NEW DELHI, India
Indian ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) hate campaign backfired in capital Delhi’s assembly elections last week, with voters spurning its divisive platform, according to a winning party official.
Voters gave a resounding victory to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which won 62 out of 70 seats. The victory secures another term in office for Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who had cobbled up members of civil society together six years ago to contest elections, making it a unique experiment in the world.
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Kejriwal’s key aide Jasmin Shah explains the reasons behind his party’s landslide victory in the wake of a high-pitched campaign by the rival BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the possibility of civil societies successfully taking to mighty conventional political forces.
Shah is the vice-chairman of Dialogue and Development Commission, the premier think-tank of AAP. He was also the main member of the committee that drafted the election manifesto for the party.
Anadolu Agency: Your party was perhaps the first experiment in the world when civil society members came together, jumped into electoral politics and even claimed power. Five years down the line, how AAP has mixed its civil society character with governance?
Jasmin Shah (JS): There were some student movements earlier. It is not that AAP was the only civil society entering into politics. But yes, we were the first ones to win.
Five years down the line, I can proudly say that we have largely retained our basic character and continue to work on the promises made in the first tenure. Our agenda remains the same, as it was when we came into power the first time only for 49 days.
Q: What leads your party to victory? Why did people vote for your party despite aggressive campaigning by the prime minister himself, his cabinet ministers and others in the BJP?
JS: We worked on a development narrative, focusing on all people-centric policies. People’s hope from us for better infrastructure, government services, and living conditions were fulfilled. On the other hand, BJP focused on polarization, they tried to build hatred. Their hate campaign backfired, which led to our victory.
A real nationalist is the one who aspires and works for the welfare of the people and the state and promotes development-driven politics. People of Delhi are real nationalists as they voted for development. AAP has redefined nationalism.
Development v/s polarization
Q: What would be the party’s major and first step in the next government?
JS: Our priority is improving public transport, with innovations and app-based buses. Another area of focus will be to work towards refining Delhi’s air quality.
We would continue to focus on the development model. We will continue to do what we have been doing, with an increased focus.
Q: Your primary buildup was on an anti-corruption movement. How much you succeeded in eradicating corruption in the metropolis of Delhi?
JS: Anti-corruption is a very complex structure. We won elections for the Lokpal Act, which is to set up a high-power accountability authority. We pressed upon to create an anti-corruption environment. We had set up helpline numbers asking people to highlight corruption-related issues. Our government, in its functioning, has shown commitment.
The result was, that we were remembered for our work in those 49 days. But then BJP came in 2015 and they took away the anti-corruption branch.
Q: As an alternative to traditional politics, AAP came up with great hope, but it failed to expand to other states. Why is it so?
JS: We came in with our Lokpal bill or anti-corruption bill, and the epicenter for this was Delhi. We have never really truly focused on other states yet. We a very new party and started as a regional party. We are still getting our grips and thus, our focus right now in Delhi and make it the model for other states. As you saw, the tide has turned and people are now in an anti-incumbency mode against the BJP. In Punjab, we are the principal opposition party.
Q: Money power is an important factor in the present-day parliamentary system of elections. What are your sources of funding, as we know that the crowdfunding system no longer exists in India for political parties?
JS: Who says crowdfunding does not exist? Most of our candidates including Atishi Marlena and others have raised money through crowd-funding. We have always held fundraising events. For a new party like us, revenue can become a problem but there has been generosity in terms of crowdfunding.
Revival of government schools
Q: Is it possible to eradicate corruption, without giving basic amenities and social security to people?
JS: Social security and corruption are not related. Corruption is a problem in high-places or among senior officials and people with money. What will a poor man do? Get himself out of a situation using a small ‘kundi’ (hack) connection? The problem is the whole culture of bribing and putting things at risk. That has to end.
Q: The revival of government schools has been a major achievement in Delhi. But why they are not yet able to catch middle-class children, who still compete for private schools?
JS: There is a general notion/mindset that you cannot get quality education in government schools, and this mindset has existed for ages. What is interesting is that this notion is now changing, what we have achieved in the last five years is unparalleled.
We have been working on providing infrastructure, incentives for teachers to get good training, and now even reworking on curriculums. These schools now come in among the top-rated schools in Delhi.
Q: The parliamentary system of election needs alliances and compromises. The AAP didn’t have much success in bringing together political forces. Can you survive in the political system, without joining hands with other political forces?
JS: We never really tried alliances. We are not looking to expand right now; the whole focus is towards achieving the targets we’ve set for ourselves. We will continue to work on education, health, and expanding public transport.