Sheila Dikshit, who has been chief minister of Delhi for three years longer than Narendra Modi has been at the helm in Gujarat, doesn’t think serving three terms in a state is a passport to the Prime Minister’s post. In an interview with The Telegraph, she argued that Modi’s candidature for the top job had no “legitimacy” yet and that the Manmohan Singh government had achieved more than any government in the past. In power since 1998, Dikshit played down the Arvind Kejriwal factor and expressed hope that the Congress would win a record fourth term in Delhi this December. Excerpts:
Q: You are facing a three-term anti-incumbency and yet surveys show you are the most popular choice for the Delhi chief minister’s post. How is it that your social contract with the voters hasn’t lapsed so far?
A: Only voters can prove that. We tried our best to serve the people. Our aim was to touch human lives. Not only infrastructure and economic indices, we have reached out to the poor and the deprived with a comprehensive vision, taking care of their food, education, health care, jobs and safety. We cannot go about tom-tomming our achievements but we are sure people can differentiate between good work and hollow noise.
Q: You have done good work but autos running on the streets of Delhi carry posters that describe you as corrupt.
A: I have seen that but you can’t condemn anybody as corrupt without basis. Show me corruption. Give evidence if you have. Merely abusing somebody doesn’t help.
Q: There is a perception about corruption in the Commonwealth Games (CWG).
A: Yes, but not against me. People have gone to jail in CWG corruption cases. There have been investigations; the Centre formed a committee to look into the charges. What is the case against the Delhi government or its officials? You can’t mix up issues with activities of the Indian Olympic Association.
Q: Does it hurt to see Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) putting up so many posters on tempos, calling you corrupt? You never responded to such campaigns.
A: It hurts, definitely. But we are in government; we can’t stoop to fight on the streets. We have to behave responsibly and honour people’s freedom to express their views. The government has to be sober and keep doing its work despite provocation.
Q: How do you see the entire Kejriwal phenomenon? He almost came up with an anti-politician project, showed scant regard for democratic institutions and injected a new form of violence into the public discourse. Do you welcome such a person joining the political mainstream?
A: We certainly welcome anybody opting to fight democratically. But we are still not clear about his ideology and his idea of India. He and his core team members live in Ghaziabad and there is certainly more corruption, more power cuts, more crime in Uttar Pradesh. Why have they come to Delhi? What is his true purpose? As far as abuses are concerned, he is dramatic, theatrical and is in the habit of abusing people.
Q: How does the AAP’s intervention alter the electoral dynamics in Delhi?
A: They will have some impact. Don’t know how they have reached this figure that 47 per cent people in Delhi want Kejriwal as chief minister.
Q: The BJP says the AAP benefits you and that the Congress is propping it up.
A: You can say anything and, particularly, the BJP knows no restrictions. Does the BJP have a fear that the AAP is cutting into its votes?
Q: Has the BJP been able to present itself as a credible alternative? Are its local leaders capable of confronting you or they are trying to ride the Modi wave?
A: Is there a Modi wave? What has Modi to do in Delhi? Will he become Delhi CM? As far as the BJP is concerned, it is a confused party. It has no constructive policy for Delhi. People have seen our development work and know what the BJP is capable of.
Q: You seem to be dismissive of Modi. Tell us how is the Delhi model different from the Gujarat model of governance.
A: Of course, what is Modi’s significance in Delhi? And (there is a) huge difference between the Gujarat model and the Delhi model. First of all, what is the Gujarat model? He keeps talking about the Gujarat model but what is that? Mere statistics. We are not only on top in per capita income, health care, education, transport, infrastructure, greenery, etc, we have given inclusive governance, responded to people’s needs. We treat everybody equally, we work for the weakest sections of society. What is Modi’s idea of governance?
Q: The Gujarat model has another political significance for chief ministers. The implicit message is that a successful CM can be viewed as the ultimate achiever and can aspire to be Prime Minister.
A: Modi has jumped the gun by projecting himself as Prime Minister. Let the BJP win seats first. There is no legitimacy about his claim. The BJP might have projected him as their candidate for Prime Minister but Modi has to be tested in parliamentary elections. National politics is different from Gujarat. What has Modi done for the country… the people of India know what he stands for.
Q: Are you too game for a larger role in 2014? Should the criterion of three or four-term-CM-eligible-for-PM be applicable to you as well?
A: I have a job to do in Delhi. I am not interested in all that.
Q: You are a senior leader in the Congress and have seen national politics closely sitting in Delhi. What went wrong… why does the Manmohan Singh government carry a negative image?
A: This government has in the last decade done more than any government in the past. It is difficult for me to say what went wrong or right. There are highs and lows in the life of every government. There are things beyond your control. The irresponsible Opposition has been a major factor: Parliament is not allowed to function, nobody is allowed to speak, no bills are passed. The Opposition goes on attacking the government, asking for the PM’s resignation all the time and blowing every unsubstantiated charge out of proportion. At times the criticism is based on perceptions, not facts.
Q: Why this perception? Any serious issue with political management?
A: A dignified government, a responsible government, has to respond within limits. We tried to rectify things but I would say we should have been more forthcoming and made greater efforts to remove the misunderstanding in the minds of the people.
There are forces who articulate issues forcefully and can make perceptions. But we hope the silent majority understands what the Congress has done. They can see why no party thinks of schemes like the MGNREGA, food security, right to education, etc. This has been an extraordinary period of achievements. Even economic growth has been better than most countries. We are sure the majority of Indians would see these things.