With the AAP government in Delhi observing its first anniversary, there is no let-up in the war of words between the Delhi CM and the BJP. Leaders of the ruling party at the Centre accuse him of being a publicity-seeker in targeting the PM, but Arvind Kejriwal says he is convinced the PMO is behind the obstacles his government has been facing. In an interview with Mihir Srivastava and Bhasha Singh, he says the PM and he have not spoken since August 2015. Excerpts:
How would you rate your government’s performance?
10 out of 10. Actually ask Modi this question (Laughs). But on a more serious note…compared to other state governments, extraordinary work has been done. But if we had the support of the central government, or even if they didn’t support, at least obstruction na hota, then much more could have been achieved. Lot of energy goes into this constant tussle.
Has this been the biggest factor slowing you down ?
I met Modi ji in August. I got the appointment with great difficulty. I told him we are new in politics. If you feel we are committing mistake, tell us. Hum un galtiyo ko sudharenge. But this constant obstacles, this shouldn’t happen. I offered to implement all his programmes in Delhi—Swachha Bharat, Skill India—and offered to give him the credit for it. ‘I’m not asking you for money or land. I’m asking only one thing: please allow us to work. Please stop this constant tussle’ is what I pleaded.
For how long had you been seeking an appointment with the PM ?
The PM didn’t give time for two months despite constant persuasion. Then, I started speaking to the media: please give us time. I (finally) got time in August, since then koi baat-cheet nahin hui hai ( we have had no talk at all).
BJP keeps talking about cooperative federalism, especially Mr Arun Jaitley has been talking about it. What does that phrase mean to you?
It’s complete sham. Bewakuf bana rahen hai sari duniya ko. Our biggest achievement of 49 days government was, people say: rishwatkhori band ho gayi. We achieved this because we had an Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB). We would arrest the corrupt and put them behind bars. When we formed government for the second time last year, we functioned in the same manner for the first few months. But on 8th June, central government paramilitary force bheja kar humari ACB par kabja kar liya. Is this cooperative federalism?
The circle rate for agriculture land was very low. We increased the rate from Rs 54 lakh per acre to Rupees three-four crore per acre. Farmers were happy, but their happiness was short lived, as within days the LG declared my orders null and void. If I transfer someone, or take action against a corrupt officer, the central government declares my order null and void. There are 30 such orders which have been declared null and void. Is this cooperative federalism?
Do you think this is a build up to dismiss your government ?
That is what I have been told. I keep hearing these rumours.
You tweeted about it. it’s a serious charge. Can you substantiate it ?
No, Vaha se koi nahin. There is nothing from them, it’s people like you who keep telling me this.
One hears these rumours that you have had to sit next to the NSA Mr Doval at Rashtrapati Bhawan and some signals were being sent to you...
No, no. no. He was sitting 4 or 5 chairs away.
Do you think current popularity of you and your government is the same as when you were elected?
Much, much more.
So if you have elections tomorrow you will win all 70 seats ?
Unki teen bhi nahin aayegi (They will not win even three).
Why do you think BJP is pursuing confrontation with you ? Surely it does not suit them politically ?
There is no answer. Other than vengeance, there is no answer. It doesn’t make political sense, it doesn’t make any logical sense. It doesn’t make any sense. Everyone says that, I have met many (union) cabinet ministers, who say: Tumhara naam aate hi vo pagal ho jatey hain (As soon as he (PM) hears your name, he gets upset)
It’s the Prime Minister who’s angry with you, no one else?
It’s the PMO, especially Nripendra Mishra ( Principal Secretary to the PM) who’s masterminding the entire operation.
That is a serious thing to say
I have said it many times.
BJP says you have cease to be an aam adami , that you have become a khas aadmi and only attack the Prime Minister and no one else...
That’s not true. We have reduced the price of electricity. I talk of water, government hospitals and free medicines, about education. Yeh aam adami ki baat hai.
They say you’re always in an agitation mode. What’s the way forward?
They have to answer that question. What is our mistake? I asked the Prime Minister what my fault is. The ACB was taken away with the help of paramilitary force. This is akin to murder of democracy. If I speak, that is wrong. You go and wish Nawaj Sharif happy birthday and attack me. Am I worse than Pakistan?
In your first term, FIR was registered against Mukesh Ambani, two former petroleum ministers, and your predecessor Sheila DIkshit... What happened?
Last time (first term as CM), we filed FIR and soon thereafter the government fell. In one year of President’s Rule no action was taken in those four cases. Sheila Dikshit aur Mukesh Ambani ki sari file daba di en logo ne. When we formed the government, we started summoning them. One of the Reliance CEOs was summoned. We were active in all the cases. But on June 8 ACB was taken over, all cases were buried.
Corruption is an important issue. What is the alternative before your government?
As far as departments within Delhi government are concerned, corruption is under check because we can deal with them through the vigilance department. But Delhi Police, NDMC, DDA, MCD were under ACB. Now rampant corruption is going on in these bodies because they’re not under me.
Are you suggesting that while you want to weed out corruption, the central government is in favour of the corrupt ?
Certainly. Okay you took away ACB from me. At least, you do something. In the first three months, when ACB was with me, we sent 52 corrupt officers to jail. Since they took over on 8 June, only 8 FIR have been registered so far, I am told.
But the Prime Minister does enjoy this reputation of having brought down corruption?
He’s a great PR man, great showman.
What is sustaining it?
Vo jada din chalta nahin hai. They are losing assembly elections, one after the other. Vo bolte bahut hain. Man ki baat jada kartey hai, kaam ki baat nahin karte.
One keeps hearing these rumours that after Punjab elections you’ll make way for Manish Sisodia in Delhi.
These are all rumours.
What are your chances in Punjab?
We are winning Punjab. Very senior journalists have told me that Punjab will be a repeat of Delhi.
Despite your fight with the Centre?
Janta is not affected by this fight. And I am not fighting with Modi for my property. Yeh to janta ki ladai hai, janta ke muddo par lar raha hu mai. If you go amongst people, they say: Prime Minister Kejriwal ko kaam karne nahi de rahe hain.
Though Mr Modi might not be happy with you, what is your equation with other ministers in the union cabinet?
Since the CBI raid in my office, I’m told union ministers have been instructed not to even interact with us.
But you are interacting regularly with the union ministers
Mai tu sabke pass jata hoon. All of them privately say that since we have the mandate of the people, we should be allowed to work.
If Punjab goes the way you predict, you will become a national figure?
That’s not important for me. I don’t even think on those terms. For us governance is most important.
You played an active role in Bihar elections.
Han, sab pirit atma sath ho rahi hain ( Yes, all distressed souls are getting together) (laughs).
In the process you have knocked out Rahul Gandhi. Now it’s Modi vs Kejriwal—nationally ?
All those things are really not important for us.
You’re a human being with ambitions, I’m sure!
No. I find greatest source of satisfaction by doing good work. I am not Napoleon—ghora le kar nikale hai sari duniya ko jeetne. When odd-even was introduced, we kept our fingers crossed, were ready to withdraw in a couple of days, in case of chaos. But on the very first morning, information started coming that people were cooperating.
That’s why I ask. Nationally, people think here’s a man who can think out of the box. You can push those thoughts even if they’re unpopular.
Janta is not telling me that.
Congress is more scared of you than BJP. You have usurped their support base. If you get on the national stage, you will pose an existential crisis for the Congress party...
What can I say about it (laughs). Unko dar to hai.
Why do you seem to suggest that the PM is responsible for everything?
Vo kar rahe hai. Vo zimedaar hai. Roj tang kar rahe hai. I meet his ministers, they say we don’t know anything, PMO kar raha hai. What I’m telling you is not part of a strategy or that I’m positioning myself. These are facts that I know.
There must be some thinking about it in the BJP...
BJP is not happy about it. Senior BJP leaders were not happy about the CBI raid in my office. It was only and only PM’s decision. It is unprecedented that without any preliminary enquiry the CBI raided a chief minister’s office. They took away my cabinet notes. What has that to do with Rajender Kumar? They took away my telephone diary.
Do you think they’re bugging your office?
It could be, I don’t know. Kar ke bhi kya karenge, we’re very unpredictable people. We discuss something, something else happens (laughs). Ho skata hai. Everything is possible.
Are you afraid of it?
I have great faith in God. Hum chote log thai, pata nahin yaha kaise pahunch gaye. Agar aap niswartha bhav se sach ke raste par chalte hai, tu adrishya shakti aap ka support karti hai. Our bank account is empty. We have no people.
How much balance do you have in your bank account?
Negative hai. We have loans worth a few lakhs. Have you ever heard that any ruling party’s bank account is empty? Just a hint to the PWD department that one percent should go to the party account, and by evening Rupees 500 crores will come. But that’s not what we do. Humain imandari ka paisa chehiye. We don’t have money or men, but are driven by conviction. And we are ready to make sacrifices.
You’re talking like a yogi..
It’s true. Real strength comes from spiritualism. The strength doesn’t come from these conspiracies. Inhone humey barbad karne ki koi kasar nahin chori, ye humey barbad karney ki koi kasar bhi nahin chorenge. Hum zinda hai to usi aadhyatma se hai (we are alive because of the spiritualism). We are sane because of spiritualism.
Do You see conspiracy in everything ? Arun Jaitley’s sympathisers say that…
There is so much documentary evidence in the DDCA case. Kirti Azad has presented those evidences. A file concerning the setting up of the Commission of Inquiry was lying in the room. I was in touch with my staff here. They (the CBI team) were leafing through the file on the commission.
Has there been pressure on you in DDCA case?
Kisi ki himmat nahin jo pressure dal de mujhpe. Nobody even attempts, they fear yeh bahar ja kar bol dega.
How do you think the case is going?
There’s a Commission of Inquiry. Gopal (Subramaniam) has agreed but he hasn’t started the work as yet. There are cases in the court. Cricket in Delhi is suffering, DDCA is in a mess.
How many cases are you facing?
23 or 22 of them against me personally.
Are they all defamation cases?
Many of them are defamation cases. There are also several cases pertaining to the days of agitation ( by India Against Corruption) .
So many of your ministers are repeatedly stung by cameras, caught on camera. How does it affect you?
Which case? In yesterday’s case, Imran (Hussain), the minister is not there. There are two actors, one of whom is telling the other, he would get the work done if he were paid some amount. The minister hasn’t met them, the minister doesn’t know them; they are completely unknown faces. If I make you sit and say Modi will take 40 lakh Rupees, 20 lakh Modi would take and Rs 20 lakh will be for me, is ka matlab Modi Jib hi corrupt ho gaye ! Absurd!
I’m not talking of the veracity. I am saying that when you came to power you mentioned installing CCTV. Encouraging people to do sting operations. Do you think that is a healthy thing for you to do?
Of course. CCTV will ensure greater security in Delhi, especially for women.
Do you not think it’s an attack on personal liberty?
You are doing it on streets. Nobody does personal work on the streets. Bedroom mai CCTV nahin lagaya.
That’s the next step, somebody wants to do a sting may enter the bedroom also...
Why? We are saying if somebody demands bribe, sting him, so that we can take action. We are not saying kisi ke ghar mai ja kar lagao. Vo to galat hai. If somebody is asking you money, there’s nothing personal about it.
You went to Hyderabad after Rohith (Vemula) suicide, you were the first politician to go. Why did you go?
Because injustice happened, that’s why I went. Dalit ke sath hoga to jayenge, Muslaman ke sath hoga to jayenge, Hindu ke sath hoga to bhi jayenge. Christian ke sath hoga to jayenge.
When you won 67 out of 70 seats, it’s not just the lower classes who voted for you, the middle class and the upper class also voted for you. They are looking for some signals. What are the signals they should receive from you?
Good governance. Odd-even was to decongest traffic. We are bringing 3,000 new buses in Delhi by the end of the year. We are going to have elevated BRT corridor—that’ll be dedicated only for buses. Ease of doing business measures...
Finally, you have had such a difficult time with the central government. How will you sustain for next four years in this confrontation mode ?
We will try our best to explain to them that what they are doing is wrong. I will remind them that before the election the Prime Minister had announced that Delhi would get the status of a full-state. It was written in BJP’s manifesto. If they don’t cooperate, then we have no choice. Hum larte rahenge, hum larte rahege.
But do you think this kind of functioning is sustainable over the next four years?
Why not? Humara to kam chal raha hai, acha chal raha hai. Janta has no problem.
A shorter, edited version of this appears in print