Harsh Vardhan, 59, is the BJP candidate for the Lok Sabha constituency of Chandni Chowk. A five-time MLA, former health and education minister in the Delhi government and former president of the BJP, Delhi, Harsh Vardhan joined politics in 1993 and has never lost an election since. A practicing ENT surgeon, he led the Pulse Polio programme in Delhi, and also implemented the WHO’s Essential Drug Programme in the state.
You are a candidate from the Chandni Chowk constituency. What would you like to do for this constituency?
There are general issues common for the whole city. For example, issues related to power, water, the sewerage system, transport, roads, health, education, etc. Whether you have good schools or not, whether the quality of education is taken care of in a proper manner. If it needs to be upgraded, it needs to be upgraded in all the areas.
But there are certain specific issues related to the heart of Chandni Chowk in our constituency. These are basically redevelopment issues. Chandni Chowk in full of congested lanes and historically important monuments in a limited area, and there is a lack of parking space. You can’t apply the same parameters for this area that you normally apply to the rest the city in terms of the bylaws you have in the master plan.
So you have to do some sort of a redevelopment, rethinking about how you can redevelop. Like, today, I started my campaign from a part of the constituency, which incidentally is my birthplace. It is called Phatakteliyan in the Turkmaan gate. I saw it today after almost 45 years and it is literally in a shambles. So, one would think of improving the power supply, taking care of water tariffs, ensuring potable and adequate amount for everyone at reasonable rates, improving the transportation system, maybe strengthening the metro or introducing some other modes of transport.
These days, electronic rickshaws have become popular for the whole of Delhi. You could even think of something new or revive the old tram, because local transportation system is a big issue there. You only have rickshaws, and in this age if you have rickshaws being pulled by people, carrying people, it is also some sort of a shame for the city. Congestion in the old city, traffic congestion, congestion on the footpath… people need a normal, undisturbed life, even if you have to go from one place to the other.
You mentioned heritage buildings, particularly in Chandni Chowk – some of them are in good shape, some are not. As an MP, what can you do for better preservation, better conversation of these buildings to make them attractive for tourists?
As far as legal technicalities are concerned, I think it all comes under the national government, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). There are laws that control the preservation of monuments. But, unfortunately, if the government has a casual approach and the department is just sleeping instead of seeing to these things, they don’t get preserved. But as an MP if you are really proactive and concerned, you plan things and can get them done. You have to promote them as great tourist sports for the city, for the country. And if you apply these laws, have modern methods of promoting tourism, then of course it will become imperative for the government to actually uplift the whole area, which is in a bad shape.
And is that a priority for you?
I think so. I personally would… if I feel my heart is in there, then that should be my priority.
I must ask you, what is on your agenda for women, particularly in this constituency?
There are employment issues for young girls who have finished college and have good degrees. They are graduates, post-graduates, they have done their MBAs, but they are not getting good jobs. Also, a lot needs to be done to improve the security of women. And that’s a very complex problem. For example, most of these crimes against women take place in the dark spots of the city. That’s a matter of shame for the capital of India. Then, of course, for young girls in schools and colleges, in states, in wards, we should introduce programmes for strengthening their defence, strengthening their capabilities by getting them trained in judo, karate, etc. We have to strengthen the police system by supplementing the efforts of the home guards.
What sort of changes do you feel might help in the police system?
In the police, I would say, the type of behaviour that we have for the females in local thanas. We don’t have any equipped female constables. There is no good quality mechanism to report crimes for women. They are reluctant to go to police stations. We have to strengthen online mechanisms, ensuring every FIR is registered. Issues like this have to be taken up on priority. Also, in this part of the city, because of the presence of a large number of people from the Muslim community, I find that the education level, particularly amongst Muslim women and young girls, is quite low and needs to be improved.
What sort of impetus do you feel that you can provide for more education in this area?
It is a multi-pronged strategy. You have to ascertain that you have adequate schools, if you have teachers, adequate buildings, etc. If you don’t have adequate schools, how do you improve the number of schools, how do you improve quality, how do you promote and encourage those who don’t send their children to schools? It has to have the involvement of the government and the society. And there are many NGOs who do good work. They are already working in the education sector. Everything has to be synchronised. And somebody like an MP, if he is a real leader of society, can actually take all these inputs, club them together, synchronise them, and maybe put up a target as an achievable goal.
You mentioned there is a large Muslim population in your constituency. Other than education, what might be some of their needs, and how can you work to meet them?
I personally don’t think in terms of minorities or majorities. But I find that they are definitely lacking in something or the other. In terms of health as well, you’d find Muslim women more anaemic than their counterparts in society. So you have to analyse and assess, evaluate, survey and give specific inputs at specific places. The present MP of Chandni Chowk has been a Cabinet minister when he had his own party in government in the city. This is an ideal situation because you can really plan things on a big scale. You don’t have bottlenecks, but nothing has improved.
This constituency also has a lot of traders. They are being harassed by the ruling officials on issues of sales tax and VAT, etc. The minister of the central government could have ensured that there is transparency in collection of taxes, and in simplification of VAT collection procedures.
On a national level, what are some of the policies or legislations of issues that you might be interested in working on?
As far as I am concerned, my passion here is in health education and environment. On these areas I would certainly love to help the central government.
Anything in particular in these areas?
When we talk of Delhi, I think Yamuna is a very big issue, the pollution of Yamuna, the Yamuna ring on the big hill, ganda nala, or what you call, the big drain. This is something that requires the most meticulous and sincere attention of the planners and the government. Then, there are many things required to be done in health. Health still remains the most neglected priority of successive governments. I would love to convince the new prime minister to make health a top priority. India’s education system is such that it is producing engineers or doctors or professionals, or even simple graduates. But unfortunately there is no mechanism whereby it is ensuring it produces good, honest human beings. That is one area that might be of interest to me.
There is a lot of talk of a BJP wave throughout the country. Do you feel it in your constituency as well? Do you feel that it’s going to help you in your campaign?
I think Narendra Modi has become a symbol of the aspirations of the people in this country. I think everybody strongly feels Modi is the need of the hour, and people see their future in Modi. There is definitely a wave. As far as I or my constituency is concerned, I have always believed in karma. Even if there is a wave, it does not mean I will not work. And even if there was no wave, I have to work. So it doesn’t matter much to me. I am almost 100% confident I will be able to win not only in Chandni Chowk but all the seven seats in the city.
You have been a member of the RSS. How do you see the role of that organisation in your campaign, in this election and in the party, in the years to come or right now?
RSS cadres are helping out in these elections. Most people today feel the country is disillusioned with the corrupt politics of the Congress, and the anarchic politics of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the rest of the parties also have some problem or the other. So since the people are fed up, the presence of Modi and his coming back to power is certainly in the larger national interest. I say that in no uncertain words that every correct thinking patriotic citizen of this country has a solemn duty to ensure he/she works relentlessly for the Modi’s success.
Do you think Modi is the reason the RSS cadres are much more involved in this election?
Yes, yes. Because they see in Modi not an individual but something who is going to save the integrity of the nation. That’s how I interpret it. The way the government has been working for the last 10 years, they don’t seem to be very serious about terrorism, Naxalism or separatism or things like that. They feel they can compromise anything for the sake of vote bank politics.
There has been a lot of news about disagreements within the party. Do you see that as a concern at all?
I would say those issues that appear in the media are actually not as serious as they seem to be when they are being projected either knowingly or inadvertently. Because we as insiders know that they are not significant issues.
And you are confident that you will be able to resolve them?
I don’t think they are of the type of seriousness which would require a very detailed strategy and all that. There could be mild difference of opinion about minor things but it is blown out of proportion because the two persons who are involved are of some stature. Ultimately this doesn’t affect election results in any way.
The decision on what is going to happen to the Delhi Assembly is pending. What would be, according to you, the ideal outcome?
You see, right now the ball is in the court of the Supreme Court. It should take adequate precautions before declaring that re-elections have to happen. They should explore all the possibilities of government formation. As things stand today, I really don’t know how a new government can be formed. With the type of mandate we got immediately after the elections I had said I’m not interested forming the government. Even if the Supreme Court decides to dissolve the Assembly and order fresh elections and incur huge expenditure on this particular exercise, what is the guarantee that you will not get this figure of 32, 35, whatever it is, for various political parties? That you will get a clear majority?
(Part of a multimedia series for India.com and DNA)