Delhi’s former education adviser and AAP candidate from Kalkaji, Atishi (38), speaks to The Indian Express about the popularity of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, if PM Narendra Modi will be a factor in the Assembly polls, women in politics and Shaheen Bagh protests.
Kalkaji is a new area for you. What is the kind of response you have got so far?
It’s been very positive. At this time, all across Delhi, people have made up their mind that it is Arvind Kejriwal for CM. People are saying ‘kaam bol raha hai’. You can see it even in this constituency (Kalkaji).
Do you see any similarities in conversations and public sentiment during the Lok Sabha polls in 2019, when Delhi voted overwhelmingly for BJP and Narendra Modi, and now?
It’s very clear that the voter wants to see a face they can trust. Of course promises matter, but people want to repose their trust in a person as he/she embodies the ideology and promises which have been made. We may be from different parties, but the fact is that the nation reposed its trust in Narendra Modi. It is a public mandate we all accept. It is very clear now that people of Delhi want to repose their trust in Arvind Kejriwal because they feel he is one person who has delivered on the promises he made. People believe ‘vo jo kehta hai, vo karta hai’.
Do you believe your advantage is that you have Kejriwal as your face as opposed to BJP which has not declared a CM probable yet?
Yes, the lack of a face is hurting them. Congress, I believe, is not really in the fight this time. BJP, which was the main Opposition in Delhi, does not have any agenda for Delhi or a vision or a face. They have seven prospective CM candidates and all of them are busy fighting with each other. It’s almost as if BJP is admitting they do not have a leader of the caliber or stature of an Arvind Kejriwal who can take him on as a CM face.
In the hoardings that BJP has put up, the PM is the face. Do you think that will hurt you?
People vote differently in Parliamentary and Assembly polls… Haryana and Jharkhand, which voted for BJP in the Lok Sabha polls, gave a different result in assembly. It’s the same in Delhi as well. There was no doubt that people want Modi as the PM, and there is no doubt they want Kejriwal as the CM.
How does being a woman and not fitting in a particular mould play out on the ground and during the campaign?
AAP has challenged the traditional mould. You look at Kejriwal and you don’t really think he will be a politician, but he has become one of the biggest faces of our times… One big change in politics that AAP brought about is that we have made politics about the delivery of work. When I meet people, they will not introduce me as a Punjabi but as someone who worked in Delhi’s schools. I feel being a woman in politics is an advantage because women are half the voting population — a male candidate will have limited access to them. If I go to a home, I can sit in the living room with men and then go inside and speak to the women, which a male politician cannot do. Women have been big supporters of AAP since they manage household expenses; when power and water bills are zero, they care about that.
Not far from Kalkaji, women in Shaheen Bagh are protesting the new citizenship law. AAP leadership has kept its distance. For a party whose origins lie in a protest, is there a contradiction in the stance?
The party’s stand on CAA and NRC has been very clear. When one looks at this debate, one needs to realise that this is an attempt by BJP to distract people from the real issues. On one hand, the CMIE report says unemployment is at an all-time high, the economy is at an all-time low — maybe even worse than it was in 1991. The economic slowdown is so severe that people are not buying Parle G biscuits for Rs 5. CAA and NRC are an attempt to distract and bring polarising issues. The real response is to bring politics to real issues… In a democracy, everyone has the right to protest peacefully. The present protest is also affecting traffic, which is not desirable in the long run, but people do have the right to protest… Our response is to talk about real issues such as ‘why did you not pass a law to address unemployment in the country’ or ‘why did you need CAA all of a sudden’.
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