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.
Here are edited excerpts from the interview:
Rohan Dua (to Arvind Kejriwal): From 2014 when Bhagwant Mann was elected as a Member of Parliament to now when you announced him as your CM candidate, it’s been a journey. How did you discover him?
Arvind Kejriwal: I did not discover him. The people of Punjab discovered him. The people of Punjab have supported him in every election, making him win by huge margins. Bhagwant is very close to me. He is like a younger brother. My family also adores him. He’s extremely popular in Punjab. Taking all these factors into account, the party decided that he must be our CM face. But if I had made an announcement without asking the public, allegations of favouritism would have been hurled at me. So, we went to people and they overwhelmingly voiced their support for him (Bhagwant). More than 21 lakh people responded and then the choice of CM face was obvious.
Rohan Dua (to Bhagwant Mann): When and how did you meet Arvind Kejriwal for the first time? What attracted you towards him and his party?
Bhagwant Mann: Arvind had resigned as Delhi CM after running a 49-day government when I first met him. I was a part of People’s Party of Punjab then. I used to watch and listen to Arvind even when the Anna movement against corruption was on. He used to do a lot of press conferences and expose people with documentary evidence. Deep inside, I used to feel that I also want to be a part of this team. I met him on Febraury 22, 2014 for the first time at his home. He told me to join the party. I wanted to merge my then party with the AAP but that didn’t materailise. So, I left that party and joined the AAP.
Then I expressed my desire to contest Lok Sabha election from my home town Sangrur in 2014. I won the election and kept raising the issues of Punjab in the Parliament. Arvind used to come to Punjab and hold large rallies. That’s how our friendship strengthened. I have never asked him for anything. I did whatever he told me to do — from organising rallies, mobilising people to taking on Badals of Akali Dal — with utmost commitment. Even if tells me to paste posters in Jalandhar and Ludhiana, I will do it happily.
Rohan Dua (to Arvind Kejriwal): Both Bhagwant and Sidhu have been on television shows as comedians. Bhagwant earned his spurs by playing ‘Jugnu’ which made him a household name in Punjab, while Sidhu enjoyed limelight in Mumbai. You have interacted with both of them. Bhagwant comes from rural hinterland; Sidhu declared his assets today which are worth Rs 45 crore. If you compare the careers and personalities of the two, what differences and similarities do you see?
Arvind Kejriwal: We are not here to compare the careers of comedians. Our vision is how to take Punjab forward. The people of Punjab today have three options before them — a party that is accused of propping up drug mafia (reference to Akali Dal), a party that is neck-deep into mining scam (Congress) and a party that has proven credentials as an honest political outfit (reference to his own party AAP). The party is honest, the CM face of a party is honest; so Punjab needs corruption-free, honest politics. AAP provides that ray of hope. When people lookm at AAP and Bhagwant, they see hope that this party will build schools and hospitals for our children.
Rohan Dua (to Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Mann): Sidhu has launched personal attacks against you both. He has also cast aspersions on AAP’s surveys. How do you respond to that?
Arvind Kejriwal: Where is the need to respond? Even Congress people don’t listen to him. Why do you listen to him and waste your time?
Bhagwant Mann: Now Sidhu is also talking about getting feedback from workers on the ground. So he is essentially following our footsteps. As regard to property, you must have seen my form of declaration. My assets are Rs 14 lakh less than in my previous declaration. My assets have declined over the 9 years since I have enetred politics. I don’t regret that at all. It gives me immense satisfaction to devote my life in the service of people.
Rohan Dua (to Bhagwant Mann and Arvind Kejriwal): After all these years, how do you look at Sidhu?
Bhagwant Mann: Sidhu is a very educated man, but the kind of language he uses, even for journalists, is crass. There is no mention of people and public welfare in his discourse. Sidhu and Akali Dal’s Bikram Singh Majithia can keep indulging in filthy rhetoric, the people will cast both of them aside.
Arvind Kejriwal: Sidhu wants to be the CM face of the Congress. Our best wishes are with him. Hope the Congress will be fair to him.
Rohan Dua (to Arvind Kejriwal): As far as the scams go, what would you rate as a bigger issue for Punjab? Drugs or mining?
Arvind Kejriwal: Every issue is equally important. Drugs is definitely a big issue because it’s ruining the lives of the youth. It’s ruining the next generation. It’s not just about corruption, it’s ruining the entire community.
Rohan Dua (to Bhagwant Mann): I particularly remember a famous poem by you from 2017 — Kikli. If we talk about the next 20 days, are we going to see something like kikli being performed here?
Bhagwant Mann: I don’t call myself a comedian but a social critic. In all my CDs apart from evoking laughter, there is something to think about. Just like Mehmood sir. He would make you cry while laughing. People of Punjab have put their trust in me, so what I want for them is to be really happy. I want people to be satisfied with their lives. So the laughter rings true. You can’t laugh, if you don’t have food in your stomach and the hearth is not warm. I want people to be satisfied — their kitchen fires must burn, there should be no unemployment, they must be treated well medically and their kids should go to good schools. This is what I believe what my duty should be.
Rohan Dua (to Arvind Kejriwal): In 2017, we had only two Chief Minister faces. One was Captain Amarinder Singh and the other was Prakash Singh Badal. But now, we have multiple political parties probables and it looks to be a four corner fight. Who do you find a formidable challenge among the other candidates?
Arvind Kejriwal: You would know that they all collectively fought against us last time. Sukhbir Badal and Mr Gujral even said this in their interviews that BJP transferred its vote to Congress party last time. Come to think about it, there appears to be an alliance between BJP and INC. This was shocking for us.
I believe they’ll fight together against us this time as well. Be it small or big parties, they’re all against us. They all have one goal — to make sure AAP doesn’t come into power. Because if it does, their corrupt practices will be put to a stop. This is not a fight against an individual, this is a fight against the entire system. We want to destroy this corrupt system and bring a more honest and transparent system in place which will result in the growth of Punjab. This is what the fight is about.
Rohan Dua (to Arvind Kejriwal): So far as we have seen, AAP candidates come from varied backgrounds, mostly humble or rural. Is that a conscious attempt?
Arvind Kejriwal: AAP is a party for common people. Even in the current brood of ministers, there may be some who come from a humble background but are now stifled. The corruption in the system has drained Punjab and people of Punjab have lost faith in their leaders. Now it’s time for a common man to take the reigns of power — for an honest man to handle the power. In Delhi too, we want honest candidates and if people from other parties want to come and join us, we are prepared to give them tickets. A majorly of tickets, however, would go to a common man.
Rohan Dua (to Arvind Kejriwal): Like how you gave ticket to Jamira Singh’s son? So is there a combination strategy in place? Bhagwant Mann has always been famous. But when you pick someone from a humble background, is it part of the same ideology?
Arvind Kejriwal: He (Bhagwant Mann) will answer this. He has given a majority of tickets here in Punjab.
Bhagwant Mann: You are right. There’s a girl named Narendra Kaur in Sangrur, who is contesting against Arvind Khanna. Big hot shots, but she’ll defeat them. She does household work in the morning and then goes on to campaign. She holds an LLB degree. In the east, we have Dr Jeevan Jyot. I’m only talking about women here. There is also Anmol Gagan Mann, a very famous singer; an economics teacher, Sarabjit Kaur from Jagrau; a son from a common family, Lab Singh from Badhor; a worker from Jatrala…
So, even if we talk about last time, we had an unemployed lineman pradhan and a taxi driver who defeated Daljit Singh Cheema or Harpal Singh Cheema or a 6 MA degrees holder principal Budhram Ji…
In that sense, you can say that we have representation from every part of the community. We are not here to promote connections. In fact, far from it.
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