At the latest edition of Express Adda, held last week at Olive Bar & Kitchen, Mumbai, in association with IIFL Private Wealth Management, former Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal spoke about his 49-day experience as CM, activism versus politics, why he chose to contest against Narendra Modi from Varanasi, internal democracy in his party, and his ambitious plan for Delhi if his party returns to power. The session was moderated by Seema Chishti, Deputy Editor, The Indian Express.
On his experience as Chief Minister
It was short-lived, only 49 days, but it was quite an experience. Even our severest critics admit that what we achieved in those 49 days, no government post-independence, has achieved in their first 50 days. We reduced electricity tariff for up to 400 units by half; we made water free up to 20,000 litres a month for a family. People criticised us for that. They said we were doling out subsidies. The total amount I spent on these two subsidies was just Rs 250 crore, while the budget of the Delhi government is Rs 4,000 crore. So the subsidy was peanuts. We ordered a CAG audit into electricity companies as there are a large number of allegations against these companies. The Congress was not doing it, the BJP was not doing it, and both were citing a pending High Court case as the reason. When I became the chief minister, I asked for the files and found that there was a High Court case pending, but no stay order.
We brought down bribery in Delhi to almost negligible levels. The police and MCD officials had stopped taking bribes in our days.
I am trying to say that though we have been talking about corruption, the proof of the pudding lies in the eating. The 49 days of our governance showed that if you provide development without corruption, it leads to the development of all.
He quit, why should delhi vote for him again?
We could show good governance in 49 days but we kept saying we were entering the government for changes in the system, so that even if there was another government, it would be unable to dislodge the system. Systemic changes can only be undertaken when we are in the Assembly. The Congress said they were supporting us from outside, but inside, they broke mikes and tore papers. And they decided they would not allow any proposal to be passed. That is the time we decided to resign.
We knew that the popularity of the government was at its peak at that time. We were expecting the Delhi Assembly elections to be held along with the Lok Sabha polls. We expected to get 50 seats, and form the government without the support of Congress, so as to implement systemic changes such as Lokpal and Swaraj, which we had spoken about. And then we would be able to be the government we wanted to.
But this was a huge political mistake. We did not anticipate that the Centre would impose President’s Rule in Delhi for the next 10 months, and not let elections take place. People of Delhi got angry as we did not consult them through a referendum, like we did before forming the government. We should have asked the people. The one lesson I have learnt is that I will never resign. Bharat ki politics mein jo bhi ho jaye, kabhi isteefa nahin dena chahiye!
People say the BJP has taken the broom from us. They have learnt a lot from us, like our “missed call” membership campaign. We wore a white cap, so they started wearing a saffron cap. It’s good. We want to change the political discourse. However, people say there is no originality in imitation.
On dissent within the party
First and foremost, ever since the party has been formed, only Shazia Ilmi has quit. We tried to pacify her but she doesn’t want to come back. Yogendra Yadav’s emails were very important. Internal democracy is when everyone
has the right to dissent on internal platforms. I took it in the right spirit. If someone writes this kind of an email to Narendra Modi, he won’t last in the party. Or if someone writes to Sonia Gandhi, for that matter. Yogendra had written in private but someone leaked it. Shanti Bhushan had written an open letter, but we still respect him a lot, hum ne unhe margdarshak mandal mein nahi daala (smiles).
On contesting Varanasi
Varanasi was a different decision. In my opinion, the decision of our party to contest from 430 seats was wrong. We didn’t have the bandwidth or
resources to do that. But a majority of people in the party said we should fight, and I went along.
On activism vs politics
I feel every politician should be an activist; they are not separate. It is not as if an activist’s job is to stage dharnas, and a politician’s to do politics. It is fighting for the rights of people.
During the time that I was chief minister, a Danish woman was raped in Delhi. At that time, I said that if another rape happens in the city, a police officer has to be held accountable. Later, in one day, three incidents took place in the Capital. I asked the Police Commissioner to suspend three SHOs, but he didn’t agree and that is when I sat on a dharna. You can disagree with my ways but the issue was right. Secondly, some people said I was just staging a drama. Modiji sat on a dharna for three days in 2007. The difference is that I slept out in 4 degrees Celsius and he slept in an air-conditioned tent. Why is it said that democracy is at stake when Kejriwal sits on a dharna and how is democracy strengthened when Modiji does the same?
On six months of the Modi government
He delivers good speeches, but doesn’t work. People had heard (the slogan): “Bahut hua bhrashtachar, ab ki baar Modi sarkar”. So they thought when the government changes, corruption would come down. But today, not a single thing can be done in Delhi without paying a bribe. Has Mumbai improved after the BJP came to power? Corruption has remained as it is. People heard: “Bahut hui mehengai ki maar, ab ki baar Modi sarkar”, and thought inflation would come down. The opposite has happened. What Modi said and what he does now are opposites. He spoke of no corruption, and then BS Yeddyurappa was made the party’s vice-president. Rajya Sabha MP JP Nadda was the one who removed Sanjiv Chaturvedi from AIIMS, yet he was made the health minister. Railway fares have gone up, the prices of sugar and vegetables have gone up.
On his plans for Delhi
Through “Delhi Dialogues”, we are drafting an ambitious development plan for Delhi. We asked the youth what they wanted. They asked for five things. The first is higher education. It is the duty of the government to provide primary education, since it is the right of every individual. So, we will improve government schools and bring them to the level of private schools.
In higher education, today even if you get 90 percent marks, you don’t get admission. The reason for this is that demand is far more than supply. In Delhi, the number of seats in colleges will be doubled in five years. We also plan to set up 20 new colleges in the Outer Delhi area. Secondly, today a poor man can’t afford even a government college and needs a collateral for educational loans. We have decided that if any child enters college and in case his parents can’t afford his education, banks will provide a loan and the government will underwrite all such loans. Third is jobs. There are 55,000 vacancies in the government, which we plan to fill.
We plan to convert entire Delhi into a free Wi-Fi zone. The last thing is sports facilities. There are playgrounds in 4,000 Delhi schools that lie empty in the evenings. We plan to throw them open for the youth and children to use in the evenings.
Delhi is your base. You had a strong organisation out there, how do you explain not winning a single seat in the Lok Sabha? (Suketu V shah Joint Managing Director, Mukand Limited)
Nobody saw us as a national alternative during the Lok Sabha elections. Even if someone was sympathetic, he saw the benefit in voting for the existing national parties. In spite of that, we gained a larger vote share in Delhi as compared to the Assembly elections.
Even your worst critics would say that you have brought a breath of fresh air to Indian politics. But do you not think that communalism and hate politics, which we are seeing in the worst way today, is also something you should speak more openly about? (Teesta Setalvad , Activist)
In Delhi these days, the BJP is trying to instigate riots in some places. What happens is that disagreements are sparked off between two individuals; one of them will be Hindu, and the other Muslim. It is then given a communal angle. So we have asked our workers that if anything like that happens, they should try and tell people that if at all it is true, the fight is between two people, and not two communities.
The UPA passed the Lokpal Bill almost a year ago, but since Narendra Modi has become Prime Minister, it is hardly a secret that many institutions in this country are under serious threat. There is no Lokpal. Arvind Kejriwal is quiet. There is no Chief Information Commissioner, Kejriwal’s conscience is not disturbed. No Chief Vigilance Commissioner, Kejriwal is tongue-tied. There is a poster of you with Modi’s picture saying, ‘Modi for PM, Arvind for CM’. Are you (AAP) BJP’s sleeping partners? (Sanjay Jha, Congress spokesperson)
If there is a BJP person in the audience, he would have called us a B-team of Congress. You both should get together and decide whose B-team we are. The poster was mischief by someone who recently joined us as a volunteer. The politics of AAP is completely different from the politics of BJP and Narendra Modi. On Lokpal, we, and not the Congress, have filed a PIL in the Supreme Court. On the CBI issue, we have presented a diary on the wrongdoings of the CBI director before the SC; the Congress did not do anything. In fact, the Congress had appointed him. When the black money list came, Congress wasn’t revealing it, nor is Narendra Modi revealing it now. So let people decide who is sleeping with whom.
It was a huge blow to the LGBT community when your manifesto did not mention Section 377. I was told it was a developing manifesto but the issue never featured. Is it going to be a party driven by populist sentiments? (Onir, Filmmaker)
I do not know what exactly happened when the manifesto was being prepared. But before that, I remember clearly that the party had supported the LGBT cause and I have no hesitation in announcing it here that we support the cause. It might have been an error, as the Maharashtra manifesto had it.
You seem to have made a virtue of the fact that you were a CM for 49 days, but the rest of India doesn’t consider that a great virtue. Politics is the art of the possible. Governance has to be at a measured speed. You seem to be in such a hurry to achieve things. What was the blood rush that made you do this, instead of staying the course and achieving your objectives? (Anil Dharker, Columnist)
I admit that people had very high hopes from us. The middle class had very high hopes from us. I would beg to disagree that people were unhappy with our 49 days of governance. No one has provided that kind of governance. People were unhappy with our decision to resign, that we left the government in a lurch. Different sections of society had different hopes that were crushed because of our resignation. We made a mistake, but did not commit a crime.