Aam Aadmi Party’s Mumbai Northwest candidate and leader in Maharashtra Mayank Gandhi talks to Pragya Tiwari about the party’s Lok Sabha election plan for the state.
How many constituencies are you planning to field candidates from, in Maharashtra and in Mumbai?
We intend to field them in all 48 (constituencies) of Maharashtra, which obviously includes all six in Mumbai.
And who are the candidates you have announced from Mumbai so far?
Mumbai, there are three people who have been announced. One is Medha Patkar from North East. Meera Sanyal from South Mumbai and me from North West.
Okay. What is the procedure for ticket distribution for AAP so far? What have you devised?
Essentially what we do is we ask people, those who are interested, to fill up the forms— to download and fill up the forms and bring in 100 signatures per assembly. So each of the constituencies has about six to 10 assemblies. So 600-1000 people. So at least they have some kind of standing— that they can bring those signatures. Then it goes to Delhi from where it comes to Mumbai where we have a screening committee which consists of some members of the Maharashtra Executive Committee. Some independent outsiders also who are renowned, and some from the National Committee.
And when you say independent outsiders they are members of AAP?
No, they are not.
That’s very interesting.
There is a Gandhian leader… somebody like that. So somebody who has a reputation. This whole process is transparent and open. Then we interview the candidates on camera so that we have got everything recorded properly and then they are assessed by the interviewers, given marks. Based on that, the first two or three candidates, we send the list to Delhi. And unless Delhi has some serious objections they ratify the list. Prior to that we have a meeting with the District Committee because the local workers of that area also have their views that we would like to listen to. So after listening to the screening committee and the District Committee we make the list, send it to Delhi and then Delhi ratifies it and announces it.
Are you planning to have just a broad national manifesto or are you planning to have manifestos for per region and per city as well?
In Delhi we felt it does not become a real manifesto of the constituency. Mostly it lists problems— hamaara yeh road nahi hai (this is not our road)… So essentially this is what we will be doing. We will be having a national manifesto and every constituency will have their priority on what are the issues there which can be handled.
What is the process that you guys are employing to formulate the manifesto?
We have manifesto committees consisting of some of the top-most experts. So we are working on the economic manifesto, the decentralization manifesto, the environmental manifesto, various manifestos… we have teams.
Is this also a consultative process from outside people who are not members of the AAP?
So what we do is, when this draft is ready, we put it on the website and ask people to give their comments. Like the Jan Lokpal Bill went through 14 changes because it was a consultative process, the manifesto will also go through that. Already the economic manifesto has been sent to all the stakeholders in the industry: businesses, traders, slum dwellers, hawkers…
While we wait for the manifesto, can you tell us a couple of things that would be in your and AAP’s agenda for Bombay?
Of course it’s a general election so really the relationship between the central decision-making and Mumbai is important. Bombay Port Trust, the Railways and the Airport, are some of the things that we are working on with a view on how to develop the entire Western Front. We are working on some of the railway things that we think need improvement, especially on the Mumbai front and the (Mumbai) locals.
Mumbai as a city is very set in its ways politically. It’s always been. What is your poll strategy from Mumbai?
Essentially I think we don’t have the kind of money that other parties have nor do we want to use the process and methods that they use. So our strength is our volunteers and these are all very patriotic, very charged up volunteers. For example, if the other party has a volunteer that charges you 700 rupees and a biryani and some drinks in the night— they work for an hour, an hour and a half, and then they skip (work). Our volunteers start the day at 6 am in the morning by going to Juhu beach or into a garden and work late into the night, going door to door. So door to door, essentially, is going to be one of our key ways. The second thing that we have already started to do is our padyatra. We’re walking to the slums trying to talk to them, trying to explain what we are and giving out leaflets, all of that. And the third is a very nice, interesting youthful thing. Some of our younger volunteers take a megaphone and dance on the streets.
This like your buzz campaign. You also tried it in Delhi.
Yes. This buzz campaign we have already begun. So we do this buzz campaign and we try to attract the youth. We are basically a youthful group of people. And while I look old, most of the others are young and they think that we can attract the youth for this kind of change that is necessary for the country.
Do you have a national directive on poll strategy or are you guys planning on innovating poll strategies depending on what region, what city you are in?
Absolutely. Some may have worked in Delhi and not have worked here. So we keep on using creative models. One of the things that I do- because I want to be a representative of the people of this area, I need to understand their problems- is I go and stay overnight at slums. I eat with them. Last night I was in a slum and I was living with a Muslim family. A few days back I was living with a Dalit family. So essentially I want to go there, understand their issues, problems. Unlike the other parties, which bring in all these hired people for public meetings— they come there, give a speech, and go away… I don’t think that’s the right way. I think we need to be with them and break the barrier between us.
What kind of results are you hoping for in Maharashtra and Mumbai? I am not going to get into the poll surveys…
I will tell you very candidly. The amount of money that’s being thrown in by other political parties is not funny. I was just looking at my opponent. It’s running into hundreds of crores. How does one fight? Is it really possible to fight with honesty in this country? It is actually a question that is going to be determined in this election. So I don’t know really whether the intent we have— of change, honesty, integrity, of value-based politics, will win against this kind of money, this kind of muscle power, this kind of divisive agenda. I have no idea. But there’s a tremendous undercurrent of support. Wherever we go and ask people, ‘Would you vote for Aam Aadmi Party?’ 75% have said yes. Will that convert into votes? Will the last two nights of bribing and giving money and liquor… will that change the whole equation? I don’t know really. But we have put up good candidates.
If you had to, say, give me randomly four things that you would say you have going for you. What would they be?
I would think youth for one. Youth is completely keyed into what we are doing. The second is, I would think we are honest, good people. The other thing that is going for us is that the other options are terrible. People have seen through that. And fourth, very interestingly, and this maybe a bold statement but we have seen the minorities— the Dalits, who have been exploited and made into a vote catching machine or a vote bank have really said this time that: ‘We are no longer doing that’. In all my speeches that I give to the Muslim community, I say that the last thing I will do is appease you. I don’t do minority appeasement. We will give you nothing. We are not a shop that you come and tell me, ‘Ki mere paas 5 lakh vote hai. Aap mujhe kya doge? Yeh koi dukaan nahin hai (That I have 5 lakh votes, what will you give me? This is not a shop).’ We want to build the country. This is not a tradeoff.
Other than big money, are there any challenges particularly in Maharashtra and Bombay that you guys need to be geared up for?
I think to meet people’s expectations is sometimes scary. Because they have high expectations, and why not? There should be high expectations from any political party, which talks probity, transparency.
So your real challenge will begin once you guys come into power?
Even when we are not in power, our behavior needs to be very very balanced. Because people are looking at us. It’s a very interesting thing. People get worked up: ‘Somnath Bharati raised his finger like this. Arvind Kejriwal shouldn’t have said that.’ That kind of a relationship between the individual and the party is so unique. Even if the other party is involved in a scam of Rs. 1,76,000 crores people overlook it because that’s expected out of them..
Young people are a huge part of your workforce like you mentioned, your buzz campaigns. What do you think, are some of the key things the youth is looking for from this election and how do you plan on delivering it?
I think the youth wants a life— I don’t make a big deal about… we will stop corruption and all that. If we can give to the youth a simple life, in which they can go through life without having to pay money to a cop, without having to give money for this, that… Life has become so complicated. Can’t we simplify it? This happens across the world. How does one stop corruption at that level? What are the anti-corruption measures that we should take? How do we bring in the youth? How do we change the way education is done? How do we remove capitation fees? How can you ensure that there’s 100% education, literacy? How can you ensure that the poor get free medicine for smaller issues? These are simple things that the state is supposed to do. How do you see that you get 24 hours of electricity? How do you see that you get water that you want on your tap? We are not promising the moon, we’re just saying a simple life with normal things should be given to the youth and the people of this country. After 65 years, if you are not able to do that you should be ashamed of yourselves.
So you’re saying that, one of your key focus areas is going to be trying to give the youth a life in which it’s not so difficult for them to navigate the system, when it comes to education, employment, daily life.
Absolutely. And more importantly, I think, I would like to say this, you have to give the decision-making to the youth. We have an entirely centralized model. A few of the people are deciding everything for the country. And those people are then controlled by the elite, by the rich, by vested interests and all decisions are taken as per that. It needs to change. The ‘swaraj model’ which Arvind Kejriwal is propagating is one by which decisions at the grass roots level are taken by people at the grass roots level. And the youngsters need to come out and take decisions for what affects them. So this model of some people controlling the destiny of 126 crore (people) is a completely flawed model. We need to change the way decisions are taken. We need to bring in the younger, erudite people in positions where they can take decisions.
Mayank, as good an idea as this is, it has come under a lot of criticism because Swaraj needs to be thought through. On the one hand there needs to be a balance between giving a lot of decision making power to smaller units and being able to maintain law and order and not get into a situation which is anarchic. Is that a concern for you guys?
Absolutely not. It’s not rocket science. Across the world there is decentralization of power. A village in Amravati if a school teacher does not come for 15 days, he (the villager) has to go 1100 kms to Mantralaya to ask (about it). If you give him the power to decide whether the school teacher should be removed, what is the big deal? We are working on funds, functions and functionaries. How much of funds should be given in a decentralized model? Who are the functionaries that work at that level? What are the functions that they should carry out? So there is a very detailed working that is happening..
It will have inbuilt checks and balances?
Absolutely, abuse and disuse of power need to be stopped. But you can’t say the people of this country don’t have the brains to take their own decisions. That’s ridiculous! We need to change the way governance takes place. If you remove crony capitalism, you make a level playing field, you build entrepreneurship, you support people who want to do their own work; that will bring the intellect and the genius of this country to the fore so that they can take care of themselves.
You spoke to me about certain groups of voters who have an affinity for the Aam Aadmi Party— young people, dalits, minorities, Muslims. What are some of the groups of voters that you think you need to reach out to more?
In Mumbai, a lot of the Marathi youth have been brought up on this entire idea that there is injustice and people from Bihar and UP are coming and taking over. They need to be addressed and it needs to be explained to them that this kind of, what we call nafrat ki rajneeti (hate politics), is not good for the country. Don’t distinguish between people by… languages, regions, caste. And that is a process which is an ongoing process, and I hope we can reach out to them.
In fact that is linked to a question I wanted to ask you– When the AAP came up in Delhi, there was no local party of repute there. In Mumbai, however, you have Shiv Sena, you have MNS, and then of course you have a national party like NCP for which this is a stronghold, other than the BJP and Congress. Does this make the battle more complicated in any way?
Actually if you look at people’s perceptions, this battle is going to be about— do you want a neta or do you want aam aadmi? So they have identified (all of) them as a group of people who work on the (basis of) traditional politics and we are the new politics. So the fight is going to be between the old politics and the new politics.
When I was looking at your list of candidates from Maharashtra, a large number of them have been activists previously and whistle blowers. I want to ask you about the likely pros and cons of that. Is there a danger of confusing activism for politics? What do you feel are the key differences between the methodologies of both?
Let me first confess that we are all activists. We will do andolan outside and we will do andolan inside. This entire perception that a Chief Minister is supposed to sit in an air-conditioned office and sign files, I think, is ridiculous. A Chief Minister or anyone who is a representative should be out on the ground looking after the interest of the people. Aam Aadmi Party is not so much a party as, I would say, a platform of people who want to change this country. I understand governance to an extent. I’m sure a lot of us do. I don’t think that it’s rocket science. As long as your views are clear, you have clarity of thought about what needs to be done, then a structure starts (to take shape). I’m very fond of saying that if Rabri Devi can run a government, I’m sure we can.
But like you yourself said- the expectations that people have from Rabri Devi and Aam Aadmi Party are hugely different.
Fair enough, but I think Arvind did a great job in 49 days. He brought down the corruption to a 20% level. All of this is not shown by the media. But really in those 49 days… if you look at the opinion poll now, instead of the 29.5% that we have got, right now the opinion poll is showing 67%. People’s expectations have been met, which is why the number of voters has increased by a factor of two to two and a half. So I don’t think there should be any problem about governance. We understand governance a lot. We’ve been working on governance issues for many years.
So you’re saying that you don’t see a problem with being able to strike a balance between governance and activism.
Any activist worth his salt would actually have studied the law multiple times. They’ve looked at the lacunae there, given solutions which would work. I’ve worked with the government for the urban policy of Mumbai. I’ve worked on the cluster development policy of Mumbai. So it’s not that the activists are just on the streets fighting and doing dangebaazi. For us to talk about anything, we have to understand governance completely. We have to understand the law. So all the activists I know of understand governance far more than the many, many bureaucrats who are sitting in the government.
One of the strategies that you guys have employed has been calling out people on corruption. Exposes, Pol Khol, stings. Why do you feel this kind of confrontational campaign is important? Because, like you said, everybody knows there’s corruption. So why not focus on how the Aam Aadmi Party plans to weed corruption out from every strata?
See, let’s understand this. Revolution takes place here [points to the head]. It does not take place on the street. The street is a manifestation of what is happening here. Your anger, your understanding. If you want to change this country, you have to create a revolution in people’s minds. And to create that revolution, you have to bring out instances about how this country has been looted, what has happened to this country. People then will want change. And once they want change, they will walk the talk, they will go out on the street, they will vote for change. They will support change. So unless you create that kind of a tempest in the mind, in the minds of the people, you will never be able to succeed there.
You yourself were accused in 2012 by an RTI activist of corrupt practices –using your NGO for your family’s gains. Have you sufficiently cleared your name on that count?
I think that’s a very interesting question and I need to make you understand how the political system functions. I was working in my uncle’s firm for the last three years in an NGO. So that NGO went and talked to the government that Mumbai should be planned in a certain manner. So the government suggested to us “why don’t you take one cluster and try to redevelop it?” So my uncle started a company. I was not a part of that. I’ve never been involved in any commercial activity. That commercial company did not get anything. Finally it closed down, everything was over. The accusation made was that I started the NGO to support that construction company, the business enterprise. It was like saying Arvind Kejriwal quit his job to start an NGO because he wanted to become the Chief Minister of Delhi. There was no corruption charge against me. But because I’ve lived my life with so much personal integrity that this cloud of allegations against me (was bothering me). I kept asking people, ‘Please file a case against me.’ I went on Twitter and told people, ‘Please file something against me, go ahead.’
Because that will give you the chance to clear your name?
Absolutely. And it was just one newspaper article, nothing more than that. I went to the newspaper fellow and said, ‘Please substantiate it.’ (There was) no substantiation. Not a single paper. Nothing. Just throw mud and hope that something sticks.
But didn’t you think that writing your own…
Yeah, I’ve written blogs in which I’ve cleared myself, but the media would not run it. It’s there on my website. If you look at mayankgandhi.in. Then I told Arvind, “I’m going to quit politics. I can’t live with this allegation.” We had an internal Lokpal with Admiral Ramdas and all. They looked into the case, and they exonerated me. There is no merit in any of this. What more can I do? That day on television one fellow is saying, “Aap ke upar 150 corruption cases hai.” What people talk… where is the corruption case? Every single paper has made allegations against me. Has anyone filed a single complaint against me? Nothing.
What that brings me to is the flip side of raising allegations. When you guys make allegations against companies, against individuals, what is the internal process to make sure that it’s foolproof, that it’s fact-checked?
All the allegations that we make are based on papers that are in the public domain. We bring it out through RTI. There are so many documents. We have a scan research team which studies these for over a month. We look at so many aspects, and then we bring it out in the public domain. Suppose we made an allegation against Vadra. The papers were there with the Government of Haryana, which we took out. (In the case of) Nitin Gadkari, we had all the papers. Then the media took it up and found out that his driver and peon were directors in the company, whereas they are (living) in the slums. Anything we’ve said has been with a great deal of data.
And people analyzing the data?
Absolutely. And we wouldn’t have done otherwise. We are a responsible party. None of the things we’ve alleged have been disproved.
Final question. What keeps you, personally, going every day?
I don’t know. It’s a call I’ve taken. I think I feel responsible to the nation. This country is yearning for change. I was broken from within. What I used to think, what I used to feel, what I used to say, and what I used to do were different. I used to say “Desh mein kuch karna chahiye (Something has to be done in the country)” and do nothing about it. Then I said let me take this call. I quit my job, went full time. Now I’m aligned– what I say, what I feel, what I do is aligned. I’m completely healed from within. So it can be my personal journey, it can be the journey of the nation. Whatever it may be, I will try my best till wherever I can…
And you realize that may take longer than this election?
I’m not even sure whether it will happen. Money power and the power of people who have vested interests is so high. But again, just because I may lose, will I not fight? Everyone wants a Bhagat Singh in the neighbour’s house. I’m that neighbor. I will fight.
Part of a multimedia series for India.com and DNA)