Swaraj Abhiyan opened ward-level offices in Delhi this Republic Day. You are looking for a head start in the run-up to the forthcoming civic body polls, aren’t you?
The trouble is that we think politics is all about forming a party, parties are all about contesting an election and elections are about somehow coming to power and staying as long as one can. I understand this. This is the standard definition and that is clearly where our imagination is stuck. Let me point this out: What we have formed are Swaraj Kendras. They are not meant to canvass for the polls. They are there to attend to the needs of citizens. Yes, they are ward level, because local governments are ward level. Are they meant to contest elections? No, they are not. Are we ruling out elections? No, we are not. We are clearly saying that we are a movement for an alternative politics. Let me also clarify that Swaraj Abhiyan will not merge or dissolve into any political party.
There is clearly a standoff between the Kejriwal government and the Modi government? What are we seeing here: AAP asserting the rights of the state government and the BJP resisting it as the party at the Centre, or just a tug-of-war between two rival political parties?
In any federation some degree of tension between different tiers of government is inevitable. But what we have witnessed in the past one year is an extraordinary spectacle fuelled from both ends. I have no doubt the BJP, both at the Centre and occasionally at the MCD level, has gone out of its way to create trouble for the new rival. I have no doubt that AAP too, has started enjoying it and thinks that this would be its principal route to power at the national level. So it’s a game being played by both the players with short sighted interests and at the cost of the citizens of Delhi. Also, it is a counter productive game: the possibility of Delhi achieving full statehood is less now than ever before.
The style of provocation and confrontation from both sides is counter productive. What we witness now is a drama where both parties are unwilling to respect the minimum rules of the game. The LG (Lieutenant-Governor) comes up with his extended and creative interpretation of his role and AAP behaves like they have not read the Constitution of India.
What happened to AAP as another name for anti-corruption crusade? They always promised a Jan Lokpal and once they were in a position to move forward, they brought in the Bill. You, by then, were no longer in AAP and also strongly against the Bill. Eventually the Assembly passed it. Why were you against it?
It’s an irony of our public life that questions of fact have been turned into questions of public opinion. It’s a simple factual question: What is it that AAP had promised in Ramlila Maidan? These Bills were drafted at considerable length and are in the public domain — both the Bill drafted in 2014 and the one proposed earlier at Ramlila Maidan. The Bill passed in 2015 is not the Bill proposed in 2014 but a radically watered down version of that as well as the promise made at Ramlila Maidan. These are facts! You just have to look at a simple comparative table.
What could be the reason for watering down the Bill?
Because AAP is becoming more and more an “AAM party” (just like any other party) and suffers from all the anxieties common to mainstream political parties when it comes to an independent authority that could probe them. If you have Jitender Tomar as MLA, Asim Ahmed Khan as minister, Somnath Bharti and a dozen more MLAs whose skeletons can tumble out of the cupboard any day, you would not wish have an independent and powerful Lokpal.
Are you saying AAP is afraid of anti-corruption crusade now?
Absolutely! What else can be the reason? This was reason why you came in power and you scuttle that. Why would you do that unless you are scared that an independent Lokpal could be dangerous for you? Otherwise you are confident that you could get away with anything.
Were the differences in AAP more personal than ideological?
Neither. There was very little personal element in the whole thing. And it had little to do with ideology as Left, Right and Centre. It was about the principles of how to do politics. It was about maintaining the minimum ethical standards in the party. What kind people can you admit, who can be given tickets? Can we give tickets to people with a dubious past, people involved in, say, distributing alcohol for votes in the past?
It was also about the Lakshman rekha (sacred line) the party cannot cross; for instance, doing false propaganda against its own members, the dissenters within the party. Can the party make downright communal instigation as was the case of the famous case of posters in Okhla?
Another issue was inner party democracy. There were also questions of policy and ideology, but unfortunately we never reached there.
Arvind Kejriwal has said he would be happy to have you back in AAP. If they win Punjab and need people like you to go national, will you consider the calls for reconciliation?
I understand it is your dharma to ask hypothetical questions about what may be about 10 years from now. But it is not my calling to answer such questions. All I can say is that whenever Arvind has made such nice-sounding statement, it has been been either preceded or followed by stepping back further from the party’s ideology and the path of honest politics. Perhaps he feels some guilt and remembers people like me and Prashant Bhushan a little more at that point. That has got to do more with his own conscience than with what we are. And remember, we did not come out of AAP because we didn’t have something we wanted. We were the ones who raised questions. Had we been silent and accepted the prize offered, everything would had been lovely. We were not short on offers then and we are not short on offers now.
How would you sum up AAP’s work in the past one year?
For any government, one year is too short a time to come to a final judgment. That’s a challenge and I hope they do well. Compared to the previous regime, they may be better and more positive. Compared to their own promises, though, they have a lot left to be done. It’s on the third score that I have serious objections: the hopes they have aroused and generated in crores of people. There, I think, history will judge them harshly for dashing the hopes of crores of Indians, who thought they are going to bring a really different kind of politics. When people came to AAP, they didn’t think they were coming to yet another political shop. They thought they were coming to a temple; that’s how ordinary people reposed their trust and faith in AAP only to discover that it was just another shop. AAP has eroded people’s confidence in the possibility of an alternative