The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will be contesting the Uttar Pradesh civic body and panchayat elections this year and the assembly polls due in 2022 on its own. Buoyed by past success in UP civic body and panchayat polls, and the recent polls in Gujarat, it believes there is now a wide acceptance for the model of governance it has demonstrated in Delhi.
Senior party leader and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh, in an interview with The Wire’s Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar, spoke about how the party is “entering UP politics with a new ideology, thought process and model.” He said the way the party was gaining popularity across the country and people were appreciating its work shows that it has immense potential in UP as well.
Noting how “BJP went from 45 seats to 325 seats in the UP assembly’, Singh said, “In politics people can make anyone hero from zero or reduce them from hero to zero.”
Here is the English translation of the full interview:
In December 2020, Aam Aadmi Party convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that the party would be contesting the 2022 UP assembly elections. How did the party reach this decision. Was it aided by the fact that the ongoing farmers’ protest is receiving a lot of support and is seen as a movement against the ruling government?
We should look at it in three parts. In 2017, elections to the municipal corporations, councils and panchayats were held in Uttar Pradesh and AAP had contested those elections, though we did not have such an organisational structure then. Despite that we won nearly 50 seats and in two places our candidates had won the post of chairman – which is through a direct contest. That marked the start of our successful journey.
Secondly, over the last one year, in a very organised and planned manner, we have gone to every district to set up the organisational structure, raised every issue with great seriousness, organised street protests through our frontal organisations. The main wing of the party organised protests on issues such as unemployment, law and order situation, corruption, scam in COVID management and appointments in government jobs. For up to three years, people have not received their appointment letters despite being declared ‘selected’. This is the kind of situation for the youth in UP.
There’s a long list of heinous crimes related to atrocity and caste, be it the Hathras incident, Lakhimpur Keri, Jaunpur or that of Kanpur rural.
In Gorakhpur, which is chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s home district, daughters of brick-kiln workers were raped. This is the condition of UP today.
So AAP did the job of raising these issues. And when the farmers’ agitation took place, from the first day, our leader Arvind Kejriwal said all of our MPs, MLAs, workers and ministers will support the farmers. We also raised the issue strongly in parliament and in the recently held kisan mahapanchayat in Meerut, which was very well attended, and a strong message went out to the whole state.
We have not taken the decision suddenly. Instead, after putting in a lot of hard work, we have decided to contest the zila panchayat (municipal and panchayat polls) and the assembly elections. This is part of a well thought out strategy on the basis of our efforts, and considering the way the organisation has expanded and people have joined the party.
You had stated that in all the 75 districts, the party has developed an organisational structure and it would be covering every booth by March 2021. Has that happened?
Right now we have set up all the district units and their frontal organisations. At the assembly level, we have constituted all the committees of the main wing. At the block level too our committees have been constituted. At the booth level, we have not been able to create the organisation 100% because we felt the zila panchayat elections would get over earlier and during this time we would create our units at every booth level. But the elections got delayed, and now we expect these to be held by May, so I am confident that by April-end, we will have the booth level committees in place.
You hail from Sultanpur in Uttar Pradesh. The state has its own issues and problems. It has a very large population. It was said you will carry the Delhi model to the state. Will you go with the Delhi model or will you present a separate model for Uttar Pradesh?
The schools in the state are in a pathetic condition. In many of them, we have seen cattle, pigs and sheep are being kept. Schools do not even have jute or cloth pieces for children to sit on. When Delhi education minister Manish Sisodia had gone to visit the schools, he was prevented by the police from doing so. These schools are not the private property of someone, they have been built with the taxpayers’ money.
In mid-day meal, children are being served salt and roti (bread). In the name of milk, a litre of milk is poured into a bucket of water and then served. The education system in UP is in such a poor state.
The hospitals too are suffering from neglect. Recently, television news channels showed dogs lying on the beds at a women’s surgical ward in Moradabad and sitting on the doctor’s chair in Hardoi.
In Delhi we do not have law and order with us. Yet we installed CCTV cameras, worked on removing dark spots (by installing lights) or provided free bus travel to women to deal with issues related to their safety.
In UP today, numerous cases of rape of minors are being reported. So we can improve the law and order situation in the state.
The problems of sugarcane farmers are also huge. There are 48 lakh sugarcane farmers in the state – from Deoria to Bareilly, Siddharth Nagar, Basti, Khalilabad and western UP areas like Meerut, Baghpat, Shamli or Muzaffarnagar. This entire area is the sugar belt. The government owes the farmers Rs 18,000 crore.
Then there is the order of the Supreme Court which says they should be made the payment within 14 days or else paid interest on their dues. The Sugarcane Act also calls for payment within 14 days and as yet, the farmers have to attach copies of their wife’s cancer report to claim the money. Despite that many a times, they do not get their dues.
So we would like to make the payment to the farmers before they reach their homes from the mills.
The power rates have risen three times. Farmers spend up to Rs 25,000 on running a tubewell. In Delhi, we are providing free power up to 200 units. We will also implement the same model in UP. Why can’t people in UP get free power, good education or mohalla clinics or good hospitals. Because this government’s intention is not to work for the people.
BJP says Delhi is a small state. But then its budget is also less. UP is a big state, its budget is Rs 5.5 lakh crore. Delhi’s budget is Rs 60,000 crore. It was Rs 30,000 crore when we came to power in 2013.
The big budget is, however, being squandered off through corruption, we will use it effectively for the people.
So to say that UP is a big state and we cannot implement Delhi’s model over there is not correct. We can implement the Delhi model with 100% success.
When it comes to employment, in Delhi, we do not have direct services with us. Still we gave jobs to lakhs of youth. Therefore, be the issue of employment, women’s security, better law and order, education, health, water or electricity, we can provide all these basic amenities through the Delhi model.
Because of the farmers’ agitation, many feel the ground has been prepared or sentiment created against the BJP. A large number of farmers have come out against the party. On the other hand, BJP wants to show the agitation restricted to a section of the Jat population in UP. There are a number of parties in UP that would like to make use of this. Would you like to ally with any of these parties? In Haryana you attempted an alliance with Jannayak Janta Party (JJP), but in the end the pact did not materialise. What is the strategy for UP?
There are two ways to look at this. In UP all the big parties have been in power at some point of time – be it Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Congress or Bharatiya Janata Party. Even Rashtriya Lok Dal has been in government in an alliance.
AAP is entering UP politics with a new ideology, thought process and model. I believe that the way AAP is gaining acceptance across the country is commendable. We did not expect that in Gujarat we will do so well in the municipal elections. We have emerged as the biggest opposition in Surat corporation. Across the country people are appreciating our model of governance.
BJP went from 45 seats to 325 seats in the UP assembly. Irrespective of what game they played, what this shows is in politics people can make anyone hero from zero or reduce them to zero from hero, which is only decided by time. We are working hard among the people of UP and are presenting before them our model of governance, which is a tried and tested one. It is not that we are only showing them a dream, but it is dream which has been accomplished by Kejriwal.
There are governments which only speak about what they will do. Here is the model of Kejriwal and Sisodia, which representatives from abroad appreciate when they come to Delhi. The New York Times discussed Delhi’s mohalla clinics and education model. Earlier people said, ‘learn from America’, now they say, ‘learn from Kejriwal’. [The Wire could not ascertain which article on the New York Times Singh was referring to.]
So we need to take this model to the people and convince them that they have been cheated, beaten with lathis, robbed of jobs and only thrown into jails with cases piled on them. We have to convince them that we are a party which can change the face of UP. If we are able to convince them with this, then we will get major success in UP.
You have seen UP’s politics. When it comes to Dalits, a large number of them support Mayawati’s BSP. Even though it lost in 2017, it still had a 22% vote share. Similarly, Samajwadi Party has a strong hold among Muslims and Yadavs. It too got 28% votes in the last polls. BJP won over 300 seats by getting a nearly 43% vote share. People stay loyal to parties. In Delhi, AAP swept the 2015 polls after Dalits and Muslims swung towards the party. But to take people away from Congress is one thing, and to woo them away from SP and BSP – as in UP – is completely another. How do you intend to do that?
The politics you are talking about – I can say with all honesty that we are very poor at that. But we are Sachin Tendulkar in the politics we are talking about. Our politics is of development, education, health, employment, women’s safety, and of changes in the lives of the farmers and people. But what we speak about is not their model.
In Punjab too, where we got 24% votes in the last election, that was not on the basis of caste or religion. Similarly, in Delhi, the mandate we got was not based on these issues. We should remember Kejriwal is the first chief minister of India who said ‘if we do not work for five years, do not vote for us’.
It is only AAP which can seek vote on the basis of work with such conviction. We do not have to get into their model. We do not have to get into that argument or calculation. We have to speak about how we can convert Uttar Pradesh into ‘uttam’ (ultimate) Pradesh (state).
We do not want to get into the political alliances and the related intricacies.
There are related issues, like the atrocities on Dalits, attacks on Muslims, the rise of communal politics. So when people vote, apart from issues of women security, they also vote for security in general. They don’t want riots.
While speaking about this one would have to be very fair. In UP, since Adityanath came to power, we are the first party to come out and say that we want a government that works for 24 crore people – not for any particular caste or religion. We have raised issues of atrocities on Dalits, backward classes and minorities. It is essential to hurt BJP’s thinking if they are discriminating on the basis of religion or caste or oppressing a particular section of society.
In the Ram Temple puja, the prime minister, the governor and the chief minister of UP participated but the president of India did not. What was the reason? So for your politics of vote, you can make a Dalit the president of the country but not have him sit with you in a puja. This is their mentality.
During the Central Vista Project too, the head of the Indian State, the president, was not invited for the prayer programme. There have been incidents in Balia, Hathras and elsewhere related to Dalits – everywhere we spoke openly. We are in opposition and we will continue to raise these issues.
And wherever we are in power, as in Delhi, we do not indulge in such politics of caste or religion.
Critics of AAP say that whenever a crucial issue comes up, it takes a soft stand, it does not stand with the people who voted for it. This is a serious allegation, which also comes from various social organisations.
This is not the case. Wherever a situation arose where our intervention was needed as a political party, we always raised questions. We have also raised issues pertaining to the country’s security and farmers. We were asked to provide stadiums for making jails, but Kejriwal clearly refused. The Centre did not want us to allow the farmers’ agitation at the borders, but Kejriwal supported the farmers.
People said when a large number of innocent people were arrested following the incidents of January 26, the Kejriwal government did not come to their aid…
To the contrary, we are being criticised – that Kejriwal came forward to say that the attack on Red Fort was not carried out by the farmers, but by the BJP. It was a conspiracy hatched by the BJP. I also spoke about it in parliament. In the kisan mahapanchayat too Kejriwal said farmers could not attack Red Fort, it was a conspiracy by the BJP. Now there are a lot of things in which we cannot take a direct decision. But we can raise our voice around these issues. And we do not back out on such issues.