Edited Excerpts from an Interview
What’s your reaction to AAP’s stunning electoral debut in Delhi? Has it upset the BJP’s applecart?
India is the world’s largest democracy and everybody has the right to form a political party. If a new party such as AAP comes into the political system, it is most welcome. But AAP didn’t get a clear mandate; it was No. 2 in Delhi. However, I congratulate its leaders for whatever they have achieved. At the same time, I feel that it is too early for the media to say that AAP is turning into a national phenomenon. Politics of populism, like saying yes to everything and anything, is not going to help the country. What the country needs is progress.
At the same time, you learn from every political party, big or small. But then again, in the case of AAP, it is not doing anything new or propagating new ideas. It is following a policy of populism. Its leaders say one thing today and another tomorrow. It doesn’t have a proper ideology. To be a political force on a national scale, you need to have an ideology, you need to have viewpoints on national security, foreign policy, defence, etc. AAP leaders don’t seem to look beyond their single-point focus on corruption.
But AAP did win a large share of the votes in Delhi and the party seems to be riding a national wave. Do you think it will be a threat to mainstream national parties?
I don’t think that it’s fair to compare AAP with parties such as the Congress and the BJP. If you look at the BJP’s track record, we have done well in states such as Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and even Himachal Pradesh. We have provided a good governance model, which has then been applied to other states, whereas AAP has just come to power riding a wave of populist measures. Its idea is to give everything for free.
What is the difference between Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal? Both are following the same political principles. In the name of the aam aadmi, they take money from the government kitty and pump it into subsidies. This money should be spent on growth and welfare schemes. Unfortunately, it is being spent on subsidies, just for votes. Do we need or want these kind of polices? We need job creation like Atal Bihari Vajpayee did during his term. There was development in sectors such as education, highways, ports and airports.
Had AAP not been there, the BJP would have easily formed the government in Delhi. You lost part of the anti-Congress vote to AAP. Do you fear that it will be the same situation at the national level?
AAP has taken a bite of the anti-incumbency pie. And that’s what the Congress is also banking on, that AAP will continue to split the vote share, giving the former an advantage. At a national level, we will have to see how much share of the vote they will eat. Having said that, the media should not overplay AAP and whatever it has achieved. Media channels are showing that Arvind Kejriwal has 23 percent popularity, but let’s not forget that Mr Modi has 58 percent; there is no comparison.
But AAP’s approach to politics is being seen as a breath of fresh air and many activists and senior journalists are queuing up to join the party. Does that concern you?
What has AAP delivered? It has not come out with any new ideas on how to cut electricity bills with a more effective model of operations; rather, it has just pushed the country into anarchy. It is talking about giving 700 litres of free water. Fair enough. But if you look at Delhi, 30 percent of the population lives in unauthorised colonies and 15 percent in jhuggis and slums. Those 45 percent are still waiting for a tap connection and regular water supply. The priority should have been to lay down pipelines and give them a water connection, create the infrastructure and have a more effective system rather than giving subsidies.
The country needs to have a better governance model than one that depends on freebies.
Let AAP first perform at the state level, showcase its abilities, because only talk cannot change things. The country needs a strong leader who understands how the grassroots function, who has been successful at a state level, who have been in charge of a national party. Only Mr Modi has that kind of experience. You can’t run a government like Rahul Gandhi wants, by giving things for free. The educated youth want jobs, not freebies.
The Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha has launched a number of outreach programmes. Were they done to counter AAP?
Door-to-door campaigns, distributing slips — the BJP has been doing these things for ages. The AAP movement started with a single agenda: anti-corruption. The party doesn’t have an ideology or policy on governance. Starting and running a movement is very different from running a government. We believe in new politics and the time has come for youth to play a big role. In this new political era, there are three important factors — education, employment and empowerment.
To further our youth model, the BJYM started a national membership drive in which we enrolled 8 million members. To further the need for education, on Atalji’s birthday, we started the Aao School Chale Hum programme, which is an endeavour to achieve 100 percent literacy by 2022. Through this programme, we have targeted the slums for creating awareness. We reached out to 1,070 places and more than 1.75 lakh students. We have also tried to use sports to build political awareness through the Khelega Yuva, Jeetega Bharat programme, in which we have organised sporting events in 300 districts with 5,000 teams participating. Along with sports, we have emphasised on the need for the youth to vote, because they can bring about change in the political system only if they vote.
Our latest programme is the creation of BJYM Campus Ambassadors. In just four days, we received more than 4,000 applications and we are trying to reach out to 523 universities and 12,000 colleges. The role of these ambassadors is to create awareness among the youth about voter registration and the need to vote, to be part of Mr Modi’s campaign, create awareness about NDA’s good governance and policies, and most importantly, to take their feedback to help us form a youth policy and define the youth’s role in shaping the country’s future.