AAP leaders Yogendra Yadav and Adarsh Shastri talk about why their sweeping victory and BJP’s defeat in Delhi is a sign of changing politics, why they believe the Congress is finished in the capital, and about AAP’s future plans. This session was moderated by Vandita Mishra of The Indian Express
Why Adarsh Shastri and Yogendra Yadav
Yogendra Yadav (top, right) and Adarsh Shastri are among the most visible faces of the Aam Aadmi Party, which recently won a historic victory in the Delhi Assembly elections. Yadav is part of the powerful political affairs committee of AAP and among its senior-most spokespersons. Shastri, former Apple India sales head, is a first-time MLA and is seen as the face of enterprise in the government. While Yadav adds much value to the party’s political strategy, Shastri is in charge of implementing the government’s Wi-Fi plans in the city
Vandita Mishra: The Delhi verdict does not lend itself to much fine-grained analysis. It inspires feelings of either awe or fear. As Arvind Kejriwal said, ‘It’s scary’. What is the scariest part of the verdict for you?
Yogendra Yadav: It is the burden of expectations, not so much fulfilling the promises we have made… After the Lok Sabha elections, the feedback we got was very straightforward: ‘Look, you people may be honest, courageous. But do you know how to govern?’. A team—Adarsh Shastri, Ashish Khetan, Meera Sanyal—worked for four months preparing a blueprint for governance in Delhi. We were perhaps the first party to issue white papers before the election on the condition of water in Delhi. They were almost academic papers. On the basis of it, we issued a 70-point action plan.
Vandita Mishra: You said the class divide between you and the BJP is stark. What does this mean for the AAP government?
Yogendra Yadav: There is a class dimension to AAP politics. When I walk into a building, I don’t know how anyone else would greet me but I know the chowkidaar would greet me nicely. In Adarsh Shastri’s constituency—a lower class, unauthorised colony, a slum constituency—we get a welcome which is unbelievable. But the important thing is that it does not come with the ideological baggage of class struggle.
Let me clarify. The AAP happens to be one party that has noticed the existence of the underprivileged in the city. And the underprivileged have noticed that someone is noticing them. Their hopes and aspirations are getting prioritised. Somehow, the word ‘aspirations’ is not associated with them. In that sense, there is a clear class dimension.
But those who underline class dimension get stuck in the past. The first is the idea that class politics is a zero-sum game. ‘You can work for the poor only if you snatch something away from those at the top’. That idea reached ridiculous levels during the Naxal movement… The idea that you would emphasise only the distribution part of it and not the wealth-generation part was clearly a mistake. Thus, any class politics came to be seen as anti-enterprise.
Also, those who believed in class politics of the 20th century thought the only way of achieving it was through the State—licences, quotas and the public sector. So even when public sector is guzzling money and not producing anything, you stick to that belief. Even if you have evidence that subsidies for diesel do not work and actually distort your economy, you continue with that belief.
We need to take an agnostic view. If the private sector works better, I am for it. If the public sector works better, I am for the public sector. Why should this become a matter of religious dogma?
Adarsh Shastri: Coming from a corporate background, I have often faced this question about how AAP is anti-business, anti-enterprise.
Absolutely not. What we are against is crony capitalism. We have spoken about business-friendly policies, more exciting slabs for VAT. We have also said that tax assessments should be voluntary and based on your own assessment. If there is a question of doubt, only then will we come back to you. The idea is that Delhi should become a large business enterprise trading hub. The geography is such that you cannot become a manufacturing hub. But why can’t Delhi be like Bangalore or the (San Francisco) Bay Area? That’s also the thought behind the Wi-Fi programme.
Seema Chishti: The India Against Corruption movement was clearly not pro-state. But in your manifesto, you talk about a huge role for the state.
Yogendra Yadav: In the movement, there were strains which were not anti-state, but anti-politics. I wrote against it, said it was not democratic.
Over the past two years, we have been accused of being pro-state, of wanting to do many things. On Lokpal, critics said we were relying too much on a State institution. The role the State can best play is to be agnostic. Get evidence. If someone says you cannot create schools in the hinterland without state intervention, it’s a plausible point. But if someone says you have to have public sector in airways, ITDC and things of that kind, I don’t understand. Why can’t we have a reasonable debate determined by evidence?
Maneesh Chhibber: Do you think people who voted for you were voting against the Modi government? Also, you have promised many freebies. What does a middle-class person like me have to look forward to from this government?
Adarsh Shastri: I think it was not a vote against the Central government, but a vote for hope. I toured around 600 km in my padyatras and it was clear it was a vote for a better future. ‘I really am not interested in bullet trains. I want to know when my sewage will be fixed. I want to know if my children can go to a good Delhi government school. I want to know when the road in front of my house, broken for 20 years, is going to be built. I have been fighting for water for 25 years’. It’s been a vote for that hope.
Yogendra Yadav: I love this word ‘freebie’ and the context in which it is used and not used. The single biggest item of subsidy in our Budget—which accounts for more than R6 lakh crore every year—is the tax subsidy given to corporates. Somehow, the word ‘freebie’ never figures in that context. I believe the Union government is planning to do the biggest write-off of bank loans in our history. For the last two quarters, some of the biggest corporates have stopped paying interest on their loans. I’d like to see the word ‘freebies’ used with that.
Ajay Shankar: Which political party comes nearest to the AAP and can be its natural ally?
Yogendra Yadav: When we started, we were seen principally as an anti-Congress force. After the Lok Sabha elections, we are seen as an anti-BJP force. In the eyes of some, we would be anti-Congress and anti-BJP. This is not who we are. If we are anti anything, we are anti-establishment—anti the political establishment, including parties at the Centre, and parties at the state level. Third Front, United Front and other alliances, those experiments have failed… If tomorrow Arvind Kejriwal sits on a big manch with Lalu Prasad, Jayalalithaa and Om Prakash Chautala, if out of jail, would you not think, ‘Is this what I voted for?’. I do not see how we can participate in that kind of politics and still remain who we are.
Ajay Shankar: So will the AAP continue to be a political island?
Yogendra Yadav: Your question assumes that the AAP will remain confined to Delhi. The AAP is a nationwide platform for alternative politics, which is not merely in the business of offering political alternatives like, when the Samajwadi Party goes, the BSP comes. This is the largest political experiment in alternative politics at the national level. We deliberately chose Delhi as the first site. So our first challenge would be to consolidate our gains. Not just electoral gains, but to translate that into governance gains so that we have a model to present to the rest of the country… I do not think we are in a rush to go to Bihar or wherever elections take place next. We have limited energy. We have to conserve that and deploy it strategically.
Rakesh Sinha: How much has the decline of the Congress helped the AAP?
Yogendra Yadav: In the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP was at 46%votes, we were 33% and the Congress was 15%. From there, the Congress has come down to a little below 10%. So clearly, a huge chunk moved away from the BJP.
Adarsh Shastri: The vote across classes moved more from the BJP. That vote was not the fixed vote of the BJP. That voter saw what was promised by the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections, and when that did not translate into anything on the ground… That is the vote that shifted to us. People would come to me and say the silence of the PM on several issues made them question what was going on.
Apurva: Even with 67 MLAs, you have to work with the Centre to make the Swaraj, Lokpal Bills a reality.
Yogendra Yadav: I would not presume the Centre would go out of its way to create roadblocks… All the seven Lok Sabha MPs from Delhi belong to the BJP. They would want to get re-elected and do good for Delhi.
Raghvendra Rao: The Modi government rode to power on the promise of hope and so has the AAP. Do you think these two victories will be constantly compared?
Yogendra Yadav: This practice of treating every state election as a referendum on the Central government is not fair. I would normally say Delhi is just one of 29 states and a small one. The trouble is the Prime Minister went out of his way to turn it into one… So, if some of the mud sticks to him, I do not know who else to blame. But PMs tend to be popular for the first one or two years. If you were to check today, Modi would still be popular. Parties other than the AAP have become very excited about our victory… but it is not that he (Modi) has suddenly become an unpopular PM.
The myth of invincibility, though, has been shattered. Myths, once shattered, cannot be reassembled. And that juggernaut, that rath, has been halted. And somehow the BJP has got everyone to believe that once this juggernaut halts, it would be impossible to restart it… Or is it that they would rather lose to anyone else—a Congress, a Samajwadi Party, because these things you can sort out later—but losing to the AAP, that they did not want.
I do not subscribe to the lazy view though that because the BJP has lost Delhi, they are going to lose Bihar, UP etc. No, they have not lost Delhi, the AAP has won Delhi. And you need an AAP-like creature in Bihar, in UP, to lose an election.
Raj Kamal Jha: What is your reading of the Congress, as someone who plays in the same space—rural, minorities, the disenfranchised?
Yogendra Yadav: In Delhi, it may be fair to say the Congress is over. Once you are seen as a third player, you enter a free fall. Wherever the Congress has dropped below 20%, it has simply sunk—Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, UP, Bihar. We could say the same about Maharashtra now, possibly Haryana.
It is not an impossible position to recover from, but you need leadership, vision, guts. I am actually surprised the Congress got 9.5% vote share in Delhi; I thought we would drag them to 6 or so. Next time, you would see them at 5%. Somehow, the Congress never goes below 5%.
But outside Delhi is different. The Congress is a very large party, numerically speaking. But it’s a party that lacks energy or will to (come to) power. Lack of ideology or ethics is something you can live with, but lack of will to power? My own sense is the Congress faces a serious possibility of extinction, a crisis of existence. Most likely, it will suffer the same fate in Assam as in Maharashtra, Haryana. So you are looking at a Congress which is strong in Karnataka, in Kerala. In Kerala, it is unlikely to disappear, it has different roots there. In Karnataka, well, for the time being it is there. Where else? If you look at that strip from Gujarat to Orissa—Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa—it is the principle opposition party, except that it doesn’t oppose anything.
We are waiting for the first opportunity where someone else can come and give the Congress a hard kick. I suppose then the Congress will simply get up and abdicate. What is a crisis for the Congress is basically an opportunity for the AAP. And our long-term objective is to emerge as the principle and a principled opposition on the national platform.
Raj Kamal Jha: How do you achieve that?
Yogendra Yadav: By creating an organisation, giving depth to our party, picking up issues, creating opposition through some big questions and also creating a new policy space. In education, we want to move away from Congress-style Left and BJP-style Right. Not BJP-style, I would say pink press-style Right. We also need to move beyond on the secular question. We need to move beyond Congress-style secularism, which is a way of keeping the minorities hostage.
Vandita Mishra: So far, you have not spoken specifically of secularism. You have not directly addressed yourself to Muslim concerns. It’s possible that the Muslims who have supported you will ask you to address them separately and specially.
Yogendra Yadav: We seem to be benefiting from a big tectonic shift in Muslim politics, we are not the inventors of that, we have not created it. Old-style secular politics was about confining Muslim politics to Muslim-exclusive issues. So, you talked about Aligarh Muslim University, Urdu, Babri Masjid, waqf. Muslims are tired and sick of it. And this is what the Imam Bukhari episode tells us. Was this imaginable 10 years ago? That a party which knew it would get a substantial section of Muslim votes would tell Imam Bukhari, ‘We can do without it (your support)’. It’s not just that we were brave. It’s just that we recognised something which had happened on the ground. Muslims are sick and tired of being addressed merely as Muslims.
For the first time, some party has had the courage or probably the foresight to speak about issues that Muslims have as citizens, which is not to say that you should overlook some specific issues they have as Muslims as well. We have not created this new Muslim politics. A new Muslim politics is already emerging. We are just recognising it.
I want to say this about social justice as well. A party gets two-thirds of Dalit votes in Delhi without saying a word about promotion in reservations or reservations in promotions. On the class question, the secularism question, the social justice, caste question, on all the three, the AAP today has the support of the poorest, of minorities and of Dalits without sharing in the least the agenda that used to come with all these three. This is the beginning of a new kind of politics.
Shalini Langer: How important would sting operations be in your campaign against corruption this time, and is it a workable model?
Adarsh Shastri: They continue to be important. Citizens being alert and aware is like being part of the government. As Arvind says, the idea of deterrence is important. If that deterrent helps and the common man gets a better life, why not?
Ajay Shankar: What is your feedback on the church attacks in Delhi? Were they random or planned?
Adarsh Shastri: People felt there was some intent to polarise votes. The voters have actually moved beyond that in this election. They have moved to a stage when they can see through it.
Yogendra Yadav: Sometimes, in politics, what matters is not reality but perception. I am not in a position to verify the facts but the perception is very strong. The Christian community in Delhi is a small community. But their level of apprehension is very high.
Transcribed by Sumegha Gulati & Sarah Hafeez