On the second day of AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal’s Punjab tour a year ahead of the polls, assistant news editor Aarish Chhabra travelled with the Delhi CM from his guest house in Bathinda to Abohar.
In a freewheeling chat, Kejriwal remained guarded about naming names but was revelatory about his processes and times, and what he termed the changing “paradigm” of politics. Excerpts:
Q. You won Delhi massively, but how is Punjab different?
A. We always knew there were problems in Punjab, but had no clue about such gravity of the problems. For instance, every rural family has a loan.
Q. What issues is AAP picking up that have never been taken up?
A.The Akali Dal and the Badals have squeezed every drop out of Punjab. The health sector has collapsed. A child told me her school has 1,000 students but eight teachers. We should actually ask: what have Badals done during their rule, one thing they are proud of?
Q. Can the negative image of the Badals be your basis of campaign?
A. We are not into that kind of politics. People used to express anger and change governments; we are seeking votes for hope. Delhi was a vote for hope. Hence the historic mandate, breaking through caste and religion. The same will happen in Punjab…We are amazed that the response we got a week ahead of Delhi polls, we are getting here now.
Q. Why do you think that happened?
A. Because people see Delhi.
Q. You say Delhi has funds, it’s only a matter of will. Isn’t Punjab different on the count of funds?
A. Badals have mortgaged everything. But, yes, all governments have money…We are confident of a turnaround in Punjab economy in two to three years.
Q. What about industry?
A. The underlying theme of businessman’s problems is red tape, extortion by departments. If we reduce corruption, which we will by 70-80% in two months of coming to power, industry will rise on its own.
Q. What do you think is the extent of the drugs problem?
A. I will tell you in a couple of days after meeting people. Data can be manipulated, but I will ask people and know the reality.
Q. Within your party, how do you propose to get back your suspended MPs Dr Dharamvira Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa, since they have said they be expelled or be talked to?
A. Only if they apologise and say they won’t make the same mistakes, we will take them back. Public doesn’t even care, it’s just media concern.
Q. And are you open to Navjot Singh Sidhu joining AAP?
A. Even his wife Dr Navjot Sidhu has alleged corruption by her party BJP’s partner SAD.
I appreciate her for exposing the corruption, especially since it’s within her own party [or alliance]…About her joining, we will decide when she approaches us.
Q. On the ground, beyond names, where are the 117 AAP candidates?
A. We will soon announce the procedure.
Q. Do you want only local people?
A. There are a lot of factors. But being non-corrupt is the primary promise. That’s what the janta wants…We are right now only focusing on what we will do when we come to power. For instance, we spent three hours discussing the loan crisis. Candidates and elections are mere tools. Candidates do not matter…we are already working on post-win plan.
Q. And the CM candidate?
A. For now, we will take five to seven months to discuss issues; then we come to these things. Candidates will be named in the meantime but even that procedure will take three to four months to complete.
Q. People call you an outsider though you are the face in Punjab too for now.
A. I am not from Pakistan. The general public does not have a problem; they accept us as more than their own. Only Capt Amarinder Singh has an issue.
Q. What’s your view on the Jat quota agitation in your state Haryana, and reservation as an issue?
A. It’s a case of the BJP and Congress playing cheap politics. There is an utter loss of leadership…We want debate on the basis of data. Democracy needs dialogue, but there is no one to talk to in Haryana…But Dalits in Punjab must take note, how Capt Amarinder recently said there should be no quota on caste basis but only on economic basis.
Q. He did not say that exactly. He said EWS in general should also get quota.
A. What does that mean? The quota cannot be more than 50%, so to adjust the new categories, who will lose the existing quota?
Q. Lastly, there are ads about your Delhi government’s work at the national level. Why spend so much, why not give ads only in Delhi papers, for instance?
A. We have all the right to showcase our work. Other states do investment summits, or not? We are telling people two things: Your state can change, too, the way Delhi has and you should demand it from your government; and come and invest in Delhi. We are not promoting our party; only showing our government’s work to fire people’s imagination everywhere. Why not? There is no AAP in the ads.