One of the founding members of the Aam Aadmi Party, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister and Education Minister Manish Sisodia has been appreciated for improving the Capital’s schools. He has had a long association with Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, and is the most trusted lieutenant of the AAP chief. He plays a major role in the party’s decision-making process as well as policymaking in governance. With successive electoral setbacks having forced the party to scale down its national ambitions, the AAP’s campaign for the 2020 Assembly polls, which will have Sisodia’s imprint, will be keenly watched.
SOURAV ROY BARMAN: In your campaign for the general elections earlier this year, there were four elements — your government’s achievements, demand for full statehood for Delhi, attacks on the Prime Minister and Home Minister, and finally sort of a desperate attempt to get into an alliance with the Congress. What went wrong?
Going by the results, everything was wrong. Our strategies did not work and that is why the results were such. Having said that, we don’t regret anything. All decisions were taken according to the circumstances then. If our strategies had worked, people would have called it a masterstroke.
Earlier, when we were set to leave the government after 49 days, many of our well-wishers advised us not to do it. They said it would be the biggest mistake in this country’s political history. At the time we thought maybe they are right. But then, when we got 67 out of 70 seats in Delhi, people complimented us for showing courage and leaving the government in 49 days. So, it is often very tough to say what might go wrong. But the results show that whatever we were doing was not acceptable to the public.
RAHUL SABHARWAL: So what are some of the strategy changes being made for the coming Delhi polls?
We will tell people about the work that we have done and the work that we plan on doing. We have worked hard, and we will fight the elections on the basis of the work that we have done. Even people know that work has been done, and we have moved forward in many sectors.
SOURAV ROY BARMAN: But in the Lok Sabha polls your candidates finished third in five seats and many of them lost their deposits. Does it worry you?
No. Later, when we spoke to the people, they told us this was not your election. They said that they will stand with us in the Delhi elections. Even the Haryana and Maharashtra election results show that people are clear about their choices. They know who to vote for in which election. During the Odisha elections, at the polling booths, people pressed different buttons for the state and national candidates. We have to go by the voters’ wisdom.
SUKRITA BARUAH: As an election plank, how will you use education to reach out to people?
There are three factors linked to education — basic facilities, results, and long-term planning for how education can help shape a city or the country. We have worked on all three issues. We have ensured basic minimum facilities at all our schools. Students, teachers and parents see these facilities. Things have changed. It’s not the ‘tent wala’ school system anymore. Everyone can see the quality of our school results too. These are not inflated numbers. I cannot change 96.2 per cent to 96.3 or 96.1. Those who scored 80-plus percentages earlier are now scoring 96 per cent. In the last three years, government schools have scored better than private schools. Today, there is an increase in the number of Delhi government school students cracking IIT exams or getting admission to Delhi University colleges. This is quality evidence.
The last factor is about shaping the future. That is why we are focusing on entrepreneurship, there is the happiness curriculum, we are going to bring in the deshbhakti curriculum… And we are not just talking about these things, we have also allocated funds for it. There is commitment and delivery.
ABHINAV RAJPUT: What are your plans to tackle air and water pollution in the Capital? Do you see pollution becoming an election issue?
We want both air and water to become election issues. Then they (the BJP) can tell people what they have done in Gurgaon, Noida, Ghaziabad. We will tell people what we have done in Delhi… From power cuts to reduction in the sale of generators… Because of change in transformers, power lines, power cuts in Delhi are almost negligible now. For us, it is better if elections are fought on issues such as air and water. People will see that apart from education, AAP is also working on these issues.
There were a lot of water problems in Delhi earlier. Areas such as Dwarka had no water for nearly 15 years. Water reached there in 2015-16. There are areas such as Sangam Vihar where pipelines have been laid. Pipelines will become old, they will rust, they will be replaced… But to paint the entire water situation in Delhi with the same brush, I think it is part of a larger conspiracy. The National Green Tribunal is saying that we don’t need ROs, they lead to water wastage. But there is fear-mongering among people over quality of water in the Capital. This is a conspiracy and we have exposed it. Of the 11 samples (that were examined for the Bureau of Indian Standards report), one was from Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s home, another from the home of a person who fought elections on his party’s ticket, one sample was from a person’s home who fought elections from Yogendra Yadav’s party, one sample is from a fake address. Four people said that the water coming to their homes was dirty earlier but now it is clean. So what is the sanctity of this sample?
ABHINAV RAJPUT: If you believe stubble burning is the main cause of pollution in the Capital, what is your plan for next year, when the air quality begins to deteriorate again after Diwali?
Until five-six states, along with the Central government, work to solve the problem… It’s not about Delhi alone, it is also about the people of Noida, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon and Faridabad. I will say clearly here, the Centre has to play its role.
SOURAV ROY BARMAN: Do you think the Prime Minister should have intervened directly in the matter?
We wrote letters to the Central and state governments well in time. When we didn’t get a response, we began the drive to purchase and distribute masks. It is the job of a federal government to intervene in matters related to five-six states. The Chief Minister is interacting with technocrats to look for technological solutions to stubble-burning. It has to be done in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh as well. Now whether it happens with the Prime Minister’s intervention, with Prakash Javadekar’s intervention… It has to be done.
SOMYA LAKHANI: Now that pollution is a big issue, how is it going to manifest itself in the election campaign?
Everyone has a role in tackling pollution. The Nagar Nigam has a role, from dust control to sanitation. The Delhi government has a role, the Central government has a role… We will tell people about these issues — what we have done, what others should have done and did not do. We will present it before the people.
RAKESH SINHA: You supported the Centre’s move to revoke Article 370. What was the thought behind it?
As a child when I read about Article 370, I would wonder why we need it. Now that a decision has been taken, we thought it was a move that has to be supported and so we supported it. Tomorrow, if they take a step to tackle pollution, we will support that too. Why not?
RAKESH SINHA: Earlier, the AAP took on the PM aggressively. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.
Earlier, people asked us why do we fight so much… See, we fight when there is a need to fight. Today, when there is a fake intervention on water issues by the Centre, we are fighting it.
MALLICA JOSHI: Water has been on the AAP’s agenda for long. Politically, what will be the impact of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) report?
It’s not about governance here. It is about conspiracies. If noise is made about Delhi’s water being poisonous, people will be forced to buy ROs. And this truth is now coming out… This report is linked to the RO industry. If you dig deeper, a mineral water link will also emerge. When people start believing that the water in their homes is poisonous, they will buy mineral water from shops… So we believe this (report) is part of a political and financial conspiracy.
MALLICA JOSHI: After the report came out, did anyone in your government reach out to the BIS to understand their methodology?
We questioned Ram Vilas Paswan, the Central government. The Central government said that the samples have been picked up from the homes of these 11 people. Then, when we enquired, we found that two samples are from homes of people from Paswan’s party… So the Bureau of Indian Standards has become the Bureau of LJP Standards. Think about it, you are doing a survey for such a big city, with such a big population, that can have far-reaching impact… why would you only select 11 samples, and that too from your own home, from the home of your party leader? Couldn’t you find anyone else? So we are raising the issue at appropriate forums… We haven’t spoken to them (the BIS).
RAHUL SABHARWAL: What is your view on the tussle that is playing out at Jawaharlal Nehru University over the past two weeks?
The government should deal with universities appropriately. This government in particular has not handled universities well across the country. There are disputes at many universities, BHU, the Rohith Vemula issue… There should always be a soft approach towards students because they are the future generation. There should be a liberal approach towards universities. You may not agree with their view, but the lathicharge, not listening to them… I do not agree with it.
SOURAV ROY BARMAN: Then why is the Delhi government not rejecting the request for prosecution by the Delhi Police in the sedition case filed against JNU students?
If the Delhi Police can take three years to examine a case, then we should also be given some time to take legal opinion. Police also took the case to court without consulting us. Why can’t we take some time in getting the issue scrutinised by three-four legal experts?
VANDITA MISHRA: With the BJP on the rise and the Opposition in decline, for a short while, it seemed that the AAP was going to emerge as an anti-BJP force. Today, that image doesn’t hold. What would you say to that?
We are not against the Prime Minister or any individual. We are against wrong actions. We supported Article 370 abrogation, and we are also speaking out on the JNU issue. So you can talk to us based on issues. The BJP is the ruling party and we are in the Opposition. So we are anti-BJP. In Delhi, we are trying to stop the BJP from coming to power in the coming elections. So you can’t say we are not anti-BJP. But what our strategy will be, when we will speak out against someone, how much we will speak… Leave that to us. That is part of our strategy.
MUZAMIL JALEEL: How can a party that is itself fighting for full statehood support a move to downgrade a state to a Union Territory?
We never said that making (J&K) a UT was a good move. We supported the move to revoke Article 370… It’s our choice, what we support and oppose. Let’s talk about issues related to Delhi. We are a small party. You can’t expect us to shake up those in power. We will speak on issues based on the strength that we have.
SOURAV ROY BARMAN: But don’t you think issues such as Ram Mandir, Article 370 etc will have an impact on the Delhi polls?
But that is what I said earlier, that people take national and state decisions separately. I was very glad to see the results in Maharashtra and Haryana.
MUZAMIL JALEEL: Do you agree with the BJP’s Hindutva ideology?
No. We oppose it strongly. I am a Hindu. I do a lot of things that happen at homes of common Hindu families, like puja etc. But I don’t want them (the BJP) to be representing me and my people. We have spoken out against mob lynching. To kill somebody in the name of the cow… We have opposed all that.
RAHUL SABHARWAL: Where do you see the Congress in the political landscape of the country?
I think last time the Congress got 8 per cent of the votes in Delhi. This time, I don’t think they are even going to manage that. At the national level, those who did not want to vote for the BJP chose them. But when we speak about Delhi issues, the Congress is nowhere.
ABHINAV RAJPUT: The Delhi BJP has been very vocal about the NRC (National Register of Citizens) drive. They say that they will push for it if they come to power. What is your view on the NRC?
We can’t do anything. They will do whatever is in their capacity. We can’t stop them with our strength. They have the power, let them do it… I think the NRC in Assam was disastrous. It has become a joke now. If that is what we will get, it is better we don’t do it. People from all parts of the country stay in Delhi. Will we have to throw them out if their names are not on the list? It’s a joke.
RAVISH TIWARI: To counter the BJP, what is the way forward for opposition parties?
I think parties should raise issues that affect the common man. We are raising the problems faced by the residents of Delhi… NGOs, activists, journalists, media houses, all have views. But views are not helpful in politics. It is important to understand the pain and needs of the common people. It is also important to resolve the issues. Political parties must occupy the space that is being created.
RAHUL SABHARWAL: If you win this time, what are the areas that you want to build on?
Overall, health and education are the sectors in which work is on in the right direction. There is lot to achieve and work will always go on. In terms of electricity, we have built infrastructure as well as rationalised costs. Many areas which did not have access to water, now have water supply. The biggest problem is that Delhi does not have its own water source. We carried out experiments before the monsoon and they are being studied. If we can save some water during the rains — a lot of water is wasted because of the overflow — it will be a big step towards achieving self-sufficiency. Traffic, pollution and waste management are also big issues and have to be resolved in coordination with the MCD, using new technologies and raising public awareness.
VANDITA MISHRA: In Modi’s leadership model, there is centralisation of power. We see the same model in many states, including Delhi. Arvind Kejriwal is reportedly the last word in the party and the government. Do you think this kind of leadership model works for a country of India’s diversity and complexity?
Governance should be democratic. And democracy should be ingrained in governance. The political party in power will have a leadership, team, and a future line-up. How democratic and inclusive or exclusive it will be will vary from party to party and leader to leader. Some leaders discuss with a thousand people before taking a decision. Some leaders enjoy the faith of their team as the latter know that the leader will come up with a solution. I can’t say to which category the AAP belongs as we keep conducting experiments every day. We have a different experience. The ultimate aim should be to maximise democracy in all government institutions in the country,which run on taxpayers’ money.
SOURAV ROY BARMAN: Will the AAP tie-up with the Congress in the future?
I think it is not needed. People don’t view our tie-up with the Congress favourably.