Tuesday, February 11, 2014

It is unfair to judge us so quickly:Arvind Kejriwal

Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party leader speaks to Raj Chengappa, Editor-in-Chief of The Tribune Group of Newspapers

What are the lessons or the learning experience you have had from being in power the past month and a half?
One realises that there is no dearth of money; a lot of money is available with the government. What was happening was that big projects costing several hundred crore of rupees, which have absolutely no public utility, were being given out. When these projects are done they need huge amounts of money. But when you have people with the right kind of intentions, with an open mind, open to ideas, it is not rocket science to improve things. The second thing is that the vested interests are huge; they are all across — political, commercial, bureaucratic and even in the media. I’ll give you an instance: The Prevention of Corruption Act is being diluted in a major way. That Bill is being presented in Parliament, but no one in the media is talking about it. The media is busy wondering why Arvind has taken a three-bedroom house or a four-bedroom house; why has he changed his sweater, sandals. The entire effort is to make us fail. To show that we don’t know how to govern. Obviously, there are interests.
One of the impressions about you is that you are a man in a hurry, doing a lot of things in a short period. What is the strategy behind this? Do you believe the government would fall shortly, and you have to do all this before that happens?
But we don’t think we are doing anything in a hurry. It is just that we are working hard, and we must work hard. We made several mistakes, and in the beginning we were also saying that we were grateful to the media for pointing out our mistakes. We also took back some of our steps on the basis of the feedback. We always valued constructive criticism. But if anything went wrong, I don’t think speed was responsible for our bad judgement.
What were your mistakes?
Many. For instance, we set up the "janta darbar", it didn’t work out. When I get up in the morning, there are a lot of people standing outside my house and I meet them. I wanted to streamline that. So we decided that all the ministers will meet people once a week, and the rest of the days the officers will meet them. The idea was to meet the people personally. But the day we announced the idea, thousands of people came. We had made arrangements for 2,000-3,000 people, but 20,000 came. I think we should have studied models that have been implemented in other states before doing that. There are many such small steps that we had to take back. One obviously learns from that.

Did you expect you would come to power so quickly?
Three or four months before the elections it had become clear from the mood of the people that we were winning.
So you had actually given a thought to what exactly to do after coming to power. You are not taking ad hoc decisions after being surprised by the victory.
We have been in power only a month and a half, and many people are already judging us or writing us off. We have taken over from a government that was there for 15 years. You can imagine the vested interests that would be there. We don’t know which officer is aligned with whom. Building your team takes time. You need 20 to 25 days to identify the officers. You cannot randomly appoint someone to a post. Good officers are hard to find. It is unfair to judge us so quickly.
On the Delhi Police controversy, there are two points: A lot of people agree with you that things need to change, but others’ objection was to the dharna approach you took while being sworn to the Constitution as Chief Minister. Many said you could have brought about disaffection in the Delhi Police. Why did you choose the dharna path?
First, I don’t agree that because one is holding a constitutional office one loses the right to protest or one should not protest. If it is required one should fight for justice in a non-violent manner. Fighting for justice in the streets is very much a constitutional method. It is part of our Constitution under Article 19. Why should it be restricted to only ordinary people? Why cannot a Chief Minister protest if he finds himself helpless in a particular situation and is not able to do [what he wants]. This is a wrong notion of democracy that a Chief Minister should only work from his air-conditioned office and not come out in the street. He must come out in the streets and that is what I did.
A woman had been gang-raped in Delhi. The first thing on assuming office I did was call the Police Commissioner and asked him about the high level of crime taking place against women. He came up with statistics on the number of rape cases. I said that statistics is good for a public relations exercise, but even if one rape has taken place why has it taken place, though rape cases have doubled in the last one year in Delhi.
There are two types of rapes: one is something that happens in a family, which the police can do nothing about. The other is where antisocial elements are involved. I said 90 per cent of the crimes take place with full police collusion and knowledge. Therefore heads should roll if a rape takes place in a particular area. You have to fix accountability. Not necessarily the SHO — it could be the beat constable, SI, whoever it was that was supposed to have been on that road that day, but was not there. So when this Danish woman was gang-raped I said someone has to go. You cannot say no one is responsible.
One woman was burnt alive in another area and the SHO refused to arrest the people. Our minister was standing outside the house, when all the culprits were inside the house. Area residents were gathered, the SHO was also standing there, and people were asking him to arrest the suspects. But the SHO refused to make arrests. He said ‘get me transferred if you can’. If this is the case then where do you stand? That is why I staged the dharna; to do something about the police. Some said I was doing ‘tamasha’. No one does tamasha in 4° C at night. Others do tamasha sitting in the AC. I think the dharna went down well with the ordinary people.

What is your solution in terms of control of the Delhi Police by the state Chief Minister? Should you not approach Parliament for the amendments?
The Delhi Police has to be under the Delhi Government. It is very unfortunate that today the Delhi Police is completely unaccountable. Shinde has no interest [in how they perform]. So who are they reporting to? Can you have a force with all police powers without answerability to any political executive? There has to be political control over them.

What would you like the division of control to be?
Let the Centre have control over the police in New Delhi’s Lutyens zone and the NDMC area. As far as municipal functions are concerned, Delhi today is divided into three parts: MCD, NDMC and Delhi Cantt army area. Regarding police, if you have concerns then the army and NDMC areas can be with the Centre, but control in the MCD area should be given to us.
In your policies, you have announced subsidies for power and water. How is that different from say what the Punjab Government does in giving free power or the UPA’s various populist policies. How is your party different from others giving sops to win votes?
Firstly, we should not say that whatever other parties are doing is all wrong. It could be good as well as bad. If Punjab is giving free power to farmers, it may not be a bad idea. Do you know that we give Rs 6 lakh crore worth of tax subsidy to the industry? It goes to Reliance, Tatas. No one complains if you give it to the rich. But if you give a common man Rs 200 worth of subsidy everyone is up in arms. Giving subsidy to the poor is a government’s responsibility. World over subsidies are given, including in the US.
The total subsidy that we are giving in Delhi for power and water is Rs 242 crore out of a total budget of Rs 40,000 crore. This is around 0.5 per cent. The scales are important. Had I given Rs 10,000 crore as subsidy out of the Rs 40,000 crore, you could have said this guy does not know his finances. We have to do something for the poor out of this Rs 40,000 crore. It is the government’s job to supply water. There has to be ‘lifeline water’ for the poor.
You may argue whether the free water allowed should be 20 kilolitres or 10 kilolitres. But you cannot say no free water can be given or every drop has to be charged for. Even someone who cannot pay needs water. He’ll steal if you don’t give him. You are forcing him to do that. In power there is cross-subsidy everywhere. Those who have 20 air-conditioners can pay more; the poor can pay a little less for up to 200 units. In fact, the concept of income tax or direct taxes is also cross-subsidisation. It is very interesting — about 2 crore people are paying for the rest of the 120 crore.
I could have purchased a helicopter worth Rs 450 crore for myself after becoming the Chief Minister, as all the others do. I could have claimed I’ll travel from home to office in the helicopter and not cause inconvenience to the people on the roads. People would have called me an efficient and modern Chief Minister. But I did not buy a helicopter, and gave subsidy worth Rs 250 crore, and that is causing people heartburn!
But it is feared subsidy often goes to people who don’t need it.
We have taken care of that. You get subsidy only till 400 units. The moment you go to 401, you pay for all of it. The same is for water. If you consume more than 20 kilolitre, you pay for all of it. This also encourages conservation, and there is an automatic check against high consumers getting subsidy.
You decided to reverse the previous government’s policy on allowing FDI in multi-brand retail. What is your reasoning behind this?
We had researched on the subject for quite some time while making our manifesto. Many editors from business newspapers have met me on this, and I asked them to tell me what will be the benefits to the country from this FDI. I offered to change the decision if there are benefits. I was told of four essential benefits: better price for famers, more choice and better price for consumers, and more employment. I have read a lot on the 130 countries that have FDI in multi-brand retail, and found evidence of only more choice for consumers. Even in the US there is a huge opposition against Walmart. I asked for names of the countries where farmers have got better prices, they could give me none.
They do cite China as a successful example of FDI in retail. But China has a huge domestic manufacturing sector, which needed to market its products. So there was an actual demand for large organised retail to distribute the goods. But even there it led to a huge amount of displacement, people running small shops lost their jobs. But because the manufacturing sector was thriving these people could be absorbed in that, and it did not lead to any turmoil.
Here people are already clamouring for jobs. We have such huge unemployment and very little manufacturing. There are no government jobs. We have to encourage the private industry and traders. We can’t have any policy that leads to loss of jobs.
What is your approach to boosting the Indian economy?
We have to encourage private business. The government has no business to be in business. That is very clear. There is a false propaganda that we are socialists and we’ll nationalise everything. We have no plan to nationalise anything. An Indian is a born entrepreneur, it is in our blood. But the present policies and inspectors do not let people do trade or business in peace.
We would like to deregulate business. The government will have no interference. We’ll let people do business without any permissions; just don’t do anything wrong, for which no one will be spared.
If you are put in charge of the national economy, what would you do?
First, decentralisation is required. At present politics and economics are intricately related to each other. Recently, the son of a very big businessman of the country gave me an interesting perspective. He told me AAP’s economic policy could be defined in two words: ‘good politics’, which was what we stood for. He said if you created an honest environment, business would flourish. People would do the business on their own. It was not the government that did development but the people. They just needed a healthy environment, which the government could provide.
Soon we are going to begin relaying the roads in all Delhi industrial areas simultaneously. We’ll provide all the facilities required for business. We will also open more industrial areas. I have had many business delegations come to complain of VAT regulations and forms. I immediately consulted the VAT commissioner and scrapped many of the forms and changed procedures. We’ll have a situation that no trader would have to come to the VAT office. Do everything online. I get the officers concerned and traders to meet and take decisions on the spot. They get up only when there is agreement. This is not rocket science.
The UPA has a lot of policies for rural India, such as the job security scheme. What would you do better?
No policy made in Delhi can succeed, howsoever well intentioned (though I suspect the intention too in most policies). The government cannot be run from Delhi. We are bringing the Swaraj Bill in the Cabinet next month. Money will not be spent on things the government decides, but what the residents of the area want. Delhi will be divided into around 3,000 mohallas, where people will meet every month and decide what their priorities are. They’ll be given a sum of money as per their share to spend. Some people fear it could be misused. Even if they all divide the money up amongst themselves, it’ll be better than politicians getting it. But they won’t do that, as a mother cares more about her child’s education than the education secretary. They will decide their own priorities and make their own budgets. Why should the government decide who needs ration or job security. Let the area residents themselves decide which scheme to run.
What would you do with all the national schemes, like the MGNREGA?
There are more than 250 centrally sponsored schemes in the country right now. Most of the schemes need to be scrapped, and the money should be given directly to the people. These schemes are only giving employment to some of the government employees. People should make their own schemes for their own areas keeping in view their necessities.
What do you think of the food security scheme?
People are more worried about their food security than the food secretary of the Central or state government. Let people sit in their mohalla sabhas and decide how they want to use the money that the government has given for them — whether they want food security or drinking water security.
What is your view of the Aadhar card scheme?
It is not a bad idea to give people some sort of identification. However, there are certain objections, which need to be addressed.
So how will you ensure subsidies go to the right people?
I am not in favour of anything that is centrally monitored from Delhi or the state headquarters. I want to de-centralise decision-making. Let the people decide because they are very creative. The political class has suppressed the creative and enterprising spirit of the people of this country. When our people go to the USA and other countries they become top researchers, doctors, scientists. We need to make people completely independent. We need to have research institutes that should be independent of government control and monitoring.
What is the problem with the Lokpal Bill that the Centre has passed?
The Centre’s Lokpal Bill is complete nonsense. It cannot even send a rat to jail, forget about Raja or Kalmadi. And now they are planning to water down the Prevention of Corruption Act. They are taking out the effective provisions from this Act. Their intention is not to check corruption, but to protect the corrupt.
So, how is your Bill different?
It is very sharp. It ensures certainty and swiftness of punishment. Right from the Prime Minister to Chief Minister, all are covered under this Bill. If anyone indulges in corruption, he will get punishment and will go to jail within six months to one year. His assets will be confiscated and he will lose his job. We have defined time limits for every action. Finally it is the intention that matters. Their intention was bad, whereas we have tried to plug every loophole. There were several rounds of discussion to prepare this Bill.
Why did you and Anna Hazare fall out. Was it the Lokpal Bill or the approach?
After we tried everything to make the government bring in the Lokpal Bill, and failed, we decided to enter politics to do it ourselves. But he [Anna] said he did not want to enter politics.
I am in touch with Anna Hazare and spoke to him just 20 minutes back, and requested him to come to Delhi on February 16 when we pass the Jan Lokpal Bill. He said that he was pre-occupied with other engagements.
Once Kiran Bedi was also with you....
It will be better if you ask her this question. She seems to be becoming fond of the BJP.
What is your opinion about Rahul Gandhi?
Please don’t ask me to comment on Rahul and Modi. It is no good commenting on them.
But you have taken the Congress’ support in Delhi.
We did not take their support. They thrust it on us. Till now we have never spoken to them and never had any meeting with them. The fact is that people have no hope from mainstream and larger political parties, people are fed up with their politics. We were nowhere, we had no standing. Arvind Kejriwal was a nobody. Why have we been brought to power? There was a great political vacuum and these politicians had looted the country and people just too long. People were fed up with their corrupt politics. They wanted to support honest people. We talked of honesty and demonstrated it, so they brought us forward.
You talk of free enterprise, so does the BJP. What is the difference between AAP and the BJP?
It is the question of intention. Even the Congress says the same things, but their intention is not honest, ours is and we do what we say. We have done a lot of work for people in the past one and a half month. You show me even a single government that has done so much work in such a short period since Independence. We walk the talk. We have started work on every point raised in our manifesto. Our intention is very clear and honest, whereas their intention is not clean.
The Congress claims it is secular, the BJP calls it pseudo-secular. What is your policy on minorities?
Both these parties talk funny. When one party supports the Congress, the latter calls it secular, when the same party supports the BJP it is labelled communal. In fact, both the BJP and the Congress do politics for power. They talk of secularism only to grab power and get the votes of the minorities. Both the BJP and the Congress have the same character, they can go to the extent of killing thousands of people to grab power.
They talk of development. In fact, the primary responsibility of a government is to provide security to its people, then justice and then comes development. If we are unable to provide security and justice to our people, no development can take place, only partial development may take place. Today, neither Rahul Gandhi nor Narendra Modi talks of security and justice. Where is the security for women in our country? Both the parties talk of development because they have huge money to make in development. There are many convicted persons in the Cabinet of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Can you expect such persons or such a government to give justice and security to the people with such convicted persons in the government?
Our government is clean. There were allegations of corruption against one candidate of our party from Rajouri Garden before the Assembly elections, we cancelled his ticket and left the seat vacant. If you allow a corrupt person to hold a key position, he will make the entire system under him corrupt. Both the Congress and the BJP are two sides of the same coin.
What is your view of the differences in your own party? Some people like Capt Gopinath have criticised your policies. One MLA has left. Why this?
Ours is a self-screening party. As the party grows, people join, people leave. Some come and ask me what will they get? I tell them you will have to face lathis, go to jail and neglect your families. Join if you want.
Take the case of Binny. He asked to be made a minister, then again came for the Lok Sabha ticket. I flatly refused both the demands. He left and we did not stop him. Then I called a meeting of all AAP MLAs and told everybody that there should be no greed for any ministerial berth or seat of power. If there is any they have to get rid of it. Even if my government falls, I am not worried about that. I have not come here to form or run a government on these principles.
There are some people like Captain Gopinath who did not read the vision document of the party. There are clear guidelines. Mallika Sarabhai also came on own her own and then left. In fact, there is no place for greedy persons in our party. I understand that some political parties have been planning to plant 300-400 persons as members of AAP and then make them revolt against the party to give it a bad name. There is a game plan of both the BJP and the Congress in collaboration with a section of the media to defame AAP. That there is no democracy in AAP and Arvind Kejriwal is this and that. There is far more dissent in the BJP, but that is not highlighted.
Do you think your government will last its full term?
We are not worried about that.
It appears that you are on a confrontation mode so that the support to your government is withdrawn and whenever elections are held your party emerges with a clear majority.
No, this is a media creation. We are not worried about whether the government survives for another day or not. We are only worried about people’s welfare. If the government is running, we should work. If the government falls, fresh elections will be held. If we are elected again, we will form and run the government. If the people do not want to elect us again, we will sit at our homes.
You have said your party will contest many seats in the General Election. What will be the key issue?
I think corruption should be a major issue. In fact, it should become the defining issue.
How many seats is your party planning to contest?
We will try to contest on all those seats where the candidates from other parties are criminals, corrupt, communal or have dynastic politics. These four types of candidates should be defeated. We will field good candidates and we will tell the people that earlier you had no option, but this time you will have an option, and you should choose honest and clean persons. After all, it is not my election, it is theirs — the people’s elections.
Are you not overreaching yourself? In such a short time you are trying to build a full movement?
If it is my election, then we were overreaching. But if this is the election of the people, there is a political storm and the common people stand as candidates it is not overreaching. We do not have our own candidates. We will field clean people from the public. You know those candidates of ours who won from Delhi, they are ordinary people. Nobody knew them. Just as they were elected by the people in the Delhi Assembly elections, so will our party candidates be elected from other constituencies in the general election. The Aam Admi Party is just a facilitator.
Are you looking for electoral reforms — one of the important issues is the amount of money spent in elections — what needs to be done to control this?
Many things need to be done seriously. Electoral reforms are a big issue. This is where political corruption starts. There is need for complete transparency. There is huge spending in every rally of Narendra Modi. People tell me that Mukesh Ambani is backing Modi, Adani is with Modi. We need to know if this is true and who is behind such rallies. Where is the money coming from? Large sums are being spent on Rahul Gandhi’s rallies, they are roaming about and travelling in planes while we are unable to manage or arrange petrol for our Wagon-R car. The people should ask wherefrom such huge amount is coming?
So you think the key is ensuring transparency in electoral spending?
Of course, there should be complete transparency by political parties about their funding. They should follow our method of spending. We have put up all our expenses on the website. We account for every paisa. The moment you have transparency in the electoral process, automatically corrupt and unfair practices will come down.
You have made a lot of allegations against various political leaders, including Modi and Sonia, saying they are corrupt. But you are criticised for not providing any evidence. Are you going to do so now?
No, I did not say it on my own. I just took it from the media. After all, you people have carried such articles about them. We have just endorsed it. You search the Google and you will find 10 stories of corruption against these people.
But will you not show facts to back your statements?
I am not trying them. Last year when I sat on dharna, we named 15 ministers and we had documentary evidence against them then. But this time we took their names on the basis of past reports and saying that there are serious allegations against them. We have to defeat them — it is a political battle. It is up to the people to decide if they want to defeat these corrupt politicians or not.
The criticism of your party is that you have started making allegations without any evidence against prominent people. For instance, your party colleague has alleged that the Lt Governor of Delhi is in cahoots with the Congress. What is the evidence that you have to make such a serious allegation?
We have observed during the past 10-15 days too many things are leaking from the LG’s office and this has raised suspicion. For instance, I was to meet the LG today, there was an agenda; but all those things were leaked out to the media last evening. So the meeting became futile. Am I supposed to respond to the LG through the media? This is not the kind of relationship that can exist between a Chief Minister and an LG. That raised suspicion, but my party colleague should have avoided using the language you mentioned.
Shouldn’t meetings between you and the LG be transparent? After all, that is what your party has advocated – transparency in action?
There is a difference between transparency and the leaking out of some information in a planned manner. Today I wrote a letter, and at the end I wrote I am not leaking out this letter, but officially releasing this letter because these issues have been raised by us in the media. The LG should have called a press conference yesterday and should have said, "Look, I have received this and am giving it to you." There should be no selective leaking out.
There was another instance: The Delhi Commission for Women’s appointment was to be done. The file went to the LG’s office and there was news on the same evening that the LG was going to raise the following objections on this file. My office contacted officials at the LG office and they told us "Don’t worry, the LG is not here and he has not written anything on this file". The next day the LG wrote the same things that were on the news channel. The important question is how did the channel know the LG’s mind? This is not transparency; this is leakage with a motive.
Who has influenced your thinking the most? Who is your role model?
Gandhiji has influenced me the most. He had stressed on speaking the truth. I realised during the past two-three years that we were very small people; we have neither money nor standing. But mischievous people conspire against us with deep conspiracies which could ruin us. Yet come what may, we have spoken the truth and always stood by honesty.
So like Gandhi you are not for a violent revolution?
Yes, we are not for a violent revolution, only a peaceful one. A violent revolution cannot become a mass movement. Only a few people will gain from a violent revolution. Once those violent people get power, they will become the problem and be autocratic.
What about influences when you lived in Hissar?
Till Class 12, I only used to study; there was pressure on my mind that I had to stand first in the class. I was good neither in sports nor cultural activities. When I got admission in the IIT, there I did different things because IITs have a different culture. In fact, I did everything but studies. IIT groomed me a lot.
Finally, Arvind Kejriwal ko itna gussa kyon ata hai? Why are you always so angry?
We are against the unjust system. I am not against individuals. I have no personal enmity with Rahul Gandhi or Narendra Modi. We need to change the prevailing system.

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