Interview: BJP’s Harsh Vardhan slams AAP-Congress alliance in Delhi
By Aditya Kalra and Sankalp Phartiyal
India’s Congress party and the upstart Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) entered an “unholy alliance” to share power in Delhi following state elections in the national capital, the chief ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said in an interview on Dec. 31.
Harsh Vardhan, who lost the race for chief minister of the capital region to AAP founder Arvind Kejriwal, said he thinks that the Congress party and the AAP had “some sort of understanding” before the elections. He offered no proof. Spokesmen for the AAP and the Congress party denied these charges.
Kejriwal, 45, was sworn in as the youngest chief minister of Delhi on Dec. 28. The anti-corruption activist and former civil servant surprised India with his strong showing and is likely to create uncertainty over how the 2014 general elections and race for the prime minister’s seat will turn out.
The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is seen as the favourite to lead the country in 2014, displacing the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance which has been in power for 10 years. A slackening economy, rising food prices and a series of corruption scandals have hit the ruling government’s reputation in recent years.
The AAP’s triumph in the Delhi state elections did not give it a clear enough majority to run the government, however. The party ended up taking support from the Congress, a move that has raised questions both within the AAP and outside about how long such an alliance can last.
Reuters spoke to Vardhan, 59, at his west Delhi home in a room full of trophies for his work as a doctor and a politician, and his photographs with various BJP leaders. Here are some edited excerpts of the interview:
What went wrong for the BJP in Delhi?
A new party had come about (for) which there was no past. Whenever there’s a new thing, there’s an enthusiasm for the new thing.
Some media outlets have said that naming the leadership late was a factor. Do you also believe that?
In retrospect, I agree. There was no tussle (within the party). There was another leader (Vijay Goel) who was also keen to become the chief ministerial candidate. But the party took time to decide … there was a focused campaign around Sheila Dikshit, around Arvind Kejriwal, but not around somebody in the BJP. I think this played a major role.
You said before the elections that the AAP will “vanish”. How surprised were you?
I had said that I don’t foresee a very significant success for them. That was, you can say, miscalculation on our part, and we could not actually assess what was the support they were getting at the ground level. I accept that.
What is your relation with the AAP? You did not reply to their 18-point letter, but you attended the swearing-in ceremony of Arvind Kejriwal.
Regarding that letter, it was not relevant at all to even give any attention because the AAP had said that we are not interested in any support from BJP or the Congress. That letter was so badly worded in terms of etiquette and manners … as protocol, I am the leader of opposition. If I am invited to a function where there is a swearing-in of the chief minister, irrespective of whosoever his party is, I have to be there.
How do you see the rise of Arvind Kejriwal?
Right now he might have become the chief minister, but from a very high moral ground I think they have stooped low to the ground level. Congress for them was the biggest corrupt political party of this country. They (AAP) wanted to wipe out corruption. They formed their party with a laudable agenda and from there they stooped to the level where for the sake of power they compromised with same corrupt Congress which had been ousted from power by the citizens of Delhi.
Do you think Arvind Kejriwal is going in the wrong direction now?
Why should I say that? It is for the people to decide and analyse.
In a recent interview you said “…everybody knows that SMSes and emails that were sent urging AAP to agree to a power-sharing arrangement were (actually) sent from the Congress headquarters”. How do you know this?
You can’t have proof for every damn thing, but there were lot of news items appearing in various papers. How can I have proof — I don’t go to the Congress headquarters. And the basic thing is that so-called referendum. That wasn’t a real referendum. If you want to align with the corrupt Congress, decide about it. Why are you using the people’s shoulder for that?
(Editor’s note: The AAP sought response from public via meetings, SMS and other mediums to get their direct feedback on whether to agree to form a government with help of Congress)
Why call the alliance unholy?
I call it unholy because of the fact that you were advocating in a big way right from the day one that Congress is the biggest corrupt party of this whole world. There was some sort of understanding before the elections.
You said there was a deal between the AAP and Congress…
That time it was in the newspapers. You tell me if their action doesn’t show that?
But in your opinion they have done backroom dealing?
I think so.
What stopped you from aligning with the AAP for a stable government?
Why should we? Because we never believed in manipulation, we never believed in breaking any party, we never believed in horse trading or we never wanted any purchase thing to be done like that in politics.
Do you think Kejriwal is good for Delhi?
I will at this stage not comment on anything. I can only wish them good luck. Let them basically fulfil all the tall promises that have made to the people.
How long do you think this government will last?
I can’t say that.
AAP has delivered on their first promise of free water…
This in a way is befooling people. The 660 litres for an average family of four people is grossly inadequate. And this also is being given to those people who can afford it, who don’t need free water. The city in a way doesn’t need these types of slogans, it needs water for those who never had water.
Do you think he has not done his homework well?
I think they have made tall claims. It’s more of populism rather than actual real developmental economy.
(Editing by Robert MacMillan and video by Shyamantha Asokan; Follow Aditya on Twitter at @adityayk, Sankalp @sankalp_sp and Robert @bobbymacReports. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced in any form without permission)