Activist-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal gave the ruling elite in India sleepless nights over corruption scandals in 2012 and shook the Indian middle class out of their infamous apathy. His newly launched political party—Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is calling for a total change.
The overall mood of his party is populist—whipping up anger against big establishments, an unprecedented belief in people and a stronger democracy much like the theory propagated by Indian independence leader Jayprakash Narayan who called for total revolution; a revolution that doesn’t merely change the government but the society and the individual. Cynics might mock Kejriwal’s utopian concept but as the drama unfolds; we’re sure it is an experiment worth watching. AGI quizzes Kejriwal about his movement and vision.
You’ve been a social activist most of your life. What triggered you to plunge into full-time politics? How’s the change been?
K: I joined the Indian Revenue Service as an income tax commissioner in 1995. Then in 2000, along with some friends, I started the NGO Parivartan. We wanted to help people to navigate issues related to income tax, electricity and food supply. Then from 2001 to 2005, I was involved in passing the Right to Information Act. By that time; I was only too aware of corruption in our society. 2011 saw the mass protests for Jan Lokpal Bill and stronger anti-corruption laws. We pleaded with them; while we were promised a lot nothing happened; the entire political system is corrupt. Whether it is BJP or Congress they are all hand-in-glove with each other. We were forced in politics. None of the present political party will pass a stronger anti-corruption bill because it will come to bite them only. Political cleansing is the crux of any social change so I thought it is necessary to be an active participant. The journey has been challenging but somewhere down the line it is positive to know that people wants a change now.
India has a multi-party system with over six recognized national parties and many state parties. How is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) different from any of these?
K: Firstly, we don’t have a central high command. Our party structure will follow a bottom to top approach where council members elect the executive body and also have the power to recall it. We will definitely not entertain criminals. We also will have a good representation of women, students, Dalits and other minor segments at all party levels. We will not indulge in dynasty politics, members of the same family will not get a ticket and we will keep all our financial dealings transparent. Our expenditure and income will be put up on the website. While we are a political party now our spirit is still that of a movement.
What is AAP’s strategy for the 2014 elections? How many constituencies will AAP represent?
K: We will be representing all the constituencies (there 543 Parliamentary constituencies in India). Our strategy will change on daily basis. We are travelling the various pockets of the country to identify the major issues. Our manifesto’s main aim is to pass the Jan-Lokpal bill. Decentralisation of power is another point where people are strongly involved in daily governance. We are following the model of countries like the US, Brazil and Switzerland. Free education and health is an area to look into. It has become increasingly difficult even for urban middle class to go to private schools and hospitals; so these are imperative things the government should provide. Land-acquisition and farmer’s issue is also major concerns. Like highlighted in the Robert Vadra case; he was grabbing land not meant for him. Farmers are not getting the adequate cost. We are at the moment putting all our energy to reach out to the people. Our manifesto is dynamic; we will keep on adding things as we move.
So are people ready? Indians are known for being politically indifferent.
K: That’s because people did not have any choice. They had given up because they saw no hope in the present system. Today, they have an alternative and I am hopeful they will come and vote.
AAP runs purely on donations but “cash for vote” is a notorious reality in Indian politics- especially to catch out poor, uneducated and uninformed voters. How will you tackle this issue?
K: I understand it’s a major challenge. Buying and selling votes is an age-old concept. The party along with various NGOs are sensitising all kinds of voters. One must also see why the voters were doing this? Till now they knew that after the election is over; none of the elected representatives will be actually keeping any of the promises so they thought why not take full advantage of the situation. But now they have an alternative and we are sure they will choose us.
Apart from corruption, according to AAP what is the other burning issues facing India? What is AAP’s stand on FDI, for instance?
K: While FDI is welcome in some sectors in others it wouldn’t be favourable. For instance, if FDI is bringing new technology, better practices it is welcome. But thinking that investment is coming is wrong perception. There are instances which show that if they are bringing the money in, they are taking out more three years later. So, it’s not an inflow but an outflow of capital. As far as the retail section is concerned; the promises made are the company will remove all the middle men. They will give better deals to both the farmers and the consumers. The middlemen are traders; they might be inefficient but they are traders. If a company comes into picture only they will get all the profits in effect these traders will be unemployed. The assumption that the company will make it easier for both the farmers and consumers is wrong as they are in a monopolistic situation. It is a universal phenomenon. These companies are not coming here for charity. They are here for profits. Another promise is to make cold storages why do we need a Walmart to make cold storages why cannot we do it? The government has enough funds. So these questions need to be answered first.
You’ve recently been seen campaigning for women’s safety. Keeping in mind all the recent events, what’s your stand when it comes to gender sensitisation?
K: Gender sensitisation and strong laws go together. The laws should be undoubtedly strengthened in this respect. We need fast-track courts where the guilty are punished within two months. We also need to teach our police and judiciary to treat the victims with sensitivity. Molestation shouldn’t be treated as a minor issue. It should be treated as a grave matter.
The roots of your movement lie in socialism, but the foundation of middle class aspiration in India is capitalism. There is genuine concern that the corruption that has taken root in India is unfixable. Do you think this perception will hamper your campaign?
K: We are neither socialist, capitalist, leftist nor Right wing. We’re fed up and we want a solution. It is not people don’t want to be honest. They don’t have a choice and they end up with bribing but we are hopeful that if the system is more organized and transparent things will change. They are as disgruntled as us and I am sure they need a change.