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Barely three weeks into office, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi is jumping from one controversy to another but chief minister Arvind Kejriwal is unfazed. Listing out his government's achievements and asserting that his ministers will keep working for the people, Kejriwal says his government will not spare the corrupt, be it a common policeman or Congress bigwigs involved in CWG or DJB scams. He says if his party asks, he will fight the Lok Sabha polls.
Excerpts from an interview to HT:
How do you explain law minister Somnath Bharti’s midnight raid and the allegations of vigilantism and racism?
Somnath Bharti had no personal enmity with any one the people involved. He was getting repeated complaints from the residents and the RWA about the alleged sex and drug racket in the area. The people had also written to the police commissioner, the home minister. Somnath has copies of the complaints.
That night, when Somnath was going to the spot, he saw a PCR van and asked the personnel to accompany him. At first, the policemen did not know where he was taking them. But when they realised where they were, they stood aside and refused to take action.
He called the SHO and the ACP. They came but also refused to take action. He knocked on the door of the flat and asked ‘How much?’ The answer he got was “Rs 10,000 for a night”. When the door opened, there were women inside. They started running. Bharti pleaded with the policemen to take action. But they abandoned him.
We are not against people from a particular country. We are only against anti-social elements. They could belong to any country. Let’s not try to make it a diplomatic issue. As a chief minister, I would be very concerned about every single foreign national staying in Delhi. But at the same time, if any people are indulging in unlawful activity, they need to be brought to book.
But the police say they were going by the law and that you need a warrant to conduct raids and make arrests?
The CRPC says that if somebody seeks help or if there is a crime happening, it is my duty to inform the police and go there and help those in distress.
Also, Section 42 of the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act gives you power to raid any place without any warrant. If there is prima facie evidence at the spot, the police can take action. If they wanted, they could have cordoned off the place and waited for the warrant, but the police went away.
Had Somnath Bharti sat inside his house, sleeping, wrapped in a quilt, people would have called him a very good minister. His fault was that he left his home late at night to help someone. When I heard the stories of the two ministers – Somnath Bharti and (women and child development minister) Rakhi Birla -- it brought tears in my eyes.
That night, Rakhi Birla called police commissioner Dipak Mishra. The police personnel present there were saying the girl (who complained to the minister) was missing. The entire neighbourhood was saying she was inside that house. The SHO kept standing. The people kept requesting the police to go inside, take a look and then take action but the police refused. The minister was calling the commissioners at 12.30 in the night. What else could she do? They didn’t take any action. She came back.
When we had a meeting with the police commissioner yesterday, he asked me to tell the ministers to sit at home. If there are any complaints, forward them to us, he said. This is what the old governments have done. This is not the way complaints are solved. Our ministers are not going to sit at home.
You say if there is no action against the four policemen, you will stage a dharna outside the home ministry.
But will it not set a precedent? Tomorrow, the municipal corporation can stage a dharna against your government.
The municipal corporation ‘should’ stage a dharna against my government if we do something wrong. If that happens, we will talk to them
What about other instances of vigilantism? You had sent out AAP volunteers to check schools and hospitals, and now your ministers are complaining of interference.
I inquired into some of these incidents and found they were not AAP people. There was a case from an ICU (AAP volunteers entered the hospital and argued with the administrators). But none of them were AAP volunteers.
It doesn’t matter if they are AAP volunteers or others. I request people to bring such people to us. We will punish them. The topi cannot be a license for hooliganism.
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But then is giving ultimatums (to suspend the police officials before January) the right approach?
Tell me what we should do. Today the situation is such that Delhi Police is involved in open extortion; they extort money from cart-wheelers, rickshaw-pullers, auto drivers. They are involved in unauthorised constructions. They do not register FIRs. There have been so many cases of rapes in the city but no one is accountable. In all such cases, people come to me. Yesterday when I went to the home minister and asked him if people came to meet him, he said no.
I told him, Sir, all these people come to me... See, we are the elected government so it is natural the Delhi Police should be under us. Again, when Delhi’s chief minister demands that these three police officials be suspended, the police commissioner refuses. So does the home minister. When this happens, I think may be R K Singh, the former home secretary, was right when he said Shinde saab takes money (it comes in chits). All the SHOs say they give protection money. Now it is apparent how they are protected and who protects them.
Your MLA Vinod Kumar Binny has called you an authoritarian who is not willing to listen to his own people and that AAP has deviated from the promised agenda. Your views.
I am very happy that we now have automatic self-screening happening in the party. All those who wanted money, or posts, or those who have political ambitions, will get screened out automatically. Binny was unhappy because he was not made a minister. He came to my house thrice to ask for a Lok Sabha ticket. I want to tell all AAP MLAs, or anyone who desires any post, that he should quit the party, sooner than later.
If he wants to be a minister, if he wants the Lok Sabha ticket, he should leave the party today. If the government has to fall tomorrow, it should fall today. We are not here to save the government but save the country.
How do you keep tab on the political ambitions of the new entrants queuing up to join AAP?
The system is important. We have carried out the first round of screening. Now we will pass the Jan Lokpal Bill. So if someone from these (elected representatives) is corrupt, he or she will go to jail. It is not a question of discretion on the part of Arvind Kejriwal. I am not giving any certificates to anyone.
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Has your image taken a beating after you took the support of the Congress to form the government?
We never asked for their support. Ever since the government was formed, I have not spoken to any Congress leader on the phone. I haven’t had any meetings with them.
The Congress had actually laid a trap for us. But they were caught in their own trap. The L-G (Najeeb Jung) had called us for a meeting. We had decided to tell the L-G that we would not form the government because we didn’t have the numbers.The same evening, the Congress wrote a letter to the L-G, saying they would support us. They wanted to create an atmosphere to show the AAP was running away from the responsibility of forming a government because their manifesto was unrealistic. We told the L-G, we wanted to consult the people. An overwhelming majority of them wanted us to form the government. The Congress never expected it. They were trapped.
How long will this support continue?
Wait for a few days. When we file FIRs in the Commonwealth Games scam and the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) cases, they will realise…
Will the Congress try to topple your government?
When we start the investigations, they will have to.
How long do you think your government will last?
The government will last for five years. But not with Congress support. Elections will be held soon and I am confident we will return with a thumping majority. How? When? I don’t know.
Will you fight the Lok Sabha elections?
I had said no, but then my party scolded me for my stand. So if my party decides that it is important for me to do it (fight polls), then I will do it.
It is being said your party is without any ideology. How do you react to such criticism?
The AAP has totally shaken the way intellectuals defined ideologies. For them, it is very comfortable to identify what is left or what is right. But here is a party that is shorn of ideologies. It talks about issues important to the people. It says if the solution to water scarcity is found in the any of the ideologies, left or right, we will take that up. I will tell how belief in a certain ideology can come as a stumbling block in solving problems.
In case you believe in the left ideology and the solution to a problem exists in the right, you would be stuck with the left because you believe in the left ideology. You don’t find solutions to problems in ideologies. The common people want “Roti, Kapda and Makkan”. Solutions to these problems can’t be found in ideologies. And AAP believes in providing practical solutions
How would you respond to Rahul Gandhi’s statement that an old party is selling combs to baldies while a new party (AAP) is selling haircut to baldies?
People of the country are fed up of bayanbaaji … I hurl two abuses at Modiji, two at Rahul Gandhi. Rahul can hurl abuses back at me. Such dialogues are good for arguments, but people don’t to want this, they want hear about issues.
What do you have to say about the BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi's popularity?
People will decide. The politics of personalities is not important. The politics of issues is.
What about Modi as an administrator?
There are lot of question marks about his governance. His cabinet has several people against whom there are criminal charges. Some of them face strong corruption charges. How can you provide good governance with criminal and corrupt people in your cabinet? There was so much of controversy about the Lokayukt. There are many questions. It is for the people to decide what they want – personality-based politics or what? The BJP and the Congress represent the same kind of politics in the country.
But unwillingly or unwittingly you have also become a personality in the entire plan? People are talking more about Modi versus Kejriwal than Modi versus Rahul.
When they talk about the Aam Aadmi Party, when they talk of Arvind Kejriwal, what do they talk? It represents some kind of politics. It represents honesty in politics. It represents simplicity and honesty in politics. It represents integrity in politics. What do Modi and Rahul Gandhi represent? This is the change people seek.
What are the main issues for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections?
Inflation and corruption are the two most important issues. Oil sector is the cause of inflation. The Government has agreed to pay 8 per dollars per unit gas to Mukesh Ambani from April 1. This is shared between Delhi and Mumbai and now Gujarat is also asking for it. I want to ask Modi, is he ready to pay this rate to Ambani?
Your model of mohalla sabha, according to Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, is out of the legal scheme of things. Unlike the gram sabha in villages, which is under the Panchayati Raj system, your idea of mohalla sabha is virtually a collection of the mob?
I agree at present there are no formal systems. What we organised were not mohalla sabhas. They were random meetings. We just wanted to know what people want. Once we bring in the swaraj law, mohalla sabhas would be formed under it with a formal structure. The first draft of the law is ready. A committee will discuss it and send it to the cabinet.
But then there are many things that the aam aadmi wants that do not fall under the constitutional framework. For example, the khap panchayats that oppose inter-community marriages.
Let me clarify that under the swaraj law, the mohalla sabhas will not take any extra-constitutional decisions. Mohalla sabhas can’t act like a khap panchayat.
Who is your favourite economic thinker?
I think it’s the aam aadmi. A common man has a lot of problems but solutions as well. I think we should provide an opportunity to the people of this country to shape their own lives. As a government, we should simplify policies and procedures for the people.
You have been in power for 21 days. What are your achievements?
There is an effort to paint that we cannot run the government. We have stopped the VIP culture. There are no red beacon cars, no security. Power rates are down. The (free) water promise has been fulfilled. We have ordered a CAG audit of power discoms. 5,500 autos were given NCR permits. We built night shelters. We ordered shifting of the
Millenium Bus depot against all norms. FDI in retail has been reversed.
We started the anti-corruption helpline, which has been a huge success. The issue is not to jail people but to create a deterrent and fear among the corrupt. A nursery admission help line has been launched to solve problems related to private schools. We have completed the infrastructure mapping of 946 government schools. We now know which schools don’t have drinking water, which don’t have a ladies toilet, etc. We have given Rs 1 lakh to every government school on ad-hoc basis for their expenses.
It is the first time since Independence that ministers are moving about at night just to help people. Rakhi Birla is not returning home before 3 pm. We tried to control the water tanker mafia. It is the first time we issued an advertisement for a new governing council for 28 Delhi-government funded colleges in DU.
Show us one government that has done so many things in just 20 days? There are new government in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh. We have done so many things, what have they done? And still, they say we don’t know governance.
Do you think using subsidies to fulfil promises is the right move?
No it is not.
So why are giving subsidies?
There are two things. Reaching water in every house is very important. If someone can’t pay for water and we say he, therefore, can’t have it then that is not reasonable. So in case of water, there should a minimum supply of water for everyone. Now you could debate on the quantity. We said 150 litres per capita per day and you could say 30 litres. If you use 701 litres, (one litre more than the free limit) we will charge for the entire amount used. This will force people to keep consumption under control. We are not calling it subsidy but responsibility of the government towards its people.
In the case of electricity, we have repeatedly said it’s a temporary thing. We have ordered a CAG audit. Whatever report we get from the CAG, I am sure the subsidy will come down further. It’s Rs 200-crore right now. See, if I had bought a helicopter that costs Rs. 460 crore to fly to my office from my residence, people would have called me an efficient chief minister. But I didn’t do that. Instead, I go in my car negotiating the usual traffic. In a sense I have diverted this money (that I would have spent on a helicopter) towards electricity subsidy. Yes, if I had given a subsidy of Rs 10,000 crore out of the Rs 40,000-crore budget then it was financially imprudent. Rs. 200 crore out of Rs. 40,000 crore is nothing.
You said you will talk to municipal workers if they staged a dharna against your government. But contractual workers are already sitting on dharna outside the Delhi secretariat?
I spoke with them thrice, and went over to them personally. First was the demand for regularisation, we asked for time. They said, ‘our contract renewal is in May but before that, when the schools open and some of the regular teachers are promoted, some of us would be thrown out’. We promised they all would be accommodated. Now they changed their demands: ‘Promise our contracts won’t be terminated and only we will be selected’. We can’t overcome the procedures but promised to do whatever best possible. So they continue. We have promised to consider but need time.