“Levels of corruption have gone down drastically in Delhi” – The Arvind Kejriwal interview, part 3
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His Aam Aadmi Party, or “Common Man’s Party”, uses a broom as its symbol to suggest it is sweeping the dirt out of politics. Kejriwal, a bespectacled former tax collector, spoke to Reuters in a wide-ranging interview a month after getting the top job, from the same modest apartment he’s lived in for the past 15 years. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the third and final part of the interview.
Following its strong performance in Delhi, interest in the year-old Aam Aadmi Party has surged. While polls suggest that the party is unlikely to win more than a dozen or so seats in country-wide elections this spring, its success in Delhi has shaken up the national race, with opposition leader Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and the governing Congress party adopting Aam Aadmi’s anti-elite, anti-corruption language.
Even a few seats for the party could be enough to deny Modi, the frontrunner, a chance at forming a government, and give Kejriwal a say in national policy.
Kejriwal’s colleague Kumar Vishwas said he will run in the national polls from Amethi, the traditional constituency of Rahul Gandhi, who is leading the Congress party’s campaign. Vishwas has recently been criticised for remarks that he made at a poetry meet some years ago in which he derided the skin color of nurses from the southern state of Kerala. (The remarks appear at the end of this video)
Your party is against crony capitalism. Are there any specific companies that should be worried?
No, I’m not against any specific company.
You’ve specifically mentioned Reliance in the past.
Any company who indulges in wrongdoing ought to be punished, any company who does honest business ought to flourish.
How long do you think it will take to have honest politics in India?
It’s not my job. The people have to do it. I’m doing my bit. I’m too small. I’m very small. I’m no one. It is the people who have to do it. And we have to bring the people together.
You’ve been in office a month now. Can you tell us some things that you were surprised by or didn’t know about before you took office that you now do?
At the time of independence, when the Britishers left, they used to say exactly the same thing – ‘These bloody Indians. Can they govern? It will lead to anarchy.’ Today this is exactly the same line that the established political parties are using against us. ‘These Aam Aadmi people. Can they govern? They will create an anarchy.’ That was the first freedom movement. This is the second freedom movement. We have to get rid of these politics. What I found most interesting in the last one month is, there is no dearth of money. There is sufficient money. There are so many projects that are completely baseless. They’re completely useless and they were only there to make money. If you scrap many of those projects. If you scrap those projects and put the money where you would need them, where people actually need those facilities, I think very soon we can do wonders. Interestingly, people used to say bureaucracy will be the biggest problem. On the contrary, there are some wonderful bureaucrats at the top and they are feeling very good. They said, ‘Sir, for the first time we are feeling that kind of independence. We wanted to do so much. We were not allowed to do it earlier.’ So I was talking to one of the bureaucrats and I said that, ‘Now look, we have to deliver.’ He said, ‘Sir, don’t worry. You have done the most difficult part. You have changed the politics. Governance is the least of the problems. We’ll handle it. Don’t worry.’
We’ve heard anecdotes that until December, people from the private sector going to deal with the previous Delhi government would get phone calls from even low-level bureaucrats saying, “before you come, bring a gift.” Do you think that’s changed?
That’s a big thing that has taken place in the last one month. Levels of corruption have gone down drastically in Delhi. I would encourage you to do your own exercise. Go to the public dealing departments and ask the people standing there, do they have to pay money? I’m told that that has come down very substantially.
You just mentioned that you wanted to scrap some projects and put money where it is actually needed. What are some of these projects?
There are projects, various projects. I don’t remember right now. It wouldn’t be right for me to (talk about it right now). Basically decentralisation, the way that people in their own areas should decide for themselves. Like you have in the U.S., you have town hall meetings in various counties, municipalities. People assemble every month and people take decisions. And those decisions are binding on the local municipality. Why can’t we have it in India? Why can’t the people take decisions? And those decisions should be binding on their municipality. Today, the people are completely helpless before governance.
Where else in the world are you drawing inspiration from?
So many countries have this. United States, Switzerland has it, many of the European countries have it. Brazil … I think everywhere there is a demand for democracy. Democracy has different meanings in different contexts. If there’s democracy existing in a country, there’s demand for more democracy. And that is something very heartening. All across the globe there’s a movement for democracy. In the times to come it will become more and more participative. And that will be real democracy. Going and voting once in five years is not democracy. It’s basically legitimising one set of people to govern for the next five years.
There have been many attempts at participative democracy. For example, the Panchayat system could be…
Panchayat is not participative. Panchayat is again elected representatives.
But there are many examples in the world from Gaddafi in Libya to Venezuela where attempts at participative democracy become dominated by the people at the top of the party who send out the message ‘this is what the party line is’.
So we have to learn from all these examples and move ahead. But the answer is participative democracy. Participation of the people, not elected representatives.
And the charge that this leads to mobocracy?
Mobocracy? I don’t think … I mean where did we lead mobocracy? Who did it? These (charges) are all again from opposition parties and a section of the media.
When will your national campaign get started?
I think it’s already started. Many of our leaders are travelling all across the country. But again, it’s not important for us to fight elections. We are not here to fight elections and acquire power. The acquisition of power is not our politics, the politics is to remove corruption from this country. That’s our politics. So, the most important thing is there are a large number of cabinet ministers who have indulged in corruption, they need to be defeated. There are almost 162 people in Lok Sabha who have criminal charges against them and there are 73 out of them who have serious criminal charges against them, those people need to be defeated. We will put up strong candidates against them. Now, it is for the people to decide whether they want to support clean politics or not. Earlier the people used to say ‘we didn’t have option’, now we will provide them a clean option.
Are you going to put up strong candidates in those 162 constituencies?
At least those 73 plus those dishonest cabinet ministers. We need to, our fight is against corruption, our fight is against the system, elections is just a small part of our journey.
There’s been huge numbers being discussed from 400 seats to a few dozen. What on that scale is most likely, given the few weeks you’ve had to look into possibility and winnability?
Our main objective is to get rid of corruption, as I’ve said, and that is what our politics is and that is where we stand so how many seats I think only time will tell.
I can’t say. As I said at least these cabinet ministers ought to be defeated. And at least those 73 people with serious criminal charges ought to be defeated. Beyond that, how many, let’s see.
What does that tell you?
It only shows the anger of the people. Two things are taking place simultaneously, one is that people are very angry. They are angry against the present system, they are angry against the present political system and the parties. And secondly, they see a ray of hope in Aam Aadmi Party, they see a clear and a credible alternative in the Aam Aadmi Party in the form of honest politics. This is what it indicates.
You are now forming national policies. What about areas like national security, international relations? Do you consider China a threat to India?
We want to have peaceful relations with all our neighbours, with all the countries, on an equal footing. We want equal relations. Relations based on equality and trade and commerce. Peaceful relations, peaceful co-existence.
In Delhi elections, you set a funding goal. What is the goal set for the national elections?
Frankly, I have not been able to talk to the party leaders for some time. I was too busy in the government. In the next few days, I will talk to them and find out.
Broadly, you must have a sense of the challenges ahead in funding.
Funding will never be a challenge. At least that is what my small experience in activism tells me. When I started, I just had no money with me. In the year 2000, I started my activism. I took a 50,000 rupee [$800 at current exchange rates – ed.] donation from my brother and another 50,000 rupees from my uncle. And we put up a —
Aide: So far 7 crore rupees have been collected ($1.12 million)
Seven crore rupees have been collected in the last 15-20 days. The people will give you money. If it is my fight to acquire power, then money is a problem for me. It is their fight. It is the people’s fight. We are not fighting for ourselves. And if people take it to be their fight, then money will not be a problem. And is what happened in Delhi also. We didn’t have any money. The people gave money.
Do you feel the need to pursue wealthy individuals realistically to get financing?
As I said, financing is the least of the problem. It is not financing that is important for us. It is basically to inspire the people of this country, to stand up, rise and fight. The day the people of India get up and start fighting, I think the rest of it will start falling in place.
Would you be willing to become prime minister if that situation arises?
I am not interested in becoming prime minister and I am not here to stay as chief minister. The fight is for the country and it will stay like that.
Would you take on the role of prime minister if that …
I don’t even think about it, it is not important for me.
If your party wanted it?
I don’t think so. And if anyone is thinking like that, he should not think like that, because we are not here to acquire power. We are not here to become ministers or prime ministers or chief ministers. That’s not the point. If anyone is thinking like that, he’s wrong.
How will you change the system if you don’t acquire power?
We are not here to acquire power. It will happen automatically. It’s a part of the journey. Acquisition of power is not an end in itself. The systemic changes are an end in itself.
But acquisition of power is part of that journey.
You see we started by agitating at Jantar Mantar. We asked these people that please do something. They refused to do it. That is the reason that the people decided that now we will enter the Parliament. And that’s how the Aam Aadmi Party came into the picture.
Do you endorse remarks by Kumar Vishwas made a few years ago about nurses from Kerala, criticized as sexist and misogynistic?
He said it in a kavi sammelan (poet meet).
So do you think it was OK to be able to say things like that?
He shouldn’t have said it. But then what is the issue about it? Can you tell me? He said it in 2007. There was no uproar till now in the last six years.
He wasn’t a politician fighting an election in Amethi till now.
So if someone becomes a politician and he challenges this existing system then they rake up, in 2007, look, he narrated this poem.
I acknowledged that this was a few years ago.
What is the issue?
It’s an attitude. Do you endorse that attitude?
It’s not his attitude. He respects women and there are a large number of women admirers that he has. He respects women but that is how … what else is a hasya kavita (light-hearted poem). They do stuff like that. There, he is said to have said something against Muslims, against Sikhs, against Hindus. In the audience, all of them were sitting. Hindus were also sitting, Sikhs were also sitting, Muslims also … Their sensitivities were not hurt. Now those portions are being cut. So that means there’s a political conspiracy. And let’s admit that.
(Editing by Robert MacMillan | Disclaimer: This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced in any form without permission)