Senior Congress leader Ajay Maken, who recently wrote to the Lieutenant-Governor regarding an alleged ₹171-crore makeover of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s official residence, says the buck stops with the CM. On forming a united opposition to take on the BJP, he says that AAP has only dented Congress’ prospects while helping the BJP. Excerpts from an interview
You wrote to the Lieutenant-Governor raising various issues in the renovation of the CM house. Whom do you hold responsible?
First of all, Delhi does not have a Chief Minister’s bungalow. So, when they call it a CM bungalow, they are wrong. Former CM [late] Sheila Dikshit lived in the bungalow, which, till recently, was occupied by former Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia. Subsequently, she moved to the bungalow now allotted to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. That so much money has been spent on the AAP leader’s residence is, I feel, unethical.
Secondly, I have been the Union Urban Development Minister and all these bungalows used to come under my jurisdiction. I can tell you that any construction in the house has to be normally approved by the allottee. Even if there is a change of curtains, furniture or colour scheme, the allottee has to approve it. So, the renovation could not have happened without Mr. Kejriwal’s concurrence. This is a man who, before entering politics, swore in an affidavit that he would refuse a large bungalow and instead live in an ordinary house like the average person.
It was you, not the Delhi Congress, which brought the figure of ₹171 crore to light, overshadowing the claims by the BJP on the issue. Do you think there is a problem with how the party’s State unit takes on AAP?
There is confusion which started way back in 2014 when Congress supported AAP. That confusion still weakens the party. I believe the decision to support them was wrong. I am more vocal now. Things would have been different if I had been as vocal then. Only the BJP benefited [from the support] and the Congress lost. After that also, confusing signals have been given. Advocates from the Congress party, occupying senior positions, have appeared for AAP in the court. It confuses the electorate. The time has come for me to speak against AAP because I believe they are the B team of the BJP, and we should not show any softness for Kejriwal or be seen supporting him.
In the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha election, there is talk of a united opposition to fight the BJP. How will this alliance be formed if you attack AAP?
An alliance with AAP will only strengthen the BJP. In Gujarat, the BJP gained just 3% of votes but gained 31% in the number of seats. It was possible only because AAP increased the BJP’s vote share. AAP is working only in tribal areas in Gujarat because the Congress has been powerful there. Similar things happened in Delhi and Punjab. AAP is helping the BJP win by denting the Congress.
We have to be very careful with choosing our alliance partners. Those in the Opposition should realise that a strong national party is needed to counter the BJP. You can’t have small parties come together to take on the BJP. That has not worked in the past, as we saw in 1977 when Congress came back stronger.
Regional parties must support a powerful national party like the Congress. But if you start weakening the national party, you will reach nowhere. Only the Congress is strong enough to take on the BJP ideologically. AAP is an ideologically confused party. The Congress can’t afford to be seen with them.