What were you doing before you became an activist? You are a Doctor, but it said that you and your husband are also partners in a real estate company.
This is what is being said by some people from the BJP or those who have been prompted by BJP. Professionally I am a Pathologist. I own a diagnostic centre in Santacruz (Mumbai) and my husband works in Finance for a company called IBFC Securities. He’s the head of business there and financially we were extremely well off. I had invested in a lot of land in Karjat. Suddenly I was told that there’s a dam that’s coming up in Karjat. Now any Bombayite would panic and try to get some contacts of politicians who can probably help you out. In fact, in my building there’s one Mr. Satish Seth, who’s the Vice Chairman of Reliance Energy and I know him for years together. He immediately told me, ‘Anjali, you don’t worry. I will talk to Sunil Tatkare and you can get your money back.’ So for me, getting the money was never an issue. On the 3rd August I sent out a legal notice. The legal notice clearly said that I have this land and kindly let me know what happens. So they sent a contractor to my house saying that we are ready to pay you whatever you want for your land and you kindly hand over the land to us because we have contractors of this dam now. On 16th August—that was on the 12th of August—the whole India Against Corruptionandolan (movement) started. And from 16th onwards, somewhere from within I felt that I should not give my land—in the sense that I felt that I was being given money because I had some contacts. What about the farmers who don’t have any contacts? I had never done any RTI before that. But for first time I started making RTIs. By November 2011, I had a hell of a lot of papers, which showed that this was a massive scam. The entire online tendering was a clear fraud. They had no section drawings, no surveys were done, no permissions were taken. With this story, I went to Times Now, Headlines Today; I went to IBN. I gave them the story; none of them went ahead with it. In December 2011, there’s a guy at Times Now who met me at the MMRD andolan at BKC and asked, ‘Madam, what happened to that scam of yours?’ So I said, ‘Nothing really. You guys didn’t do anything about it.’ So he said, ‘Madam, there’s another lady like you who’s fighting from Murbad, so why don’t you meet her?’ So I met Indervitu Todpade and then others like her. I called a meeting of all these activists who were fighting across Maharasthra and then we realized there was one guy who had all the contracts for all the dams. And it was just a partnership firm—a small-time partnership firm in one small room in Khar. So when we came to know this we started putting some serious RTIs.
And on 10th April 2012, I put up a PIL in the High Court of Mumbai. And on the 12th, I get a notice saying the land which you have bought in 1994 is an uncultivable land. And because it is uncultivable you cannot be termed as a farmer, and all the land that you have taken after that will be taken away by the government. Within 7 days, I gave them soil fertility reports. Saying that this is a super fertile land. Not just that, I gave them big pictures of that place, which had mango trees for the last 10 years. But they didn’t do anything about it. The land was taken away on paper. They started calling me after that, saying that at least now in the next level—that is the appellate level—you take back this PIL of yours and we will give back your land. And I have a voice recording of that. The local MLA of Karjat, Mr. Suresh Lad, came to my office and said that, ‘Madam, if you simply take this back, we will give back your land. But I decided to continue. Now the case is in the tribunal. Now, you asked me if I have some real estate company. I don’t have any real estate company. It so happened that I have a cousin who knows one guy called Mr. Nilesh Dixit. He was an architect by profession. He came to my clinic and he said, ‘You have some land in Karjat; I am an architect by profession. How about developing it together?’ So out of all that I had, he developed 5 acres of land. He named it SEV Developers. The entire project was of 80 plots; it came down to 39. And we spent the double the amount on roads, on gardens, and a lost a lot of money. So that was it. This was the only thing that was ever done in this SEV.
Now, why I gave you this link was, this particular guy called Nilesh Dixit, he’s a relative of Nitin Gadkari. Nitin Gadkari happens to be his wife’s chachji (Uncle). And it was along with Nilesh and my co-petitioner that I had gone to Nitin Gadkari’s house. When I went to his place and then he said that, ‘Nahin nahin, humlogirrigation scam me kuch nahin karenge. Woh saab chaar kaam humaare karte hain, hum chaar kaam unke karte hain (No we won’t do anything related to the irrigation scam. He does our job, we do his).’ I was a little agitated because I my father was an RSS man. When I was 11 years old, my father had quit his job. He had resigned because they were compelling him to take a bribe. So for me to hear this from Nitin Gadkari who was an RSS guy really irritated me a lot. I walked out of that place. I wrote an SMS to him that how can you—I mean I wrote the entire RSS prayer: Namaste maa vatsalya, twaya hindu bhoomi sukhavandhitu. The lyrics are so pure.
On 25th September, Ajit Pawar resigned on this irrigation scam issue. That day, I told Arvind, ‘We need to do a press conference in Mumbai.’ The media was asking me, ‘Aaj kyun kar rahe ho aap yeh press conference (why are you doing this press conference today)?’ So I said, ‘Aj nahin kare to kab karein (If not today, then when)?’
Because maine toh November me media ko saare papers diye the, unhone kuch nahin kiya. I met the CM; I met the governor. I gave all complaints to all concerned authorities. I filed a PIL. I met the vpaksh ke adyhaksh (the oppostion’s chief), nobody wants to do anything. So then the whole thing started off and I was challenged by Mr. Eknath Solkar and he said, ‘Why don’t you… if you give us any proof. Main aapke pair dho kar usko paani peeyunga.’ After that we took up the challenge. I did a lot of groundwork and I found out that Gadkari had asked Ajit Pawar to give him some 100 acres of land and AJit Pawar had sanctioned it within 4 days. So the link which was required I established. I gave that with papers. On 28th September, DNA wrote an article on me. There was a guy called Sudhir Suryavanshi. He called me up and I explained the whole thing to him. Yet, he wrote a negative article.
On 23rd October, same guy—Sudhir Suryavanshi—did another negative article on me saying that I was some sort of a land shark. And I actually used to sit and cry those days because I didn’t know where I was wrong. After that the Aam Aadmi Party came into existence. And that day I decided that I would take this guy head on.
Whenever Mr Gadkari has been asked about these allegations his reply is- ‘If it is true why can’t you find something against me?’ Nothing has been proved against him. How do you respond to that?
Precisely. How do you get these people to really pay back the loot that they have done? I have done a PIL. I have gone to all the concerned authorities. I have gone to court. I have gone to every possible person in the media. Tell me, as a citizen, what would I do? The only way is to get into the politics to clean the system. That’s exactly what we decided we should do.
Mr Gadkari had to step down as president of the BJP but were there charges brought against him? I know there was an IT raid.
He had to step down as the President only and only because he had some internal problems with his party. And if I want to now what happenend in the IT raid, I have no access to it because it doesn’t come under RTI. So how do you take this further? I know of 10 scams involving Nitin Gadkari but the day I expose people say, oh you guys only talk about corruption.. Last 4 times I’ve heard this dialogue from him, he just says that, ‘Agar kisi ne mere khilaf koi saboot diye toh main politics chod doonga.’ Even Muttemwar copied it this time.
The sort of allegations you leveled on politicians have been leveled by you. You realise that ends up making you sound like them..
Exactly ! That makes us feel miserable. That these people who have, you know in Marathi we say, aamcha boot poosache laykiche nahi hai. They come and put rubbish things on you and create confusion and you have to respond to it and fight against that. The allegation that was put on me is- my father in law is a Vice President of D B Realty company. He’s the 70-year-old sitting just opposite you and he was a textile engineer who resigned 17 years back. Then they have put an allegation that my husband has done a stock market scam of 1 lakh crores. My husband works for a company; it is not his own company. He gets a salary. The profits and losses don’t come to him; they don’t come to my house.
How do you plan to counter this? Because it’s also a battle of perception, not just a battle of integrity.
Yes it’s a total battle of perception. That is exactly where I would say that media plays a very big role. But at the moment we are not getting that kind of support
Now just day before yesterday, Mr. Gadkari actually got some people from Karjat saying that the land that I’ve bought from them, I’ve paid them some less amount. The land was purchased in 2006. And those farmers realised 7 days before the election that I’ve paid them less. And when I give a press conference after that and I explain everything from my heart, explain BJP’s involvement in these allegations, not one single newspaper has carried it.
What might be a couple of steps that you feel can be taken for greater transparency and accountability?
The first thing that needs to happen in this country is the police reforms. The inhuman conditions that they live in and the very small salaries that they get are driving them into doing these things. Second thing that I would want to do is expand the judiciary to at least 10 times its size, set up more courts.
Any other issues you would like to take up if elected?
A lot of things need to be done. Say for example here in Nagpur Mr. Gadkari has not put his own hoardings but number of hoardings which are put on Modi’s name are simply amazing If there is a control on the candidate’s expense, why is there no control on the central expense also, of any given political party?
What concrete steps can be taken?
I would definitely want the Lok Pal Bill to go through. Then would be the police reforms and the judicial reforms and the Whistle Blower Protection bills. After that would come education and healthcare. The number of colleges that these politicians own is not funny. The number of engineering colleges, medical colleges, and the kind of loot that is happening in education sector also needs to be looked at. There are so many government hospitals without any good, competent doctors, without generic medicine.
Tell me why you pick Nagpur to contest from?
Straightaway because it’s Mr. Nitin Gadkari. Because in our IAC days we had given out a list of 30 most corrupt people and for me Mr. Nitin Gadkari is a poster boy of corruption.
Have you taken time to get to know the region as well?
First thing I did was go around the whole of Nagpur visiting all the heritage places. I went to Mihan and I saw the entire project, I went to the rehab camps. After that I went to Ramjhula, had a look at that place and understood the whole thing and met a lot of NGOs, met a lot of Vidharbhawadi people, spoke to them at length. Then met different communities and then I started my campaigning.
AAP claims to steer clear of vote bank politics. Has that been easy?
I’ll give you a few of my experiences. I had a small speech in Malegaon, one of the days and after the speech there was some 3, 4 nice hefty guys who walked up and they said. Madam aapne speech toh bahut achchi di par apne kuch nahi kaha ki musaalmanon ne join hona chahiye, Aam Aadmi Party. I paused for a while, looked at him and I said, Maine aise nahi kaha ki Hindu ko karna chahiye, Sikhon ko karna chahiye,Isaiyon ko karna chaiye. And after that, they have of course joined Aam Aadmi Party. They’re working with us. Here in Nagpur there was a guy who came up to me and gave me some four conditions, said, “I’m some Muslim leader and there are these four conditions and if you are ready to agree to these conditions , then we can offer you support.” I said, “I’m not here for any sauda. I’m working for a cause. If you want to work with me go ahead. If you don’t, just forget about it. And when I was talking to him, there were some 10 other volunteers who were Muslims who had come with him. And they came out and said that, “Madam, it’s because of people like these that this country in the pits.
What is AAP’s stand on Vidarbha’s demand for a separate state? Do you feel it’s necessary and do you feel that the Nagpur Agreement hasn’t managed to address the concerns of the people.
At all. At all. When Mr. Manmohan Singh comes and he offers the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme for the farmers in Vidarbha, you feel he has done a good job. And then you realise that a lot of dams have come up in Vidarbha and to each dam there is a thermal power project which has come up. And all these have been given to various companies like India Bulls, Adani. And that is the time you feel cheated because the water was never for the farmers. The land has been acquired for the dams first, then for the thermal power projects, then for the towers that will carry the electric supply and then the pollution which is caused by thermal power projects renders their fields non fertile. And because of this pollution no industries have been set up in Vidarbha, saying that there is pollution. So what does a person eat? How does he survive? Congress has taken a stand that they will not go in for a separate state of Vidarbha.
But (Vilas) Muttemwar supports the demand for Vidarbha
Day before yesterday, Manikrao Thakre has issued a statement saying that he is not for a separate state of Vidarbha. And Mr. Muttemwar gives a letter saying that he supports Vidarbha. But if his party doesn’t do it, how will it ever come up? Similarly BJP is in coalition with the Shiv Sena and they are for a samyuktaMaharashtra.
But they also say they are for Vidarbha.
See that is what. They just talk.
A lot of people here win elections on a pro- Vidarbha plank. Would you have an actionable plan were you to be elected?
The Vidarbha Joint Action Committee has taken referendums in four districts of Vidarbha out of the 10. So I would simply want all 10 to carry out a referendum. Once that is done, we as people’s representatives should do what they want us to do.
Why do you think Vidarbha should be a separate state?
See, a) It has all the resources and people in Vidarbha say they don’t have a problem with sharing the resources. They just say, “Don’t rip us off our land. Don’t rip us off our water. Don’t rip us off our jungle.” I looked into their budget. They have a budget surplus whereas the rest of Maharashtra is in a deficit. Maharashtra doesn’t want to let go off Vidarbha because for the World Bank to give any sanction for funds, you should have certain amount of green cover, which is only there in Vidarbha. And of course because of cheap labour. Even in the Vidhan Sabha, Vidarbha has only 60 seats out of the 288. They are always going to remain in the minority. There are massive power projects in Vidarbha and still the farmers of Vidarbha don’t get electricity at all. There is load shedding of about 16-18 hours a day in summer. So our demands are nothing over 30,000 megawatts will be produced in Vidarbha. If you want the resources, take it to your place and make the power yourself. Whatever water is there will be first given to the farmers, whatever is left off will be given to the thermal power projects. In thermal power projects, first electricity will be given to every household of Vidarbha. Whatever is surplus can be taken away from here.
Why can this not be achieved without making it a separate state?
Who will do it and what have these politicians been doing for the last so many years?
Alright, outside of the rural sector, what would you priority be where urban development in Nagpur is concerned?
A) It would be education which has been neglected for a very long time. B) It would be healthcare. And after that I would get into things like Mihan. Now the entire project has been just staggering for the last 8-10 years and nobody has done any rethinking, restructuring because if things are not happening, a) it is because the industries cannot come up in Vidarbha because the power is too expensive, though a lot of power is being generated in Vidarbha, the industries are not getting power at a subsidised price which they ideally should. In fact, I recently did an expose on VIPL that is Vidarbha Industrial Power Limited which is a 100% subsidiary of Reliance Power. The commissioning contract was given to Reliance Infra, the generation contract was given to Reliance Power and the railway siding contract was given to Reliance Infra again. After the whole project has been commissioned they say that Vidarbha doesn’t need any power, so we will give the power to Mumbai. So they sold the power to Mumbai at Rs.3.54. So the land, about 680 acres of land, was acquired from the farmers in Butibori with the basic purpose of giving power only to the industries of Vidarbha and after the completion it just gets siphoned away. How will the industries come up? So I would want a lot of industries to come up and if they do, then there will probably be a second source of employment for farmers. So what we need to do now, the skyscraper kind of growth that has happened in India should now be made into pyramid like structure. We are not averse to development, but development at what cost? It should be the wastelands of India, the uncultivable land, and trust me there is about 7 lakh hectares of wasteland in Maharashtra, that should be used for industries, not the green belt. So if you apply your mind there is a good bit that you can do. But first I want to focus on a) on education, b) on healthcare, c) on employment, and then I would look at the other things. So that is how I would like to position myself. I would simply say that if infrastructure is put on a standstill for two years, there is going to be no problem at all. But if India has to change, the way people think and live, first the system and the education should be put in place.
You’re saying this in terms of priorities, surely!
Priorities, of course.
At the ground level, have you faced any resistance from the more established parties? Have they not tried to make it difficult for you to campaign?
Just yesterday we had some small stray incidents. Some of the BJP guys tried to beat up some of our volunteers. Apart from that there has been no such problem. What I would simply want to say is how I want the politics of my country to be, I would simply want the way my husband goes off to his office and works. Politicians of my country should simply go, work, come back. Why do we need all this shosha? Why do we need these photographs? Uthte baithte photos, posing, for what? What we do here, I go on a bike, moving across the whole of Nagpur on a bike. And people are actually stumped when they see their MP candidate on a bike. Why can’t a person sit on a chai tapli, why can’t you just simply walk along the roads and be a normal human being? You have distanced yourself from the people so much. You need to be just a normal human being for you to understand the problems of the people.
You’ve said that a lot of your principles, a lot of your inspiration comes from your father who was an RSS member. Over a period of time, RSS has becomes associated inextricably with BJP. Do you feel that the core values that RSS stood for have been compromised?
Completely lost, if you ask me.
Why do you think?
I think people have changed over a period of time.
Do you still meet those very old RSS people who hold those values?
God bless them for being the way they are. I’ve heard that there are two factions in RSS, and there is one faction that is the BJP way and the other one who are still with those values and value system.
(Part of a multimedia series for India.com and DNA)