Politics did not happen to Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Karnataka Convener Prithvi Reddy intentionally. He was a part of Corruption Saku campaign in 2010 (which later merged with India Against Corruption) with no aspirations other than to reduce corruption.
He co-founded Smart Vote, a movement to encourage voter registration and participation in issue-based politics. He runs his father’s school of 450 students in Addagal village, Kolar District. Reddy then co-founded Swabal, an initiative to provide practical skills to high school dropouts with guaranteed employment.
He became AAP’s national executive member in 2013. Now he is contesting from Sarvagna Nagar, opposite K J George. He personally hands out pamphlets door -to-door and speaks to residents one-on-one while campaigning.
The 48-year-old was inspired by former US President Barack Obama’s first campaign to be personable. Crowd-sourcing, massive volunteer participation, and feelings of hope the American campaign spread, positively influenced him to attempt his first tryst with the electorate.
As water scarcity was on the government’s agenda in Delhi, are you planning something similar to address the water-scarcity situation in the city ?
You have to ensure that you have a reservoir, a small tank or lake to collect rainwater in each assembly. We build drains which do not ensure that groundwater is recharged when it rains. Instead we build concrete drains transporting water somewhere else. We have no concept of a soak pit. For every ten meters a scientific hole needs to be built into the RCC drain to allow water to seep in. Only the excess water needs to go outside the assembly or the city. Kempegowda did this 500 years ago and we still don’t follow this. Water is distributed according to the whims and fancies of councilors and MLAs. This should stop. If we come to power, we will push for free water like we did in Delhi, and try to meet the minimum water-requirements of the people. Conservation efforts will be pushed forward as well. Our team was part of the Kaggadasapura lake rejuvenation team that won the Champions of Namma Bengaluru award recently, where the MLA and councilor were involved in lake encroachment.
What do you think needs to be done about the garbage crisis in the city ? What has AAP done so far on the issue?
Bengaluru is half the size of Mumbai, but we spend double the amount-Rs 1066 crore, on garbage management in the city. That amounts to Rs 40 crore per assembly. We have no lack of solutions, but we lack intent. A few years ago, we collected garbage in plastic bags from all assemblies and dumped it in front of the BBMP office. Cases were filed against us alleging we tried to deface the government office, but in fact we had only left it at the gate in bags. In fact, previously, we were all arrested during the agitation against the dumping of garbage in the Mandur landfill.
Otherwise, is AAP preparing to take on the challenges facing Silicon City of India?
We have four manifestos totally. It will be released on the last date of nominations. The first one is for Bengaluru city, the heart of the state, on which the state’s growth is dependent upon. The other one is for the state, addressing all the state level issues and then we have assembly manifestos for local issues at all the assemblies we are running for. Apart from this, we will have a manifesto for different interest groups, such as farmers and women. This is essentially a bottom’s up process, and working towards this goal we recently conducted a women’s dialogue in Mysore. We are trying to take inputs from the common man and address real issues. This is not drafted while sitting in air-conditioned rooms, but made through this process of open-dialogues across the state.
What is the reception from people you get in Bangalore?
If all their love and support gets converted into votes, we’ll have a number of people who support us. It’s hard for us to even predict whether this conversion might happen. This is the first time that people have a choice like this. Whether they will accept us or not will be decided by the people. Right now, it is looking very encouraging.
The party has fielded a limited amount of candidates for this state’s assembly elections. What is the process you follow in handpicking candidates and constituencies ?
Most political parties would look for winnable seats. We are looking at seats that take down people who epitomize everything wrong with the political system. For instance, like I am standing against K J George in Sarvagna Nagar, Renuka Vishwanathan is fighting NA Harris in Shantinagar, and Santosh Nargund is fighting Jagadish Shettar. Also, there is Byrathi Basavaraj in KR Puram and Yeddyurappa in Shikaripura who we are up against. These are the bigwigs who are usually given a walkover by opponents. The other parties don’t field strong candidates out of fear and try to avoid these constituencies. But for AAP, it’s not about the prospect of winning. It’s more about standing up for what is right and wrong against greater forces.
What are your advantages over Congress stalwart KJ George to achieve this ?
Mr George has represented the constituency for the last ten years. Whether it is me or anyone else, real issues need to be addressed. There is only so much that can fool people. So just talk to the residents, you will know that people voted for George with a lot of aspirations. There is no choice, as there are no strong opponents. In giving residents a choice, we will be giving them the option of choosing between right and wrong. How much of this will convert into votes depends on our campaigning. So far, we have received a lot of love and support. We need to wait and watch how this pans out. The constituency has huge problems related to water, garbage, crimes against women, and infrastructural issues. Nagawara and Kadugondanahalli wards look like another state like Bihar. George has let down the people who have voted for him.
What are the challenges you face currently as State Convener of an emerging party in Karnataka that has always been dominated by Congress, BJP and JD(S) ? Why should people give AAP a chance?
When you grow up in a society where parents tell children that if you are good for nothing please go join politics, it becomes a negative association. Our primary mission is to make politics a positive connotation and a good word. The secondary aim is to change the narrative of politics. The narrative today is divisive, issue-less and vote bank centered. This leads to indulging in mudslinging without discussing real people’s issues. This is specifically what we want to change. The government’s module in the capital is issue based, particularly focused on electricity, water, health, education, and government services. That is our election platform where we are showing people what is also possible. Others parties are not doing that.
So, what we were able to crack is, the other parties are catering to small vote banks, be it on money, religion and caste. Clearly, for all wrong reasons. However, the five aforementioned issues, apply across all age groups, income groups, religions, and castes. In that sense, we are the only party addressing the needs of 100% of the population, unlike the limited vote bank politics that other parties are doing, reaching only 12% to 14% of people. This is what we are trying to change.
The methods of AAP’s protests are ‘controversial’ some might say, be it by resigning in 49 days or dumping garbage in front of a government office in Bengaluru? Is this strategic?
The answer for that is very simple. If the people who are supposed to be listening, just did that, with the intention of doing their jobs, I would not be in politics. How else would you bring attention to glaring problems? This is not for any personal benefit, but for the benefit of the people. We are only raising our voices on their behalf.
What kind of an equation do you share with Arvind Kejriwal?
So for one, he sets a very high benchmark of personal sacrifice. Personally, it is quite intimidating because for normal people like us, the amount he is able to give is incredible. He doesn’t have much of a life apart from what he is trying to do for the larger cause. So for those of us trying to find a balance, he can be very intimidating. His commitment and sacrifice levels are way above all of us. That’s one.
Number two; he’s a man with a lot of clarity. At times, you know, his passion and beliefs in what he’s doing makes him a hard man to impress. He has a lot of conviction in what he believes. Sometimes, it’s difficult to challenge and convince him otherwise and see another point of view. But over the years, I’ve developed a relationship with him. I am able to tell him whatever I believe. Not always that he may agree with me, but at least, he’s a very patient listener. And once he trusts a person, he’s the kind of a person who will be ready to put his life in your hands. For example, I don’t think in any other party if I was the State president, I don’t think Siddaramaiah or Yeddyurappa would give me that kind of freedom.
AAP in several media reports has been portrayed to have a lot of in-fighting. Does it dishearten and throw young AAP volunteers off balance?
Arvind Kejriwal and AAP have taken on several interest groups such as the water mafia, the private education mafia, the private hospitals mafia, electricity mafia and so on. The cases filed against 20 MLAs are untrue as ruled by courts. The judges themselves have said that police seem to be wasting their time. The media never reports the outcome of all this. You only hear about the houses of senior leaders being raided by the CBI. The media hypes things out of proportion without the whole story and everything appears negative. We all completely understand the good work that the government is trying to do is going to be an uphill task. People have seen the work delivered in the last three years. You can fool some people for a while. But you cannot fool everyone all the time. All the roadblocks, the Modi government try to put in our way, through the Lt Governor did not work and we are still succeeding. We have always expected a reaction because of the things we choose to fight. So it does not make a difference if from 1000 members and supporters a few people leave for whatever reason. I mean, it’s sad but we have no issues.
AAP withdrew from the BBMP elections three years ago. Is there a lack of good people to field ?
Not a lack of good people to field. So, here’s what happened. So, if you remember, that was a time when they were talking about breaking BBMP into three corporations. The matter was in court and the State Government was also expecting the elections to be held much later than announced. So though we started our on-ground campaigning, we were assuming we would have 6-8 months. Then, there was a Supreme Court order which said it had to be held within 30 days. So in that short period of time, for us to find 198 candidates whom we could vouch for was a challenge and we were not willing to field candidates just for the sake of it. One bad decision can ruin the good work that we had done. So if we couldn’t vouch for candidates, we preferred staying out rather than contesting. BBMP requires 105 women candidates and we were not even able to find 10 who were able to run. I mean, sure, you have plenty of people; someone’s wife, someone’s sister, someone’s daughter but that’s not the kind of women we were looking for. So it was challenging for us to identify and convince the people to contest in such a short span of time. Our campaign involves a door-to-door strategy. So you need at least 3-4 months to cover every household. You will spend 5 minutes at least in each house. Just take the number of days required for all kinds of campaigns, it was not enough.
So you’re purposely going slow and steady, by not putting all your eggs in one basket ?
So we learnt from our experiences in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. If you don’t have a basic theme to run a campaign there is no point sitting inside media houses passing judgement. You have to reach out people, and that’s what we learnt. We are the fastest growing party in Indian history. Within five years we are the government in one state, the opposition in another state. We still believe that we have to take things at a pace where we don’t bite off more than we can chew. We don’t want to be just another political party.
After Delhi and Punjab, is Karnataka the third most important state on AAP’s agenda?
Karnataka is important not in terms of being placed after Delhi or Punjab. It is important from the point of view of South Indian politics. For a party to like expand in Southern part of the subcontinent, Karnataka is important. It is a threshold for the South India, I would say.
You initially started with India Against Corruption. What inspires you to work tirelessly for the cause?
Before the India Against Corruption movement started, we started Corruption Saku. It was against the Bellary mining brothers and to otherwise empower the Lokayukta in Karnataka. This was during the time Santhosh Hegde had resigned saying he did not have enough powers. One thing led to another, we got involved in India Against Corruption. Our demand was only for a Lokpal Bill at that point. Two years after struggle and protests, the bill which was jointly drafted by five civil-society members and five members of the then Congress government reached the Parliament. It was thrown up. We were heckled saying that laws are not made in maidan. The government said that if you want to win elections, come to parliament and make your own laws. That’s when it was decided to form a political party. Until then I was more of a civil society activist. I started something called Smart Vote, where we were looking at having more meaningful elections, voting based on issues ultimately getting more people out for voter registration. These were all civil society initiatives. I have also doing a skill building program for school dropouts and educating children in a rural school for the past ten years. So, this is what I was any way doing.
When the party first started, I was very reluctant to join politics. For me, it was just a group of people doing something good because we realized that corruption was the root cause of most problems. What started as reluctance has today become a passion. I personally have been able to scale everything that meant a lot to me, whether it was rural education or skill building. I continue to educate about 400 plus students. Through the Delhi government’s work, we have been able to influence the education of 16 Lakh children. For me, it’s about scaling the good. All well meaning people have to understand this, the scale with which you can bring about change is more through politics and government. Considering the size, population, and complexity of the country, helping 400 children is not even a drop in the ocean. That is the reason I am so passionate about politics today.
Do you think you need power to initiate change? Is that why you joined politics?
The only way you can scale it, not that you can’t in a large country like ours, is through politics. With so many problems if you are going to help a few 100 children, it’s not going to make a difference. I’ll give you an example of skill building. I train school dropouts on a German module with practical training in shop floors and lesser time in classrooms. I am only able to get them recruited with a starting salary of Rs 1.5- 2 lakh per annum. After the 12th std, some of the students passing out of the 1 year skill building program in Delhi have been able to get placements at Rs 12 lakh per annum.
The scale at which you can do things is huge in the government. If you want to solve this country’s large problems, I strongly believe that you need to educate people, empower them and take care of them by strengthening the healthcare sector. Instead of constantly thinking about how to feed the poor, they can become productive assets to the country not a liability. So, yes, this can be done only through politics.
And for the Bengaluru Campaign, do you have any major financial donors?
No, we are crowdsourced. All our donors are from around the world and different states, NRIs and people in Bangalore. It’s not, if you look at our donation list, you’ll have more number of people but smaller amounts donated. So the amount of money we require for the elections is comparatively very low. Because it is only for creating awareness, pamphlets, posters, and banners. It’s not for buying votes or spending money on large rallies. That’s not our kind of politics. We go door-to-door. You will have to give them a manifesto,talk about the candidates and the party. It doesn’t require that kind of money. We’ll fight the whole election in probably lesser amount than one MLA spends on one constituency in each party.
AAP celebrated freedom fighter HS Doreswamy’s 100th birthday. How does he inspire you and contribute to the party ?
Yes, see for today, one of the major problem youth have is they don’t have people to whom they can look up to. They don’t have real idols. For me, I think I’m very blessed to have worked closely with H.S Doreswamy since 2011, for the past 7-8 years. I’ve been able to understand where that passion and commitment comes from. He’s 100 years old but he has kind of made me understand that what we got 70 years ago was independence from the British but not real freedom and to continuously fight for the freedom of the people of this country. So whenever we’ve raised an issue, he has stood with us and whenever we have a party event, he’s like my colleague. He’s like a friend, mentor and a guide. Any major decisions we take, we always consult him though he may not have deep understanding of today’s politics, but he has a deep understanding of what this country needs. He is like a conscience keeper for us.
Hypothetically speaking alone, if AAP had to choose a CM candidate in Karnataka who would it be?
We are not fighting to form the Government. There is no hypothetical question at all. Number one, even if we were to choose an AAP candidate, the MLAs would decide. In Punjab also, we didn’t have a CM candidate. As I said earlier, ours in not personality-based politics, our politics is about providing an alternative.
What would you say is your highest political ambition in Karnataka right now?
Like I said, even one voice will be the voice of a common man and today the common man does not have a representation in the Assembly. So we will be very happy if this voice is represented. Whoever will go into the assembly will mirror the principle of the party and will fight for the people. It’s not about whether we win or not, it’s about the fact we are standing against strong, rich, powerful, corrupt criminal and communal candidates. None of them, it seems to the common man, will send the wrong message, not only in Karnataka politics but around the country. That these people are not only invincible, that someone new, someone with fresh ideas, someone who is non-corrupt, non-criminal, and not going to make any compromise can also win the elections.
For those voters who think voting for a one-off, but clean, candidate like Prithvi Reddy is a waste of their vote, Justice Santosh Hegde had a good reason to give in one meeting: He said electing honest, dedicated people even in a minority pays off because these days a big chunk of taxpayer’s money is allocated constituency-wise which these honest elected officials can use beneficially for the proper development of their constituencies locally. After solving local issues for us, and when enough such candidates win to reach critical mass, can they address larger national issues. Siphoning off a big portion of that allocated money through dishonest means by our corrupt politicians presently is the bane of our system. So it really does not matter if people like Prithvi Reddy and other clean candidates in mission mode are members of the winning/ruling party or not; they will still work for the people and not for their personal enrichment.