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‘The fight is on the basis of my 49 days and the six months of BJP rule’ : Arvind Kejriwal

Posted on: January 6, 2015

Arvind Kejriwal is readying for the Delhi Assembly elections. The man who was briefly chief minister of Delhi concedes that he erred in quitting government midway but tells Sonia Sarkar that if voters give his Aam Aadmi Party a majority it won’t make the same mistake again

Arvind Kejriwal is out on the streets of Delhi again. The man who would be chief minister of Delhi – and who was its seemingly reluctant chief minister for 49 days – is collecting money for elections to the Delhi Assembly.

“An honest party can only run with honest money,” he says as he donates Rs 10,000 from his own coffers to his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) at a public function on Friday. “I am here to create Swachh Rajneeti (clean politics),” he adds, responding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat (Clean India) campaign.

Kejriwal and his team are playing the second innings of a game that they had left midway. In 2013, AAP won 28 seats and formed the government in Delhi with the support of the Congress, which had eight seats. But he stepped down in February 2014, stating that he couldn’t continue because he didn’t have the numbers to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill, an anti-corruption law that he had been spearheading.

Many former supporters of AAP believe that Kejriwal sparked hope in them, and then let them down when he resigned. The short stint, in any case, did not inspire confidence. He and his aides brought the city to a standstill with nightlong dharnas. Once the darling of the media, he earned considerable bad press when his law minister raided the houses of African women at midnight, seeking to unearth a suspected drug and prostitution racket.

Will the voter trust him again?

“There is no trust deficit. But, yes, people are asking, why did I leave the government?” Kejriwal says. “But we tell them that you didn’t give us a majority. If you give us a majority this time, we will never leave.”

AAP’s campaign has begun in right earnest. Since November, the party has received around Rs 4 crore (which, however, is just a fraction of the Rs 25 crore it says it needs for funding the polls). AAP has also released the names of the candidates for Delhi’s 70 constituencies, though the election dates are still to be announced.

“I think we will get around 50 seats,” AAP’s national convener predicts. “It is important to have a strong leadership in Delhi, which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) doesn’t have,” he adds.

Kejriwal, 46, blames the Congress for not allowing the previous government to function. The Congress and the BJP together did not let any bills be passed in the Delhi Assembly, he alleges.

His only mistake, he holds, was to leave the government midway. ” Bas, wahi ek galti ki thi (that was the only mistake),” he says.

Kejriwal has been mocked as much he has been idolised ever since he camped at Jantar Mantar three years ago as part of a widespread anti-corruption campaign. When we meet on Friday evening, he is wearing a brown jacket and a pair of grey trousers. The politician who has often been derided as Mufflerman wears two scarves to cover his neck and head. He still has a cough – the subject of many an Internet barb. How does he react to all these social media jokes?

“When there are nice jokes, one laughs at them,” he replies.

We are travelling in a grey Innova along with other party members – Manish Sisodia, Sanjay Singh and Ashwathi Muralidharan – from his flat in Ghaziabad to the Constitution Club, where the function for donations is being held. Kejriwal sits in the front passenger seat, and I sit behind him. For the 30 minutes that the journey takes, he answers all questions but never once turns back his head or neck. He looks ahead and replies, pausing only once in a while to smile at a few passers-by who wave out to him.

Kejriwal, who floated AAP after running a nationwide campaign called India Against Corruption in 2011 to bring in legislation against corruption, is now strangely reticent about the Jan Lokpal Bill. He doesn’t mention the concept of Poorna Swaraj (self-governance) either, which was one of his main planks during the last elections.

“All this is on our agenda. But there are other important issues such as educational loans for the youth, CCTV camera in buses for security and creating citizen local area development funds,” he stresses.

But corruption, he points out, is very much on the agenda. “We will stop the culture of taking bribes in Delhi at every level,” he says.

But how relevant is the issue of corruption now when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s development plank holds sway?

“It is not corruption versus development. The fight is on the basis of my 49 days of governance that the people saw and the six months of BJP rule that the people have been seeing now,” he says. “Even staunch BJP supporters are now disappointed because they see there is no real work happening on the ground. What is happening is just bayaanbaazi (making tall promises).”

Ironically, the BJP seems to have taken up many of the issues that AAP had promised to deal with – the BJP has launched a mobile app in association with the Delhi police for women’s safety; it seeks to regularise 895 illegal colonies in Delhi; and its government in Haryana has issued a notice to Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra about his business deals. It was Kejriwal who had raised these issues.

“They are copying us. But they are doing it only for show. Their intent is not honest,” he says.

Kejriwal, who was once described as a front for the BJP in its fight against the Congress, has been a staunch critic of the BJP and Narendra Modi for a while now. When few were willing to take on Modi, he fought (and lost) against the BJP strongman in Varanasi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

But Parliament doesn’t interest him any more – he is eyeing the Delhi secretariat. There are murmurs of discontent in the party, with some members alleging that he gave tickets to those people who could bring money for the party. Five party legislators have also been denied tickets. And he has been accused of doing away with the previous process of screening applications and interviewing candidates before giving away tickets.

Kejriwal denies the charges. “We have followed the same process of selection of candidates. We have removed some legislators because they were not functioning properly or were not accessible to their constituents,” he says. “All those given tickets are good people,” he reasons.

The new Kejriwal seems more practical. Once against corporate funding, he has no qualms today about accepting “small” donations from companies. He says he is willing to take Rs 1 lakh as donation from any company because “nobody can buy the party with Rs 1 lakh”.

These flip-flops are being closely watched. The man who once said he’d never play caste politics referred to himself as a baniya (a trader caste) while addressing a gathering of traders in Delhi last week. “But I never said give me votes because I am a baniya,” he elaborates.

Within his loosely structured party, Kejriwal has his share of detractors too. One party member believes that he follows the “Modi style of dictatorship”. Senior AAP members including former minister Shanti Bhushan and academic Yogendra Yadav, too, have criticised him for taking decisions unilaterally. Yadav, in a letter written to his colleagues last year, had said that Kejriwal behaved like a “party supremo” and not a leader.

“It shows that people in our party have every right to express their dissent,” Kejriwal replies when reminded about the criticism within.

But the party is not riding the wave that it did a year ago. Prominent members such as Shazia Ilmi and Captain G.R. Gopinath have left the party, mostly because they were unhappy with its “undemocratic” functioning. Is it true, I ask him, that Kumar Vishwas, who fought from Amethi, and academic Anand Kumar, who were both a part of the party’s national executive, have been sidelined?

“No one has been sidelined. It is wrong to believe that only members of some committee are important for the party,” he says.

This is a new side of Kejriwal – the mild-mannered son of an engineer, who schooled in small towns such as Hissar, Ghaziabad and Sonepat. There was not a spark of activism in him even when he studied mechanical engineering at IIT, Kharagpur, his friends had told the media earlier.

The change came after he cleared the civil services examination, and joined the Indian Revenue Services. He worked as a joint commissioner of income tax in Delhi and later started the Public Cause Research Foundation where he spoke out against corruption. He was one of the crusaders of the right to information campaign and went on to win the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award for his work on the issue.

Kejriwal, who resigned from the services, has no time today for his passions – playing chess and reading. Of course, it’s another matter that he is playing a game of chess on a very large field. Checkmate, anyone?

(http://www.telegraphindia.com/1150104/jsp/7days/story_6571.jsp )

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