Arvind Kejriwal, in conversation with Gargi Parsai and Mohammad Ali, reflects on his transition from activist to leader, and the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party

From being an ‘irritant’ to major political parties, the Aam Aadmi Party has catapulted itself into a frontline party in a dream debut, winning 28 of the 70 Assembly seats in Delhi. The party has decided to sit in opposition and is confident of winning a majority in case there is a re-election. AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, 44, spoke to The Hindu in an exclusive interview at his home in Ghaziabad, the first he gave to any publication after the Delhi election results were made known. Excerpts are below:

What is your next move?

We will encourage the BJP and the Congress to form the government together and we will sit in opposition. These two big parties are known to indulge in corruption as partners. So, why not come out openly this time and form a government together?

By opting to sit in opposition in Delhi, are you shying away from the task of delivering on your ideals?

This is BJP-Congress propaganda. If the people felt that way, they would not have given us 28 seats. We did not get a full majority, so how can we govern? The day we get [that], we will govern. Governing is not rocket science.

Your colleague Prashant Bhushan suggested that the AAP could lend “issue-based” outside support to the BJP.

There is no question of that. It was his personal opinion, in response to a hypothetical question [that he was] asked. He has since clarified that the AAP will sit in opposition rather than support either the BJP or the Congress.

Do you think the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, had any impact on these polls?

No, not in these Assembly elections.

If there is a re-poll in Delhi, how do you rate your chances?

The AAP will come back, with double [the] strength.

If there were to be a fractured mandate again?

No, there won’t be. It will be a fight between the AAP and the BJP.

You termed this a historic mandate.

Not a historic ‘mandate’ but a historic ‘event’. I said that because the stalwarts of these two big political parties were defeated by a party which was making a debut, and by people who were not known. We had no resources, no money, only the strength of our honesty. This election was about truth versus corruption. For the first time people were talking about honesty in elections, rather than corruption, muscle and money power.

Are you ready to take on a bigger role? Is there space for a non-Congress, non-BJP third front… like the AAP?

We are the first front, not the third front… There is a huge vacuum in the country for honest politics. People are fed up and it has become impossible for the aam aadmi to survive.

In such a scenario, merely grabbing political power does not bring solutions. You cannot provide good governance through the present system. You have to change the system for a changing polity, and for that you have to bring in political decentralisation and transparency. That is our ideology.

We have no illusions about our being a big force; we are not. But we are sure if all small people of the country come together they can challenge big forces. The people of Delhi have shown the way. Only the aam aadmi can save the country.

Do you plan to contest all the Lok Sabha seats [in 2014]?

No. We will contest a few seats. We do have units in 22 States and 309 districts, but are yet to decide on how many seats we will contest. We have formed a sub-committee under Yogendra Yadav to identify the right people.

In a scenario of cynicism and despondency, the people of Delhi have given hope to the rest of the country. For the AAP is not a party, but a political process. We have invited everybody who wants honest politics and is getting suffocated in the mainstream parties, to join hands.

Were you expecting these results? Your own survey showed you will get above 40 [seats].

While the polling was on, a news channel came up with an exit poll showing that the AAP would get only five or six seats. After that over one lakh votes were cast. Apart from that, we lost seven to eight seats because of a torch symbol being mixed up with the AAP symbol of broomstick.

Do you see the AAP’s win as a vote against the Congress?

It is a vote against the corruption of both the Congress and the BJP. Neither could retain their previous vote share.

Were you confident about defeating a stalwart, three-time Chief Minister Sheila Diskhit?

It was not my confidence, it was my conviction, that we have to remove corruption. Whether I lost or won was immaterial. I am not here to make a career out of politics. If it were so, I would have looked for a safe seat. I contested against Sheila because the BJP was not doing it. There is a secret deal always between both the mainstream parties, not to put up strong candidates against stalwarts.

The victory margin of about 26,000 showed the intensity of people’s anger. Otherwise, had the people been happy, would they have voted for me? This anger was expressed during Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement and again through the ballot.

If you come to power, will you prosecute Sheila Dikshit if she is found involved in scams?

It is not the AAP but a Lokpal that will investigate and take action if she is involved.

What were your areas of weakness?

I need to assess the AAP’s performance in the Muslim-dominated areas. It seems the rural regions predominantly voted BJP. Our feedback is that the rural areas did not expect us to win more than six seats. They were angry with Sheila Dikshit, so they went with the BJP. Now they are coming back to us.

You want the Jan Lokpal Bill while the Central government is looking at its version of the Lokpal Bill. How do you reconcile the two?

The Government wants to bring a ‘Jokepal’ bill. People will reconcile both the bills at the ballot.

Anna Hazare said the AAP would have formed the government in Delhi had he campaigned for it?

I agree. Then why was he not with us?

Will you join Mr. Hazare in his fast for the Jan Lokpal Bill at Ralegan Siddhi since you both want that?

Yes, I will, as a worker.

Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar has criticisd the emergence of jhola-wallahs as power-centres because the Congress leadership is weak and indecisive.

The time for Mercedes-wallahs is over. It is time for jhola-wallahs to rule.

Do you feel you will always be under a scanner? There are high expectations from your party.

I agree. It puts a huge responsibility on us. We are doing our karma. The fruits are not in our hands. Sometimes, we are scared that if unwittingly we err, history will not forgive us.

(Emails: gargi.parsai@thehindu.co.in; md.ali@thehindu.co.in)

Correction

The article has been edited to incorporate the following correction:

In the Op-Ed page interview, ‘If unwittingly we err, history will not forgive us’ (Dec. 12, 2013), the second question — By opting to sit in opposition in Delhi, are you shying away from the task of delivering on your ideals? — and the answer to it, got merged in the answer to the first question. It was an editing error.