The Arvind Kejriwal interview: Modi plays the politics of vengeance, not the politics of development

The Arvind Kejriwal interview: Modi plays the politics of vengeance, not the politics of development
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This week, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal completes one year in office. Looking back, he tells on how the Centre has been raising one obstacle after another in the smooth functioning of the Delhi government, the intimidation of its officers, the schemes it has introduced, and about his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who remained silent right through their conversation.

Did you expect so many obstacles in running the Delhi government even after having won 67 out of 70 seats in Delhi? In what ways have these obstacles adversely affected governance in Delhi?
The journey after winning the elections has been far more difficult than the journey before it. It appears winning was much easier than thereafter. I had thought that after our victory we would be able to focus completely on governance. That was the reason I did not keep any portfolio. I wanted to be the wall between the Modi government and the Delhi government and its ministers, in the hope they won’t be affected. However, they [the Central government and the Bharatiya Janata Party] are trying to put obstacles in governance on a daily basis. Despite that, our fiercest critics would admit that we have done a lot of work.

What would you call as the crowning glory of your one-year of governance? The odd-even policy?
Well, odd-even was one thing which caught the imagination of the whole country.

That apart, what else?
Otherwise, there have been several achievements. We reduced the electricity rates, made 20,000 litres of water free for those consuming less than that a month, we gave the highest rate of compensation to farmers [whose crops had been destroyed], we gave Rs 1 crore to soldiers and policemen who die in line of duty.

We made three flyovers in the construction of which Rs 350 crore was saved, that is, we spent Rs 350 crore less than the sanctioned amount. The Rs 350 crore we saved has been utilised to provide free medicine in government hospitals and to make all diagnostic tests – X-Ray, ultra sound, etc. – free. A big hit has been our air-conditioned, swanky mohalla clinic in jhuggi-jhopri clusters. Another 1,000 such clinics are to be set up. They have already been tendered and the work will start on these soon.

Eight thousand classrooms are going to be added to existing government schools, which will be ready by July this year. In addition, 45 new schools are being constructed. The budgetary allocation on education was doubled. Ours is the first government which has had the courage to challenge the management quota in private schools, which we are trying to discipline.

We have also taken measures for ease of doing business. The events management industry had gone out of Delhi, but they have come back because all procedures have been simplified. All certificates, such as marriage and death certificates, can be secured online and are delivered on the basis of self-declaration. We have stopped verifications.

What has been the stiffest obstacle your government has encountered?
Their [the Central government] taking away our anti-corruption branch. That was our biggest tool to tackle corruption. During our 49 days of governance (between December 2013 and February 2014), corruption had come down to nearly zero in Delhi. In the first three months of our current tenure, corruption came down dramatically. However, on June 8, 2015, the Modi government forcibly took over our anti-corruption branch, depriving us of control over it. Plus on a day-to-day basis, whatever order we pass, it is declared null and void.

Basically, the Lt Governor Najeeb Jung is doing it?

You said last year that Lt Governor didn’t at times take calls from you and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia. Has his behaviour changed since then?
Whether or not he takes calls, it doesn’t really make much of a difference (laughs).

Has his attitude changed? Has he become a little cooperative?
No, he remains the same. Actually, he is a pawn. The real direction comes from the Prime Minister’s Office, particularly Nripendra Misra [Principal Secretary in the PMO]. I have met several Union Cabinet ministers and just about everyone says that they simply don’t have any control and that everything is being done by the PMO.

Are you saying Nripendra Misra is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hatchet man?
In our case, everyone says Nripendra Misra is controlling Delhi, that is, he gives directions to the Lt Governor.

What problem does Modi have with you?
People tell me that from the time the Aam Aadmi Party won 67 seats, his blood has been boiling about us. Whenever anyone takes my name before him, Modi gets angry. He is wreaking vengeance on the people of Delhi for giving us so many seats. It is his way of telling them, “Why did you elect AAP? Ab main tumhari aisi-taisi karoonga.” [I will hurt you now.]

Or is it that Modi is telling the people that had they elected the BJP, they would have benefitted?
It is plain vengeance. What benefit? You can see what is happening in the MCD [Municipal Corporation of Delhi].

Do you think there is a conspiracy behind the MCD workers’ strike in protest against non-payment of salaries to them?
Certainly. In fact, some of the union leaders told us that the BJP is just not letting the strike to end. You must have seen that even their mayor was on strike. Can you imagine a situation in which there is a strike and I join them? The mayor’s work is to end strike. There is so much of garbage strewn around. The mayor’s responsibility is to have the garbage removed, to ensure the strike ends. It is not for him to go sit with the strikers. Since the BJP triggered the strike, it doesn’t want to end it.

Was there an attempt to create instability? After all, there was a police report warning that there could be a law and order problem.
As you know, students organised a peaceful protest in front of the RSS office [in Delhi last month]. It wasn’t as if it had many participants. But the Delhi Police beat them severely. Police Commissioner BS Bassi issued a statement that protest in Delhi won’t be allowed without the permission of the police.

Does this mean that the strewing of garbage in Delhi and the protest by MCD workers have the permission of Delhi Police? This is a natural corollary [to Bassi’s statement]. Why did the police allow the MCD workers to strew garbage around in the city? Why did the police allow the strikers to block traffic? Is it the job of police to have garbage strewn around? Or is it of removing it?

Then the Delhi Police writes to us saying that we need to take steps or there might be a law and order problem. Law and order is their responsibility, not ours. Our responsibility is to provide electricity. If tomorrow there is no electricity in Delhi, then we can be asked to ensure its regular supply. The strike was by MCD; law and order is the responsibility of Delhi Police. Why should we get caught between?

Do you fear the Central government is trying to find a pretext for dismissing the AAP government?
They are trying to create a situation… In fact, the Lt Governor wrote a letter in which he used the words “economic emergency”. He said there is an economic emergency in Delhi. They wanted to invoke the clause of the Constitution to declare financial emergency. [Article 360 of the Constitution allows the Union government to give directions to the state government to observe financial propriety.] They would want to create instability and impose President’s rule.

As they say, when you walk the path of truth, then Bhagwan helps you. Whenever they attempt anything [to unsettle us], it boomerangs on them.

Like how?
The CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation] raided me. What they found were four mufflers of mine. They didn’t get anything from [Delhi Chief Minister’s Principal Secretary] Rajender Kumar as well. But the raid led to the DDCA [Delhi and District Cricket Association] issue coming to the fore, and one of their important ministers [Finance Minister Arun Jaitley] has come under a cloud. Upparwala [God] watches everything andaur woh unki aiasi taisi karta hai [punishes them].

Have all the dues to the MCD been cleared?
Yes, but even then the BJP doesn’t allow the strike to end.

But the MCD employees say there has to be a long-term solution to their problem of not getting their salaries.
The only long-term solution to it is to call for [municipal] elections. That only the Centre can do. If there is a company and it can’t give salary to its workers, then the management has to change. That is the only solution. In the same manner, the current MCD management has to change.

Do you think the MCD’s problem is linked to corruption?
It is complete corruption. Take East MCD – it covers one-third of Delhi. [The MCD was trifurcated under the Sheela Dikshit government.] Its annual revenue through advertisements is just Rs 12 crore. This works out to Rs one crore a month. The average cost of one hoarding every month is Rs 1 lakh. This means they earn Rs one crore from 100 hoardings. Do you think there are just 100 hoardings in East Delhi? You will get 100 hoardings alone on the stretch of NH 24 that passes through East Delhi. The implication, therefore, is that all other hoardings are illegal or belong to politicians – and the MCD remains mum. If you ask me, they should have been earning Rs 500 crore from advertisements alone.

Similarly, I calculated that its annual share of revenue from parking fees is just Rs 2.5 crore. It comes to Rs 1.5 lakh per day. One parking guy told me that they earn that much from one parking lot in just three days. They should have been earning several hundred crore of rupees.

They get house tax. Where has that money gone? They get toll tax. Where has that gone? They have gobbled up all the money.

When there was President’s rule for one year [before the current government came to power], North MCD got Rs 550 crore from their own government. We gave them Rs 890 crore. Yet its employees did not get salary. How was it that it managed to distribute salary then, but could not now, despite the amount we gave them? Where has the Rs 890 crore gone? Either it has been diverted for other purposes or it has been siphoned off.

We sent a committee to inquire from them what they did with the amount we gave them. But they refused to show their accounts to the committee.

So what is the way out?
Dissolve the MCD and call for elections.

No, what is the option before the committee if the MCD continues to refuse showing its accounts?
We can do nothing because we don’t have the police under us. The MCD doesn’t come under us, but there is one section in the Delhi Municipal Council Act which gives power to the Delhi government to inspect their accounts. We invoked that section. But they still refused to show the accounts to us. What are we to do?

Going to the Lt Governor doesn’t mean much, I suppose.

Delhi is a semi-state. The Congress has always been ambivalent about giving full statehood to Delhi. The BJP has reversed its position on it. Do you think they are only interested in seeing you run Delhi like an NGO?
They have to answer that question. But, basically, they want to paralyse the administration of Delhi. Today morning, one Delhi government officer came to me. He looked disturbed. He told me, ‘Sir, two officers of the Central government came to meet me. They have issued a warning to me to quit the Delhi government. Come to the Centre, and you will be given whatever post you want.” They also told him that he should leave me or otherwise the CBI would raid him.

Over the last month, around 77 officers have been called by the CBI.

Really, for what?
They raided Rajender Kumar, but even those junior to me, those who are in my personal staff, in Sisodia’s personal staff, Satyendra Jain’s personal staff – they have been all called by the CBI. They are made to sit outside the office for six hours. Then they are called into the room, where five officers grill them. These officers abuse them, inquire who meets the chief minister, who drafts my notes… Then they are threatened that if they continue to stick with me then they would face what Rajender did. This is how they are threatening the Delhi government’s officers.

Is this Modi’s model of governance? To Nawaz Sharif, he goes [over to Pakistan] to wish him happy birthday. Am I worse than Nawaz Sharif?

Are the Delhi government’s officers still cooperating with you?
They are caught between, getting squeezed.

Is Modi opposed to you because he fears you might in the future become a challenge to him at the national level?
I don’t have a clue about that, but this much is there that he wants take revenge for losing so badly in Delhi.

You have met Modi, haven’t you? What kind of conversation you have had?
I have met him twice. In the second meeting, I told him, “Modiji, whatever dreams you have, I will fulfill them.” I said you have the Swachh Bharat programme, I will clean up Delhi in two years, make it shine like any European cities. You have Skill India, we will skill Delhiites. You have Start Up India, we will do that. And I will credit you for it. I am neither asking for money nor for land. All that I am asking of you is that do not interfere in our work. Modi didn’t say anything.

But Modi must have said something to you in these two meetings.
Oh no, it is just me who kept talking. I tried to explain to him that politics was before the election. Now, both the Central and state governments should work together. After all, the Central government is not the BJP’s government; it is everybody’s government. Similarly, the Delhi government is not AAP’s government, it is everybody’s government. Our government is for the Congress people, for the BJP people as well. But Modiji doesn’t simply understand this.

What did he say to you?
Nothing. I kept asking him whether I was wrong in saying that we should work together. But he didn’t say anything.

So the Central government’s response to you hasn’t changed at all, not even after the raid having boomeranged on them?
If anything, I think their aggression has become more and more severe, day by day. I have never seen anything like this – calling ten-ten officers of the Delhi government and threatening them.

Since when has this been going on?
Ever since Rajender Kumar was raided.

They didn’t find anything at his place, did they?
They found nothing other than 10 liquor bottles, all of which were accounted for.

Do you think the media’s response to you and AAP has changed? After all, the media carried your allegations against Arun Jaitley?
I don’t think the media has become less hostile to us. It remains as hostile as it was.

Why do you say that?
They carry whatever story they want against us, regardless of whether it is true or false. They kept talking about the onion scam. What scam? We sent them the relevant papers. Even the editor agreed that there was no scam, that they had been running a wrong story.

Are you talking about Aaj Tak channel?
Yes. So they agreed it was a wrong story and said they would immediately stop telecasting it. We will drop it now, the channel said. They kept saying now, now, now – and the story was run for good six hours.

Have you met Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley?
We keep running into each other in official functions.

Jaitley must be really angry with you.
We haven’t really spoken.

Do you think you will be blocked in cleaning up the DDCA?
It is a long journey there. First, the inquiry [set up by the Delhi government] has to be completed. But the DDCA in its present form is a thoroughly corrupt organisation. It is not just me who is saying that. There are so many others have exposed the corruption in it. A way to reform it has to be found. It is the cricket which is suffering, the children who play the game. There is corruption in selection, they play overage cricketers in categories in which they shouldn’t be playing.

What about Punjab? You…
We are winning it. I am 200% sure that AAP will win the state.

What explains such a huge surge in the state?
[Laughs] So you agree there is a huge surge. I think people are seeing we are doing good work. Good work speaks.

A lot of people feel AAP needs a chief ministerial face in Punjab. Congress leader Amarinder Singh has repeatedly said that you are likely to be that face. Are you open to this idea?
Actually, I come to them even in their dreams. For all of 24 hours, they just see me. When the time comes, the chief ministerial face too will emerge. I am not worried on that score.

Still, would you be open to the idea?
As of now, there is no such thing.

AAP is seen as an urban party. In what ways will the party change its language to appeal to rural voters?
On the contrary, I think AAP has a far greater appeal in rural Punjab than it is has in the urban area. There could be several reasons for our popularity there. It could be because of the compensation we paid to the farmers. Tell me, has any government tried to improve government schools? AAP is the only party which has made improvement of government schools an issue. Has any government tried to improve government hospitals? They haven’t. Have they tried to provide free medicine? These are all issues relevant and affecting the people, who therefore join us.

By contrast, when other parties come to power, they connive in the deterioration of government schools and hospitals. They do so to help the private sector.

Did the popular response to the AAP rally of January 14 at Maghi Mela in Muktsar, Punjab, surprise you?
The turnout at the rally was unexpected. What a response it was. People in Punjab have reposed hope in us, have great expectations from us.

You say you are 200% sure of AAP winning Punjab. But traditional parties have immense cadre strength, and also boast of muscle and financial power. Can AAP counter that?
I will tell you a very interesting thing. From the day before [February 6], AAP began its Parivar Jodo [Join the Family] campaign. In this campaign, our volunteers move from house to house and ask people to join AAP. If they agree, our volunteers seek their permission to put a big board or a large sticker on their houses declaring that their inmates have joined the party. In one village, there were 350 families. Out of them, 300 agreed for the stickers or boards to be put up. This means people are openly coming out in support of AAP. It shows their fear is diminishing, coming to an end.

From you days of activism to now, in what ways have your conception of politics, and how it is practiced, changed?
There is no doubt that doing politics is a difficult task.

You never thought so earlier, did you?
No, I never thought it would be so difficult. Governance is not a rocket science. In running the Delhi government one thing has become clear that if your intention is good, you can provide good governance. It means people can get electricity, water, and medicine for the same amount of money that other governments were spending in the past.

Earlier, governments would repeatedly complain that they didn’t have the money. How come our government has the money? We have made water free. When I did that, the economists declared that the Delhi Jal Board would be financially ruined. They should know that the revenue of the Jal Board has actually increased this year, by Rs 176 crore over last year, and mind you, despite the fact that people consuming less than 20,000 litres get it free.

How was this managed?
We improved the management. Not only this, we are saving on water. Every day, we have extra 3 MGD-4 MGD [million gallons a day] water. That is because people don’t want to cross the 20,000-litres limit. This is an example of how honest governance can produce magical results.

The dirty politics that the Modi sarkar is doing with us, well, that is not good. The people are watching, Upparwala [God] too is.

When you say doing politics is difficult, what do you mean by it?
The Central government’s interference in our functioning and its intimidation of our officers. They raided me, as if I am the most corrupt person in the country. It is as if Modi can’t think of anyone else who can be corrupt.

Were you hassled by the raids?
Not at all, they can come and raid me ten times more. Modi’s politics is the politics of vengeance, not of transformation and development.

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist in Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, has as its backdrop the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It is available in bookstores.