‘It is so difficult to predict the country’s future. I can assure the people that we will stand by our principles’
With less than two weeks to elections in Varanasi, the Aam Aadmi Party has turned the fight between Arvind Kejriwal and Narendra Modi into a David versus Goliath duel. While Mr. Modi filed his nomination papers and left after leading a roadshow, Mr. Kejriwal has stayed behind, addressing multiple election sabhas. In the past few days, more and more people have turned up at his public meetings. His workers have been subject to violent attacks by BJP supporters. But on the ground, Mr. Kejriwal continues to gain support, many say, because of his dogged persistence. From morning till late in the night, he addresses people, wearing his party’s cap and a half-sleeve shirt. He tells them he has no money to fight elections, and that every member in the audience should campaign for him and get him at least a hundred votes. He attacks both the BJP and the Congress, telling people that they are “two sides of the same coin.” With the temperature soaring in Varanasi, it is a challenge even to come out in the open in the intense heat. After every meeting, Mr. Kejriwal, with a stream of sweat trickling down his face, appears more and more tired. Inside his car, his wife, Sunita, offers him water and a small meal. Rahul Pandita caught up with Mr. Kejriwal between two public meetings in his car.
Why do you think attacks against your party workers in Varanasi have intensified in the past few days?
I think there have been two phases in the BJP’s strategy. First, they tried to scare me, to intimidate me. There were a series of attacks on me. When I didn’t budge, they started to harass my workers. Their plan is to terrorise our workers so that they run away. But our workers are of the mad variety. They are staying put. I think now it has gone further in the sense that the BJP goons are attacking the ordinary people of Kashi [Varanasi]. They are trying to create a fear psychosis. Outside a college, a group of people had worn our caps. The goons forcibly got them to remove these. They got very violent with the group.
If Mr. Modi is so confident of his victory, why are his goons attacking us?
If the BJP or the Congress comes to power, it will lead to a sharp increase in the cost of living
What do you think you are offering to the people of Varanasi that the BJP and the Congress are not?
It’s only the power of truth, I tell you. We have nothing else to offer. And that is so basic, so basic that every human being, irrespective of religion and caste — it touches everyone’s heart. How did we win Delhi? Just because of this power of truth. Because people see sincerity in us. If you speak to anyone among the audience in my election sabhas, he or she will say: this man is talking sense, we see honesty in him.
Many believe you are very obstinate.
I’m obstinate. I’m determined to root out corruption from this country.
The focus of the electoral campaign seems to have suddenly shifted to Robert Vadra versus Adani. Don’t you think the real issues affecting the people have taken a backseat?
That is what these people [the BJP and the Congress] are trying to do. Fifteen days before elections, the BJP suddenly remembered Robert Vadra. If the BJP is so sincere about [bringing] him [to book], why don’t they arrest him in Rajasthan? The Rajasthan government can arrest him tomorrow. Why aren’t they filing an FIR against him? I challenge the BJP to register an FIR against Robert Vadra in Rajasthan.
And if the Congress is so sincere, why doesn’t it take action against Narendra Modi in the Snoopgate case? The big thing is that in Varanasi, the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the BJP, all three together are making Narendra Modi win. He is not the BJP’s candidate. He is the joint candidate of the BJP, the Congress and the Samajwadi Party.
They thought I would run away, but I didn't. Now they are trying to create a fear psychosis
Why are you campaigning only in a few key constituencies apart from Varanasi? Key constituencies like Amethi. Why didn’t you, for example, campaign for Soni Sori in Bastar?
We had little time. There was Soni Sori, there was Javed Jaffrey, there was Muzaffar Bhat fighting against Farooq Abdullah. I should have gone everywhere, but there was no time.
Have you learnt any lesson from your Delhi experiment? You’ve said your decision to resign was a mistake.
No, I was misquoted. I said the decision was correct. The communication was wrong. That day, the Assembly session came to an end and I resigned in the evening. It was too shocking for the people. People could not understand. They could not digest what had happened. Like we held public meetings for days before we formed the government, similarly, we should have sought public opinion on quitting. The decision would have been the same but the people would have been in sync with us. Our communication strategy failed there.
The Aam Aadmi Party is being dubbed the new Left. Do you agree with that assessment?
No, no, we are not the Left. We are neither Left, nor Right. We are practical. If we find solutions in the Left, we will take it; if we get it from the Right, we will take it from there.
What role do you see yourself playing after the formation of a new government?
I think it is very difficult to predict. It is so difficult to predict the country’s future. All I can assure the people is that we will stand by our principles.
Keywords: Arvind Kejriwal, Arvind Kejriwal interview, Aam Aadmi Party, AAP, Lok Sabha elections 2014, Narendra Modi, Varanasi constituency, Congress, BJP, Delhi Assembly elections, AAP campaigns, campaign finance, corruption, assaults on AAP leaders, Kejriwal ink attack