Delhi chief minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convenor Arvind Kejriwal says he wishes an alliance with the Congress in the capital had materialized, but that on hindsight his party is better off fighting the polls for seven Lok Sabha seats in the city on its own. In an interview with Shivani Singh and Sweta Goswami, Kejriwal said AAP had two options — fight four of the seven seats and let the Congress contest the remaining three, which he is sure the grand old party would have lost, effectively handing them to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on a platter. “The second option was to contest all seven seats and try to win them all. Now, in hindsight, it looks like the second option was better,” said Kejriwal, who claims “:a huge amount of positivity” in favour of AAP. He says his party’s biggest priority is to get rid of the Modi-Shah duo, referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. Edited excerpts:
Q.Any regrets about the alliance between Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Congress not materialising?
I wish the alliance had happened. We could have defeated the BJP on 18 seats (seven in Delhi, 10 in Haryana and one in Chandigarh) In this election, 18 seats are a lot.
In fact, I was looking forward to this alliance. The last day, everything was finalised between Ghulam Nabi Azad (Congress MP and leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha) and Sanjay Singh (AAP member of the Rajya Sabha). I was thinking of announcing it at a press conference — to say that Modiji will not be the prime minister of India again; it is sealed.
Q.How would have the Delhi election (for seven Lok Sabha seats) been different if the alliance had happened?
Congress couldn’t have won a single seat on its own. Even if we had given them three seats, they would have lost. Congress is not getting any votes. They have been rejected.
We had two options in Delhi. Either we had agreed to a 4:3 arrangement and made sure that we win four and give three seats to the BJP. It would have amounted to having an alliance between the AAP and the BJP rather than the AAP and the Congress.
The second option was to contest all seven seats and try to win them all. Now, in hindsight, it looks like the second option was better.
Q.In the past — the Lok Sabha election in 2014 and the municipal polls in 2017 — the anti-BJP vote was split between the AAP and the Congress. What makes you think it will not happen again?
Those elections were held in different circumstances. Today, it is different. After 4-5 years, people are happy with the AAP. Many people are just going to vote for us for our work. They are not bothered if it is a national election or a state (election).
In fact, many people think (by voting for us) they can give strength to the Centre, which troubles us every day – so they (the Centre) won’t be able to harass us.
Overall, there is a huge amount of positivity in AAP’s favour.
Q.How would you have re-strategized your decision to have an alliance with the Congress in the Delhi assembly elections, which are just nine months away?
There can’t be any alliance with Congress for assembly polls. This alliance (had it happened) would have been just for one time. The AAP came into existence raising the issue of corruption in the Congress.
The sole purpose of the alliance would have been to save the country from the Modi-Shah (Narendra Modi-Amit Shah) duo. Even our volunteers were against the alliance but I told them that this one time, we need to come together.
Q.Who are you ideologically more opposed to – the Congress or the BJP?
Right now, we have to save the country from Modi-Shah alliance. Our commitment and loyalty are for the country. Whatever is the biggest challenge before the country, we fight against it. At one point, the Congress’ corruption was at its height – 2G, coal, Commonwealth Games – and the whole country was repulsed. We launched the biggest movement, the strongest voice against that corruption.
Today, the biggest challenge before the country is the Modi-Amit Shah partnership. We have raised our voice against it.
Q.Was the alliance just to stop the Modi-Shah partnership or were you looking at it as an opportunity to expand your political presence beyond Delhi?
This alliance had only one agenda. To keep the Modi-Shah partnership out. We need to save the country.
Q.If there is a new government at the Centre, how do you see things changing for AAP?
Let’s see who comes to power at the Centre. But whatever it is, it will be better than the present set-up.
Today, the PM of this country has said openly that he is going to buy 40 MLAs from (Trinamool Congress chief) Mamata Banerjee’s team and dismantle her government. Forget this country, in world history, we haven’t had a prime minister who has so openly said that people can choose whoever they want, I can buy out MLAs and bring down the government. It is the first time a country’s prime minister has got an attack orchestrated against the chief minister of the national capital.
Even after five years, Narendra Modi does not have any achievements to project before the people. He can’t say he got jobs for people or opened new factories, promoted businesses and got an economic boom. He can’t say he got schools, colleges or hospitals. He is seeking votes on nationalism to cover up his inadequacies.
His nationalism is fake and dangerous for this country. He is telling people he went into the home of the terrorists and killed them. And (Pakistan Prime Minister) Imran Khan says Modi should become the prime minister again. He is desperately saying this, over and over again. What is the setting this between Pakistan and Modiji? What is this setting between Imran Khan and Modiji? Did Imran Khan organise Pulwama attack just two months before the elections because he wants Modiji elected again? Has the prime minister of Pakistan ever said, right before the elections, that get a certain person elected as the PM of India? There is something dangerous happening between Modiji and Pakistan. I wish people see this. They should go beyond the illusion.
Q.What is your assessment of the Centre? Will Narendra Modi come back?
I don’t think Modiji will come back.
Q. Will the Congress come back?
It is difficult to say. But Modi-Shah duo is not coming back.
Q.If you do get full statehood for Delhi, you will have to take on the additional responsibility of the DDA(Delhi Development Authority) and the Delhi Police, which will come with their own financial burden. Is Delhi government financially equipped to take on this responsibility?
The DDA controls land and land is a huge resource. The DDA has R 25,000 crore in its fixed deposits. Shouldn’t this money be used for Delhi’s development?
The Delhi government gives R 1.5 lakh crore in income tax to the Centre every year, which is the second highest after Mumbai that pays R 3 lakh crore. We get only R 325 crore in return. The rest is spent everywhere else in the country because Delhi is not a full state.
If Delhi becomes a full state, we will get funds from devolution of taxes, which will be about R 60,000 crore. Delhi Police salaries amount to R 5,000 crore. We will still save R 55,000 crore.
Q.You talked about having control over land if the DDA comes under the Delhi government and if Delhi gets full statehood. But currently a lot of gram sabha land is the Delhi government’s. Thousands of crore of revenue is being lost because the Delhi government has not been able to curb encroachment on these gram sabha lands.
It is not like that. We have taken action against this as and when any such information has come to us. We had even initiated drives against this. But yes, we will make such drives more aggressive. Wherever there is encroachment, because it is public land, we will remove it. We will take action very strictly against this for sure.
Q.You have questioned the BJP and the Congress for fielding candidates (Hans Raj Hans and Vijender Singh) who don’t belong to Delhi. Do you think it is a fair debate in the case of Delhi?
He (Hans) is an outsider. There is a very strong sentiment about this there. In the north-west Delhi constituency, people are questioning how BJP could not find a Dalit candidate in the whole of Delhi that they had to bring a candidate from outside.
Q.But this outsider debate doesn’t fit in Delhi. You yourself are not from the city. Raised in Haryana, you studied at Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur and lived in Ghaziabad till you became the Delhi CM.
But now we have settled here. All of us have settled here now. But Hans Raj Hans is from Punjab. People are raising this issue. If tomorrow, someone falls ill or if there is a police case, will they go to Punjab to get their grievance addressed? Will they go to Haryana? Where will they go? So, people have a strong sentiment about this.
Q.You have made the demand for full statehood to Delhi your party’s main election plank. Even if you win all seven seats in Delhi, and some of the 26 others you are contesting across India, how you do propose to bring a constitutional amendment in Parliament with those seats
Everyone will support this. This is a valid demand. It is not a demand of the AAP. This is a demand of the people of Delhi. The BJP and the Congress have done massive U-turns on this. They have cheated the people of Delhi. For 20 years, both the parties kept saying that Delhi should get full statehood. Madan Lal Khurana (of BJP) had said, Sahib Singh Verma (BJP) had said, Sheila Dikshit (Congress) had herself asked for full statehood. Now that AAP has formed the government in Delhi and they feel AAP is going to stay in power for 10 years, now they are saying the city should not get full statehood.
But democracy is the foundation of our country, of our Constitution. Democracy means the people who choose the government, that elected government should have the power to fulfil the aspirations of the people. So what are we asking? We are saying “exercise democracy.” And all regional parties somewhere have faced problems because of this. That is why all regional parties are saying that Delhi should get full statehood.
Q. Do you think Congress will support your demand?
If they form the government at the Centre and if they need our support then they will have to accept our demand. Other than Modi-Shah, who ever forms the government at the Centre, if they need our support, then our condition will be that of full statehood to Delhi. And they will do it also. Why won’t they? I mean it is not something that is unachievable.
Q. Why are relations so bad between the Delhi government and the Centre now?
You tell me who does Modi ji have good relation with? This is a question you should ask Modiji. His ties are bad with Mamataji. Leave those who are not from BJP, does Modi have good relations with (Nitin) Gadkari? Does he have good relations with (Lal Krishna) Advaniji or Murli Manohar Joshiji? Does he have good relation with Sushma Swarajji? Even within the BJP, except Amit Shah, who does Modi have good relations with?
When it is a broken house, then what do you expect with others?. He (Modi) has a very negative mentality. So, he interferes in everybody’s work. He tries to stop everyone. The country cannot progress this way. Today the country faces two types of politics: One, that Modiji is doing – of fake nationalism and of dividing the country.
There is mob lynching happening. These mob lynchings are organised murders. Later all big BJP leaders felicitate these mob lynchers. Big lawyers are then given to them to fight their cases. The country cannot progress by creating hatred between Hindus and Muslims, by making Jats fight with non-Jats or Marathas with non-Marathas.
By ruining the country’s economy, shutting shops, sealing factories, the country cannot move forward. One has to do politics of love and brotherhood in India.
Look at Europe, Japan and America – unless businesses prosper, no country can progress. Today’s India’s business has been severely affected. People are scared. Even small traders are now getting income tax, Enforcement Directorate and Goods and Services Tax notices. How will a person work? One has to create an environment so that businesses prosper.
Today, sealing is happening in such a large scale in Delhi. Traders were not smuggling or doing theft. These are all technical defaults. It was DDA’s responsibility to create organised markets across the national capital. The DDA failed. So, when DDA failed there was demand for products and people wanted jobs. So, they opened shops everywhere. Now why should Delhi’s traders face the brunt of DDA’s mistakes?
So, it is the responsibility of our government to end all the technical defaults and organise all the markets, create parking space. Put an end to congestion. But shutting their shops is not a solution.
Q.But the BJP and Congress allege that Delhi government did not fight the case strongly in the court. Also, 351 roads in Delhi are yet to be notified as commercial in Delhi.
BJP was supposed to pass just one ordinance in Parliament.
Q.But that’s playing blame-game again…
It is not blame-game. That was “the solution” and the only solution. What does the court do? Either interpret the law or implement the law. Court does not create a law. Today, the law says that this activity is illegal because of all the technical defaults.
If you today just pass a one-line law that no sealing will happen in Delhi, it’s finished. Court will not be able to do it. We had put a battery of good lawyers and did everything, but why didn’t you (Centre) pass a one-line ordinance. You (Centre) did not have the will.
Everyone has this feeling that basically, BJP wants FDI (foreign direct investment) in retail sector and they have already had talks with a number of MNCs (multinational companies). Now they are putting an end to Delhi’s small markets and are creating spaces for FDI in retail.
Q.Your manifesto says you will tackle pollution if Delhi gets full statehood. There has been criticism that acting on something like air pollution, which is an emergency, cannot be conditional.
I agree with you. Whatever measures that are within our control to curb pollution are there, we are implementing those. Every year a period comes from October 20 to November 30 which is totally not in our control. It is the period when crop burning happens in Punjab and Haryana. The whole city is covered in smog then and everyone knows about it. If you take a flight from Amritsar to Delhi, you’ll see it in the sky.
Apart from this period, if you see the pollution levels during the rest of the year and compare them with the time before we took over, you’ll see the pollution has not increased. It has, rather, reduced a bit.
Second factor that can combat pollution is a good public transport system. This is taking more time than what we had anticipated. It cannot happen in two days. We have just taken over. There were so many obstacles that were raised in our projects. But this year a lot of new buses will start rolling out on Delhi’s roads.
I hope like people did for the metro when it first came, they would also give up their cars and travel in our buses. Gradually in three years, we hope to get real tangible control over pollution.
Q.Since 2015, your priorities have been health and education. What are the next focus areas?
It is not that our work in health and education has been completed. A lot of work is still pending. For example, in education, we are mapping the whole city – as in four years from now, how many students will be students, the age-wise demographics, areas where schools are more or health facilities are available.
So, our planning will be based on this study. Our aim is to build so many schools and improve their quality to such a level that till 15 more years there is no need to build any new school in Delhi.
Under the health sector, we are facing a problem. Today anybody gets free treatment up to Rs 10 lakh in any Delhi government hospital. Now the issue we are facing is people from all over the country are taking a ticket for Rs 500, catching trains and coming to Delhi, getting operated and going back to their states.
In such a situation, how do I plan for the people who are living in Delhi? For how many people do I plan?
So, this has become a big problem for me. So we decided we will give free treatment only to Delhi citizens. For emergency, it is free for all. But planned surgeries will be provided only to Delhi’s voters. But, the high court has put a stay on this. We will fight this in the Supreme Court now.
Apart from that, cleanliness of Delhi will be our other priority. We hope in the next MCD (Municipal Corporation of Delhi) election,we are able to win and tackle this problem too.
Q. MLAs who have recently left the party said that the party leadership is high-handed and rude. Two of your MLAs joined the BJP recently. What do you have to say about it?
We just have to get the work done. The PM is openly saying that I can buy 40 MLAs of Mamata Banerjee. Our 21 MLAs were disqualified in an attempt to bring down our government. That time Amit Shah used to say that he can buy our MLAs. Their aim is to bring down our government. If they are trying to say that Kejriwal is a dictator and Modi is a democrat, then let the people of this country decide who is a dictator and who is a democrat.
Q. Has the relationship with the bureaucracy improved?
Why do we need to have a relationship with the bureaucracy? Bureaucrats are paid for doing their job. If a bureaucrat is told to improve education in schools, then he/she has to do it. I’m not here to make a relationship with the bureaucracy. In politics, I’m not here to make any relationship with an MLA or bureaucrat or anyone else. Everyone has a job and they should do it.