Known for investigative journalism and sting operations, Aashish Khetan turned a freelancer last year and also filed petitions on several issues. In an interview with HT, he shares what made him join the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and now that he is in the poll fray, how he plans to take on political stalwarts.
Your selection as the AAP's New Delhi seat candidate came as a surprise.
It's been a gradual, natural process. Arvind (Kejriwal), Prashant (Bhushan), Manish (Sisodia) and I have been friends for years. We're like-minded people. We have been concerned about the way politics is being played out. There was a broad consensus among us that we need to make our democratic system more responsive.
Did the AAP approach you or did you approach the party for the ticket?
Let's not look at it that way. It just happened. But yes, I did apply for a ticket. That's how it works. But I was already volunteering for the party. I did not join it just to grab a ticket. Arvind does not believe in negotiating with ambitious people. Tickets are posts and not the most important things at the AAP.
When did that moment come when you knew it was time to join politics?
Arvind was in Gujarat. He knew I had done a lot of investigative stories from the state. He asked me to join him. I went to help him in whichever way I could. Journalists have been writing that the development model of Gujarat is a bundle of lies, but it hardly resonates with people. But when Arvind said the same things, it resonated big time; people listened and took note. I straightaway knew politics, if practised with honesty, was the only effective tool to bring about change, to reach out to people. Main samajh gaya, sirf kalam chalane se bada badlao nahin aayega (I understood, big change will not come only from wielding the pen).
How do you plan to take on sitting Congress MP Ajay Maken? Are you nervous?
What does Maken represent? The Congress. And the Congress represents corruption and inaction to check inflation. What are his contributions? He has made false promises. He is always invisible, inaccessible. I will tell people what I have done. I have exposed corruption, communalism and several other ills in society. As an undercover reporter, I risked my life on many occasions. I was not nervous them, why would I be now? It's important to punish Congress, not just defeat it.
What's your strategy?
Since neither the party nor I have much money, I will not run a high-decibel campaign. But we need to reach out to people and that's a huge challenge. I will do door-to-door campaigning. Volunteers are our biggest support. We will also exploit social media tools. I have nothing to lose. Since Arvind defeated Sheila Dikshit from New Delhi assembly seat in the December polls, we have the momentum despite a massive disinformation campaign going on against us.
What are the issues in the New Delhi constituency?
Extortion mafia is running the civic agencies. Without bribe, nothing moves. Parking is a huge problem. You cannot move around without a driver because there is no space for parking. Congestion is another problem. It impacts your life. What is more shocking is that no elected representative raises these questions.