of 70 seats? It means all walls were broken – the poor, rich, the middle class, everyone voted for us, and you are going to see the same thing in Punjab, on a much bigger scale. And it’s only going to get bigger.
How many seats do you think you will win here?
Our assessment is 100 out of 117.
In Punjab, your party has been accused by Congress state president Captain Amarinder Singh of being a “dangerous mix of pro-Khalistanis and Naxalites”.
(Laughs) You can see who are the kind of people who are coming out to support me. The frenzy you are seeing here, this we did not see in Delhi even five days before the election there. Captain Amarinder and (Punjab CM) Badal… They are worried less about losing to each other in the election and more about AAP. They have entered into a pact with each other, an alliance. They are both attacking AAP. The Punjab election is not a triangular contest. It’s a bipolar contest between those two on one side and AAP on the other. They are afraid that when AAP comes to power, we will start investigating all their misdeeds.
Do you know that two years ago, there was going to be a CBI inquiry against Bikram Singh Majithia and Captain Amarinder got it stopped? Some say they are related, I don’t know, but ask Captain… Did he do that and why?
Captain Amarinder has also described you as a “Haryanvi who does not really care about Punjab”?
I am an Indian first and I belong to every part of the country and I care about every part of my country. We will go wherever there is oppression and corruption.
The Akali Dal and the Congress – who do you think is your stronger opponent?
Neither. I don’t think of either of them as my opponents. My opponents are: Drugs, unemployment and corruption. That is why we talk only about issues. Let them do any kind of negative campaigning, we are not going to get into that.
How are you going to fund your the Punjab poll campaign?
We are still working on how to go about that.
After your great showing in Punjab, the party suffered a haemorrhage. You suspended a number of people, including two of your MPs? Doesn’t that send out a wrong signal about AAP?
We are in touch with those people and we want them back in the party, but they have to apologise first. Indiscipline will not be tolerated.
The party has been criticized for being under a dictatorship. It is said that you micromanage everything, and the Punjab unit is run from Delhi?
They just want to find something against me. First they tried to find something in my income tax records. When everything failed, they said that I was a dictator. Tell me, is it possible for me and AAP to have scaled up in this way if the party was was under a dictatorship. So many people have joined AAP – Ashutosh, Ashish Khetan – have they all lost their intelligence that they joined a dictator?
What about the criticism that you are ignoring the earliest members of AAP for people who have joined much later? That some of these new entrants are tainting the image of the party.
There is always some agenda when somebody makes a statement like this. Next time, ask them which new entry is tainting the image of the party. I will remove that person immediately. Such criticism usually comes when people feel they may be denied tickets or posts.
Yes that is one of the complaints…
Ah, you see, these people think of AAP as an exclusive club, not an open party. But the party cannot grow if it remains a closed club. The only way to grow is to be open and add new members.
What do you think of Captain Amarinder’s move to bring in Prashant Kishor as his election strategist?
(laughs ) Nothing, we are not bothered, let them bring anyone.
He’s been saying it will PK vs AK…
That exposes his mindset. Their thinking is based on personalities. We are thinking about issues.