I replace my glass on the Che Guevara coaster and eye the bookshelf, eager to put to rest a niggling suspicion planted in my brain by the Adele-loving bomber squadron that is the Twitterati. A quick scan of the brimming row and I chuckle – Das Kapital is missing; so is Hajar Churashir Maa.
I’ve come to interview Shazia Ilmi of the Aam Aadmi Party at her GK II home in Delhi. Shazia is the AAP candidate for the RK Puram constituency in the upcoming Delhi elections. Ever since the Anna Movement of 2011, she has been the face of AAP. She smiles generously, is outspoken, and manages to get her points across forcefully. If she has a bad hair day she doesn’t show it. I am hoping she’ll extend that same courtesy today.
What are you expecting from your constituents?
To really consider the third option, which is AAP. People are sick and tired of the Congress-BJP complicity. In the slums, we see it in evidence every day. Innovas appear out of nowhere, goons climb out, they shout at us, misbehave, threaten the common folk who come to our rallies – this is normal. People want change.
What are you promising the voters?
Our manifesto promises to address as many as 71 issues. Principal among them is Women’s Security. My constituency is where the Nirbhaya incident took place. Incidentally, the rapists hailed from the Ravidas camp which again is in my constituency.
Have you been to the Ravidas camp?
Three times. The slums are being kept as festering grounds for unrest and crime. Two kilometres from Vasant Vihar is the slum settlement of Ekta Vihar, where something even as basic as a sewer has been in the pipeline for 10 years.
You stay in GK II, and yet you are contesting from RK Puram?
Anyone can contest from anywhere.
You said recently on twitter that Barkha sent a truckload of goondaas for you…
I am intrigued – why would a journalist do that?
Barkha Singh, the MLA.
Oh, my apologies!
…I’ve made a police complaint. We have evidence of this.
Has the police registered an FIR?
No. We’ve been roughed up, our topis have been thrown.
Do you think your opponents want this sort of confrontation?
Yes. This is the formula. Complete goondaraj.
Isn’t the AAP controversial “auto” poster hurtful to the eye? And I don’t just say this because it has Sheila Dikshit’s photo on it…
Yes, people might find it very abrasive, but what’s far more crude is the way things are presently.
The poster clearly says “Corrupt” under Sheila Dikshit’s photo…
You aren’t worried about defamation cases?
It’s a fact – everybody knows her name is there in the CWG scam. And also, if you were to follow this war of words, then what about calling us Maoists right to our faces every single day?
Can change only be brought about by joining politics?
It’s easy to say I’ll just be a protestor, but if I am concerned about corruption, I’ve got to do more. Instead of protesting on the streets, I might as well get inside the Parliament. We want to make policies. We are talking of self-governance, Swaraj, decentralisation – how on earth will this happen if you are not in the Parliament?
What would you say to people like Irom Sharmila? Should she join politics?
People do things in different ways. You can do a thousand anshans now – and frankly the politics of fasting has been exhausted. You can die, nothing will happen. You have to take it to the next level and the next level is only and only politics.
Now you’ve been a journalist and a TV anchor yourself. Do you think since the time you left the news business, things have gotten worse?
…When the media gets these so-called independent journalists or lawyers – Vinod Sharma or Harish Salve, for example – I think there should be disclosures. People should know what kind of corporate cases they are handling.
But there are hardly any disclosures nowadays…
Indeed. Vinod Sharma should disclose that he is a member of Minority Commission, a body chosen by Sonia Gandhi. Shobhana Bhartia, owner of Hindustan Times, has been a Congress MP. People will soon realise that they aren’t just speaking as journalists.
The book Swaraj, by Arvind Kejriwal, is a manifesto for complete overhaul of the system as we know it.
We see no difference between the Congress and the BJP. We are saying don’t just change the party, change the system.
I gather it is a pre-requisite for ticket applicants to have read Swaraj?
Swaraj is the model for us. The candidates will be chosen only on the basis of the answers they give. You have to explain the book to the people. The candidates will become our pracharaks.
Are you Socialists, or do you believe in the concept of the free market?
These are just labels.
Look, we’re against crony-capitalism, not Capitalism. Corporate practices should be ethical.
But you are for privatisation? Legally regulated Capitalism?
In Swaraj you criticise NREGA and other state-sponsored schemes…
People still stay you are Socialists.
This is too simplistic a label. Take for example a dam. Sometimes they are needed, sometimes not. Saying, therefore, that one is anti-dam, well, it’s a very silly thing to say.
What’s your stand on the Uniform civil code (UCC)?
See, we don’t want to play the games these parties play: reservations for Muslims, UCC, Ram Mandir. We have committees that deliberate on such issues.
They haven’t met on this issue yet?
They’ve been meeting. Look, we don’t believe in dividing India. Instead of seeing ourselves as Hindus and Muslims and Dalits, we see ourselves as citizens.
What about Article 370? I ask this because Prashant Bhushan said he would like to see a plebiscite on Kashmir.
He said that.
But what if the rest of India holds a referendum and says it doesn’t want a referendum on Kashmir?
I’ll give you our policy paper. We’ve looked at it.
You’ve the answer for this?
Yes. Prashant might have these views, but it’s not necessary that Arvind has the same views.
Does Arvind have opposite views?
Look, Arvind says he’s not an expert on this, but at the same time Prashant’s views may not be AAP views. A case in point is our discussion on economic development. There are leftist views and there are right-wing, pro-development views, and both are given equal chance to be heard. We can’t be anti or pro. The lokpal issue, for example –
I was coming to that. Now, there are as many as 20 states that have instituted lokayuktas. So what’s the burning need for a lokpal?
If you look at the Gujarat lokpal, the purpose was to check corruption. Now, if the executive is going to sit heavy on the choice of the lokpal, then the whole rationale is not met. It’s a joke!
In what sense?
The Chief Minister decides who the lokayukta would be.
That’s not entirely true. Section 28 says that any appointment of the lokayukta under the old law will be automatically considered as if it occurred under the new law.
Yes, but if you see the appointment process…The same thing is what the Congress is also doing – providing legal aid to the accused; fines for frivolous complaints, things of that sort.
You think complainants would be discouraged?
Of course. Talking about imprisonment, fines – this wasn’t there in the earlier version.
Why do you think this…
Vindictiveness. You see, if you look at the big-ticket corruption in all the parties, I would say with the exception of the communists and the TMC, there –
But TMC says in the last 20 years 53,000 of its workers have been killed by the Communists.
So the corruption…
It’s a different kind of corruption. Violence.
Yes. What we are demanding is investigation of the power centres.
You want CBI to be independent. They say it’ll turn out-of-control…
But look at the CAG, the EC – have they become rogue bodies? If you don’t free the CBI, how on earth will you ensure an honest investigation?
I would never have thought it possible, but you seem to have appropriated an idea from none other than Sanjay Jha. Your tweets have a liberal sprinkling of the word feku.
Because I think a lot of it is. Even this recent Uttarakhand thing put me off. Going there, saying he saved Gujarati pilgrims…it was very vulgar. And I also call Rahul a pappu. I feel both of them are the same. One side of the media props pappu, the other side feku. And then to constantly talk about what all he has done, all this media hype…
You’ve been to Gujarat?
Yes. You know, a lot of journalists simply condone what Congress does because they feel they are on the secular side, and so Modi becomes the enemy. But I find the Congress to be equally communal.
Do you believe that a person is innocent until proven guilty?
I believe that, yes, but you can only prove someone to be guilty after a thorough investigation, isn’t it. When the processes themselves are under a scanner, how can we trust the investigation, and so how can we trust the outcome?
So by that…?
What can the judge do when the investigation is tardy or compromised? So to say that a man is innocent until proven guilty doesn’t make sense anymore.
AAP says democracy is power to the people…
Look, we are saying let the people decide. But we must stick to the Constitution. Gender or caste discrimination will not be tolerated. You know, the symbol we wanted for our party was the Constitution.
So as long as you stick to the Constitution…
Yes, because otherwise there’d be mayhem. Many said people want a Hindu Rashtra. But the word “secular” in our constitution will never allow for that to happen.
But what about decisions that people make collectively while being still under the rule of the Constitution? What if people in a gram sabha are coerced by the corrupt to be silent?
That will happen.
Happens all the time.
Yes, that’s why the quorum has to be kept in a certain way. That’s why gram sabha should be representative and shouldn’t be majority based.
But why is the AAP completely sold on referendum? One example that comes to mind is the infamous Deorala incident when Roop Kanwar committed sati and the whole gram sabha watched the gory spectacle. A referendum would have allowed it…
What we are saying is that nothing should go against the Constitution and the basic rights guaranteed to an individual. But the decision to give yourself a sewer line with your own money is not unconstitutional.
Another thing you say – correctly – is that just because a person is uneducated he shouldn’t be kept out of decision-making.
But my problem is not with the uneducated part. If people – untrained in a particular field – have a right to decide on everything, then why does India not currently have a jury system?
America has a jury system.
Do you think we should?
No. What we are saying is that as far as the basic amenities are concerned, people should have a say in the matter. Look, it will throw up a lot of issues – it will open a can of worms.
It’s a can of worms, alright.
I suppose someone has to open it…?
Yes. Let’s discuss everything. But let’s make sure no one violates anyone’s rights.
Coming to the issue of Naxalism, there’s been a lot of confusion as to what exactly is AAP’s stand on it.
It’s just created.
AP says Naxals are formed because everything is taken away from them. By that logic, what’s the difference between “everything” and 20 rupees? So should, then, 830 million people also take up arms?
Look, our path is completely that of non-violence. But at the same time, are we Indians not creating a situation that will lead to violence?
Do you think denial of one’s rights is connected to taking up arms?
No, we cannot justify violence in any way. The path Naxals have chosen is very different from our path.
Arundhati called them Gandhian with guns.
Yes, Arundhati also called us a foreign-funded agency, and she said a whole lot of things about us – Ford Foundation is running the Anna Movement and so on.
But when you say things like: any land issue has to be the prerogative of gram sabha where the land falls…
But surely, a perfectly legitimate reason for making a dam can be rejected by the village settlement?
It cannot be done without the permission of the villagers, because it is their land after all. Besides, anybody can make a case for anything. We can say that Lutyen’s Delhi can be better utilised – such a waste of space. So you know, a case can be made either way.
What if even after the consultation process regarding, say, a legitimate reason for making a dam, the gram sabha decides to not part with their land – what then?
I really think you should talk to one of our executive committee members on this. We have debated all these issues.
…Now Gene Sharp, the author of the famous book From Dictatorship to Democracy…
Sharp’s book – that has been a blue-print for the Arab spring – lists 198 methods for non-violent resistance. I was intrigued to find as many as 162 of those are the methods that AAP has actually followed. But you haven’t once mentioned Gene Sharp…
Gene Sharp hasn’t once mentioned us.
When an NCP leader made allegations against Mayank Gandhi, you told him to go to court. Can I ask you why haven’t you gone to court against Robert Vadra?
But we have! We are fighting – Prashant Bhusan is fighting so many cases.
Against Vadra, you aren’t.
No, because we can’t keep doing this. All we are doing is placing the facts on the table. In Anjali Damania’s and Mayank’s case, we are saying give us the facts, we have an internal lokpal. Either come to us with proof or go to court.
What’s happening with the internal lokpal?
It’s in place. Three judges are there, working on it – someone’s given us material against Mayank…We are saying: give us something more than a tweet or a media report against our people for the internal lokpal to work on.
But you think they are not corrupt?
Give us proof to the contrary.
They are innocent until proven guilty?
There’s no case, there’s no evidence, unlike what we showed the world in the Vadra case, on the Scorpene deal, the coal scam.
So, about Mayank Gandhi…
Wait…[calls up Mayank]…Mayank informs me he’s been completely exonerated by the internal lokpal.
Yes…you see, we are upfront – we are an open book. One thing I must make clear here: we have always given evidence, documents – we don’t hit and run.
Before we end, let me ask you this: why do you always say Bharat Mata ki Jai at the end of every speech or rally?
We also say Inquilab Zindabad…
Do you think there’s a difference between nationalism and patriotism?
But again we are getting wrapped up in these tags and symbols, like socialism, capitalism…
But where is the need?
We use it to garner strength and momentum. When we cry Inquilab Zindabad no one says anything; only when it is Bharat Mata ki Jai, the pseudo secularists say we are right-wing. But when we expose Modi and Gadkari then they don’t know what to say. Someone’s selling secularism, someone else communalism, but they all are corrupt.
Ms Ilmi, many thanks.