‘If BJP is determined to put democracy in jail, I’m determined to run democracy from jail’

INTERVIEW | Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi Chief Minister and AAP convener

Arvind Kejriwal | PTI Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal | Sanjay Ahlawat

On May 11, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal arrived at the  Aam Aadmi Party’s office in the  national capital to a roaring welcome by party leaders and workers. Just the previous evening, he had walked out of Tihar Jail after the Supreme Court granted him interim bail for 21 days in a case relating to his government’s now scrapped liquor policy. The party workers applauded each and every line he uttered that day. His speech, a no-holds-barred attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party, set the tone for his campaign for the Lok Sabha elections.

During the speech, a party worker said, “kal shaam aandhi aayi thi” (there was a storm last evening). Kejriwal could not hear him properly. Party workers then repeated the line in a chorus. He smiled broadly. A severe thunderstorm had hit Delhi the previous evening, the strong winds uprooting trees and causing flight delays and cancellations. But, the storm they were referring to was Kejriwal.

That very day, Kejriwal hit the ground running—out of jail, straight into electioneering. He has been at his aggressive best during his campaign, unflinching in his attack on Modi and the BJP. 

Amid the punishing campaign schedule, Kejriwal gave a detailed interview to THE WEEK. He exuded confidence that the INDIA bloc would form the next government by winning more than 300 seats. He said that while the focus of the INDIA parties was on issues such as unemployment and price rise, Modi had not even uttered these words.

Kejriwal spoke in detail about his time in jail, saying he was housed alone in a cell and that all his movements were monitored 24x7 through CCTV feed. He claimed the prime minister’s office, too, monitored the live stream. He said every attempt was made to break him psychologically and emotionally.

He described the AAP as the most persecuted political party in India’s history, and claimed that the sole purpose of the excise policy case was to arrest all the party leaders and crush the party.

On the allegations made by party colleague Swati Maliwal, MP, that she was beaten up by his aide Bibhav Kumar in the chief minister’s residence, he said it would not be appropriate for him to comment since the matter was sub judice. But, he said he expected the police to carry out a fair investigation.

About the scenario post June 4, he said he harboured no interest in becoming prime minister. Excerpts:

Q/ Is INDIA bloc forming the next government?

A/ INDIA alliance will win for three reasons. One, for the first time, we are seeing that the aam aadmi (common man) is saying PM Modi has become a tanashah(dictator). Opposition parties have been saying this, but in the run up to the elections, the country saw two elected chief ministers being arrested in fake cases, the Congress party’s accounts were frozen, Uddhav ji’s and Pawar ji’s parties were broken up and their names and party symbols stolen. People are witnessing democracy being systematically destroyed by the BJP. They have realised that if the BJP is not stopped, they will arrest all opposition leaders: Mamata didi, Stalin sahab, Tejashwi Yadav, Uddhav Thackeray, Sharad Pawar, Rahul Gandhi. We will become a one nation, one leader system.

Second, there is a widespread sentiment that the prime minister has no answers to issues afflicting the masses. Two issues on top of the mind for people are inflation and unemployment. The INDIA alliance has announced several programmes that directly address these concerns. But the prime minister does not even utter these words. He says Sharad Pawar is a bhatakti aatma (wandering soul), Uddhav Thackeray is a nakli santaan (fake heir), the Congress will steal your mangalsutra, your buffalo, etc. He recently claimed he did not have a biological birth but has descended from God. How can people trust such a person?

Third, the BJP is not fighting as a single cohesive unit. The BJP and the RSS are not campaigning together. [BJP president] Nadda ji has said he does not need the RSS. There is an ugly succession battle going on in the BJP right now. Next year, PM Modi will retire since he turns 75, and [Union Home Minister] Amit Shah will take his place. No other BJP leader is happy with this, so they are being sidelined one by one, like Vasundhara Raje, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Manohar Lal Khattar. Next, Yogi Adityanath will be removed as chief minister in a couple of months. Everyone knows this.

Q/ How many seats is the INDIA group winning?

A/ I am optimistic about the alliance securing around 300 seats and forming a stable government. The BJP will be reduced to under 220 seats.

Q/ Could the sentiment of the Congress-AAP tie-up percolate down to the party workers?

A/ We formed an alliance in Delhi, Haryana, Gujarat, Goa and Chandigarh. In Delhi, there were differences initially but the leaders in both our teams have done an excellent job to align our cadre and run a coordinated campaign. Over the last two weeks, I have campaigned across the seven seats of Delhi and witnessed an upsurge of support for our alliance. If you had asked me a few months ago, I would have said maybe we will win one or two seats. But, after I came out on interim bail and campaigned, I saw just how angry people are against the BJP for jailing me in a false case. The alliance was able to harness this collective feeling on the ground.

Q/ Why did we not see you and Congress leaders campaign together in Delhi?

A/ It was unintentional. I campaigned for Congress candidates in Delhi, and their leaders campaigned for our candidates. I could not campaign with senior Congress leaders because of scheduling conflicts. I had only 20 days to campaign and I had to travel across the nation. But our campaigns were coordinated at the top.

Q/ Would this alliance continue in the assembly elections in Delhi?

A/ Our current focus is only on saving our country from dictatorship and forming the INDIA alliance government on June 4.

Q/ Your party colleague Swati Maliwal has alleged that she was beaten up inside the chief minister’s residence by your aide Bibhav Kumar, and that you were in the house at the time. Your comments.

A/ Since the matter is currently sub judice and under investigation, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on it. I was not present at the scene. There are two versions that have come out—one of Swati Maliwal and the other of Bibhav Kumar. I expect the police to carry out a fair investigation of both these versions and determine the truth.

Q/ You were in jail for almost two months. Could you share what the time in jail was like?

A/ My time in jail was challenging. Every attempt was made to psychologically and emotionally break me. I was housed alone in a cell, without any inmates around me. The entire barrack was emptied out so that I could not interact with anyone. All my movements, including what time I ate, what I read, and what time I woke up to go to the bathroom, was recorded by CCTVs inside my cell. You can imagine how it is like when someone is watching you constantly for 24 hours. The prison officials would tell me there were 13 officers who were viewing live streams of my jail cell, including [at] the PMO. They thought I will break, I will feel humiliated and my resolve to continue fighting will end. But, I turned to the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayan and Indian history for inspiration. I read about how Bhagat Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru and others spent several years in jail with no hope of ever seeing justice being done. They were fighting to free India, I am fighting to save India.

The jail administration did not even afford me the courtesy of meeting with my wife or Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann in person. We would meet from across a physical barrier and talk on the phone. No political prisoner ever in Tihar Jail had to suffer this humiliation. The jail manual permits physical meetings for those with good behaviour, but I was denied this basic courtesy.

Q/ What were your major concerns when you were in jail?

A/ My only concern was for the people of Delhi and ensuring the programmes of my government continued smoothly. Look, I am a three-time elected chief minister, voted in with over 55 per cent of the votes. I have taken an oath on the Constitution to serve the people of Delhi and fulfil my promises to them. Just because the BJP cannot defeat me in elections, they decided to arrest me in a false case without any evidence or any court pronouncing me guilty. They thought I would resign and our government would fall. But they were wrong. If the BJP is determined to put democracy in jail, then I am determined to run democracy from jail.

Q/ Your party colleagues and family said you were not provided proper health care, and you were not given insulin.

A/ Yes, they did not allow me to take insulin for 15 days which was most bizarre. I have been a severe diabetic for the last 20 years and have been taking 54 units of insulin daily for the last 10 years. Once my sugar levels crossed 300 inside the prison, I begged them for insulin, but was repeatedly told: ‘We are monitoring, we will decide.’ It was only after the party made a big issue out of it and we moved the courts that I was allowed insulin. I do not understand what their intention may have been.

Q/ The Enforcement Directorate claimed in court that you consumed mangoes to spike your sugar level.

A/ Such pathetic attempts to malign me have only created more anger against the BJP. My diet was pre-approved and no changes were made to it. My wife sent me aloo puri one day as prashad for Navratri, and they made that a big issue. It is very sad that the BJP has fallen to such a low level in their discourse.

Q/The AAP calls the interim bail a victory of truth. But the courts are still hearing the excise policy case and have not yet given a clean-chit to the AAP leaders named in the case.

A/ While granting me interim bail, the honourable Supreme Court upheld my right to campaign in the elections. It also questioned the timing of my arrest and how it came right after the Lok Sabha elections were announced, even though the probe into the case [has been] going on for one and a half years. We are confident that eventually truth will triumph. The entire nation knows the reality of the Delhi liquor case. Not a single piece of evidence or rupee has been recovered. Recently, even PM Modi admitted in an interview that they have no evidence or recovery of money in this case because I am an ‘anubhavi chor’ (experienced thief). I was shocked the prime minister is openly admitting it.

Is this how the justice system should work? Earlier, if there was an FIR against someone, investigation would first happen, chargesheet would be filed, trial would be conducted and once someone was declared guilty, only then would they be arrested. But the Modi government has amended the PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act) to give the ED extraordinary powers to arrest political opponents like me immediately after filing the FIR. Investigation, trial and conviction can happen after 10 or 20 years.

Q/ A question often asked is why you did not resign as chief minister after your arrest.

A/ Since 2014, the BJP has tried every trick in its playbook to destroy the AAP, but people have reposed faith in our ‘kaam ki rajneeti’ (politics of getting work done) and rejected the BJP’s politics of hate and division. Now, the BJP has accepted they cannot defeat the AAP in elections in Delhi, so they are trying to capture power by jailing me in a false case. If I resign, tomorrow they will arrest Mamata didi, Stalin sahab, Bhagwant Mann in false cases, too, and demand their resignations. Is this how a democracy functions? This is pure goondagardi (hooliganism). This happens only in dictatorships.

Q/ Issues of ethics as well as practicality have been raised though.

A/ The Constitution places no bar on me continuing as chief minister. Someone went to the Supreme Court seeking my removal as chief minister, but they were told the court cannot do that. I have not been convicted of any crime, so I can fight and become an MLA. As an MLA I can become a minister and chief minister. Since I have been jailed without trial or conviction, we will approach the court to provide me with the resources to function from jail. I must be permitted to carry out my constitutional duties. Questions of ethics should be asked of the BJP for imprisoning an elected chief minister without trial or conviction. It is tantamount to imprisoning democracy.

Q/ Some of your Rajya Sabha members were absent when your party hit the streets to protest against your arrest.

A/ The BJP is spreading these rumours only because it has no other electoral issue left. I can make a list of 30 BJP leaders—L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Vasundhara Raje, etc—who did not ask for votes for the BJP in this election. All our leaders are performing their duties and if some of them are busy elsewhere, it is an internal matter of our party.

Q/ Your critics say you have come a long way from your NGO days and that power has corrupted you.

A/ My biggest certificate of honesty has come from the intense persecution the AAP has faced in its 10 years of existence. We might very well be the most persecuted political party in Indian history. All the Central government agencies combined have launched more than 250 cases against our leaders. Over 130 of these cases have completed trial in courts, all resulting in acquittals. In many cases, the courts have cleared us while reprimanding the agencies. Had I been corrupt, I would have joined the BJP like countless others under pressure from the ED and the CBI. Our integrity gives us the courage to fight the dictatorship and reject the BJP’s washing machine politics. Our journey has given the country a new governance model where world-class government schools, clinics, hospitals, free and 24x7 power supply, and free buses for women are being demanded by all Indians now. That is why we have emerged as India’s fastest growing party despite all odds and became a national party within 10 years.

Q/ Your interim bail gets over on June 1. How do you view your imminent return to jail?

A/ Being jailed by the BJP because I stood up to save the country from dictatorship is part of my political struggle. I am prepared to endure the consequences of challenging the BJP. If our freedom fighters could endure jail for decades to ensure our country’s freedom, I am willing to endure it for a few months to save our democracy. Sooner or later, I am certain truth will triumph and all of us—me, Manish Sisodia and Satyendar Jain—will come out.

Q/ Are you worried you could be in jail for a long time? Assembly polls in Delhi are not far off.

A/ Let them keep me in jail and see how Delhi responds. We will win all 70 seats.

Q/ PM Modi says he has acted against the corrupt and will double down on action against the corrupt.

A/ People have begun to openly laugh at such claims now. PM Modi goes to Maharashtra, says Ajit Pawar has done a Rs 70,000 crore scam, and the next day he makes him his government’s deputy chief minister. He says Ashok Chavan swindled money of widows of Army jawans, but next day he gives him a ticket to the Rajya Sabha. There are several such products of the BJP’s washing machine politics. PM Modi’s singular achievement in the last 10 years has been to collect the most corrupt individuals across the country and get them to join the BJP. Now, the details of the Rs 8,000 crore electoral bond scam have also come out.

Q/ The AAP has been named as an accused in the excise policy case.

A/ Like I said, the ED’s sole intention in this fake investigation was to frame the AAP, arrest its top leaders and crush the party. The BJP sees the AAP as the biggest threat and has deployed the ED and the CBI to ensure the AAP is finished before it grows too large. I can only tell the BJP and PM Modi this: You can go to any extent to crush Kejriwal, but you will not be able to crush the idea of the AAP. The AAP is no longer a party of four people, it resides in the hearts of crores of people across the country. You can finish off one Kejriwal, but the country will produce 100 more Kejriwals.

Q/ You said PM Modi is seeking votes to make Amit Shah the prime minister because he will retire at 75. The BJP says Modi will continue to be the prime minister.

A/ I am going only by what Modi ji had said when he retired other tall BJP leaders like L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Anandiben Patel and Sumitra Mahajan. I am certain Modi ji will follow his own rule, and not say that he cooked up this rule only to retire Advani, Joshi and others. Besides, ever since I said this, Modi ji has not come out and denied it. Only the leaders in his coterie have denied it.

Q/ Sunita Kejriwal stepped in while you were in jail. Will we see her playing a more active role politically, and contest elections?

A/ My wife has been my pillar of support. I am very fortunate to have a life partner like her. She has stood by me through thick and thin. Back in 2000, when I decided to leave my IRS job and work in the slums of Sundar Nagari for 10 years, she supported me. One can only imagine what she must have felt when her husband quit a secure government job. Similarly, when they put me behind bars, she bravely stepped up as a family member. She would visit me in jail, and I would inquire about the well-being of the people of Delhi. I would then give her messages that she would communicate outside. She was my link to the world outside. She has no interest in fighting elections or being active in public life.

Q/ What will be the priority areas for the INDIA bloc if it were to come to power?

A/ The first priority will be to undo the damage done by the current authoritarian regime to our democracy. Today, every institution that protects our democracy has been compromised. The Election Commission, the ED, the CBI, the IT [department], the Comptroller and Auditor General, etc, all dance to the tune of only one party, one leader. Even the media and the judiciary are under a lot of pressure. Our first step will be to replace this rule by fear with the rule of law, and restore the primacy of the Constitution. Next, we will draw up a list of our collective development priorities and start working on them, starting with inflation and unemployment.

Q/ You announced 10 guarantees. Have you discussed them with your allies?

A/ Our 10 guarantees are a roadmap for building a strong and modern India, where every person has opportunities to prosper and live a dignified life. We have promised 24-hour power supply, good education, free health care that is not dependent on insurance schemes, freedom to the Indian Army to retrieve Indian territory occupied by China, scrapping the Agniveer scheme that has hurt the morale of our armed forces, fixing MSP (minimum support price) for crops according to the Swaminathan Commission report, two crore jobs annually, ease of doing business for traders, full statehood for Delhi, and destroying the BJP’s washing machine. I am certain all INDIA alliance partners share these priorities. The AAP is a strong pillar of the alliance and it is my guarantee that when INDIA alliance forms the government on June 4, we will collectively deliver upon these guarantees.

Q/ Full statehood for Delhi gains significance in the backdrop of the confrontation between the lieutenant governor and your government.

A/ Yes, full statehood is one of our 10 guarantees and the topmost demand of the 2.5 crore people of Delhi. They are tired of an unelected individual calling the shots over their lives, while their elected chief minister is rendered powerless. I am sure all INDIA alliance partners will support us on this.

Q/ Your political opponents have questioned the financial viability of the schemes promised by the INDIA bloc.

A/ They are least qualified to talk about fiscal prudence. Over the last 10 years, the Modi government has pushed the country into a spiral of debt. The total debt on the country after 67 years of independence in 2014 was Rs 55 lakh crore. In just 10 years, the Modi government added Rs 150 crore debt to bring it to Rs 205 lakh crore. They accuse us of distributing revdis to the poor and middle classes, but they have been distributing halwa to their billionaire friends by writing off loans worth Rs 15 lakh crore and announcing corporate tax cuts worth Rs 25,000 crore every year. In contrast, my government in Delhi has the distinction of running a surplus budget for the last nine years while providing many amenities. So, I know what I am promising.

Q/ Would the electoral bonds scheme be probed?

A/ I have no doubt that the electoral bonds scheme is the biggest scam in Indian history. In fact, it is not one scam, it is a scam of scams—every donation of the 08,000 crore amassed by the BJP through electoral bonds has happened against a quid pro quo. One category of scams is ‘Chanda do, ED-CBI se bail pao’ (donate, get bail from the ED-CBI). Over Rs2,700 crore of electoral bonds were given by companies that are facing CBI, ED or IT probes. Another category is ‘Chanda do, dhanda lo’ (donate, get business). Thousands of crores have been donated by companies that received government contracts. The BJP institutionalised corruption through the scheme. When the INDIA government is formed on June 4, the first corruption investigation that will be launched is against the electoral bond scam.

Q/ Are you amenable to former Congress president Rahul Gandhi becoming prime minister?

A/ The focus of all INDIA alliance partners at this stage is to win the elections and save the country from dictatorship. Who will be the prime minister is a question we will discuss internally after the results. We are a country of 140 crore people. I am sure we will choose a strong prime minister to lead the nation.

Q/ Are you open to being considered for the prime minister’s post? Would the AAP join the government?

A/ I have no interest in becoming the prime minister. We are a very small party fighting only on 22 seats. Our only goal is to save the country from sliding into a dictatorship. Whether the AAP will be inside or outside the government is a matter we will decide after June 4.