As the battle for Punjab heats up, The New Indian‘s Executive Editor Rohan Dua catches up with Aam Aadmi Party’s chief Arvind Kejriwal and the party’s CM candidate Bhagwant Mann. Kejriwal and Mann come clean on a gamut of issues — their personal camaraderie, their political opponents, Navjot Singh Sidhu, and the prospects of their party in the upcoming assembly polls.
Rohan Dua: Your promise of Rs 1000 to women is becoming a very contentious and a popular issue in Punjab. Some say you use the politics of awarding freebies to garner support. Do you think giving freebies is the best way to win over the masses? Or is it plain Jumla, as some people claim?
Arvind Kejriwal: I won’t call it a Jumla, because we do what we promise. The narrative that’s being played out is that since Punjab is under a debt of 3 lakh crores, how would our government (if formed) pay Rs 1000 to women? Same for free electricity. In my view, that’s not an issue.
The debt does not exist because of women. The truth is that Punjab is under debt because of corrupt practices of the previous governments. They amassed wealth and built personal assets at the cost of the people of the state. We want to stop this theft. Once you check this theft, you’ll realise there is no shortage of money.
We are also promising free education. We want to improve the standard of education and provide good infrastructure. Why is there protest? We are saying we’ll build hospitals and treat everyone for free, why is that a problem? Can there by more monumentous development than this? The problem lies with the vested interests. Because once people start demanding these basic things for free, their stealing will stop.
Rohan Dua (to Arvind Kejriwal): You have been investing a lot in traders and businessmen. Traditionally speaking, all urban population once made for the vote bank of INC. But now with Capt Amrinder gone, is there a divide between rural and urban Punjab? Are you confident of traders and businessmen’s support this time?
Arvind Kejriwal: When we first contested in Delhi, people used to say the traders and businessmen are BJP’s vote bank. Today, 7 years on, we believe that we have worked a lot in their favour. We don’t play the politics of fear or threaten them with raids. We play the politics of winning their hearts. That is how we won over the traders of Delhi. People will vote for the one who works in their favour. Similarly in Punjab, traders is slowly turning in favour of AAP.
All the Punjab government is busy doing is to generate FIRs, conduct raids, heckle people, steal from them and implement Gunda tax on people. This is not how we plan to work. We assure development of everyone and believe in doing it together.
Rohan Dua (to Bhagwant Mann): If elected, what will be your top priority in the first 100 days? Would you focus on (eradication of) drugs, unemployment, mining or policing and law and order?
Bhagwant Mann: Actually all! But if I were to prioritise, the focus would be to end unemployment. Our youth is migrating to foreign lands or getting wasted and falling in bad company. So my focus would be to fix that. Farming is a respectable and profitable occupation, not something one does in a state of helplessness. Likewise, I would like to bring back traders who have migrated to Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh. And with a promise that no one will extort or heckle them. There will be no limit on how much they wish to expand in terms of business, provided people of the state reap the benefits.
Education and hospitals are equally important. We will work hard to plug the leaks in the system. And ensure no one feels the need to protest anymore. Everything will stand corrected.
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