Aam Aadmi’s party isn’t over yet, Bhagwant Mann says
The one-and-a-half-year-old Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) poor performance in this year’s parliamentary elections in India was a big letdown for the anti-corruption party’s members and its leader Arvind Kejriwal. One of the party’s newly elected parliamentarians, Punjabi actor-comedian Bhagwant Mann, is doing his best to keep spirits high. Following are excerpts from two phone conversations with India Insight about the future of the AAP.
(This interview was conducted in Hindi and translated into English)
Q. Why didn’t the “Modi wave” work in Punjab?
A. There was nothing like a Modi wave in Punjab. Punjab is already affected a lot by drugs and unemployment. So Punjab’s problems are not about [BJP slogan] “Ache din aane waley hain” (“Good days are coming”) or “Har Har Modi” (Hindu religious chant, modified for Modi). Punjab wanted a third alternative, it wanted to get out of the two-party mill – Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Congress.
Q. What is your reaction to the party’s performance in Punjab and the rest of the country?
A. In Punjab there were one-two seats where our defeat margin was less than 15,000, otherwise we were hoping for six to seven seats. But we got a vote bank. Example – Mr Phoolka was defeated from Ludhiana but won in its five assembly constituencies (that fall under the parliament seat). The party has got an oxygen cylinder in Punjab.
The party came second in Delhi and increased its vote share (from what it got in the Delhi assembly election last year). You would ask why [we] didn’t win seats – that’s because the Congress is finished now. Now it will be a two-party system in the country – BJP and AAP. So we take it positively. The big thing is that new parties sometimes take time to succeed but they get the bigger parties to reset their agenda. The BJP and Congress did that after Delhi election, right? Earlier they just used to wave byes from helicopters … now haven’t they landed on the ground?
Q. What are the main issues that made you win?
A. Drugs and unemployment. A senior journalist was sitting in my car and there were 500 youth on bikes before and behind my car, chanting “Hail AAP” slogans . He asked me, “how do you like this?” I said, “I don’t like it at all.” He said, “What? Leaders get happy at such support”. I said, “I am not a leader, I am one of them. Secondly, the reason I don’t like this is that today is a working day, its 11:30 am, why are they free? Why are they not at work? They could have come on Sunday.”
The journalist shook my hand and said, “I will see you in parliament.” So actually leaders believe that maybe the crowds (at their meets) love their policies and them. Crowds come with a certain hope. There were crowds at Congress rallies also, but there was no hope.
Q. Did you face the kind of anger that AAP leaders say they faced in the rest of the country?
A. Not much. Punjabis considered Arvind’s sacrifice as sacrifice. They didn’t believe in opposing parties’ propaganda that he is a quitter, ran away from his responsibility. They said no one leaves even a peon’s chair, and this man is leaving a chief minister’s chair. Why? It means this man is genuine.
Q. What are the lessons that AAP should draw from its electoral success in Punjab?
A. They have taken feedback from us, on how we worked, how our campaign was different. Going to the common man, talking to him about his issues. See, talking about GDP etc. can be done with economists but what does the common man know about that? They will have to be explained in their language. They want to know if their grain will be sold, if a doctor will be available in the hospital. People liked that we talked to them in their language.
Q. Did constitution of a Special Investigation Team into the 1984 anti-Sikh riots help you in Punjab?
A. Yes, a lot because those wounds have not yet healed. It has been 30 years (since the riots). Both Akali Dal and Congress have been exploiting the issue politically.
Q. What is wrong and what went wrong for the AAP nationally?
A. Overall there was an anti-Congress wave. Some might have thought that if we vote for AAP then the Congress may win (as) votes may get divided. But if you see our figures, we have increased our vote share and we have opened our account at many places. Ours is a one-and-a-half-year-old party. In the coming days we will go to the people and will make a better comeback.
Q. Do you think the AAP needs to change its way of protest politics?
When Arvind sat in protest on the police issue in Delhi, 60 percent of people came to know that police is not under Delhi government. So something symbolic will have to be done. The current bail bond issue – you summon one person, he attends court on the date. When he came he was a free man and then you tell him to submit a bail bond or you will be put in jail.
This means if someone witnesses a burglary, then should he first think if he has 10,000 rupees for bail bond before he raises an alarm? The court suggested we bring out Kejriwal by submitting bail bond and that will be subject to this case. We are hopeful that the decision in this case will benefit many. There are many poor people who have nobody to submit bail bond for them. We are changing the way of work.
Q. But do you think people do not like your strategy – especially the flip-flop in the stands?
A. After a feedback we got from the country on what happened in Delhi, we said we are from a non-political background so we are sorry. Have you seen a politician saying sorry for anything in this country? When Ram Vilas Paswan was taking oath (as a minister), what was his stand? Two months back he said BJP is “bharat jalao party” (Bharatiya Janata Party’s abbreviation – BJP – changed to mean “burn India party”), now it is “bharat jagao party” (“awaken India party”). Write about them as well.
Q. Shazia Ilmi recently quit the party on these issues too.
A. Politics is a test match. But even 20-20 players enter politics. They don’t have patience and want to hit a six on every ball. Those who came here on seeing longer queues on the other sides, they have run away because of failures and it will not matter to the party.
Q. What about the issue of internal democracy that she ratcheted up?
A. I don’t agree with her at all. That is not the case. We have faced no such problem. Be it decision making about Punjab or about overall structure, they did call us for that also. Earlier there were only four-five people but now more are joining. During election we found many good people. They may have not fought the election or may have lost but even they are being included…
Q. But even Yogendra Yadav put in his papers …
A. He was the in-charge of Haryana, he offered to resign on moral grounds. This will send a message to even small-time members that work will have to be done.
Q, What kind of a relationship do you share with Kejriwal?
A. He is my boss and also my friend. I know him since the Anna Hazare movement days.
Q. Have you been contacted by any other political party to join them?
A. No, the Aam Aadmi Party-wallahs are not like that. They are made up of a different clay. Only that material which is available in the marketplace is given a price tag. When it is not available in the market, then where will the customers come from?
Q. What is going to be your agenda in Parliament?
A. If the government does a good job we will support them, if not we will be the ones to oppose them the most. We have to be the face of the party and also be a role model for the party. We have to let the country know that if only the four of us can be like that then [imagine] what could the 400 of us do.