He is the brain behind Aam Aadmi Party for Karnataka. He is also in the AAP’s National Executive Committee. Prithvi Reddy gets candid with Citizen Matter’s Shree D N and Nikita Malusare on the AAP’s plans for this election season and his take on the roller coaster ride that their stint in politics has been this far.
Can AAP change the election game?
I think so. Whatever was believed as winnability in elections – caste, money, muscle power – has been proved wrong in Delhi elections. Delhi election showed us that without any of those, good people can win elections. Earlier you had very limited choice, where lesser of the evils had to be the choice. We are fighting to win elections. I think we can win.
On the strategy for Bangalore
We have a party constitution. We also have a broad vision for the country. While recruiting, we encourage people to read it. We have had 31 committees work for six months on formulating the manifesto and policies.
I don’t think we have a different strategy for different constituencies. One thing we are very clear is – all these days people had the choice only between the devil and the deep sea. We believe that people in this country deserve to get a choice between clean and corrupt.
So our entire strategy for this election was, whether we manage to campaign everywhere or not, whether we have the money or not, when the citizens go to the polling booth, they should have the option to press the Jhaadu which will represent a different kind of politics wherein winnability is not defined by religion, caste, muscle power or anything else. This is what we follow everywhere.
Area-specific issues are something that our candidates will discuss with their own constituencies over the next thirty days, because we believe democracy means by the people, for the people. It is not for the candidate to declare that this is my agenda. It should rather be that they discuss with the people and ask them what they want.
On the mode of campaigning
We will have a lot of street side meetings. We have permissions from Police and the Chief Electoral Officer for all of these. For ex, our candidates will have early mornings meetings at parks. Later they will head to darsini hotels and eateries, evenings will be at the malls and markets, during the day we are approaching colleges, RWAs, Mahila Samajs etc., wherein we are asking people to gather so they can for the first time meet and interact with their candidates, understand the issues they are raising and then take a choice.
On Nandan Nilekani entering politics
One bad apple can ruin the basket, but the reverse will not hold true, and that is our issue with Nandan joining the Congress. We also believe that Nandan should have continued in the UID project. It involved huge public money and Nandan was holding the project together, and without him, the BJP will never see through the project.
Nandan has everything in life – money, goodwill and also the rank of a cabinet minister. Why would he join politics? The hunger for power will sacrifice the public project of UID and our money. It was a good project and we will definitely make this a campaign issue as to why he joined politics knowing fully well that if the Congress does not win, this project will suffer on account of politics and the clash of egos. We already read in the papers that the BJP is rethinking the project.
If Nandan’s intent was to change the system, he was already in the system. He had taken on a huge responsibility, which he has left halfway. It was public money and he should have seen it through. If this doesn’t get implemented, a lot of things connected to this will also collapse. Is that fair? Is this worth getting into Parliament? Nandan was someone who had influenced the system without entering politics, he should have continued. He is a nice man, but I don’t agree with him on this.
On Unique Identity Card
Technology is very important in delivery of social security. Firstly, It makes the system more efficient and reduces cost of delivery. Secondly, it plugs the leakages to the maximum. In that sense, I support Aadhaar completely. Issues that people have are, if you transfer cash instead of PDS, there are studies that show that the calorific value of food that is actually bought is not good, so in a lot of areas, the nutritional intake has gone down because people don’t use the money for food, but other things. This needs to be thought out and some solution like giving food coupons instead of money should be arrived at, wherein they can’t use cash for anything else.
There is also a lot of data that is collected, individual private data and is very important which should not fall into the wrong hands. If these are addressed, it’s a great idea.
On AAP’s plan in Bangalore Central and North
I think there’s no real choice except for the Aam Aadmi Party over there. Our fight is not against individuals, it is against the existing system. Whether it is the candidates in Central or Bangalore North, you can’t even compare the candidates with ours. Our candidates are linked by one common thread that is, they all possess very high integrity. They are all achievers in whatever field they represent, whether it is Neena, Prof Babu Mathew or Bala. For them, politics is a way of giving back to society, I don’t think any of the other presently announced names represent that kind of integrity in candidates and so we have an edge there.
You need good people to change perceptions. We have started believing that our country has no chance. I believe AAP has brought back that ray of hope because good people have started joining politics. In a democracy, if good people don’t enter Parliament and other institutions of governance, you will not be able to bring about any lasting change. That’s why we are giving people the option – votes, volunteers or money we depend on the people of this country.
Delhi was an example of how people are willing to vote beyond their traditional considerations. Because we are a new party, we might not be able to replicate that success across the country as we are not able to communicate to people what really happened in Delhi.
On getting people with varied profiles and from all walks of life into AAP
Someone asked me this question today about our contestant from Raichur – Bheemraya is only a tenth standard pass with a diploma, while on the other hand we have someone who has done a Phd. Many of our candidates are highly educated.
First of all, let’s understand that education does not guarantee common sense and understanding of people’s issues. For example, I could go to UAS and get a Masters in Agriculture. While I may understand the science of agriculture, I may not understand the heart of a farmer.
We didn’t look for people but we did an experiment for the first time in this country, where we asked people to apply. When that happens, obviously people from all walks will apply. The only thing we tried to keep in mind was that there should be 50% women, but we have not been very successful in that.
AAP’s criteria to choose a candidate
This is purely based on the ability of the person. We also applied the 5 Cs – non criminal, non corrupt, non communal, non casteist and a person of good character, because character is not something that you file cases about. There may be people who get drunk and beat their wives, but that may not attract a case automatically.
So we looked out for loose morals and character flaws. Apart from these two aspects – leadership ability to represent their constituency – that is the ability to talk (not necessarily the same as oratory) and understand the constituents and talk on their behalf in Parliament.
Number two, that they have contributed to public life in some manner. For instance if it is a journalist, have they been writing about people’s issues as opposed to doing stories for TRPs, have they been biased? If you run an industry, are you fair, are you inclusive? Those are the kind of considerations.
AAP’s views on Akrama Sakrama
A lot of these problems come about because you try to solve one problem with another. The belief that two minuses make a plus is not a reality. It is a very hard situation. You need to first fix the system before fixing blame on citizens. Obviously citizens have also connived with the officials to do building violations. You need to have a workable system that ensures no further violation.
Give first preference to residences, then to those who have broken the law within certain limits. You can’t undo what has happened in the past, let us fix what can happen today and approach the other problems later on. It is a big problem as its the people who have followed the law who will suffer. But we have to have an inclusive approach and accept these people as our own too.
While we at AAP haven’t got into the scheme in much depth to see what the law currently says, we do believe that we have to find a way to move forward instead of talking endlessly about it. Unless we do that, we can’t stop further violations.
Again, most of the time the sufferers are the residents not the builder. So you have to penalise the man who broke the law, not the innocent residents. It should not happen like in Mumbai where they were about break a thousand apartments while the builder washed his hands and walked away from the whole thing, having made his money.
The law should ensure that the lawbreaker is penalised and not a third party. If the BBMP cleared the papers, what is the resident’s fault? Not everyone can hire the best lawyers to detect violations beforehand.
AAP’s stand on new wave parties
Nav Bharat is too new to judge. There are a few good individuals, but they have a long way to go. Loksatta has some wonderful individuals, but they have not had much traction in society because I think they see politics as a matter of discussions and have not gone down to the grassroots. There are wonderful people like Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) and Ashwin Mahesh; if we could find ways of work together, I believe it would be for the betterment of the country as we could benefit from their knowledge and they could get the advantage of our mass movement.
On chances of alliances in the 2015 BBMP elections
I sincerely hope so. It was too short a notice for these elections because unless you talk on issues, sort it out and agree on a CMP, it would be dangerous to try and do something in a hurry. But I think going forward, we should work with not just Loksatta, but all good people.
On campaign finance and being able to run it within 70 lakhs
We do not have money. We are struggling to raise even seven lakhs. All our money is going to be raised within the constituency. We have different models. We have one where people can donate ten rupees and get an AAP badge. We have 50 rupees where you will get a ‘I funded AAP’ badge. We have another unique program called ‘Sponsor your candidate’ where in each constituency, we are approaching 3,500 people to give us 2,000 rupees each. We also have a fundraising dinner.
We don’t know how much will come in, whatever we collect we will use. The party wants to contest 543 seats, but what we have in the bank today is 12 crores (on the day of publishing this article, the donation had reached 20.5 crores). So it’s obviously not enough, but we will give people the choice. We are not interested in putting up hoardings and other publicity stunts, whatever minimal money is required to fund an election, we will try to raise it here.
On BJP’s objection to fund-raising events
BJP will object to it, though it is well within the limits of election code of conduct. It’s not a public event, its a closed door event. They themselves have 3700 crores which they can’t account for. How can they object? Anything that you do for the first time will attract criticism. We are saying that we want clean politics, which requires clean money. We are doing it in a transparent manner.
There are three conditions in place – 1) You pay by cheque 2) There are no strings attached 3) Your details will be in the public domain. If you are scared of your name being public, do not contribute. Traditional political parties object to this probably because they can’t get clean money. Political and election funding has all these days been a very murky affair that happens behind closed doors with favours exchanged. So when we try something new, they will object, let them. We are not doing anything against the law. Bangalore has proven its support both in terms of money as well as volunteers. The AAP and the IAC movement have had the third largest support here.
On Kejriwal stepping down as Delhi CM
Number one – people from certain classes of society love to watch TV and criticise. There is a saying that in a democracy you get the government you deserve. We are breaking the norms in politics. When we started the party, we received criticism, not just from from public, but without naming anyone, even our close associates.
Then when we decided to contest elections, we were criticised saying we don’t have the infrastructure and that people will vote only on money. But people of Delhi redefined winnability. We certainly did not expect to form government, but when we were thrown the challenge, we did. We came on a platform of an anti-corruption law.
It is our strong belief that we should not depend or believe on individuals. If you ask me why should I believe Arvind Kejriwal, I would say, don’t believe Arvind Kejriwal as a human being, believe him because he is talking about putting in a system that will ensure fear of indulging in corruption. If you don’t have a system like that in place with enough checks and balances, you can never change the system.
So since that was our agenda, how could we step back from it and compromise? When have you heard of a CM refusing the position on principle and going back to the people for a majority? When we sat in the streets and protested, they said laws are not made on the roads, fight elections. When we did that and came to power, they said laws are not made on the maidans, come make it inside, When we did that, they said it was all unconstitutional.
The answer was clear from the beginning, that these people were not going to support the passing of these laws. You cannot expect reforms in any sector from the people who are breaking the laws. If we cannot do what we set out to do, we don’t want to sit and make deals with the Congress and BJP. We would rather go back to the people and ask for a clear mandate and then come back and make the laws.
The need for accountability in politics as well as patience among public
We are civil society members who have been protesting against wrongs. That does not change because we are into politics now. The common man should understand that is an opportunity for us to change the way politics is being conducted in this country. People don’t try to understand the source of the problem. We are an old country and the Raja-praja mentality still has not gone.
When we are trying to change the system, obviously there will be resistance from the system, which is much more powerful than we are. Putting up 27 hoardings costs 37 lakhs. I see thousands of hoardings of BJP and Congress. Do you not have the right to ask where that money is coming from?
A campaign cannot run on love and fresh air. This office itself has been given to us for free for two months, else we would not be able to afford it. Look at the number of people working in this office – there are people ranging from the age of 18 to 75 working on various things and some work the whole night. This is the first time something like this has been attempted in this country.
Achievements of the AAP and misguided priorities in the country
If you look at our achievements, I don’t think any other party has achieved the same in 49 days. For example, we gave 1 crore rupees to the family of a policeman who lost his life fighting the liquor mafia. We were criticised for being populist. What are our priorities in this country? A cricketer wins the World Cup, we give him Rs.5 crores, a site and a Ferrari, where for the latter he does not want to pay customs. And we question the right to a crore rupees for a man who laid down his life to protect you and me.
It was in our manifesto that every public servant who gives their life in the line of duty will be given a compensation of one crore. Here there was a soldier who died and they promised to give the compensation of which only Rs.15 lakhs has been given, and even for that the family was made to run around so much. When we talk of Robert Vadra, Congress reacts and when we talk of Modi, BJP reacts, but when we talk of Ambani, both of them are quiet.
So who in this country has the courage to take on the Ambanis? If you listen to the Niira Radia tapes, its very clear how the system works.
On media coverage of AAP
A lot of the info that comes to the people via the media is filtered, it has bias. So the best way would be for us to directly talk to people, which we might not be able to do because of shortage of time. So that will be the deciding factor in this election.
I feel there are instances where the media has been biased. How many times has Bangalore been brought to a standstill because of a JD(S) rally, where people could not even reach the hospital on time? But all they could report was that there was a person standing on AK’s auto breaking the law. When people protested outside the BJP office, we were the first to say that it is wrong and that violence is not justifiable. As a growing party we cannot control all our members, but we have the courage to accept our mistakes.
Here when I say that 250 people will come for an event and pay 20,000 rupees each and that each paisa will be accounted for, people will find fault with it. The headlines focus on ‘Rs 20,000 for a meal with Arvind.’ No one chooses to see that we are trying to raise money in a unique way. It’s a question of how something is reported. It somehow seems to be more about shock value than trying to tell people that this is a new way of doing things.
I have explained to you why we left government in Delhi, but though I have taken this to every media, not a single one has reported it the way it was told. For ex, we had a helpline number where we asked people to come in with sting videos and we will suspend the people involved. But if I get a lakh of these, how do I handle them? The police has to investigate them and the courts have to try them which takes time and can a person be suspended for 15 years? How can I remove corruption without a strong law to back me up and an efficient police force working under me? These are the issues that we have brought into the public domain and we are saying that these need to be talked about.
On biased reporting from the media
Unfortunately what has been coming out through traditional electronic media is biased. They said we vandalised the VT station. What actually happened, as is clear from the video is that the journalists had put the cables there and someone tripped on it, causing the mess. The story that came out was totally different.
In UP, in Lucknow, when Arvind Kejriwal was attacked in Gujarat, when the protests happened, there was an AAP volunteer who was on the road being beaten up by five goons from BJP. But the ticker on TIMES NOW read ‘AAP’s mobocracy.’ I’m just trying to say people read this and get influenced. We do not have a media house and can’t influence the media.
But I believe over time people will understand who the good guys are.
When we received 28 seats, the BJP which had Operation Kamala in Karnataka and bought 18 MLAs, said they could not assure the seats here as they had only two. We wrote in to both Congress and BJP on our issues, asking if they would support these, but neither of them was willing to even discuss and the story that comes out is that AAP is putting conditions on other people.
On the need for independent media
At least we are trying to do the right thing, we will make mistakes of course, but are they big enough for the media to write us off? They do not know why we quit the government but they will declare that we ran away. People go by what is reported in the media and the media is not reporting the entire truth.
When they did stings, it was all over the media, but when the EC released the twelve hours of footage and we took it to the media, not a single media house was willing to play it. I believe the media is being pressurised not to tell the truth. That’s why I support independent media houses that are willing to say the truth the way it is.