Showing a rare moment of emotion, Aam Aadmi Party leader Rajmohan Gandhi on Thursday fought back tears, sharing his “realisation” that he ignored the reality of Delhi’s slum dwellers for far too long.
AAP leader Rajmohan Gandhi at his office in Pandav Nagar, New Delhi. (Sushil Kumar/HT photo)
In an exclusive chat with HT, the 78-year-old grandson of Mahatma Gandhi said in a choked voice, “I always knew the inhuman conditions slum-dwellers lived in. But I somehow looked to brush this reality aside. Aag lagatar nahi jali (the fire didn’t burn continuously)”.
Taking a pause to wipe away tears, AAP’s east Delhi candidate said, “Now I wonder how I put up with all this for so long. We live right next to all this but do nothing about it. More privileged people like me have to embrace slum-dwellers.”
Around 49% of the Capital’s population of 18 million lives in the slums. One in three children, under the age of five, living in Delhi’s urban slums are suffering from acute malnutrition according to a survey.
But Rajmohan has his plans ready. “My vision is to link slum and society. I want to bring Japanese and Korean technologies to crowded areas here, where drains are blocked, to effect a change, bring about better sanitation practices,” he said, adding, “People have to support government agencies”.
“The slum-dwellers live in absolutely shameful conditions. They are poor people but also our best example of how to wake up every morning, fight a fresh battle and never lose hope,” he said at his Pandav Nagar office.
Rajmohan finds the people’s response “amazingly good”. “People come out in support whole heartedly. The reaction is not cautious or restrained,” he said.
Is he winning? “Seven days (before polling takes place in Delhi) is a long time but I'm absolutely confident of winning this constituency. Congress and BJP are fighting for the second and third place,” he said, adding, “We're winning all 7 seats in Delhi. I can't tell you about other states because I have been focused entirely on Delhi”.
He explains: “Minorities which went with Congress during the assembly elections are crossing over to us. This is evident from turnouts. The slum-dwellers who were divided then are supporting us whole heartedly. BJP is stuck where they were”
“People are unhappy with Congress. But they are more unhappy with BJP because of its misrule in the three municipal corporations,” he said.
Rajmohan says there's a small section of people which is not happy with AAP because it quit government in 49 days. “But these are mostly those people who didn't vote for us but were impressed with the way we ran the city. In fact, those who voted for us take pride in the fact that we didn't compromise on our principles,” he said. “We came to power on the promise that we would pass a janlokpal bill. Congress and BJP didn't let us do that. We couldn't have stayed on”.
“There are differences in the party. But then which party doesn't have them? People in the party listen to me. I listen to them. Because of my presence they are able to sink their mutual differences,” he said.
Rajmohan says those who talk about his age and rake up the outsider tag have only non-serious arguments. “I am an out-and-out Delhiwallah. And Parliament needs people with age and perspective. The electoral fight against Rajiv Gandhi [in Amethi in 1989] was symbolic. This time, I'm here to win,” he said.
“I was born in Delhi. I studied, worked and got married here. Just because I also worked abroad, I don’t become an outsider. My niece lives in East Delhi.” Rajmohan lives in Gurgaon. “I thank all those who applied for tickets but eventually showed a big heart and accepted my candidature.”
“I'm not that young but my experience will help you. I can use my knowledge to serve you. I have done research, taught, written books, travelled, and got awards. I liked my privacy. But when I saw people suffer, I thought it was time to take the plunge,” he said.
“Metro, flyovers are okay but development is not just that. What about lack of security, inadequate parking space, inflation and poor sanitation? People must think beyond Congress and BJP.”
Traditionally, both Congress and BJP have represented East Delhi parliamentary constituency till Aam Aadmi Party changed equations in December 2013, winning 5 of the 10 assembly seats.
Former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit’s son Sandeep Dikshit has won this constituency in the last two elections. While Dikshit is banking on “the works he has done”, BJP’s Mahesh Girri is playing the Modi card.