Days before Delhi votes, the Chief Minister speaks about attempts to make elections a ‘Hindu-Muslim’ issue, the debate around clearing Shaheen Bagh, the lack of credible alternatives on the national stage, and what the Aam Aadmi Party hopes to accomplish if it comes back to power
IE: Everyone thought the Delhi polls will be a fierce contest, but did you anticipate it would reach this level of bitterness or intensity?
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Arvind Kejriwal: I didn’t expect this. I was hoping we will talk about our work and they have been ruling the MCDs for the last 15 years, so they will talk about what they have done in the corporations. Or perhaps what they have done to improve policing. They don’t have any work to show and on top of that, they have nothing in terms of pointing out our shortcomings. So there’s a vacuum, and this is why they want to contest the polls on the plank of Hindu-Muslim and distract people from our accomplishments.
IE: With days to go for voting, how do you read the elections?
Arvind Kejriwal: It is a little difficult to say. Personally, I feel the people of Delhi are very happy with our work. Delhi people have thrown up many unexpected results in the past. In 2015, no one imagined that AAP, a new party, will bag 67 out of 70 seats. When we had no real heft, when people were saying our candidates will lose deposits, the people of Delhi had given an opportunity to a new party. This time, the question is whether the voting would be on work or Hindu-Muslim. I believe the people of Delhi are smart and they will reward work.
Today, we are living in the 21st Century. We are talking of 21st Century India. 21st Century India can make progress through technology, good education, industries, roads, highway infrastructure, electricity, water, not through Hindu-Muslim. It will not make progress through creation of divisions in the country. As long as law and order is not robust, or there is absence of peace and stability in the country, there will be no investments, and how does the country grow without that?
IE: What’s your view on how the EC has monitored the polls?
Arvind Kejriwal: The EC has taken a few measures… They have put restrictions on a few people, but I think they could have done much more… Though they have banned a few leaders from campaigning for certain periods of time, they could have done much more.
IE: You earlier said the Supreme Court decision (on division of powers) helped you finally deliver after three years. What is that one thing you would have liked to do, apart from focusing on education, health, power, water?
Arvind Kejriwal: I think we now want to clean the Yamuna, improve the transport sector, provide 24×7 water supply. We have to carry out all these things. I don’t believe we have done everything in education and health. We need to do a lot more.
IE: But your relation with the MCDs is strained. How will you ensure Delhi is cleaned up?
Arvind Kejriwal: See, you can get the Yamuna cleaned, it is under us. We will try to get vacuum cleaning done. In terms of solid waste management, we are thinking of talking to them about specific project-related funding. We will stipulate that the money meant for a specific project cannot be diverted. We will try and work that out in the next two-and-a-half years before MCD elections, and I hope we get to power in the corporations so that more can be done.
IE: AAP’s manifesto talks about recruiting more safai karamcharis. How will you do that when they are mostly under MCDs?
Arvind Kejriwal: We will make certain parameters and revise existing ones. Currently, the number of sanitation workers in the city is based on a 40-year-old population census. And Delhi suffers as a result.
IE: Jan Lokpal and Swaraj Bills figure at the top of AAP’s manifesto. How achievable do you think these initiatives are, given that they didn’t take off last time?
Arvind Kejriwal: We will try to make them (the Centre) understand. They don’t let us implement these initiatives and then blame us for not implementing them during polls. So, we will try and let’s see how successful we are in doing that.
IE: Yesterday, we were told that the AAP, on returning, will roll out the doorstep delivery of ration scheme within months or perhaps a year.
Arvind Kejriwal: It is at a very advanced stage. There are no objections. It should be implemented within six months of forming government.
IE: BJP’s opponents fear that whatever they say can be branded as minority appeasement. For instance, Manish Sisodia saying he stands with Shaheen Bagh has been cited often by the BJP.
Arvind Kejriwal: Actually, I want to address this to the people. The time has come to choose what patriotism is. Is educating children patriotism or is it stressing on the Hindu-Muslim debate? Is providing affordable healthcare patriotism or is it Hindu-Muslim? Is improving electricity, water and roads patriotism or is it instigating riots and abusing? Our party is a product of the Anna movement. When Anna and I used to raise cries of Bharat Mata Ki, children sitting in front of TVs used to complete the slogan, saying Jai. We handed Tricolours to every child. Woh asli deshbhakti hai. The 21st Century India cannot be a product of hatred among people. The day people take a stand that real patriotism comes through education, health, roads, and power, the country will make progress and the politics of these people will end. Even they will have to then build schools and hospitals. If work triumphs in this election, then a new kind of politics will take birth in this country.
IE: You said that your presence in Shaheen Bagh would not have helped in any manner. Why?
Arvind Kejriwal: Why do you want to send me to Shaheen Bagh? A few days ago, I saw a few TV reporters there. Everyone there had one thing to say, that ‘Amit Shah come here and talk to us’. They (protesters) are more smart. Journalists ask me why I didn’t go. I have no role there. Even they (protesters) know whose role it is.
IE: Do you think your visit, as CM, could have helped calm anxieities?
Arvind Kejriwal: Today, I am occupying a Constitutional post, meri maryada hai. Tomorrow, if something happens at the MCDs and I reach there, it would not be appropriate. Let the MCD do its job, or the DDA its own. If I reach the DDA building, there will be chaos, anarchy. If there is a problem in any school, tell me, I will get it solved, or get a road repaired if it is in a bad state. If they (MCD) come over in this area, then that will also be inappropriate. If the MCD interferes in a Delhi government school, that would be improper. People have given us separate responsibilities. I will carry out what is expected of me, they will do what they are expected to.
IE: The word you just used — anarchy — was used by Union Minister Prakash Javadekar while calling you a terrorist. He drew an equivalence between an anarchist and a terrorist, citing a statement of yours. How would you respond to that?
Arvind Kejriwal: Anarchy means the complete state of disrepair of our schools, hospitals, bijli, paani over the last 70 years. In every case of privatisation, the logic given was that since a particular thing is in the government sector, it cannot work. A perception was created that nothing in the government sector would work. We have changed that. We have improved schools and hospitals, which was not done in the last 70 years. The people of this country are really good. They are intelligent; we are blessed with abundant natural resources. The systems are in a bad shape and when I try to shake that up, vested interests, status quoists, they say Kejriwal is an anarchist.
IE: Many voters seem to prefer a more muscular brand of nationalism…
Arvind Kejriwal: People are supreme. When people do not have alternatives… Say in a state, there are two parties and both are corrupt, then corruption cannot be an issue. So people at times do that (reward) due to lack of an alternative, or when they like a discourse. Some things also happen due to the historical circumstances we go through. But whatever decision the masses make, that is the right decision.
IE: If you get a second term, some say there could be room for someone like you at the national stage. Do you see yourself assuming such a role in the future?
Arvind Kejriwal: Actually, I am not important. AAP is not important. What is important is that the people of Delhi have given birth to a new kind of politics today. Five years ago, they gave an opportunity to a completely new party, which was unexpected. And today, five years later, if they vote for work, it will be a new kind of politics and ideology. Other governments and other parties will start to work as well. They will also feel that if they work, bigger forces will bow down and weaken.
IE: Have you seen a replication of what you are doing in Delhi in other places?
Arvind Kejriwal: Many governments are starting mohalla clinics, many are starting the Happiness Curriculum, many officers and politicians from other governments are visiting our schools. People are talking about it (our work).
IE: When you say AAP has given birth to a new ideology, what is that ideology?
Arvind Kejriwal: The politics of work. It is a new kind of politics of schools, hospital, power and water. No one has ever spoken about it.
IE: In a country where there are deep fault lines of religion and caste, is it possible to skirt these issues?
Arvind Kejriwal: The people of Delhi will answer this. Irrespective of whether one is an SC, a Brahmin, from the Aggarwal Samaj, Punjabi, Muslim, Hindu, poor or rich, everyone has to educate their children. Everyone loves their children, right? If they fall ill, they will get them treated. We opened schools for everyone and only that will erase these fault lines. Talking about it over and over again and raising slogans about it will not end it. Make everyone sit together and teach them, treat them, make roads for everyone. In Delhi, we have worked for everyone, for those from BJP, Congress as well as for those from AAP. I found out that this colony is of BJP supporters but we still constructed roads here, gave them water. That is why I am asking BJP supporters to vote for me.
IE: How do you think you are placed (in assembly polls) today?
Arvind Kejriwal: Whatever people decide. It is in their hands. It is very difficult to say. One should never be overconfident. We will accept the decision that people make. If people say you will have to make do with 40 seats, we will do that. If they give us 70 seats, we will work with that too.
IE: What about the barrage from top BJP leaders, chief ministers and top ministers coming and reiterating the same thing.
Arvind Kejriwal: I did not expect it to get so abusive. They called me a terrorist, a traitor, a thug, Ravan. What kind of politics is this? The country cannot develop with such a discourse. Personally, it doesn’t make a difference to me at all but I feel extremely bad for the country. How will the country become better and move forward if this is the discourse of the ruling party? The whole world is looking at them.
IE: Before the Lok Sabha polls, you had said that this is going to be the last election in the country if Modi and Shah come back.
Arvind Kejriwal: We felt that the tendencies they displayed were not right.
IE: What do you say about the allegations that a person who had joined AAP fired at Shaheen Bagh?
Arvind Kejriwal: Send him to jail. If the jail term is two years, sentence him for four years if he is connected with Aam Aadmi Party, by chance. Forty-eight hours before voting, his photos coming out is an obvious conspiracy. Nothing worked for Amit Shah ji. He first got all parties against me — LJP, JD(U), RJD, but that didn’t work. Then he brought in 200 MPs but that failed as well. Then he got 70 ministers but that failed to work as well, then he got 11 chief ministers, which also failed. Then he abused me thoroughly, but that didn’t work either. Then he started saying Shaheen Bagh, Shaheen Bagh, Shaheen Bagh, which failed again. Finally, Delhi Police is the last resort. They are going around with some photos. His father has said that he isn’t part of AAP.
IE: AAP has inducted a lot of people over the past few months. Some have been given tickets within a day of joining…
Arvind Kejriwal: If they are good people, they can get it. There is nothing wrong with that.
IE: Does it cause some heart burn?
Arvind Kejriwal: When candidates are selected, there are many considerations. Our 3Cs are important — character, crime and corruption. We don’t compromise on that. Then, obviously, we see if the candidate has the capability to win.
IE: Is money also a factor? Does a candidate have to be rich to get a ticket?
Arvind Kejriwal: I don’t think so. Hamare aaj bhi aise candidates hain jo aaj bhi phakkad hain.
IE: The richest candidate is from AAP…
Arvind Kejriwal: It is a coincidence. Maybe you’ll find the poorest candidate in our party as well. It shows our range. (laughs)
IE: Doesn’t it bother those who have worked for the party for a while?
Arvind Kejriwal: Some people get angry. If someone wants to contest and they are denied a chance, they are obviously hurt. But we try to keep the flock together. A few people left, though.
IE: When you talk about clearing Shaheen Bagh within two hours…
Arvind Kejriwal: That road. That particular road…
IE: Do you mean there should be a dialogue and only after that it should be cleared or do you just bulldoze…
Arvind Kejriwal: Baatcheet karke hona chahiye. Why can it not be solved through dialogue? Everyone has the right to protest but not to inconvenience other people. If you will block a road and cause pain to so many people, it will not be acceptable in any democracy, any society. Gandhi ji would not have accepted this either.
IE: But is it only when it becomes an inconvenience that people start to listen?
Arvind Kejriwal: Isn’t that violence?
IE: Do you think people’s anxiety about being stripped of their citizenship…
Arvind Kejriwal: I completely agree, but I am trying to say that any protest that causes inconvenience is not right. We are a party born from a protest. The Anna andolan was a kind of protest which did not cause inconvenience to anyone. Maine 15 din ka anshan rakhha hai. But no one has the right to cause inconvenience.
IE: Is it time for a woman minister in your cabinet, if you come back to power?
Arvind Kejriwal: We will cross that bridge when we come to it.
IE: They say an enemy’s enemy is a friend. Do you think the Congress could, perhaps, have sat this one out?
Arvind Kejriwal: Congress is not a player in any case. They are at 1% to 2% right now.
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