Interview: Atishi Marlena, the AAP.

‘Driven by political reality’

Print edition : May 02, 2014

Atishi Marlena, spokesperson of the Aam Aadmi Party. Photo: Meeta Ahlawat

Interview with Atishi Marlena, official spokesperson of the Aam Aadmi Party.

THE Aam Aadmi Party has significantly altered the nature of political dialogue in the country by forcing other parties to engage in livelihood issues of common people. Atishi Marlena, official spokesperson of the AAP, speaks to Frontline:

How many seats is the AAP contesting in the elections?

Right now it is somewhere around 440.

Many political observers believe that such a large-scale participation could hamper its political prospects.

We were being driven by the larger sociopolitical reality that the AAP faced after the Delhi Assembly elections. An upsurge of popular support pushed us into contesting. People were looking for a party that was honest and that stood for their interests. People expected us to fill that political vacuum. The AAP has managed to capture the mind space of the people. We are being seen as a party that will take real issues head-on. For example, everyone knows about the real issues of the Indian polity, yet no one talks about them. No one talked about Robert Vadra, no one talked about the Ambanis and the Adanis of India. No one was talking about Narendra Modi and his PR. We have raised our voices at great personal cost. Every day, Arvind [Kejriwal] is being physically attacked. Our party activists have been attacked many times.

Has the AAP campaign been slow this time? What is your assessment?

The kind of groundwork that we were able to do for the Delhi elections has not been possible this time owing to the shortage of time. But we are witnessing popular support in urban Maharashtra, urban Karnataka and many other pockets. We now have to see how much of this support translates into votes. In addition, we have candidates who have come in with their own mass base—like Medha Patkar, Alok Aggarwal or Lingaraj Azad in Odisha. Along with our volunteer base, I hope they make a difference. But right now it is difficult to say.

Why you don’t see a large number of volunteers on the ground is that there were many who had specifically come to Delhi from all over the country to help in the Assembly elections and they are now volunteering in their own constituencies. But the difference in Delhi between then and now is that we have a reasonably well-organised party unit here.

Why has there been no internal survey for the parliamentary elections like the one you had for the Delhi Assembly elections?

It is far too expensive to get a survey done nationally. We don’t have that kind of funds.

However, more than the number of seats we win, this election is important because significant questions about both the Congress and the BJP have been raised. Important questions about our political establishment have been raised. Both the parties have shown their true colours of communal and vote-bank politics. The Congress has given reservation for Jats. And the BJP is now showing its communal colour. The farce of the “development” that the BJP was selling has come to an end. Again, issues like Ram Mandir and badla [revenge] have been raised by the BJP.

What the AAP has been able to do is to show that both the parties are two sides of the same coin. That there is a larger collusion of the political parties with the big corporates is an issue that we have managed to highlight. Mukesh Ambani [Reliance Industries chairman] was always thought of as a sacred cow, not to be named. A lot of journalists have since come to us to say that they had done investigative reports against the Ambanis that were buried and could not be printed because of pressure from the Ambanis. This sort of crony capitalism and collusion with the political class have been brought to the fore. Every ordinary person who watches the news now knows that Mukesh Ambani is giving funds to both the Congress and the BJP and their interests are tied. For democracy, the knowledge of this nexus is extremely significant.

Despite being perceived as a secular party, why has the AAP not been in the forefront in criticising communalism?

We have repeatedly said that our fight is against those who are corrupt and those who are communal. But the fact of the matter is that in the communalism-secularism debate, what often gets missed out is that the BJP is as corrupt and in collusion with the corporate class as is the Congress. For example, who knew that the CAG [Comptroller and Auditor General] had indicted the Gujarat government for a Rs.25,000-crore loss to the exchequer? It was important to bring out those issues in front of the public, because the story of development is being sold by the BJP to the whole country; a fake image that Modi is trying to sell.

Human development indices in Gujarat fare as bad or as good as any other State. Yet this is a PR myth that has been built over the last few years and built systematically. If you travel in an ordinary train in Uttar Pradesh, farmers would say that “ Modi kisaanon ka masiha hai” [Modi is the saviour of farmers]. That is why it was necessary to puncture that myth. Modi and the BJP advocate a development model that does not and cannot work for the common man.

There has been growth in Gujarat, but who has it benefited? If you look at the growth figures of the Adani group, we know that when Modi came to power it was a Rs.3,000-crore company; now it is estimated at Rs.50,000 crore. The biggest example of this collusion is the Energy and Petroleum Minister in Gujarat, Saurabh Patel, who is a son-in-law of the Ambani family. Why has no one talked about him? He holds all the important industrial portfolios. The entire Jamnagar belt of petrochemicals developed by the Ambanis was built literally under Patel’s supervision. I do feel that to some extent the myth of Gujarat has been broken because of Arvind’s trip to Gujarat.

What is the philosophy behind allying yourselves with various social movements in the country? They were mostly anti-political in their approach.

I don’t think they were anti-political ever. Yes, they did not enter electoral politics before but what they were essentially striving for was to change the balance of power in society. The AAP stands for struggle against the corrupt establishment, struggle against an establishment that does not work for the common man. And that is precisely what these movements have stood for. The AAP is also a movement, a vehicle for people whose voices are not being heard. A lot of these struggles had been going on for a long time but had not been able to achieve a larger victory against the system.

So far, the AAP has been an urban phenomenon. These social movements have also provided us inroads into the rural constituencies. In urban areas, it is the slums, the jhuggi jhopris, and the unauthorised colonies that voted the AAP to power. Our constituency is the urban poor. And in rural areas it is likely to be the farmers, agricultural labourers and Adivasis, among whom the social movements were working. Thus, they are our natural allies.

In case of a hung verdict, what will the AAP do?

In our assessment, both the Congress and the BJP represent similar interests. Both are funded and effectively run by the same kind of big industries. And these industries are the ones who get benefits, like large tracts of land, captive coal blocks, and gas wells. The AAP represents the other spectrum of politics; it represents the aam aadmi, who is tired of this corruption and crony capitalism. So a coalition is out of the question.

Coalition politics is politics of opportunism. The AAP’s politics is issue-based politics. Yes, but if a party wants to pass a more effective Lokpal Bill or a Swaraj Bill, we will support that legislation. But we will not support any of the mainstream political parties.

Kejriwal seems to have lost a bit of his popularity after he resigned from the Chief Minister’s post.

There is serious propaganda going on, accusing Arvind of running away. When we were contemplating forming the government, we were accused of not forming the government. And when we resisted the political establishment to scuttle our government, we are being accused of running away. But in the jan sabhas I have attended, people believe us when we say that we resigned because we could not have fulfilled what we set out to achieve.

What are the most important points of your election manifesto?

Of course, a strong Jan Lokpal Bill is on our agenda. The present one is toothless. The most important agenda is decentralisation, a radical devolution of power because a small class of people control all the resources of our country.

Electoral reforms are an important issue. The root of many problems lies in the black money that is spent on our election. Judicial and police reforms are also necessary as these institutions are still those colonial systems we have to live with.

On the economic front, we want to revive the rural economy. Encouraging entrepreneurship is another big thing. On the one hand we oppose crony capitalism and we do oppose the model of speculation, on the other we promote the model of entrepreneurship because eventually you have to promote the entrepreneurial spirit to generate employment, not just in big cities but also in small towns and villages.

How has the AAP managed to succeed with such a diverse group of people who are not ideologically united?

Our engagement has been on concrete issues. That is how a diverse group of people are held together. Large groups who are marginalised have found space in our party.

What will be the AAP’s future course of action?

After the parliamentary elections, we will concentrate on building our organisation and fighting Assembly elections, in States like Haryana and Maharashtra. In several other States, we are also contemplating contesting local urban body elections. This election has given us an opportunity to galvanise our party organisation throughout the country. People are now beginning to believe that a national alternative is possible.