In an exclusive interview with The New Indian Assistant Editor Urvashi Khona, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) vice president and the party’s Delhi unit in charge Baijayant Panda accused the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) of having links with “separatists” and “terror groups”, of trying to “fool” people of Delhi and exuded confidence about BJP’s victory in the ensuing elections for the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD). Edited excerpts:
Urvashi Khona: As BJP in charge of Assam, you led the party to a spectacular win and retained the government. How easy or difficult it was to work in Assam and script that victory?
Baijayant Panda: I lived in Assam for 4-5 months. I must emphasise that this was not my victory but of Team BJP, thanks to the huge popularity that PM Narendra Modi. He has done a lot more for the entire north during his tenure than what was done before he assumed office. There were enormous contributions of senior party leaders like Amit Shah Ji who is world-renowned for his strategy, party president JP Nadda Ji who led from the front, and chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and Union minister Sarbanand Sonowal.
Since that victory, we continue to win elections. We nearly cleanly swept the municipal corporation elections in the state. After that victory, BJP has emerged victorious in areas where it failed in the past. It’s a huge victory for Team BJP.
UK: How do you see your role as BJP party in charge of MCD polls in Delhi?
BP: Delhi MCD polls are bigger than ever Assembly elections in some states. The budget, scope of work and infrastructure – these all factors are representative of the massive scale of the MCD.
Several senior party leaders like president JP Nadda Ji, chief ministers Himanta Biswa Sarma, Manohar Lal Khattar, Pushkar Singh Dhami, and Jai Ram Thakur, and Union ministers like Hardeep Singh Puri and Gajendra Singh Shekhawat among others who are holding roadshows in Delhi.
We have seen huge enthusiasm among BJP workers in the last some weeks. Workers are key strengths of the party. Lakhs of party workers reached out to more than two crore people in Delhi during their time of need in the last 2.5 years.
Many people had shown keenness to contest the election in every ward. We selected candidates through a very democratic and transparent process and that has now translated into enormous enthusiasm on the ground.
We foresee a solid victory in this MCD poll.
UK: BJP has given tickets to Pasmanda Muslims, newspaper hawkers and Sikh candidates in this election. Tell us about the plan behind the inclusion of minorities in the candidate list.
BP: Let me make this clear – BJP is a party for everyone. It is not a party only for minorities. We don’t do politics of appeasement like other parties. In BJP, we work, as Modi Ji has pointed out, with the motto of ‘Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas and Sabka Prayas’.
You mentioned Sikh candidates. Earlier, we had an alliance with Sikh identity-based regional party. Now that they are not with us, it is our responsibility to ensure that Sikh workers as well as leaders who have recently joined the party, get proper representation, particularly in seats where they can win.
Similarly, you also mentioned Pasmanda Muslims. This community has been neglected throughout the country. So in this election, we have given priority to people from the Pasmanda community in the ticket distribution in constituencies where they have the chance of victory.
We have candidates from almost all communities like Punjabi, Vaish, Valmiki, Jats, and Khatiks. Our vision is that we all are working for national interest, and the betterment of India, particularly Delhi.
UK: Will cases involving Satyendra Jain, Manish Sisodia and the alleged corruption in the Delhi liquor policy impact MCD polls? If yes, how will it play out?
BP: Enormous scale of development has been carried out by the BJP-ruled MCD like world-class eco-parks, bio parks, huge investments in garbage management programmes, and improvement in MCD schools. BJP has worked to make MCD schools world-class on a large scale while AAP claims have improved only a few schools.
AAP has only made fake promises. If you check on the Internet, you will find that in the last eight years, AAP leaders have promised every year to clean up the Yamuna within one or two years. Yamuna is today in its worst stage.
Look at the pollution in Delhi. People are suffering for the last 8 years due to fake promises and inaction by the AAP government. If you step out of your home, you would consume toxic years that would harm you to the level that smoking 30-40 cigarettes would have harmed you.
AAP pretended that it would a different kind of party with a clean image. Look at Satyendar Jain who has been in jail for five months now. Courts are not granting him bail. Why? Because there is strong prima facie evidence against him of money laundering. The liquor scam is huge. They not only tripled the number of liquor shops and opened them in front of schools, and gurudwaras, but also committed corruption. The assistant of a very senior AAP leader has turned as a witness in the case. The investigation has found money trails and discrepancies in transactions. AAP now stands exposed. The people of Delhi realise their fakery.
UK: Do you think that arrests of several AAP leaders will now convince people that AAP is not as clean as they claim; that they have committed fraud and corruption?
BP: I think you are referring to widespread AAP propaganda and their mindset that they can buy voters by offering freebies. Remember, these freebies are not reaching people in a uniform manner. Let’s take free electricity for example. People don’t realise that there is a scam of more than ₹ 20,000 crores in the electricity supply in Delhi. Sooner or later people will face the consequences of it. There are often complaints about the supply of dirty water that cannot be consumed. Why? Delhi Jal Board is run by AAP. There is a scam in DJB as well.
Mohalla clinics have not given a single dose of Covid vaccine in the last two and a half years. The whole idea that they can buy votes by doling out freebies is getting disapproved because people are complaining about bad water and bad air.
So, people are fed with the AAP.
UK: AAP has been roaring in Gujarat, promising to implement its Delhi governance model. What is your opinion about their chances there?
BP: I think AAP will be whimpering after the Gujarat polls and not roaring. There is an old saying – you can fool some people all the time, everyone sometimes but not everyone every time. In Delhi, they have built one or two schools but trying to project a big education model. They have been buying media space. You saw an international newspaper give them a lot of fake credit without backing up with the statistics. How many schools have they improved? You can’t just show one school and pretend as if hundreds of schools are doing well. They have actually reduced the number of schools. The same international newspaper became too critical of AAP over air pollution, which turned Delhi into a gas chamber.
The days are gone when you say one thing in Delhi, something else in Punjab, and another thing in Gujarat. Today, people in Gujarat know what they are doing thanks to media outlets like yours and the Internet.
Don’t the people of Gujarat know that the AAP government in Punjab is unable to pay salaries to state government employees? Don’t they know that these people (AAP) are hobnobbing with separatists and with those linked to terrorist groups? Don’t they know that the same people who they (AAP) supported during the Delhi (farmers) protest are protesting against them in Punjab?
UK: Can we say that MCD polls will work as the semifinals of the next Delhi elections?
BP: As a party in charge of Delhi, my job is to win the battle. Of course, we have had a presence in Delhi for a long time and we will continue to do well. We have won all seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi. We continued to win MCD elections due to PM Modi’s image, his popularity, and the work done by the Central government. We are doing exceedingly well in the MCD elections.